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1: The riders
Politically, the number of cuts is nothing compared to the controversial amendments attached to the House-passed bill. Clearly, they are the biggest hurdles to getting a deal. The right and the left are pressing Congress on various amendments, most notably on defunding the healthcare reform bill and Planned Parenthood. The White House and Democratic leaders have said those riders are dealbreakers.
2: Cracks in party unity
If a deal is reached, the left and the right won’t like it and the tension will test party unity. Last week, eyebrows on Capitol Hill were raised when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) ruled out another short-term continuing resolution while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) kept the option on the table.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month voted against a two-week stop-gap spending bill while Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) backed it. That dynamic could be in play again, but the media’s attention will be on the Republican side of the aisle, specifically on: Will Tea Party lawmakers in the House and Senate break from their leaders on a grand bargain?
3: Presidential politics
A bipartisan deal will include funding for healthcare reform so GOP leaders should be expecting criticism from 2012 White House hopefuls. “They’ll all have to attack it,” GOP strategist John Feehery recently said.Feehery, a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog, added, “No matter what John Boehner does, he’ll be criticized by these folks, because they’ve got to run against the political establishment, no matter what.”4: Rush Limbaugh, Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann and Mike Pence
These outspoken conservatives are not known for embracing bipartisan compromises and will likely blast any deal endorsed by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). If a government shutdown is averted, GOP leaders will be looking to outmaneuver the loud voices on the right, including powerful right-wing groups that agree with Pence that “it’s time to pick a fight.”
5: The magic number
Vice President Joe Biden said the parties have agreed to cutting $33 billion, though Boehner says there is no deal whatsoever. Some expect that number to increase, but nowhere near the $61 billion called for in the House-passed bill.
When Biden last week announced Democrats and Republicans had coalesced behind the same number, he cited $73 billion in cuts. But that figure was in comparison to Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request, which was never enacted. The media quickly translated $73 billion into $33 billion of actual cuts.
More confusion will be on tap as both parties look to appease their respective bases. For example, at some point, Republican leaders will have to communicate that the final fiscal 2011 budget bill will not defund Obama’s healthcare law. How they choose to communicate that is loaded with political landmines.
7: Preparations for a shutdown
In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration issued guidance to government agencies on a possible shutdown. President Clinton’s administration was more willing to shutter the government than President Obama. But agencies will soon need some help on defining which employees are “essential,” especially because this would be the first government shutdown after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
8: Leverage games
Democrats and Republicans have been seeking leverage every way they can over the past couple of months. That won’t stop this week. Initially, the GOP had the leverage advantage, but the pendulum has swung to the Democrats. After some shrewd decisions in February and the beginning of March, the House Republican move last week to pass its “force of law” bill – essentially seeking to freeze the Senate out of the process – backfired. Senate Republicans criticized it and 15 House Republicans voted against the measure on Friday.
There are factions within the House Republican Conference who believe shutting down the government is the best leverage. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) on Thursday said, “Some, I’m sure, are willing to shut the government down to have their positions prevail.”
9: The fiscal 2012 GOP budget
The new House Republican budget is scheduled to be released on Tuesday, and that’s no accident. Boehner and other leaders are already suggesting the fiscal 2011 budget is old news, making the case that the 2012 budget will take a gigantic bite out of the deficit. From a policy perspective, they have a good point, but urging conservatives to watch a coming attraction before the ending of the fiscal 2011 drama has played out may not work.
10: The 72-hour rule
Should there be a deal, House Republican leaders face a tough choice: Abide by their new 72-hour rule, which allows the public to read legislation before they are voted on, or waive the rule and quickly try to pass it. The former would allow GOP critics plenty of time to go on cable news channels. The latter may further infuriate Tea Party activists, who railed on the House Democratic majority’s decision to pass the massive healthcare reform and climate change bills without giving the public days to review them.
When trying to evaluate Paul Ryan’s proposed budget for 2012, ask yourself why it’s being unveiled this week, smack in the middle of the final 2011 negotiations, rather than being held until the deal on this year’s funding is finished. The answer, most think, is that it’s meant to make a compromise easier now by focusing the GOP’s attention on the prospect of passing much more hardline legislation later. And make no mistake: Ryan’s proposals are quite dramatic.
A decade ago aircraft repairs were mostly done by the airlines flying the planes. Today, carriers are outsourcing the bulk of heavy maintenance. Should we worry? A co-production with the Investigative Reporting Workshop.
General Electric has reduced its federal taxes using a variety of strategies and loopholes built into the tax code.
The Internal Revenue Service is increasing audits of the wealthiest taxpayers in a “multiyear effort to crack down on tax avoidance.” Limiting amnesty for undeclared offshore accounts and creating a “wealth squad” to perform detailed audits, the IRS’s “heightened scrutiny” of the wealthy is “in sharp contrast to the agency’s audit practices during the previous decade.”
MSNBC video of Joanne Barkan on how billionaires are controlling our public schools
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar criticizes Transocean, which operated the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last year, killing 11, for awarding executives bonuses for the “best year in safety performance in our company’s history.” Mr. Salazar says the company was “at least at some fault” for causing the catastrophe. “In my own view, 2010 was probably the greatest year of pain in terms of oil and gas development in the deep water all across the world, especially in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. [Reuters]
William K. Reilly, co-chairman of the presidential oil spill commission, also had harsh words for the drilling firm’s safety claims, which were disclosed in securities filings. “I think Transocean just doesn’t get it,” Mr. Reilly said Monday. “It’s embarrassing to see a position taken like that by an industry leader.” [The Hill]
BP declares that it has finished its oil spill cleanup work on the Alabama coastline and removes workers and equipment from the state. [Agence France-Presse]
In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oil and gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, often leaving no records of their existence.
Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have polluted the drinking water source for Fort Knox, Ky., and leaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states where drilling has occurred.
Time‘s cover story “Could Shale Gas Power the World?” is all about how we’re going to get ourselves out of our current energy crisis by turning the Marcellus shale formation into a hydrocarbon war zone pockmarked with loud, noxious natural gas wells. The reserves in question happen to be underneath some of the most densely populated portions of America, including Pennsylvania and New York. Extracting the gas beneath this land requires fracking, which has been implicated as a threat to drinking water supplies and local air quality.
Things are pretty bad around fracking wells already, but full exploitation of this resource on the scale proposed by the Time story would require increasing the number of wells in Pennsylvania alone by a couple orders of magnitude. And that’s probably going to happen, given the world’s insatiable thirst for cheap energy.
“There are only a few thousand wells now, but there will be far more,” says Anthony Ingraffea, a structural engineer at Cornell University. “What will life be like when there are 100,000 wells here?”
Here’s an answer: Ever seen the opening credits of Bladerunner?
House Republicans are planning to cut roughly $1 trillion over 10 years from Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, as part of their fiscal 2012 budget, which they will unveil early next month, according to several GOP sources.
With the federal deficit in their sights, Republicans are preparing a budget proposal that would reportedly trim $4 trillion in government spending over the next decade.
How do they do it? Ending Medicare as we know it is a key part.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, is the man with the plan. Details are set to be released Tuesday.
For those who are already 55 and older, there would be no change to Medicare, which covers health care for the elderly. But for everyone else, starting in 2021, the government’s cost for each Medicare beneficiary would be capped (at a level equal to 2012 expenditures plus an annual adjustment, equal to per-capita growth in GDP plus 1 percent.)
And those younger people would instead look for private insurance, approved by and subsidized by the government, when they become eligible for Medicare.
Most folks call this kind of government payment a voucher. Although Ryan insisted on Fox News Sunday over the weekend it’s “premium support” — not a voucher. The distinction apparently being that the government money flows directly to an insurer, not the beneficiary.
Ryan argues that competition among these insurers will drive down prices. That’s debatable, since Medicare already has very low overhead, and doesn’t have to turn a profit. But while the cost to seniors may not shrink, the cost to the government will grow more slowly than under the existing program.
The Ryan plan for Medicare has been kicking around for a while. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office did a quick analysis of the proposal and summed it up this way:
Although the level of expected federal spending and the uncertainty surrounding that spending would decline, enrollees’ spending for health care and the uncertainty surrounding that spending would increase.
In other words, the risks for future spending increases get shifted to beneficiaries from the federal budget.
Today, people who are 55 years or older can count on political resistance to taking their Medicare away for two reasons:
— People 55 years and older don’t want to lose Medicare.
— People 54 years and younger want to have Medicare some day.
If a “divide and conquer” strategy succeeds in abolishing Medicare for people born after 1956, then what happens to this political economy? Over time you’ll have a growing set of private voucher firms lobbying for more people to lose Medicare and be put into the voucher pool. You’ll also have a declining set of people born before 1956 to object to Medicare abolition. And you’ll have an ever-growing pool of people born after 1956 who’ve been told that they’ll never benefit from Medicare no matter what happens, but who are being asked to pay the taxes that finance it.
That doesn’t strike me as a remotely sustainable equilibrium. If you take Medicare and change it, you can phase those changes in over time. But you can’t introduce a radical discontinuity into the program and then promise everyone over a certain age that the discontinuity won’t impact them. Obviously some people will die before the change is universalized, but universalization is made all but inevitable by introducing the discontinuity.
I’ll no doubt be writing a lot about the Republican plan to dismantle Medicare in the days ahead. But a quick thought now before I go off to listen to Bob Hall explain the high-unemployment, zero-rate trap (pdf).
Here’s the thought: when it comes to controlling health care costs, there are a lot of role models out there — because everyone does better than the United States. There are government-provider systems like Britain’s NHS (or the Veterans Administration); there are single-payer systems; there are regulated competition systems.
But what the GOP plans to offer is a plan that broadly resembles Medicare Advantage — a plan that not only failed to reduce costs, but actually ended up substantially increasing costs.
Of course, it’s not really about saving money. And that’s the point.
Descendents of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. may be making better socioeconomic progress than many studies indicate, according to research published in the April issue of The Journal of Labor Economics.
In making the announcement, Eric Holder, US attorney-general, repeated his belief that federal courts are the best place to prosecute terrorism suspects but said the government’s hands “were tied” by Congress, which in December adopted restrictions on prosecuting Guantanamo prisoners in civilian courts.
Holder said in late 2009 that Mohammed and four of his alleged co-conspirators would be tried in a federal civilian court in the heart of New York City. But the decision sparked concerns about security and giving the suspects full US legal rights.
Obama failed to overcome the objections by opposition Republicans and some of his fellow Democrats in Congress to transferring some Guantanamo detainees to US prisons and trying Mohammed and others in federal courts.
Captured in Pakistan in 2003 and sent to the Guantanamo detention facility in 2006, Mohammed confessed to being “responsible for the 9/11 Operation” in 2007.
His trial was suspended in 2009 when Obama halted military tribunals. Documents released the same year indicated that Mohammed told military officials he had lied about knowing the whereabouts of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden because he was being tortured by CIA agents.
He said when he initially told the agents interrogating him that he did not know where Bin Laden was, he was tortured.
Obama on March 7 lifted a two-year freeze on new military trials at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba, saying the US Congress was hurting national security by blocking his attempts to move some trials into US civilian courts.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, was convicted in the fall of 2009, when he was found not guilty of all but one of the 286 charges against him in connection with the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa.
The White House on Monday threatened to veto legislation from House Republicans that would repeal net-neutrality regulations.
In a statement of administration policy, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the president’s advisers would recommend that he not sign a bill scrapping new Internet regulations from the Federal Communications Commission.
“If the President is presented with a Resolution of Disapproval that would not safeguard the free and open Internet, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the Resolution,” the statement said.
Net neutrality was an Obama campaign promise.
OMB said scrapping the rules “would undermine a fundamental part of the Nation’s Internet and innovation strategy — an enforceable and effective policy for keeping the Internet free and open.”
The House is preparing for a floor debate Tuesday on a measure from House Communications subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) that would block the FCC’s net neutrality effort.
Last Thursday, tea party activists rallied on Capitol Hill to pressure Republican lawmakers to cut government spending. Crowd estimates ranged from “dozens” to “fewer than 200,” yet the event attracted dozens of reporters and significant media interest, producing hundreds of stories in local and national press. At today’s rally, which was ten times bigger than the tea party one, ThinkProgress spotted three reporters — none from mainstream publications.
But all anyone needs to do is read the short e-mail message and watch the two-minute video that Obama’s advisers e-mailed to supporters Monday.
“We won in 2008 largely on the strength of an energetic group of Americans out there who really were invested in this and we’re going to need that again, no question about it,” said David Axelrod, the chief strategist for the reelection campaign. “It takes time to build.”
Five people are featured in the new Obama campaign video: Ed, an older white man from North Carolina; Gladys, a Hispanic woman from Nevada; Katherine, a white woman from Colorado; Mike, a 2012 first-time voter from New York; and Alice, an African American woman from Michigan. Geographically or demographically, they are the targets for Obama’s campaign.
Without a huge turnout of minorities, another surge among voters younger than 30, and good margins among the minority of white voters who are in Obama’s coalition — particularly independents who defected between 2008 and 2010 — the president’s chances of winning could be compromised. Events might break in his favor, in which case reelection could be easier than it looks now. But no smart campaign prepares on the basis of best-case scenarios.
Geographically, every state represented by the five people in the video is a battleground, with the exception of New York, a Democratic haven. Republicans might scoff at the idea that Obama can carry North Carolina again. Colorado and Nevada could be more difficult this time, as could states not represented in the video, such as Indiana and Virginia. But Obama’s team will not start the campaign with a constricted view of the electoral map.
While Republicans are battling for their nomination, the Obama team will be building robust organizations in every one of those anticipated battleground states. It believed it could not wait longer to start that process.
Another line from the president’s e-mail to supporters is telling: “In the coming days, supporters like you will begin forging a new organization that we’ll build together in cities and towns across the country. . . . We’ll start by doing something unprecedented: coordinating millions of one-on-one conversations between supporters across every single state, reconnecting old friends, inspiring new ones to join the cause and readying ourselves for next year’s fight.”
One of the requirements Obama established at the very start of his first run for the White House was that it would be bottom-up, not top-down — a reflection of the community organizer-turned-politician.
Talking Points: Reelection Campaign
· The President has launched his campaign to be reelected for a second term.
· While the campaign gets off the ground, the President will be focused first and foremost on the important work the American people elected him to do.
· Over the next year and a half, we will create a grassroots organization that’s more far-reaching, focused, and innovative than anything we’ve built before.
· At its heart, that effort will be fueled by the energy and commitment of folks on the ground, community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, house to house all around the country.
· Real change never starts in Washington – and from its earliest days this movement didn’t start in Washington. It starts with folks all across America who believe that despite all the problems we face, we can steer our country toward a brighter place. The President’s supporters have been working tirelessly over the past two years to promote his agenda in their communities. Without the commitment of the American people, without the work of grassroots organizers, volunteers and community leaders of all walks of life we would not have:
o Taken the economy back from the brink of a depression and gotten the economy growing again, now creating more than 1.8 million private sector jobs.
o Passed historic reform to expand health care and lower its costs, preventing insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions.
o Held financial companies accountable and put reforms in place to prevent another taxpayer bailout.
o Cut taxes for the middle class and small businesses—the drivers of job creation.
o Torn down the walls of discrimination to allow gay Americans to serve their country openly.
o Ended combat in Iraq, bringing home 100,000 American troops.
· We’ve come a long way, but we have more urgent business to do for America — and we have more to do to change the way that business gets done in Washington. We believe we should live in an America where:
o Everyone who wants a job can find one.
o Anyone with a good idea can turn it into a thriving business.
o Our education system delivers results, and prepares all of our children to win the future.
o We are out-innovating the rest of the world, and creating the jobs and industries of the future, including in clean energy.
o Our government lives within its means so we can make investments in our future.
· America is moving forward. We simply can’t afford to go back.
· Winning the future is not a spectator sport. It’s something we have to fight for. We can’t protect the progress we’ve made — or make any more — if we fail to mobilize. That’s why we’re getting started now.
· As the President continues to do the important work of the American people, we need to start building our grassroots movement right away so that we are ready for 2012.
We don’t need leaders. We don’t need directives from above. We don’t need formal organizations. We don’t need to waste our time appealing to the Democratic Party or writing letters to the editor. We don’t need more diatribes on the Internet. We need to physically get into the public square and create a mass movement. We need you and a few of your neighbors to begin it. We need you to walk down to your Bank of America branch and protest. We need you to come to Union Square. And once you do that you begin to create a force these elites always desperately try to snuff out—resistance.
For nearly forty years the American Legislative Exchange Council has been providing conservative legislators with the tools to undo the New Deal piece by piece. Now, in the Year of the Cold-Blooded Republican Governor, ALEC is achieving an unprecedented level of success.
The world’s oldest astronomical calculator is famous for having intricate gear systems centuries ahead of their time. But new work shows the Antikythera mechanism used pure geometry, as well as flashy gears to track celestial bodies’ motion through the heaven. The device, a 2,000-year-old assemblage of gears and wheels that matched 19th century clocks in precision and complexity, was salvaged from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901.
Called the Antikythera mechanism, the machine gracefully kept track of the day of the year, the positions of the Sun and the Moon, and perhaps the other planets. It also predicted eclipses and kept track of upcoming Olympic games.
Most of the mechanism’s calculations were driven by a series of 37 interlocking dials, which may have been manipulated by a hand crank. The front of the mechanism had a clock-like face that denoted the calendar date in two concentric circles, one showing the signs of the Greek zodiac, and one carrying the Egyptian months of the year.
Three hands denoting the date and the position of the Sun and the Moon moved through the zodiac and the months as the gears turned.
The Supreme Court on Monday let stand an Arizona program that aids religious schools, saying in a 5-to-4 decision that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge it.
The program itself is novel and complicated, and allowing it to go forward may be of no particular moment. But by closing the courthouse door to some kinds of suits that claim violations of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion, the court’s ruling in the case may be quite consequential.
Justice Elena Kagan, in her first dissent, said the majority had laid waste to the doctrine of “taxpayer standing,” which allows suits from people who object to having tax money spent on religious matters. “The court’s opinion,” Justice Kagan wrote, “offers a road map — more truly, just a one-step instruction — to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge.”
The decision divided the court along the usual ideological lines, with the three other more liberal members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor — joining the dissent.
Labor unions and civil rights groups, joined by many other liberal organizations, are holding hundreds of rallies and teach-ins nationwide on Monday to defend collective bargaining and to tie it to the cause that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was fighting for in the days before his death exactly 43 years ago. The sponsors of the “We Are One” rallies being held in 50 states repeatedly note that when Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, he was planning to march with 1,300 striking sanitation workers.
“In some ways the challenges we face on April 4, 2011, are very similar to those Dr. King faced in 1968,” Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Monday in a telephone news conference. “We’re suffering from grave economic challenges here at home.”
The rallies and 175 teach-ins have been organized in large part to protest the Republican-led efforts in Wisconsin and Ohio to curb collective bargaining for public employees. In some ways, the day of rallies aim to build on the union protests in those two states and to warn labor’s adversaries in state capitals and Washington that unions remain a force to contend with in politics and that unions have many supporters.
Organizers of the rallies also said they wanted to draw attention to federal and state budget cuts that they said were hurting the most vulnerable Americans.
Though they don’t want you to know about it, the billionaire Koch brothers are bankrolling a massive campaign to roll back progressive achievements, and today, labor, civil rights, and climate activists turned out at dozens of rallies across the country to demonstrate against the Koch’s secretive influence in American politics and to stand up for labor and civil rights.
In Washington, D.C. today an estimated 2,000 protesters marched on Koch Industries’ Washington D.C. offices and attempted to give Charles and David Koch an invitation to come out and speak with the protesters. Not surprisingly, the building’s doors were locked and no one was allowed inside. However, a representative from the real estate company which managed the building told an handful of organizers who attempted to deliver the invitation, “I’d be here with you guys if I wasn’t working right now.” Noting that he works for the building, not Koch, he said, “I don’t want to be here.”
[Proof it really happened:]
Check out our new interactive union battle timeline.
Nothing extreme here, nothing at all:
Religious Right activists have frequently found themselves at odds with the prominent health organization the American Cancer Society, attacking the group over its support for stem-cell research, the approval of an HPV vaccine, and for an anti-smoking program by an Iowa Planned Parenthood clinic. Josh Braham, the director of Right to Life Central California and the host of Life Report, has taken this antipathy to a new level, calling for a boycott of American Cancer Society activities because of the group’s support for stem cell research. Writing for the anti-choice website LifeNews, Brahm calls for a boycott of the Relay for Life and claims that supporting the group is no different than aiding Nazi scientists.
There is no greater example of the “Right To Life” moral bankruptcy than their stem cell fetish. They would rather see living, breathing, sentient human beings die than kill a few cells in a petrie dish. You tell me who’s the Nazi?
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
The pressure of being an expert encourages experts to be wrong; they extend themselves beyond the facts. Heightened accountability encourages “stretching to make comparisons and falsely recalling features that simply aren’t there”
“There is a blanket assumption that knowledge and expertise are always good,” Mehta says. “What we show is that it’s not always true. Expertise is a double-edge sword.”
There is no shortage of popular literature from various fields, including foreign affairs and business, about smart people making dumb mistakes. David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” remains a primer on botched government decision-making by experts; namely, how key aides to Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, most of them products of an American academic and social elite, got us into the mess of the Vietnam War.
And, for sure, there is previous academic literature suggesting that experts can fall prey to false memories, and thus make false comparisons and inferences, precisely because of their greater-than-average memories of specific subjects.
Mehta and his business school colleagues expand on that literature via four related studies, each concluding that consumer products experts mistakenly, if inadvertently, tend to suggest apples-to-apples comparisons when such may simply not exist.
Next National Days of Action: Tax Weekend April 15-18th!
On the weekend of tax day, April 15th-18th, let’s all take a stand for folks like Earl in our own communities. And let’s send our leaders a message- corporate tax cheats must pay up before veterans, the elderly, the unemployed, and the most vulnerable members of society are asked to sacrifice any more than we already have.
When it comes to paying their fair share of taxes, FedEx simply does not deliver. When FedEx made $1.9 billion in profits, they managed to pay less than .0005% of it in taxes by using 21 tax havens. FedEx also spent 42 times (4200%) more on lobbying Congress than they did in taxes.
When FedEx does not deliver on its fair share of taxes, we are forced to cut $373 million in teacher training programs (Americorp).
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Success in the majority of circumstances depends
on knowing how long it takes to succeed. ~ Montesquieu