What Makes Our Economy Grow?

Well, it’s certainly NOT what deadbeats Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei have to offer. Both voted yesterday to let the U.S. default on it’s debts, wreak havoc on the world economy and put the world reserve currency status of the U.S. dollar at risk.  But, despite their NAY votes, the bill passed and the government is once again open to conduct the people’s business, albeit temporarily yet again.  And while yet another committee works on trying to get the GOP to compromise on a workable budget, it’s time that we focus on Immigration Reform and begin to grow our economy.

The Wreckless, Heavy Toll of the Iraq War

Mar 19, 2013 | By ThinkProgress War Room

imageToday is one anniversary that is definitely not cause for celebration. Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush made the fateful decision to launch the unnecessary Iraq War.

The consequences of this decision have been overwhelming. A new report estimates that the Iraq War will end up costing American taxpayers at least $2.2 TRILLION, but perhaps as much as $4 TRILLION with interest since Bush put the war on the national credit card at the same he slashed taxes on the wealthy.

(Incidentally, $4 TRILLION is the total amount of deficit reduction that President Obama is seeking, including about $2 TRILLION in the current round of negotiations in order to replace the sequester and stabilize our long-term debt.)

The bill for the war may be large, but the human cost of the Iraq War is even more staggering. It’s estimated that 200,000 people, civilians and soldiers alike, were killed as a result of the war. A million other Iraqis were displaced by the conflict.

These topline figures are just the beginning. Our ThinkProgress colleagues outline five ways the U.S. is worse off because of the Iraq War:

1. The debt

At the start of the war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost around $50-60 billion in total. They were wrong by more than a factor of ten, sending the U.S.’ debt soaring, a condition that has yet to be rectified. According to a recent study, the war is set to have cost the U.S $2.2 trillion, though that number may reach up to $4 trillion thanks to interest payments on the loans taken out to finance the conflict. Of that staggering amount, at least $10 billion of it was completely wasted in rebuilding efforts.

2. The physical and psychological strain on U.S. troops.

The soldiers charged with fighting the war were stretched to their limits, put through multiple tours, with increasing length of time overseas as the war stretched on and shrinking downtime in between each. All-told, over 4,000 U.S. troops died during the country’s time in Iraq, with another 31,000 wounded in action. In the aftermath, the cost of providing medical care to veterans has doubled, adding to the difficulties faced by those who served. Up to 35 percent of Iraq War veterans will suffer from PTSD according to a 2009 study, while the suicide rate among veterans has jumped to 22 per day.

3. The forgotten war in Afghanistan.

Even worse, the war in Iraq caused the U.S. to take its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. Rather than following through, the Bush administration allowed the country to stagnate, prompting a Taliban resurgence beginning in 2004. As the West focused almost exclusively on Iraq, Taliban fighters imported tactics seen in Iraq to great effect, keeping the Afghan government weak and U.S.-led NATO forces on their heels. The result: the United States is still attempting to tamp down on Taliban momentum today.

4. The opportunity costs.

Aside from missed opportunities in Afghanistan, the Iraq War-effort was all-consuming, pulling resources from all other areas of U.S. defense policy. Relationships with key allies were allowed to grow stale and U.S. prestige around the world plummeted. Fighting in Iraq was realized to be a diversion from combating al Qaeda, drawing funding that could have gone towards a litany of other efforts to effectively counter terrorism.

5. The strengthening of Iran and al Qaeda.

The power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam and the lack of adequate U.S. forces left room for U.S. adversaries to fill the void. Counter to what some still believe, Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq prior to 2003. Instead, it was only in the post-Saddam climate that they gained a foothold in the form of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group continues to carry out attacks against civilians to this day, keeping the Iraqi government on edge.

In the end, it was not the United States that gained the most strategically from invading Iraq, but the Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran. In removing Saddam Hussein’s predominantly Sunni regime from power, the U.S. opened the door to a greater Iranian influence in the region. That influence has been seen playing out counter to U.S. interests in situations such as allowing Iranian planes bearing weapons for Syria to cross Iraqi airspace.

Given that we know now that the war was launched on false premises and have witnessed what has happened since, you’d think the architects of the war would at least admit they wrong or express some regret. You’d be wrong.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took to Twitter today to pat himself on back:

“10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”

Richard Perle argued in an opinion piece earlier this week that it was still right to have removed Saddam Hussein, even though he had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Top war architect Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that things “spiraled out of control,” but blamed others and argued that things would’ve been different if the war had been prosecuted his way (it was, incidentally).

Astonishingly, the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka even went so far this week as to argue that the mess in Iraq is really President Obama’s fault. This view was echoed yesterday by Fouad Ajami, a conservative intellectual close to Wolfowitz and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also criticized Obama for ending “an honorable war.”

It appears that the American people are smarter, or at least more honest, than the neocons who led us into perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Polls out this week show that a majority of Americans believe the Iraq War was not worth fighting.

Check out our complete timeline of the Iraq War. For more on the true costs of the Iraq War, please see our updated Iraq War Ledger.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

What ‘Grand Bargainers’ Simpson and Bowles Really Stand For

By  | November 28, 2012 | Originally Published on Campaign for America’s Future Blog

There has been a lot of discussion about Congress enacting a “grand bargain” during the lame duck session of Congress.  Many members of Congress have talked about using the plan put forward by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles as an outline for a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction.

Let me take this opportunity to tell you a little about Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and what their plan would do.

As many of you know, Alan Simpson is a former conservative Republican Senator from Wyoming who has wanted to cut Social Security benefits for decades.

Here are just a few of the rude, inaccurate, and derogatory statements that Alan Simpson has made about Social Security:

  • On August 24, 2010, Alan Simpson wrote in an e-mail to the head of the Older Women’s League: “And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits!  Call when you get honest work!”
  • On Friday, May 6, 2011, Alan Simpson told the Investment Company Institute, that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme”, “not a retirement program.”  Simpson went on to say that Social Security “was never intended as a retirement program. It was set up in ‘37 and ‘38 to take care of people who were in distress — ditch diggers, wage earners — it was to give them 43 percent of the replacement rate of their wages. The [life expectancy] was 63. That’s why they set retirement age at 65.”
  • On June 19, 2010, Alan Simpson said: “Social Security was never a retirement. It was set up to take care of poor guys in the depression who lost their butts who were getting butchered.”

Erskine Bowles has been a board member of Morgan Stanley since 2005 and made a fortune as a Wall Street investment banker as many of you know.

However, you may not know that Erskine Bowles made the following statement in 2011 at the University of North Carolina: “Paul Ryan is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere. And the budget that he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget and it cut the budget deficit just like we did, by $4 trillion.”

You may also be unaware that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson endorsed Congressman Charles Bass (R-NH) against progressive Democrat Ann McClane Kuster.

In their endorsement of Rep. Bass, Bowles and Simpson wrote: “Charlie supported a plan that demonstrated it is possible to raise revenues for deficit reduction through pro-growth tax reforms that reduce tax rates for individuals and businesses.  Likewise, it is possible to reform entitlement programs … He is a brave leader who deserves the thanks of everyone who really cares about our nation’s future.”

Rep. Bass voted for the Paul Ryan budget that every Democrat in the Senate has voted against.  In contrast, Kuster, who went on to defeat Rep. Bass, has said: “Let me be clear: I will never cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. My Tea Party opponent will.”

Even more distressing, in my opinion, is the belief that the Simpson-Bowles plan is a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that we should be using as a model.

Here are the major elements of the Simpson-Bowles plan that I believe the Democratic Caucus should strongly oppose:

  1. Cutting Social Security benefits for current retirees.  The Simpson-Bowles plan would reduce Social Security benefits for current retirees by using a “chained-CPI” to determine cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs).  According to the Social Security Administration, enacting a chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits by $112 billion over 10 years meaning that the average Social Security recipient who retires at age 65 would get $560 less a year at age 75 and would get $1,000 less a year at age 85 than under current law.

    Two-thirds of senior citizens rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, and the average Social Security benefit today is about $1,200 a month.  At a time when seniors haven’t received a Social Security COLA in two out of the last three years as the price of prescription drugs and healthcare have gone up, the Simpson-Bowles plan would make it harder for today’s average senior citizen to make ends meet.

  2. Cutting veterans’ benefits.   Not only would enacting a chained-CPI be harmful to senior citizens, it would also make substantial cuts to the VA benefits of more than 3 million veterans.  The largest cuts in benefits would impact young, permanently disabled veterans who were seriously wounded in combat.  According to the Social Security Administration, permanently disabled veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,300 a year at age 45; $1,800 a year at age 55; and $2,260 a year at age 65.  That would be simply unacceptable.
  3. Raising the retirement age to 69 years.  Increasing the retirement age to 69 would reduce lifetime Social Security benefits for workers by about 13 percent.  This would be particularly harmful to construction workers, nurses, factory workers and other labor intensive jobs.  According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, 45 percent of workers who are 58 years of age and older work in physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult working conditions.  Moreover, older Americans have a higher rate of long-term unemployment than any other age group.
  4. Cutting Social Security benefits for middle class workers.  According to the Social Security Administration, all of the Social Security policy changes in Bowles-Simpson would cut average annual Social Security benefits for middle-income workers (with average annual lifetime earnings of between $43,000 and $69,000) by up to 35 percent.
  5. Reducing tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations.  The Simpson-Bowles plan would significantly reduce income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations to between 23 and 29 percent — even lower than the top rate of 35% under the Bush tax cuts.    Simpson and Bowles claim that some $1.2 trillion in revenue would be increased under their proposal by eliminating or reducing tax expenditures, such as the mortgage interest deduction, and the tax exclusion on employer health insurance and pension plans.  However, a March 22, 2012 Congressional Research Service report has suggested that federal income tax rates could be reduced by no more than two percentage points under a realistic scenario of reducing tax expenditures in order to be deficit neutral, and could not reduce the deficit.

    The President and almost all Democrats have supported repealing the Bush tax breaks for the top two percent.  That means that the top individual income tax rate would be increased from 35 percent to 39.6 percent – the same level under President Clinton when over 22 million new jobs were created.  We should eliminate corporate tax loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthy — and use this revenue to reduce the deficit and create jobs, not to lower tax rates.

Other harmful provisions in the Simpson-Bowles plan include:

  • Increasing the regressive gas tax by 15 cents starting next year;
  • Increasing premiums for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program;
  • Increasing interest rates on student loans;
  • Increasing co-payments for middle class veterans receiving health care through the VA;
  • Cutting 450,000 jobs in the federal workforce and private companies under contract with the federal government;
  • Eliminating or limiting the exclusion of taxation on employer provided health insurance and pensions;
  • Encouraging companies to ship jobs to China and other low wage countries by adopting a “territorial” tax system allowing corporations to evade U.S. income taxes by establishing subsidiaries overseas;
  • Increasing taxes on low-income workers making between $10,000 to $20,000 a year by 14.5% in 2021 by moving to a chained-CPI; and
  • Reducing the number of Americans eligible for Medicaid, SSI, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, WIC, Head Start, LIHEAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Refundable Child Credit, and the Savers’ credit by shifting to a chained-CPI.

Those are the major elements of the Simpson-Bowles plan.  If enacted, they will cause major economic pain to virtually every American, while lowering tax rates for millionaires, billionaires and large corporations even more than President Bush.

For all of these reasons, I hope you will join me in opposing the Simpson-Bowles approach to deficit reduction.


Bernie Sanders is an independent U.S. senator from Vermont. This was written as a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of the U.S. Senate and was published on the Campaign for America’s Future Blog

Heller’s Out-of-Touch Agenda Would Hurt Nevada

This morning, Rep. Shelley Berkley held a conference call with Seniors across Nevada to highlight how Sen. Heller intends to vote this week to END Medicare for the second time (he already voted to end it while a member of the House).  Here’s the press release issued after that call:

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Las Vegas, NV – In anticipation of this week’s vote on the reckless Republican budget proposal in the Senate, Rep. Shelley Berkley held a conference call with seniors from across Nevada to discuss a new state-specific report detailing how appointed Senator Dean Heller’s plan to end Medicare will harm Nevada seniors.

Heller voted for the budget plan as a member of the House of Representatives and said he would be “proud” to vote for it again as an appointed member of the Senate.

“This week, the U.S. Senate will vote on Dean Heller’s reckless plan to end Medicare so he can pay for billions more in wasteful tax subsidies to Big Oil,” Berkley said.

“Dean Heller has said he is proud to be the only member of Congress to vote for this irresponsible plan twice.  With these votes, Dean Heller is making perfectly clear to Nevada seniors where his priorities are, and that is ending their Medicare so he can give billions more in tax giveaways to the Big Oil companies that fund his campaign.”

Berkley went on to highlight the clear choice Nevada faces in next year’s election.  “I am fighting to protect Nevada seniors from Dean Heller and Washington Republicans’ assault on their healthcare, while Dean Heller wants to end Medicare as we know it.”

Scott Watts from Carson City joined Berkley on the call, saying “it’s time for Dean Heller to come clean about his plan to end Medicare.  Nevada seniors cannot afford Dean Heller in the United States Senate.  He is not looking out for our interests.”

Carl Martinez from Las Vegas said the Heller/GOP budget “is going to be a disaster for our Medicare recipients and Congresswoman Berkley has been one of the strongest opponents,” of Heller’s plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Barbara Stone from Reno shared her story of how Medicare saved her life.  “Without Medicare, I wouldn’t be here, and what Dean Heller wants to do is absolutely ludicrious, we cannot survive on a voucher system.”

To view the report with Nevada specific numbers on how the Heller/GOP budget would detrimentally impact Nevada seniors, view here:

http://democrats.senate.gov/gop-budget/pdf/gop-budget-nv.pdf

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