Today: 2017-03-01

Richard Eskow
Trump Offers “A Nation of Miracles.” Your Move, Democrats.

Tuesday’s speech largely toed the Republican party line. Take infrastructure. On the campaign trail, Trump promised major government investment. On Tuesday, he promised a financial boon for corporations and bankers. He promised no American would go without healthcare. But the ideas Trump floated on Tuesday could have been written by the insurance executives he hosted on Monday – and probably were … He has promised not to cut Social Security or Medicare … But he pointedly refused to repeat that promise on Tuesday night.

Tone Deaf

Tone is meaningless, says Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein: “Governing, the old saw says, is choosing. To the joint session of Congress, Trump made no choices at all. It was an hour plus of cotton candy. I suspect it’ll get excellent reviews; a lot of pundits who have been brutal to Trump will welcome the chance to praise him, and I suspect everyone is pleased to have the president toss aside his clown act, at least for one night. But it’s a sugar high, and there won’t be much if anything remaining of it after a few hours.”

OurFuture.org’s Isaiah J. Poole slams Trump’s racism: “[Trump] flung an amount of cynical racial exploitation and manipulation during his speech before a joint session of Congress Tuesday night that was unprecedented in recent memory … Without addressing the deep concerns communities of color have about police abuse of deadly force, Trump reprised a version of the law-and-order themes that dominated his campaign for the presidency … Even more pernicious was his use of African-American crime victims as poster images for his efforts to deport millions of black and brown immigrants who are living peaceably in our communities.”

Details, Details

Few immigration details. HuffPost: “Hours before his speech to a joint session of Congress, the president reportedly told news anchors he was open to a legal status for some undocumented immigrants … Trump’s speech, however, gave no such indication, even though it mentioned immigration reform … The president only addressed one aspect of immigration legislation: the need to reform legal immigration to a ‘merit-based immigration system.’ … He discussed immigrants almost exclusively in the context of crime, terrorism and lowering Americans’ wages.”

Few health care details. HuffPost: “…outside of some general platitudes that Trump has long endorsed, the president offered no new guidelines for a replacement to former President Barack Obama’s 2010 law … for the lawmakers actually familiar with the complexity of ‘replacing’ the Affordable Care Act, it was revealing that the president put the onus on Congress to resolve this issue. Compare that vague, lead-from-behind approach to Trump’s section on a tax overhaul, where he said, ‘My economic team is developing historic tax reform.’”

Few tax details. Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump offered no new details of his plan to overhaul corporate and individual taxes — renewing questions about whether he supports a controversial proposal to tax U.S. companies’ imports while excluding their exports … Trump’s tax plans for individuals also remain to be clarified…”

“Donald Trump Goes All In for the Military-Industrial Complex” writes The Nation’s John Nichols: “…the president imagined that the United States could cut taxes for wealthy Americans and corporations, rip tens of billions of dollars out of domestic programs (and diplomacy), hand that money over to the military-industrial complex, and somehow remain a functional and genuinely strong nation.”

Former Gov. Steve Beshear slams Trump in Democratic response. Politico: “[He delivered] a direct shot at Trump’s support among working-class Americans, many of whom have benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion … ‘So far, every Republican idea to “replace” the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of Americans covered, despite promises to the contrary,’ he said. ‘Mr. President, folks here in Kentucky expect you to keep your word. Because this isn’t a game — it’s life and death for people.’”

Back to (Not) Governing

“Republicans near make-or-break moment on Obamacare repeal” reports Politico: “… Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called a special all-members caucus meeting Wednesday to try and get his rowdy caucus in line … GOP leaders are facing pressure from both moderates and conservatives as they try to craft a bill … [They] are coming to grips with the growing possibility they’ll have to just put a repeal bill on the floor — and dare GOP lawmakers to vote no.”

Trump delays new travel ban. CNN: “Signing the executive order Wednesday, as originally indicated by the White House, would have undercut the favorable coverage [from Trump’s address to Congress … ‘We want the (executive order) to have its own “moment,”‘ [a senior administration] official said.”

Trump’s trade representative on slow track to Senate confirmation. Canadian Press: “…Robert Lighthizer’s approval as U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) could be delayed for months, amid partisan stalling and because past legal work for foreign governments means he needs a special waiver from Congress … Does that mean [NAFTA] talks might be held up for months? [Rep. Chris] Collins replied: ‘Yup.’”

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Divergent Visions: GOP Budget Plans Don’t Line Up With US Priorities

New analysis examines how competing federal budget proposals rate in responding to the stated policy priorities of the American people

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

The competing federal budget proposals will now wind their way through a fractured Congress. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

The differences between the four budget proposals recently put forth by President Barack Obama, both Republican-majority houses of the U.S. Congress, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus are “stark,” according to a new analysis—while some provisions in the GOP blueprints “completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”

The National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to making the federal budget process transparent, released Competing Visions on Friday.

The report compares how each budget proposal responds (or not) to the stated policy priorities of the American people, on key issues including jobs, education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food assistance, and military spending, as well as proposed strategies for tax reform and deficit reduction.

“Our analysis shows that, in most spending categories, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the president would do the most to address the priorities voiced by the majority of Americans,” said Jasmine Tucker, research analyst for NPP and author of the report. “In some areas, the House and Senate budget proposals completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”

For example, on the issue of taxing the wealthy, according to the NPP analysis:

  • 68 percent of Americans think wealthy households don’t pay enough in taxes.
  • The Obama budget proposal raises top capital gains tax rate to 28 percent and closes the “trust fund loophole” that allows heirs to avoid taxation, raising $208 billion over 10 years. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and implements the Buffett Rule ensuring a minimum tax rate for the wealthy. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and ends the “carried interest” loophole that benefits hedge fund managers to raise $17.6 billion over 10 years.
  • The House budget calls for comprehensive tax reform that would lower tax rates for individuals and families. Closes some special interest tax loopholes but does not specify which ones. Eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax that sets a minimum tax for the wealthy.
  • The Senate budget contains no proposed changes to the status quo.
  • The CPC proposal raises tax rates for richest 2 percent (earning more than $250,000 per year) to Clinton-era levels, and taxes capital gains investment earnings at higher rates, yielding $1.4 trillion in additional revenue over 10 years. Places a cap on the value of itemized deductions that mostly benefit the wealthy (raising $566 billion over 10 years) and limits other tax deductions for top income earners.

Similar discrepancies exist on almost every issue.

As Tucker put it: “The differences between the four budget proposals are stark, and all signs indicate a difficult budget battle ahead as lawmakers try to resolve widely different approaches despite clear public opinion in favor of certain policies.”

While 70 percent of Americans oppose cuts to food stamps, the House and Senate budget plans would both cut the program.

While 67 percent say improving the education system in the U.S. should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year, the House and Senate allocate no new funding for education—and in fact the House proposal “freezes the maximum Pell grant award at the same level for the next 10 years, provides financial aid to fewer families, and makes substantial cuts to domestic discretionary spending, including education.”

Overall, the House Republican budget would cut $5 trillion in government spending over the next decade, mostly out of programs that low- and moderate-income Americans need and depend on—and say they support. At the same time, it adds $400 million in defense spending—not in line with public opinion polls—and promises to lower tax rates for wealthy Americans and corporations.

The Senate version follows the same basic outlines.

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also noted the divergence between GOP policies and the priorities of the general public.

“[T]he rich get much richer, and the Republicans think they need more help,” he said. “The middle class and working families of this country become poorer, and the Republicans think we need to cut programs they desperately need. Frankly, those may be the priorities of some of my Republican colleagues in this room, but I do not believe that these are the priorities of the American people.”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Sequestration, the Pentagon, and the States

Sequestration, the Pentagon, and the States offers selected state-level briefs focused on the local impact of looming automatic across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration and historically high levels of Pentagon spending.

On March 1, unless Congress acts, billions of dollars will be cut from domestic programs and the Pentagon. But while these cuts will have a devastating impact on many domestic programs, the Pentagon is better positioned to absorb them due to the significant growth in military spending over the past decade.

Highlights of the release focus on critical domestic programs that could see their funding cut if sequestration goes into effect, and the impact that modest reductions in Pentagon spending could have to safeguard these programs, such as:

  • A $50 billion cut in Pentagon spending could fund five years of Community Development Block Grants AND five years of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) AND four years of Homeless Assistance Grants.
  • Military spending has grown by 35 percent since 2002, 48 percent if you include war costs. Domestic discretionary spending grew by only 8 percent over that period.
  • Funding for FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program has been cut by 53 percent over the last three years. Sequestration would reduce the program’s $100 million FY2013 proposed budget by $5.1 million.
  • At the University of Virginia the Virginia share of total projected Pentagon spending for Fiscal Year 2013, $16 billion, would fund all in-state expenses of a four-year education for each incoming freshman class for the next 46.3 years.

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Read the full report published by the National Priorities Project

Why Use a Bludgeon When a Calculator Will Do?

Some lawmakers have an almost-mythical resistance to raising revenue at a moment when affluent individuals and big corporations have the lowest tax burden in more than half a century.

— by Jo Comerford

Jo Comerford is the executive director of the National Priorities Project

Sequestration is both ugly and hard to explain. As a budget wonk, I like to use this metaphor:

It’s as if the American people are being squeezed into the back of a dilapidated Chevy pickup. Careening down a dirt road, we’re headed for a brick wall. Try as we might to wake up from this nightmare, we can’t stop the truck.

That sounds frightening, and it is. Once sequestration kicks in, we’ll feel the impact of approximately $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board federal cuts focused almost exclusively on discretionary spending.

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Designed as the ultimate penalty — a bludgeon when what’s called for is a calculator — sequestration was supposed to force members of Congress to work together within a deficit reduction paradigm. It failed as a disciplinary measure for our lawmakers and it’s looking more likely to fail us all, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized Americans.

Discretionary budget cuts aren’t equal. As legislated, sequestration slashes more or less evenly from what’s known as defense and non-defense discretionary spending. That sounds fair on the surface but consider that — at 57 percent of all discretionary spending —Pentagon-related federal expenditures have risen 35 percent since 2002, 48 percent when you include war costs. At the same time, non-military discretionary spending increased only eight percent, with notable reductions in funding for key social programs between 2010 and 2013.

Unlike the audit-dodging Pentagon, which has drawn bipartisan criticism for waste and bad management, there’s no excess to trim. Sequester cuts to depleted social initiatives will mean less money flowing into state and local budgets, job loss, and the termination of services in sectors where there are already aching gaps between what’s needed and what’s offered. The needs won’t evaporate. The costs will shift to cash-strapped state and local governments in the form of property tax hikes and budget overrides.

Consider the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. While we’ve been splitting hairs over public dollars for food and roads, the F-35 has become the most costly weapons program in U.S. history due to setbacks and delays. The cost of just one of these jets (and 2,457 are on order this year) is nearly equal to the entire cut projected for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program expected to take effect under sequestration.

Further, budgets are about revenue and spending. Many in Congress believe that the pot of money to be spent or saved is finite. It isn’t. Yet, some members have an almost mythical resistance to raising revenue at a moment when affluent individuals and big corporations have the lowest tax burden in more than half a century.

imagePrior to January 1, the top 1 percent of income earners got a bigger annual income-tax break than the bottom 99 percent earned on average each year. Members of Congress grudgingly let most of that benefit sunset at the end of 2012. As a result, we’ll see approximately $620 billion in additional revenue over the next decade.

There’s more available. What about ending the Bush tax cuts for the second-richest one percent? And what about corporations? Officially, large U.S. companies are slated to pay a 35 percent tax on their profits. In practice, they pay nothing like that. In 2012, for example, corporate givebacks, loopholes, and overseas tax havens cost the Treasury $165 billion.

We’d have a different national conversation right now if Congress would muster the political will to tackle tough questions like these.

The bottom line is that sequestration upends democracy. Americans deserve better than government by crisis. Through our taxes, we’re the nation’s major bill payers. Sequestration robs us — and our lawmakers — of our right and responsibility to make nuanced, thoughtful decisions about the fate of our nation. We need a federal budget by the people, for the people.


Jo Comerford is the executive director of the National Priorities Project. NPP is part of the Pentagon Budget Campaign, a broad national effort to rein in wasteful Pentagon spending. NationalPriorities.org  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)