February 16, 2012
By Garance Burke
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget would eliminate the nation’s only program that regularly tests fruits and vegetables for deadly pathogens, leaving public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illness outbreaks.
The budget plan the president sent to Congress Monday would ax the Agriculture Department’s tiny Microbiological Data Program, which extensively screens high-risk fresh produce throughout the year for bacteria including salmonella, E. coli and listeria.
If samples are positive, they can trigger nationwide recalls, and keep tainted produce from reaching consumers or grocery store shelves.
June 2nd, 2011
By: Joshua Holland
The Republican budget plan is the purest expression of the Right’s longstanding desire to dismantle the social safety net. It’s not about the budget deficit—that’s simply a premise — it’s the “Shock Doctrine” in action.
How radical is it? According to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the plan would slash all public spending other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by almost three-quarters by 2050. And because the “budget does not envision defense cuts in real terms,” what this means is that “most of the rest of the federal government outside of health care, Social Security, and defense would cease to exist.”
It’s the epitome of anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist’s fantasy of shrinking the government down to a point where he could “drown it in a bathtub.”
And it’s not just a matter of bait-and-switch; the entire proposal is a fraud. Just consider this: while selling their plan to the public as a “serious” and “bold” attempt to reduce the federal deficit, Republicans are overstating how much it would cut the budget gap by ten-fold.
That’s right, Rep Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, says his plan would reduce the deficit by $160 billion per year over the next decade, but it actually trims just $15 billion per year over that period – which is next to nothing in the context of budgets that run well over $3 trillion. To put that figure in perspective, it represents less than half of the spending cuts proposed by Barack Obama for next year; the average savings would have reduced this year’s deficit by just one measly percent.
Yet despite that simple mathematical truth, media outlets like CBS mindlessly report that the GOP’s budget “would reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion over ten years.” How did the media get so thoroughly duped? According to CBPP, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s staff inflated the cuts in spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade (which still doesn’t get to CBS’ claimed savings — reporter Jill Jackson apparently looked at the spending cuts but didn’t factor in the plan’s reduced tax revenues). First, they took credit for the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts decreasing with previously planned troop withdrawals that have nothing to do with the GOP’s budget plan– something Ryan himself criticized the White House for doing in its own budget projections. Then they made a “math error” that exaggerated how much we’d save in interest payments by $230 billion over the next decade – a number significantly higher than the amount of deficit reduction they’d get out of the plan. Oops!
After 10 years, the deficit reduction gets bigger, but largely by sticking seniors with more health-care costs (as discussed below), and through unspecified “tax reforms” that are supposed to raise revenues. The GOP promises to create and pass some sort of tax scheme sometime over the next decade, but they’ve also sworn not to increase taxes in order to balance the budget and history suggests they’d fight tooth-and-nail to block such a measure. Again, we see a scam packaged as a “brave” budget proposal.
Make no mistake, however – while the plan’s deficit reduction is largely fantasy, the pain it would impose on working America is very real. Almost two-thirds of the $4.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years come from programs that help those with lower incomes. Another big chunk of “savings” doesn’t save any money at all – according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the GOP’s Medicare privatization scheme would increase the cost of the program by upwards of 40 percent, but it would sharply cut the tab the government picks up, instead shifting the burden onto older people themselves.
CBO tells us a “typical senior” in 2022 would face more than twice the health-care costs under the GOP plan than under Medicare as it exists today. The Republicans, having been burned badly by Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security, largely left it alone, but as Daniel Marans of Social Security Works points out, the plan “creates an unprecedented new fast-track procedure to ram through Social Security benefit cuts.”
You may be wondering how it’s possible that a budget which cuts so much public spending barely touches the deficit. The answer is simple. The GOP’s plan would not only make the “Bush tax cuts” permanent – CBO says if they don’t expire on schedule those cuts will represent the biggest contributor to the deficit going forward – it goes further still, reducing the top marginal tax rate (paid only by multi-millionaires) to its lowest level since the mid 1930s, before the New Deal was established. It would slash the top rate paid by corporations by almost 30 percent, and it would also repeal a small surcharge high earners pay into the Medicare system. As CPBB notes, the tax proposals “place a top priority on cutting taxes for high-income people, while doing nothing to reduce budget deficits, themselves.” It’s basically a wash, simply redistributing more of the nation’s wealth to those at the top of the economic heap.
Slashing taxes on top earners and corporations can make sense in certain circumstances, but it’s nothing short of lunacy in our current situation. That’s because, contrary to the popular and longstanding Republican talking-point, we have a revenue problem, not a spending problem. The federal government collected taxes equaling 18.5 percent of our economic activity, on average, ever since World War II. Under Ronald Reagan, it averaged 18.2 percent. But over the past three years, the government took in just under 15 percent, the lowest level since 1950, before Medicare was enacted.
As I noted in April, while our corporate tax rates are high on paper, corporations have successfully lobbied for so many shelters and loopholes that, expressed as a share of GDP, American firms paid less than those in all of the other affluent countries in 2008 (we tied with Turkey for the bottom spot). And in 2011, they’ll pay almost a third less than they did that year, according to former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett.
It’s no wonder Americans don’t like the plan – and they hate it when they learn the details. Newt Gingrich has never been more correct than when he characterized it as right-wing “social engineering.” But the real crime has been committed by the corporate media– not only for calling the plan “courageous” and “serious,” but for referring to it in the context of deficit reduction in the first place.
March 15th, 2011
School boards and local governments across Wisconsin are rushing to reach agreements with unions before a new law takes effect and erases their ability to collectively bargain over nearly all issues other than minimal salary increases.
The law doesn’t go into effect until the day after Secretary of State Doug La Follette publishes it and it doesn’t supersede contracts already in place, fueling unions’ desire to reach new deals quickly. La Follette said Monday that he will delay publication until the latest day possible, March 25, to give local governments as much time as possible to reach agreements.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker had asked La Follette to publish the law Monday, but the Democratic secretary of state said he didn’t see any emergency that warranted him doing so. La Follette opposed the bill and said he sat in his office watching parts of a weekend protest that brought as many as 100,000 people out in opposition to the law.
“This is the biggest change in Wisconsin labor management history in 50 years,” La Follette said, describing his reasoning for holding off on its enactment.
The law ends collective bargaining for public workers over everything except salary increases no greater than inflation. It also forces state workers to make benefit concessions that amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average.
Walker also is proposing a nearly $1 billion cut in aid to schools in his two-year budget plan that would take effect in July. He argued that for that reason, districts needed to get more money from their employees to help mitigate the loss in aid. Walker also wants to limit the ability of schools and local governments to pay for the cuts through local property tax increases.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is telling districts to be cautious about approving contracts that will make it more difficult for them to handle the cuts in aid Walker is seeking. Since Walker unveiled the bill on Feb. 11, between 50 and 100 of the state’s 424 districts have approved deals with unions, said Bob Butler, an attorney with the association.
The vast majority of them included benefit concessions consistent with what Walker proposed under the new law, Butler said.
The Madison school board met in a marathon 18-hour session Friday night to reach an agreement with the local teachers union to approve a new contract that runs through mid-2013.
That agreement freezes wages and requires the same pension contribution as state workers will be required to pay starting later this month under the new law. It also allows the district to require health insurance premium contributions up to 5 percent in the first year of the deal and up to 10 percent in the second year.
The Racine school district voted to approve a new contract with its teachers union on Wednesday evening, as Walker’s collective bargaining proposal was being approved by the state Senate. Several local governments, including the city of Janesville and La Crosse County, also have pushed through contracts in the past month ahead of the new law.
Schools and local governments would be foolish to rush through deals that don’t account for concessions at the same level or greater than what is called for under the law, said Republican Rep. Robin Vos, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee.
April 22, 2010
By: Andrew Taylor
President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies in the Senate promise to cut the deficit by almost two-thirds over the next five years, but their budget plan could threaten about 30 million people with tax increases averaging $3,700 in 2012 and after because of the alternative minimum tax.
The alternative is tax increases elsewhere in the revenue code averaging up to $100 billion a year after 2011 to continue alternative minimum tax relief and also curb taxes on people inheriting large estates.
The Democratic plan released Wednesday by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota relies on such boosts in revenues to carve the deficit from $1.4 trillion last year down to $545 billion by 2015.
The minimum tax, or AMT, was enacted four decades ago to make sure wealthy people couldn’t avoid taxes altogethe. But it wasn’t indexed for inflation in people’s incomes, so it gets “patched” every year or so in order to prevent people from being surprised by multi-thousand-dollar tax bills at tax time.
Estates larger than $7 million would also be threatened with higher taxes after 2011 if Conrad’s plan is carried out.
Conrad says lawmakers will have to find revenues elsewhere in the budget to pay for AMT and estate tax relief after 2011, which could require tax increases averaging up to $100 billion a year elsewhere in the code if Congress is going to keep its promises under tough new budget rules.
Conrad says he hopes the dilemma will force Congress to overhaul the complicated and inefficient U.S. tax code. The Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, says that 33 million taxpayers would face the AMT in 2012, adding $3,700 on average to their tax liabilities.
Extending AMT and estate tax relief would cost $300-$400 billion over 2012-2015, Conrad said. Many observers say it’ll be virtually impossible for Congress to produce offsetting revenues to extend the tax relief. GOP Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire predicted that when Congress confronts the problem in two years it will blink and simply borrow the money as it has done in the past.
The looming tax hikes result from the structure of President George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax bills, whose provisions generally expire at the end of this year. Obama promises to fully extend them except for individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and couple making $250,000 a year. They include lower income tax rates, a $1,000 per-child tax credit, and tax breaks for investments and reductions in the estate tax, and their five-year cost of almost $800 billion would be covered by adding to the nation’s $12.8 trillion debt.
But in the case of the AMT and estate tax, congressional Democrats have broken with Obama and promise that after two years of deficit-financed alternative minimum tax and estate tax cuts, Congress will have to come up with the money.
“If we want those things taken care of … they’ve got to be paid for,” Conrad said.
That’s easier said than done.
Gregg said the Democratic plan is “a budget that kicks the can down the road. More spending. More deficits. More debt. Less prosperity.”
The annual congressional budget is a nonbinding blueprint for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and sets the parameters for subsequent tax and spending bills. This year, that means a cut of almost $9.5 billion from domestic agency budgets and foreign aid and a freeze, on average, of those accounts for the following two years.
Conrad’s plan, to be approved by the Budget panel Thursday, would permit Democrats to advance legislation on priorities such as taxes, energy and job creation without fear of a Republican filibuster. That could boost clean energy programs and revive Obama’s stalled jobs agenda.
Democrats haven’t decided exactly what to include in the filibuster-proof measure, though Conrad promised it wouldn’t be used to pass deeply controversial legislation to curb global warming.