"Rapidly rising health care costs are not simply a federal budget problem," the GAO report says. "Growth in health-related spending is the primary driver of the fiscal challenges facing state and local governments as well. Unsustainable growth in health care spending also threatens to erode the ability of employers to provide coverage to their workers and undercuts their ability to compete in a global marketplace."
So, Congress, which side are you on? Are you with us for quality, affordable health care for all? Or are you with the insurance companies, working to preserve our broken system?
We've set up a quick and easy way for you to contact your Members of Congress and ask them if they support our vision for health care reform. Just click here and enter in your phone number and address. Choose the elected official you want to talk to and in a few moments, we'll call your phone and connect you automatically.
Over the next few weeks, we want to make 100,000 calls to Congress, asking every Member which side they are on. We need your help to do it, so please click here to call!
Once your done with your call, tell us what happened so we can keep track of where Congress stands. As of today, we're proud to announce Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), are with us. The rest, so far, are unknown. You can see the full list here.
Health care is a priority for the American people. It's a priority for Nancy Pelosi. It's up to us to make sure it's a priority for Congress as well. Please take a moment, call your Members of Congress, and ask them which side they are on.
Oh, and if you have a blog or website, you can help spread the word about this campaign by embedding the widget you see above on your site. Just copy and paste the code here.
(Good follow-up to Eric's post on the state's budget deficit. - promoted by Isaac Smith)
Like so many other states, Maryland could be on the cusp of a huge budget shortfall. The Washington Post is reporting that lawmakers learned that a $200 million budget shortfall could be on the horizon if the economy doesn't get better.
Legislative analysts reported that collections of income and sales taxes, the two largest sources of general fund revenue, have fallen short of expectations, a trend that shows no signs of changing soon.
"You probably need to start thinking about what you're going to do . . . if revenues don't meet their targets," said Warren Descheneaux, the General Assembly's top budget analyst.
Yea, I'd say that wouldn't be such a bad idea Mr. Descheneaux. Even though this shortfall isn't nearly as bad as the $1.5 billion gap that required a special session last year, its still around $200 million more than you'd like to see. Especially when there are no signs that this dragging economy is going to tick upwards anytime soon.
It seems a little quixotic at this point, since it looks like the Senate will vote overwhelmingly in favor of the "compromise" on warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity that will sweep the whole matter of the Bush administration's abuse of its surveillance powers under the rug, but we should let our Senators know that this vote to amend FISA is important, and one that we will remember. (For the record, Ben Cardin is against retroactive immunity, while Barbara Mikulski is in favor.)
I'm also going to throw in Barack Obama's contact info; as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, he should know that this is not an issue he can falter on and still claim the mantle of change:
Just when you thought the economy had hit rock bottom. The Conference Board, a non-profit global business organization has reported that its consumer confidence index has dropped to its lowest point since the last recession in 1992. The New York Times paints the grim picture:
Tuesday’s data suggested a nation struggling with expensive gas and devalued homes, where people are fearful for their jobs and wary about where the economy is headed.
Any positive signs that economists and forecasters may have cited need to be thrown out the window. Even with the consumer confidence index at 50.4%, down a whopping 7.7% from May, the worst may still be yet to come. This report should be a wake up call to legislators across the country on behalf of a nation in desperate need of more help.
As the economy worsens, more and more key players are getting on board with the idea of a second economic recovery package. But not everyone's where we need them to be to get something done in time to matter. For example Rep. David Obey (D-WI), powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee free associated to Congress Daily (subscription only) and revealed that he doesn't quite get how urgent doing something to stave off this recession is:
"People use all kinds of terminology; I don't care if you call it a second supplemental or a second economic [stimulus] package -- to me there are all kinds of things that we need domestically -- but we need finish this job [war supplemental] before we can start thinking about the next one"
This pains me. Not only are House Democrats punting on telecom immunity, they're putting war spending ahead of domestic spending.
As I wrote on myDD, Bush's first economic stimulus package just didn't work. We didn't get the big sweeping surge of economic growth we were promised. Even what good news we've gotten was drowned out by a chorus of story after story of bad economic news. The costs of living are growing rapidly as employment becomes harder to find. Food is getting more expensive as food bank lines grow longer. The longer Congress waits to act, the worse things will get.
At least 12 states have implemented or are considering cuts that will affect low-income children's or families' eligibility for health insurance or reduce their access to health care services.
At least 10 states are cutting or proposing to cut K-12 education; three of them are proposing cuts that would affect access to child care.
At least 11 states have proposed or implemented reductions their state workforce. Workforce reductions often result in reduced access to services residents need.
And when states are forced to do things like cut their state workforce, the economy suffers even more. According to CNN/Money:
With falling revenue from sales and income taxes, and property-tax declines looming, states, cities and towns have already laid off tens of thousands of government employees. Many expect more job cuts ahead as public officials struggle to balance their budgets.
Economists say that cutbacks in jobs and spending by local governments could be a major drag on the overall economy.
It's cool that Obey recognizes the need for a second stimulus package. But he also needs to understand that each day he lets pass without doing something means the economic hole we're in is that much deeper and is going to require that much more federal spending to help us get out of.
CQ Politics is reporting on the Democratic leadership's desire for a second package to strengthen the economy that largely lines up with Barack Obama's plans. But are Congressional Dems omitting aid to state governments, one of the key planks of Obama's plan?
Democrats have been contemplating a second effort to inject money this year into the faltering economy. The idea appears to have gained traction, particularly among congressional leaders, since Monday when presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois outlined a $50 billion stimulus proposal that will serve as the centerpiece of a two-week economic tour of battleground states.
Though the prospects for a second stimulus package are slim, the debate gives congressional Democrats an opportunity to rally around Obama.
The massive economic stimulus package enacted in February focused on tax breaks for businesses and rebates for individuals and families.
Obama has proposed a second round of rebate checks, an extension of unemployment insurance, aid to state governments and a new $10 billion fund to help stem the tide of home foreclosures.
He also proposed increasing investment in infrastructure such as roads, schools and bridges.
"There's a need for additional targeted stimulus," said Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad , D-N.D.
Schumer said infrastructure investment and a second round of rebate checks could be part of the new package, which Democrats are likely to unveil after the July Fourth recess
State government spending is a key prop holding up the economy during a recession. Dem leaders might want to check out the NYT, which pointed out earlier this week:
At $1.8 trillion annually in a $14 trillion economy, the states and municipalities spend almost twice as much as the federal government, including the cost of the Iraq war. When librarians, lifeguards, teachers, transit workers, road repair crews and health care workers disappear, or airport and school construction is halted, the economy trembles.
CQ and a number of other sources are announcing that Democrats plan to capitulate to Bush's demands on 11 of the 12 remaining appropriations bills.
The spending bills, combined, are $22 billion over Bush's FY2008 budget request. An initial offer to "split the difference" - so, $11 billion over his budget - was rejected via Jim Nussle, White House Budget Director.
It appears that the House will draft an omnibus spending bill that will fall within Bush's budget request. And no, they're not taking Rep. David Obey's (D-WI) suggestion to strip out all the earmarks to meet that goal.
The House bill will contain $30-some-odd billion for the war in Afghanistan. When the omnibus reaches the Senate, another $70 billion will be added for the war in Iraq. That $70 billion by the way, comes free and clear of any sort of timetables, benchmarks, standards, or accountability.
Why is this bad? The big reasons:
1) The federal government is currently running on a continuing resolution. In 2006, Congress failed to pass the FY2007 spending bills so they punted and funded all government programs at FY2006 levels.
This caused hiring freezes, delays and reductions in outlays to states for defense-related planning (e.g., BRAC in Maryland), and lower outlays for federal-state share plans like the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and more. It also meant that, essentially, most agencies took a hit since inflation rose and funding did not.
2) No strings attached to yet more war funding. According to the CBO, we've spent $640,000,000,000 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we reduce troops to 30,000 by 2010, we're looking at an additional $570,000,000,000. If not, we're looking at another $1,055,000,000,000 dollars by 2017. Neither of these figures include the cost of the administration’s initiative to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, which CBO estimates will cost $162,000,000,000 over the 2008–2017 period.
I am appalled that the Democrats are going to eat their own - namely the 73 members of the Out of Iraq Caucus (of which Elijah Cummings and Albert Wynn are members). I anticipate being further appalled when some of the 73 go back on their word and vote for this monstrosity.
I am appalled that the Democrats are going to allow domestic programs to continue to bear the brunt of an ill-conceived war, one in which our administration destroyed evidence of torture that was under FOIA request by the ACLU in the Southern District of New York.
I am appalled that the Democrats are probably going to roll back good, progressive policy in the omnibus, like weaking or repealing the Mexico City Policy, to get the thing signed into law so they can go home to their districts by Christmas.
I am embarrassed for the party. I am embarrassed to call myself a Democrat.
Edited to add: As I guessed, language weakening or repealing the atrocious Mexico City policy will NOT be included in the omnibus bill. Apparently Nancy Pelosi believes that Congress' "first and foremost" responsibility is to negotiate a spending bill "that will be signed" by President Bush.
A couple of days ago, Bush vetoed the FY2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies spending bill (HR 3043). This is the largest spending bill if you count mandatory spending, the second largest (behind Defense) if you don't.
The funding in this bill goes toward critical programs like Title X family planning programs, medical research at NIH and CDC, educational enrichment programs such as Head Start, Pell grants, the Ryan White CARE Act, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, community health centers, etc. Now, money for those programs won't dry up immediately -- we've a continuing resolution in place to fund the federal government until Dec. 14 -- but it does make planning very hard on affected agencies.
Why did he veto this bill? Well, he said he'd veto anything that was over his budget request made back in February. The bill would allocate $150.698 billion in discretionary (as opposed to mandatory, like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid) spending. That is $9.782 billion over Bush's request.
The $9.782 billion is roughly equivalent to the cost of 51 days (at $177 million per day, the extreme low-end of cost estimates) in Iraq. That's right, less than two months.
Besides that, the bill is only about 4.3% over FY2007 in terms of spending. Considering that biomedical inflation was 4.5% in FY2006 (when there was little or no increase to NIH and CDC) and was projected to be at least 3.7% in FY2007 (when Congress just passed the buck by enacting a long-term continuing resolution at the previous year's funding levels), this bill just barely keeps up with rising costs.
Today the House will try to override the veto and will fail.
Given that most of NIH's research institutes and the FDA call Maryland home, cuts to the Labor-H bill have a direct impact not only on the health of the nation, but also on Maryland's economic health. When resarch institutes have hiring freezes or lay-offs, that means fewer folks applying for staff and clinical positions. It means fewer home sales or rentals, fewer jobs for support staff from research assistants to cleaning staff to food service. It means that NIH doesn't sponsor as many clinical trials. It means the FDA becomes an agency in even deeper crisis.
Steny Hoyer's ill-fated attempt last week to roll out a foreign intelligence surveillance bill with weak protections for civil liberties was scuttled, as we know. The new bill, being put out by Reps. John Conyers and Silvestre Reyes, is a definite improvement, but not by much:
Call it a deal with the devil, but the House Democrats are set to offer compromise legislation that would allow the administration to conduct warrantless surveillance. The trade-off seems clear.
The bill would allow so-called "umbrella" warrants from the FISA Court for what The New York Timescalls "bundles of overseas communications." That umbrella would last for up to one year and is meant to extend to communications into and out of the United States. If the "target" was in the U.S., however, the administration would have to seek an individualized warrant from the court. The bill would also make clear that foreign to foreign communications do not require a warrant. The Times helpfully explains that the Dems "remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence."
In return, the Democrats would get some transparency goodies. Four times a year, the Justice Department's inspector general would perform an audit of the program. And the Department would be required to maintain "a database of all Americans subjected to government eavesdropping without a court order, including whether their names have been revealed to other government agencies."
Never mind that these "umbrella warrants" are a pretty definite violation of the Fourth Amendment, this proposal seems, if not great, at least not awful. A really good aspect is that it doesn't give retroactive immunity to telecom companies that have (allegedly) provided assistance to government spying, something that President Bush (and some Senators) had been asking for. Sadly, however, Hoyer is all too willing to oblige the Administration:
A top Democratic leader opened the door Tuesday to granting U.S. telecommunications companies retroactive legal immunity for helping the government conduct electronic surveillance without court orders, but said the Bush administration must first detail what those companies did.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said providing the immunity will likely be the price of getting President Bush to sign into law new legislation extending the government's surveillance authority. About 40 pending lawsuits name telecommunications companies for alleged violations of wiretapping laws. Democrats introduced a draft version of the new law Tuesday _ without the immunity language.
One hopes this is just speculation; corporate lawbreaking should not be rewarded.
That was the question being asked earlier this week regarding Democratic timidity on Iraq, from war funding bills with toothless benchmarks to the Democratic leadership shooting down Rep. David Obey's proposal for a war tax. As it turns out, with respect to the issue of warrantless wiretapping, he may not be the problem, but he's certainly not the solution.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House Majority Leader, postponed a press conference announcing new reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after progressive lawmakers banded together and said they would fight any legislation that did not include a set of eight principles on wiretapping that preserve the "rule of law."
"What's most significant is that the Progressive Caucus came together and said to the leadership that all 72 of us require that these provisions be included," said Caroline Fredercikson, Legislative Director for the American Civil Liberties Union. "This changes the dynamic significantly."
Rep. Hoyer had planned to roll out the new FISA reform bill at 1:30 PM today. A spokesperson from his office told the Huffington Post that the House Intelligence Committee had decided to postpone completion of the legislation, though it's not clear that the announcement from the Progressive Caucus influenced their decision. Votes in the House were also canceled today. The committee was not available at press time.
Let's hope the progressives in Congress keep up the pressure and prevent bad law from going through. As for Hoyer, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to see my congressman act as an enabler for the President's wrongheaded policies, even as the American public at large has turned against them.
The vote was 265-159, not quite the two-thirds that will be needed to override President Bush's promised veto. Of Maryland's delegation, all but Roscoe Bartlett voted aye; good to see Wayne Gilchrest, despite being under intense attack by hardliners in his party, standing on the side of right.
The Senate will likely vote on the bill later this week.
I read an article the other day that scared the hell out of me. It was Naomi Wolf's article about the ten-step method used to close down open Democratic societies and turn them into right-wing dictatorships.
I read similar "Rise of American-style Fascism" articles five years ago, and it shocks me that all ten steps are still occurring.
1. Invoke a terrifying external/internal enemy. Check. 2. Create a gulag. Check. 3. Develop a thug caste. Check.
The list goes on.
My question is, Why won't Maryland's Democrats in Congress fight this?
Bush has said he'll veto measure. At a press conference yesterday, he said, "The legislation would raise taxes on working people, and would raise spending by between $35 billion and $50 billion. Their proposal would result in taking a program meant to help poor children and turning it into one that covers children in households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year. The proposal would move millions of American children who now have private health insurance into government-run health care. Our goals should be for children who have no health insurance to be able to get private coverage, not for children who already have private health insurance to be able to get government coverage."
What he is referring to is crowd out. Crowd out occurs when families decline private coverage in favor of government plans. Or when employers stop offering coverage to their employee, or make it difficult to obtain, so as to encourage employees to use government coverage. To me, crowd out suggests that something is wrong with the private market, not that there is problem with the program itself. Although, I'd like to point out that a study by the Urban Institute way back in 2001 found that 17 of 18 profiled states had regulations in place designed to limit crowd out.
In any case, it appears the Senate bill will be the one to emerge from conference negotiations. The bill would expand the program by $35 billion over the next 5 years, mostly by raising federal taxes on tobacco products. Bush has said he'll veto anything bigger than the $5 billion he requested in the FY2008 budget.
I did not think much of the MoveOn ad about Gen. David Petraeus, but this is ridiculous:
The GOP-introduced resolution condemning MoveOn just passed by a huge margin, 72-25. Roughly half the Democrats in the Senate supported it.
A couple of the more interesting votes: Jim Webb, who just yesterday was a Netroots hero, voted for it, even though the last thing he needs as a military guy is cover on something like this.
Meanwhile, Hillary -- who's been under assault by Rudy for refusing to condemn MoveOn but who's also locked in a tough Dem primary -- stood her ground and voted No.
And of course, our two Senators, being the liberal stalwarts they are, voted for this travesty.
So let me get this straight: The Senate doesn't think the right of habeas corpus applies to everybody, nor does it think our soldiers deserve adequate time to rest between deployments, nor that the taxpayers of the District of Columbia are entitled to a vote in the U.S. Congress. It does, however, think that criticizing a general in a newspaper ad is beyond the pale.
I can't believe this. Aren't elections supposed to have consequences? It's like it's 2003 all over again.
(Think Progress reports that the Webb amendment failed to defeat the filibuster threat, 56-44. Not a good day for the Senate. - promoted by Isaac Smith)
That's Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia talking about his amendment to the defense appropriations bill due to come up for a vote any day now. It would require that soldiers being sent to Iraq be given adequate time to rest between deployments, something of extreme importance, given the severe strain our troops have been under. Incredibly, the Republicans in the Senate have mostly come out against it -- it would put a damper in their policy of endless war, after all -- but it looks like there may enough Republicans in favor to break a filibuster. As with the habeas corpus bill, our Senators are firmly behind the amendment, but still, let them know how important this legislation is to you:
Today may have been all same-sex marriage, all the time, but there's going to be a crucial vote in the Senate tomorrow that may reverse the Military Commissions Act, one of the more egregious assaults on the Constitution in the Bush years. As you can see by the chart above (props to Patrick Leahy and Chris Dodd for leading the charge on this issue), the Senate is only 8 6 votes away from a filibuster-proof majority. The good news is, both Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin have come out in favor of the bill. Give them a call anyway to let them know you appreciate what they're doing, and urge them to bring more of their colleagues around to the side of justice:
Via David Lublin, we get Rep. Chris Van Hollen's reaction to the Petraeus/Crocker report to Congress:
The testimony by General David Petreaus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker today offered no new information from what the Bush Administration has put forward in recent weeks. The whole purpose of the so-called ‘surge’ was to create political space to enable the Iraqi government to undertake political reconciliation. The GAO report on Iraq released last week underscored that this not happened, with Iraq only meeting one of eight legislative benchmarks. And in the assessment of our intelligence community, as enunciated in the declassified NIE of August 2007, the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to twelve months. Our brave American service men and women are sacrificing daily for a policy that has no end in sight. A policy of ‘more of the same’ is no strategic vision, strains our military to the breaking point, and enables Iraqi leaders to dither endlessly instead of reaching a political consensus over the future of their country.
Great! Couldn't have said it any better myself. I assume, then, that Rep. Van Hollen will be offering vigorous opposition to the toothless Iraq withdrawal bill, HR 3087, currently working its way through the House of Representatives, right?
Or not: According to BarbinMD of Daily Kos, Van Hollen is "undecided" about the bill. But I don't see how one can denounce a policy of "more of the same" and be "undecided" about a bill that will guarantee "more of the same," and continue to trap our armed forces in the current chaos in Iraq. As a member of the Democratic leadership, I would hope that Rep. Van Hollen will do more to change our war policy than to be "undecided."
As everyone knows, this is the week when Congress, and the nation, will finally get to hear the Petraeus Report (which, it turns out, will be neither authored by Gen. David Petraeus, nor be an actual report) on the military surge in Iraq. Despite the fact that its claims of reduced violence have already been debunked by multiple sources, the White House's propaganda coalition-building campaign to keep the war going appears thus far to be successful. We certainly have not seen the Democrats, by and large, presenting a united front against the Bush administration. Too many in Congress still -- still! -- too scared of being called weak on national security (even though our staying in Iraq is wrecking it), and the silence from most of the presidential candidates has been deafening. (Hillary? Obama? Where's your leadership on this issue now, not 18 months from now?)
Sadly, Maryland's congressional delegation has been pretty lousy as well. From House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, we've been getting rubbish like this:
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) came out on Wednesday in favor of holding a vote on a bipartisan Iraqi withdrawal bill. Meanwhile, the party’s left wing renewed calls for a pullout and announced a new campaign to block funds for arming and training the Iraq Security Forces.
The bipartisan legislation, authored by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.), would order Bush to draft plans to withdraw from Iraq but not require them to be implemented. Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) and two other Republicans have signed on as cosponsors.
“I would like to see us move forward on that,” Hoyer said. “The president ought to come up with a plan for withdrawal.”
Of course, President Bush is never going to voluntarily withrdraw troops from Iraq -- and has said as much -- but I digress.
I say Iraq/Iran because that's what the moneyappears to be for. The question we need to spend the next few weeks asking our Democratic Senators and Reps is whether or not they plan on supporting this supplemental.
None of these Democrats face Republican opposition in their districts. They were all elected to do one thing above all, end the war in Iraq.
In my opinion, the only acceptable answer is a resounding NO.