February 17th, 2012
New York Times
By: John H. Cushman Jr. and Robert Pear
With members of both parties expressing distaste at some of the particulars, Congress on Friday voted to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits and sent the legislation to President Obama, ending a contentious political and policy fight.
The vote in the House was 293 to 132 with Democrats, who are in the minority, carrying the proposal over the top with the acquiescence of almost as many Republicans. The Senate followed within minutes and approved the measure on a vote of 60 to 36.
“One hundred sixty million Americans,” said Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who, as chairman of the Finance Committee, led negotiations over the measure with the House. “That’s the number of Americans who are helped by this bill.”
President Obama has said he will sign the bill as soon as Congress passed it, with lawmakers seeking to wrap up the legislation before leaving on the Washington’s Birthday break.
A compromise allowing the extension of the tax holiday for the rest of the year came together quickly this week, as Republicans decided it was not politically viable to resist in an election year. It avoided an abrupt increase in payroll taxes that would have taken effect March 1, returning them to the level of 2010. The taxes are withheld from the paychecks of most wage earners and finance the Social Security system.
The legislation also temporarily avoids cuts in payments to doctors under federal health insurance programs.
In the negotiations, which took place during a two-month temporary extension of a popular tax break that had been in place throughout 2011, Republicans gave up on their demands that the tax cuts be paid for. But they won provisions that would pay for the other spending increases in the bill by making cuts in other federal programs involving health care and government pensions.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the package will increase the budget deficit by $119.5 billion over the next five years, but by a bit less over the longer haul as some of the spending reductions and new revenues are fully realized.
Republicans who said they supported the deal said they had won several important concessions during the talks, like imposing new conditions and limits on unemployment compensation and making a significant cut in the preventive-health spending called for in the health care overhaul that Democrats pushed through Congress in 2010.
Representative Renee Ellmers, Republican of North Carolina, called that cut “the most dramatic blow to Obamacare yet.”
But she said the overall deal was “a very important breakthrough and shows that we can come together and compromise.”
Democrats, some of whom sharply condemned the deal, saw things differently. Even those who voted for the bill, which the White House supported and Democrats considered a major act of economic stimulus to propel the recovery forward, said many of its provisions were misguided.
Two Democratic leaders, Representatives Steny H. Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen, both of whose Maryland districts contain thousands of federal employees, denounced cuts in future pension benefits for government employees, which were used to pay for the extension of unemployment benefits. They would have preferred tax increases on the wealthy, or on corporations, or closing loopholes like the one that lets fund managers treat their income as lightly-taxed “carried interest.”
“Nobody else in this bill, not a millionaire, not a billionaire, not a carried-interest beneficiary, not an oil company, nobody in this bill other than federal employees is asked to pay,” fumed Mr. Hoyer, the Democratic whip, confident that his denunciation of the bill would not endanger its passage.
“It’s time to stop scapegoating federal employees,” Mr. Van Hollen said.
Under the bill, the government would save $15 billion over 10 years by reducing its contribution to federal employee pensions and requiring new workers to contribute more.
But ultimately, the Democrats pronounced themselves satisfied.
“On balance, I come down in favor of supporting what the president asked us to do,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader.
In the Senate, there is considerable support for the bill in both parties, but just enough opposition to stop its passage from being a sure thing until the last moment.
The Congressional Budget Office said the provisions of the bill, taken together, would increase the federal budget deficit by $101 billion this year and by a total of $89 billion from 2012 to 2022. One provision, continuing the payroll tax cut for the next 10 months, will cost $93 billion, the budget office said.
Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the bill “prevents a tax increase for working Americans and makes the most significant reforms to federal unemployment programs since they were created in the 1930s.”
In addition, Mr. Camp said, the bill “ensures that seniors continue to have access to their doctors.”
Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, said the bill “will provide a boost to the economy” and create jobs.
“Unemployment insurance — people spend it,” Mr. Levin said. “That’s good for their subsistence. It’s good for the economy.”
For The Full Report Go To New York Times
January 4th, 2011
By: David Knowles
Up, up and away?
While debate rages over what killed approximately 4,000 birds above Beebe, Ark., on New Year’s Eve, one possible explanation could be that the red-winged blackbirds caught wind of a little reported heart-stopping piece of news from that same day: The nation’s national debt officially topped $14 trillion on the last day of 2010.
In fact, according to the U.S. Treasury, the debt on Dec. 31 stood at $14,025,215,218,708.52.
As Surge Desk is crazy for facts and figures, we thought we’d share some of the startling details about the steep rise of the nation’s red ink.
- The national debt has risen by $1 trillion since June.
- Since Barack Obama became president, the national debt has gone up by $3,398,338,169,794.44.
- The Treasury estimates that the national debt will rise to $19.6 trillion by 2015.
- The recent tax cut deal between Obama and congressional Republicans will add an estimated $1.24 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years.
April 16, 2010
by Sam Youngman
President Barack Obama struck a hyperpartisan note Thursday, telling Democrats that he was “amused” by the Tax Day Tea Party rallies.
Obama, addressing a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser in Miami, did little to endear himself to the Tea Party groups protesting around the country, saying “they should be saying thank you” because of the tax cuts he has signed into law.
The president went as far as to say that this week’s special election in Florida, which was won by Democrat Ted Deutch, was portrayed by Republicans as “a referendum on healthcare, a referendum on the stimulus.”
“And you know what, it was,” Obama said to applause.
Obama continued to dare Republicans to run on a platform of repealing healthcare reform, telling the audience “they won’t be very successful.”
Despite the president’s confidence, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine told the crowd that they should assume that Democrats are “running into a headwind” in the November midterms.
Kaine said Democrats, who gathered at one of two fundraisers that raised about $2.5 million for the party, are the underdogs this year.
“You don’t mind being the underdog, you don’t mind running into a headwind, you don’t mind an uphill race,” Kaine said. “You don’t mind being the underdog. Becasue that’s what Democrats do. We are the underdogs.”
Obama also continued to try to make the case that a vote against financial regulatory reform is a vote on behalf of Wall Street and against Main Street.
“Every member of Congress is soon going to have to make a decision, but the choice is going to be very simple between special interests and the American people,” Obama said.
The president was returning to Washington on Thursday night.
March 3, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
A string of electoral defeats and the great unpopularity of ObamaCare can’t stop Democrats from their self-appointed rendezvous with liberal destiny—ramming a bill through Congress on a narrow partisan vote. What we are about to witness is an extraordinary abuse of traditional Senate rules to pass a bill merely because they think it’s good for the rest of us, and because they fear their chance to build a European welfare state may never come again.
The vehicle is “reconciliation,” a parliamentary process that fast-tracks budget measures and was created in 1974 as a deficit-reduction tool. Limited to 20 hours of debate, reconciliation bills need a mere 50 votes in the Senate, with the Vice President as tie-breaker, thus circumventing the filibuster. Both Democrats and Republicans have frequently used reconciliation on budget bills, so Democrats are now claiming that using it to pass ObamaCare is no big deal.
Yet this shortcut has never been used for anything approaching the enormity of a national health-care entitlement. Democrats are only resorting to it now because their plan is in so much political trouble—within their own party, and even more among the general public—and because they’ve failed to make their case through persuasion.
“They know that this will take courage,” Nancy Pelosi said in an interview over the weekend, speaking of the Members she’ll try to strong-arm. “It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare,” the Speaker continued. “But the American people need it, why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress.”
Leave aside the irony of invoking “the American people” on behalf of a bill that consistently has been 10 to 15 points underwater in every poll since the fall, and is getting more unpopular by the day, particularly among independents. As Maine Republican Olympia Snowe pointed out in a speech last December, Social Security passed when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House, yet 64% of Senate Republicans and 79% of the House GOP voted for it. More than half of the Senate Republican caucus voted for Medicare in 1965. Historically, major social legislation has always been bipartisan, because it reflects a durable political consensus.
Reconciliation is the last mathematical gasp for ObamaCare because Democrats can’t sell their policy to Senator Snowe, any other Republican, or even dozens of Democrats. This raw exercise of political power is of a piece with the copious corruption and bribery—such as the Cornhusker kickbacks and special tax benefits for union members—that liberals had to use to get even this far.
Democrats often point to welfare reform in 1996 as a reconciliation precedent, yet that bill passed the Senate with 78 votes, including Joe Biden and half of the Democratic caucus. The children’s health insurance program in 1997 was steered through Congress with reconciliation, but it, too, was built on strong (if misguided) bipartisan support. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that created Schip passed 85-15, including 43 Republicans. Even President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, another case in reconciliation point, were endorsed by 12 Senate Democrats.