The Sequester and the Tea Party Plot
By Robert Reich
Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population.
Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government.
Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.
Far-fetched? Perhaps. But take a look at what’s been happening in Washington and many state capitals since Tea Party fanatics gained effective control of the Republican Party, and you’d be forgiven if you see parallels.
Tea Party Republicans are crowing about the “sequestration” cuts beginning today (Friday). “This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington,” says Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), a Tea Partier who was first elected in 2010.
Sequestration is only the start. W hat they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist — slashing Social Security and Medicare, ending worker protections we’ve had since the 1930s, eroding civil rights and voting rights, terminating programs that have helped the poor for generations, and making it impossible for the government to invest in our future.
Sequestration grew out of a strategy hatched soon after they took over the House in 2011, to achieve their goals by holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States — notwithstanding the Constitution’s instruction that the public debt of the United States “not be questioned.”
To avoid default on the public debt, the White House and House Republicans agreed to harsh and arbitrary “sequestered” spending cuts if they couldn’t come up with a more reasonable deal in the interim. But the Tea Partiers had no intention of agreeing to anything more reasonable. They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.
Spending, not cutting, is needed.
On December 31, 1933, The New York Times published John Maynard Keynes “Open Letter” to Franklin Roosevelt.
On November 25, 2008, the London Guardian republished an abridged text. It urged:
“spend, spend, spend;”
supply “cheap and abundant credit;”
stress “speed and quick” recovery; reform can come later;
focus on “increas(ing) the national output,” boosting purchasing power, and “put(ting) more (people) to work;”
“increasing aggregate purchasing power is the right way to get prices up and not the other way around;”
undertake “a large volume of loan expenditures under government auspices;” at the same time, work cooperatively with business; and
choose projects that “can be made to mature quickly on a large scale, as for example the rehabilitation of the physical condition of the railroads.”
Roosevelt, in part, followed Keynes’ advice. More was needed. Depression continued. End of decade war spending ended it.
Obamanomics is polar opposite FDR’s. Cut, cut, cut, replaced spend, spend, spend. People needs get short shrift. Imperial priorities matter more. Do do corporate ones and benefits afforded America’s rich.
Conventional wisdom is wrong. Economic policy is wrongheaded. Conditions are dire. Main Street’s in protracted Depression. Austerity deepens hard times. Sequester piles on more.
Paul Craig Roberts calls America’s economy “dead.” Recovery is illusory. There is none. The worst is yet to come. More on that below.
The March 1 sequester budget cuts are yet another product of crises manufactured by the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party. These Tea Party extremists have one objective: crush the federal government. Motivated by a strange brew of Old Testament Christianity and Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” they’re a lethal force within the GOP — Anarchists.
In August of 2011, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives forced a phony debt-ceiling crisis. In order to raise the ceiling, and to push the matter off the political calendar until after the elections, President Obama signed the “Budget Control Act of 2011,” which said that if Congress failed to approve a ten-year budget reduction of $1.2 trillion, automatic cuts would kick in. The initial cuts, $85 billion, apply to “discretionary” spending and are divided between reductions to defense ($43 billion), domestic ($30 billion), and mandatory spending ($12 billion) such as cuts to Medicare providers — Social Security and Medicaid are protected.
Who’s to blame? The White House originated the notion of sequestration. Nonetheless, the President had the proverbial “gun held to his head.” There was a dire threat of budget default because House Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless there were humongous budget cuts. (At the time the GOP-run House voted on Obama’s request for a “clean” debt-limit increase and all 236 Republicans voted no.) The President signed the Budget Control Act to avoid having the US to go into default and because he was facing reelection and wanted the economy to be as healthy as possible.
Who will the public blame? This appears to be a big political win for the President. On a recent PBS News Hour, conservative commentator David Brooks observed, “I personally think the likely loser in this is the Republicans” And they have basically got a problem. I think they need to show the American people that we like some government programs. We don’t like others” Unfortunately, when they embrace [the Sequester], they are embracing a piece of legislation that makes no distinction between good government and bad government. It just cuts randomly across the board.”
Where will Americans notice the sequester cuts? The New York Times detailed the impacts including furloughs of border agents, air-traffic controllers, food-safety employees, and civilian military employees, among others. In California, the other cuts will impact teachers, teacher aides, and the disadvantaged.
How will it impact the economy?
By Imara Jones
The chaos set to be unleashed over the next month through the implementation of sequestration budget cuts is not an accident. For a large part of the Republican Party and the secretive billionaires that fund them, the disruptive shockwave that will be caused by investing less in historically marginalized communities is the point.
Since the 1970s—through ideas which can only be thought of as flawed and eccentric—an ideological band has championed an end to the education, health, transportation and housing programs that have made America more economically fair.
Now at the heart of the GOP, this group argues that these very economic justice initiatives have instead created a “culture of dependency” which they want to dissolve by using sequestration.
In point of fact, sequestration is just an extension of a broader strategy which they call “starve the beast.” The aim of “starve the beast”—a rather unfortunate metaphor given racial stereotypes from the worst of America’s past—is to deny the federal government capital in order to bring about its collapse. So to fully evaluate where we are and what comes next, it’s sadly necessary to spend time considering this off-beat philosophy—and the bizarre way it’s come to rule our lives.
Making and Taking
Adherents to “starve the beast”—which include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan—believe that America is divided between “makers” and “takers.”
In their world view, the “makers” are the drivers of the nation’s economic growth. But they’re being held back by the “takers”—increasingly black and brown—who’ve misused the democratic process to hijack the government and funnel money away from the “makers” through taxes. Cantor himself echoed this very point during the fight over the debt ceiling in 2011.
This may sound strange to the rest of us, but to them it’s the truth.
We have to kill austerity before it kills us.
By William K. Black
March 1, 2013 |
We have been strangling the economic recovery through economic incompetence — and worse is in store because President Obama continues to embrace (1) the self-inflicted wound of austerity, (2) austerity primarily through cuts in vital social programs that are already under-funded, and (3) attacking the safety net by reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits. The latest insanity is the sequester — the fourth act of austerity in the last 20 months. The August 2011 budget deal caused large cuts to social spending. The January 2013 “fiscal cliff” deal increased taxes on the wealthy and ended the moratorium on collecting the full payroll tax. The sequester will be the fourth assault on our already weak economic recovery. We have a jobs crisis in America — not a government spending crisis and the cumulative effect of these four acts of austerity has caused a certainty of weak growth and a serious risk that we will throw our economy back into recession. The Eurozone’s recession — caused by austerity — greatly adds to the risk to our economy because Europe remains our leading trading partner.
President Obama and a host of administration spokespersons have condemned the sequestration, explaining how it will cause catastrophic damage to hundreds of vital government services. Those of us who teach economics, however, always stress “revealed preferences” — it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what you do that matters. Obama has revealed his preference by refusing to sponsor, or even support, a clean bill that would kill the sequestration threat to our nation. Instead, he has nominated Jacob Lew, the author of the sequestration provision, as his principal economic advisor. Lew is one of the strongest proponents of austerity and what he and Obama call the “Grand Bargain” — which would inflict large cuts in social programs and the safety net and some increases in revenues. Obama has made clear that he hopes this Grand Betrayal (my phrase) will be his legacy. Obama and Lew do not want to remove the sequester because they view it as creating the leverage — over progressives — essential to induce them to vote for the Grand Betrayal.
Further evidence of Obama’s continuing support for the sequester was revealed in an odd fashion today.
As Obama said during a press conference yesterday, “This is not going to be a apocalypse, I think as some people have said. It’s just dumb. And it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt individual people and it’s going to hurt the economy overall.” In a 83-page letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), the Office of Management and Budget details the specific reductions each government program will face. Here are the dumbest and most painful cuts:
$20 million cut from the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Programs
$10 million cut from the World Trade Center Health Program Fund
$168 million cut from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
$75 million cut from the Aging and Disability Services Programs
$199 million cut from public housing
$96 million cut from Homeless Assistance Grants
$17 million cut from Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS
$19 million cut from Housing for the Elderly
$175 million cut from Low Income Home Energy Assistance
Disaster and Emergency
Will anyone take responsibility for the suffering they are causing?
By Joe Conason
March 6, 2013 |
The difference between a natural disaster and a disaster caused by politicians is that the latter will almost always hit the poor and the obscure most heavily, while a hurricane or a flood will at least sometimes spread the suffering more evenly.
As the “sequester” unfolds in Washington, we see this same old pattern holding firm: Republican leaders, now hustling to shirk responsibility for the catastrophe they predicted, insist those automated budget axes won’t do any damage at all.
Has anyone felt any pain yet?
Not during the first few days, of course, but when the cuts begin to bite a month or so from now, the first to feel it will be the unemployed and the destitute for whom a few dollars of government support mean so much in their daily survival calculation. A decent policy would seek to spare them the brunt of political mistakes made by other, far more comfortable people, but this process permits no such choices — and the most vulnerable will by definition be hurt most.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which began to warn of sequestration’s very real impact weeks ago, the government will have to turn away as many as 775,000 women and children who qualify for WIC, the “highly effective” national nutrition program. Back when there was bipartisan opposition to letting people starve, legislators of both parties worked to ensure that WIC funding was sufficient to enroll every qualified family. Everyone seemed to agree that the program’s cost was trivial compared with the social, moral, and yes, economic benefits of properly feeding all hungry infants and children.
Not under the sequester, when common sense and compassion become impermissible. Not under the sequester, which not only enforces the cruel cuts but allows their perpetrators to deny ownership of the specific consequences.
What makes the automatic cutback in WIC funding even worse is that the amount involved is small in modern terms. The WIC budget will have to be reduced by about $699 million compared with 2012, or the same amount as the projected price of one “Littoral Combat Ship,” the Navy’s latest vessel project.
Evidently a principle is at stake that can be vindicated only by taking food from the mouths of pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants, however. Enforcing this decision – and it is a decision – are men and women who will assure voters of their fervent religious piety as well as their absolute devotion to America’s beleaguered families.
Or some of America’s families.
The election may have been a rebuke to austerity, but the sequester has handed the hard right a victory.
By Steve Kornacki
March 6, 2013 |
The Obama administration is doing its best to make Americans aware of – and enraged by – the impact of the sequester, hoping to pressure Republicans into a deal that will undo the cuts and replace them with the “balanced” deficit reduction framework that the president has been seeking for two years now. But several days into the sequester, it’s starting to feel like the critical mass of outrage that the White House is hoping for may not be reached.
This doesn’t mean the sequester won’t have a real impact. The domestic spending cuts will force agencies that provide aid to the poor to turn away families that need it, and the combined effects of slashing $85 billion from Defense and domestic programs over the next seven months will slow an economy that’s still struggling to return to health.
But how will this look to the average voter? The poor, who will feel the brunt of the cuts most acutely, don’t have all that much visibility in or influence on the national political debate. And if GDP growth is now weaker than it would otherwise be, the impact will be felt indirectly by people; that is, if the store at the end of the street is still closed down six months from now, will the average voter blame the sequester, or just chalk it up to the generally rotten economy we’ve all been living with since 2008?
In the run-up to sequestration, there was some talk that the cuts would be short-lived, with another manufactured deadline – the expiration of the continuing resolution that funds the government – looming on March 27. Obama, this thinking went, would have the upper-hand in negotiating a new CR, with Republicans feeling the public’s wrath over the sequester and suddenly receptive to undoing it.
America’s jails are fast becoming the only place that will take mentally ill.
By Sy Mukherjee
The Great Recession, in conjunction with states’ propensities to cut Medicaid benefits in the face of the rising cost of health care services, led to some of the biggest cuts to state mental health care services in U.S. historybetween 2009 and 2011. Of course, the population of Americans with mental health problems didn’t just disappear in that time. Facing a shortage of adequate medical resources, many of them are now ending up in the only place that will take them: America’s jails.
According to CBS News, a shortage of mental health facilities and adequate treatment resources — particularly in large states like Illinois and California — has produced an untenable status quo in which the prison system serves as an alternate pipeline to funnel through sick Americans, who have nowhere else to go:
Police logs in twelve cities revealed that mental health crisis calls have increased an average of 37.5 percent over the last four years.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says more mentally-ill people end up in jail when they’re not getting the medications they need. [...]
”I believe it is, I think that medication is the stabilizer for most mentally-ill people,” said Baca.”The money for that dried up with our California economy going south and when they go off their meds, they go back to the behavior that leads to a law enforcement solution.”
Kathryn Wooten of Los Angeles called 911 for help when her 23-year-old son Terrence suffered a mental breakdown in October 2011.
”The police came and I thought they were going to take him to the hospital but he wind up in county jail,” said Wooten.
Extreme inequality corrodes our democracy and corrupts our politics. Today’s across-the-board spending cuts serve the rich at the expense of everybody else.
By Robert Borosage
Someone asked the Master about the principles of … traveling into the vast inane.
– From the Bao Pu Zi, AD 320,
Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China
Welcome to the vast inane. Today the “sequester” — mindless, across-the-board cuts of military and domestic spending designed to be abhorrent — will go into effect. Republicans claimed a “big victory” as House Speaker John Boehner shut down any negotiations and sent the House home. The cuts will cost jobs and add to the headwinds facing the economy. The sequester will be followed by operatic melodrama over keeping the government open after the end of March and keeping the government from defaulting on its debt beginning in the middle of May.
The deficit is falling faster than any time since the demobilization after World War II, Americans are afflicted with mass unemployment and falling wages, but Washington will be traveling into the vast inane for the foreseeable future.
The media is focused on the possible effects of the cuts. But what is actually being sequestered is any sensible debate about the fundamental changes needed to revive the middle class and make this economy work for working families once more. The old economy — and the failed economic ideas that drove it – benefited the few, while undermining the broad middle class, even before the collapse.
Sadly, that old economy is back. Consider the unsustainable imbalances that contributed directly to the Great Recession:
1. Global Trade Imbalances. The U.S. trade deficit is still over $1 billion a day. The trade deficits with China remain the largest bilateral imbalances in history. This costs the U.S. good jobs and undermines wage growth. The Chinese suppress consumption in their own country to sustain their export-led growth. This imbalance is destabilizing and unsustainable, but is not up for discussion. Instead, the administration and the Republican leadership push traditional corporate trade accords that will only add to the problem.
2. Gilded-Age Inequality. In the two years coming out of the Great Recession, the top 1 percent captured an obscene 121 percent of the income growth,