Archive for the ‘Congress’ tag
I’m probably not the only one amused at the framing of the defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal. You see, even though Republicans have majorities in both House and Senate, the TPP failed solely because of those intransigent Democrats! How dare they vote out of lockstep with the President?
The Chicago Tribune’s headline spells it out:
The House vote Friday included two related measures, both of which had to pass in order to send the legislation — which was approved last month by the Senate — to the president’s desk.
A bill to give the president fast-track authority to negotiate future trade deals was approved by a 219-211 vote. But another measure regarding assistance funds to retrain workers — a program typically supported by Democrats — failed 126-302 largely because Democrats voted against it.
Because the Senate had previously approved both measures as a single bill, the House’s failure to pass the retraining measure prevented the overall package from advancing. Supporters plan to hold another vote on the retraining bill early next week, giving the White House and congressional Republicans another chance to drum up votes.
Obama’s push for the legislation was his biggest lobbying effort since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act. He personally pressed fellow Democrats to support the measure in a meeting Friday morning on Capitol Hill and during an unscheduled appearance Thursday night at the annual congressional ballgame at the Nationals ballpark.
(click here to continue reading Obama suffers big loss as trade bill is defeated at hands of Democrats – Chicago Tribune.)
from the NYT, a slightly less pointed version:
He made it personal. He appealed to their loyalty. He asked them to give him what every modern president has had. He argued the facts, disputed the politics, quarreled over the history and at times lashed out at those who still refused to stand with him.
Yet in the end, after years of frustration with Republicans blocking his ideas in Congress, President Obama on Friday found the most sweeping legislative initiative left on his agenda thwarted not by the opposition but by his own party. If not for his fellow Democrats, Mr. Obama would have a landmark trade bill heading to his desk for signature.
(click here to continue reading Washington Dysfunction, With a Twist: Democrats Desert Their President – NYTimes.com.)
The Wall Street Journal’s perspective is clear: Obama should just resign now since there are only 2 years left in his term…
House Democrats dealt President Barack Obama a major setback in his bid for expanded trade-negotiating powers, roundly rejecting on Friday a workers-aid program that was a key component of the bill and leaving the White House’s trade agenda in limbo.
While stinging, the vote was not the last word in the trade fight, as House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said there would be a re-vote by Tuesday on extending the aid program, which is designed to help workers hurt by international trade.
But Friday’s defeat showed the degree to which Mr. Obama’s trade agenda is on shaky ground in Congress. The House voted against the workers-aid program by 126-302. To improve those numbers, House Republican leaders, the White House and pro-trade businesses will need to find ways to win over a combination of Democrats who are skeptical of the overall trade push and Republicans leery of supporting the aid package.
It also underscored the waning influence of a second-term president, particularly on an issue many Democrats see as toxic to their re-election prospects, given concerns in their districts that U.S. jobs are being sent overseas.
(click here to continue reading House Deals Blow to Obama’s Bid for Trade Deal, Rejects Worker-Aid Program – WSJ.)
You get the idea.
The political battle over the enormous, twelve-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership keeps getting stranger. President Obama has made the completion of the deal the number-one legislative priority of his second term. Indeed, Republican opponents of the T.P.P., in an effort to rally the red-state troops, have begun calling it Obamatrade. And yet most of the plan’s opponents are not Republicans; they’re Democrats.
Obama’s chief allies in his vote-by-vote fight in the House of Representatives to win “fast-track authority” to negotiate this and other trade deals are Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan—not his usual foxhole companions. The vote may come as soon as Friday. The House Republican leaders tell their dubious members that they are supporting Obama only in order to “constrain” him. Meanwhile, Obama is lobbying members of the Black Congressional Caucus, whose support he can normally count on, tirelessly and, for the most part, fruitlessly. “The president’s done everything except let me fly Air Force One,” Representative Cedric Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, told the Christian Science Monitor this week. Nonetheless, Richmond said, “I’m leaning no.”
The long, bad aftertaste of NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1994—explains much of the Democratic opposition to the T.P.P. Ronald Reagan originally proposed NAFTA, but Bill Clinton championed it, got it through Congress mainly on Republican votes, and signed it. In many Democratic districts, NAFTA is still widely blamed for the loss of hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs, and for long-term downward pressure on wages. When President Obama argues that the T.P.P. is not NAFTA, he is correct. It convenes Pacific Rim nations and economies of many stripes, from wealthy, democratic Japan to authoritarian, impoverished Vietnam, and it includes six countries with which the United States already has free-trade agreements. If enacted, it will encompass forty per cent of global economic activity. It is less a traditional trade deal than a comprehensive economic treaty and, at least for the United States, a strategic hedge against the vast and growing weight of Chinese regional influence. What exactly the T.P.P. will do, however, is difficult to know, because its terms are being negotiated in secret. Only “cleared advisors,” most of them representing various private industries, are permitted to work on the text. Leaked drafts of chapters have occasionally surfaced—enough to alarm, among others, environmentalists, labor groups, and advocates for affordable medicine.
(click here to continue reading Why Does Obama Want This Trade Deal So Badly? – The New Yorker.)
It’s hard to think of a fight that has showed President Obama to worse effect than his effort to pass Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership over widespread Democratic opposition. His respect for his opponents has been at low ebb, and since many of his opponents in this fight are Democrats, that means we’ve seen him taking uncharacteristically nasty shots at people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Now, in the aftermath of a vote in which the must-pass-to-pass-the-TPA Trade Adjustment Assistance was defeated, Obama used his weekly address to mislead about what’s going on. House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the traditionally Democrat-supported assistance program for displaced workers because, according to the rule the House had adopted, TAA was linked to the fast-track TPA bill. No TAA, no TPA. Since TPA passed in the wake of TAA’s defeat, Republican leadership is bringing TAA back for another vote in hopes of getting it, and fast track along with it, through next week. That’s the weird, confusing procedural background—background Obama pretended does not exist as he touted the benefits of Trade Adjustment Assistance in his weekly address.
(click here to continue reading Obama misleads on trade assistance and fast track in weekly address.)
Paul Krugman calls it a defeat of the Davos Democrats, I like that phrase:
OK, I didn’t see that coming: even though I have come out as a lukewarm opponent of TPP, I assumed that it would happen anyway — the way trade deals (or in this case, dispute settlement and intellectual property deals that pretend to be about trade) always do. But no, or not so far.
A brief aside: I don’t think it’s right to call this a case of Washington “dysfunction”. Dysfunction is when we get outcomes nobody wants, or fail to do things everyone wants done, because there doesn’t seem to be any way to package the politics. In this case, however, people who oppose TPP voted down key enabling measures — that is, they got what they wanted. Calling this “dysfunction” presumes that this deal is a good idea — and that kind of presumption is precisely what got successfully challenged yesterday.
Or to put it another way, one way to see this is as the last stand of the Davos Democrats.
Davos Democrats are known as the people who told us to trust unregulated finance and fear invisible bond vigilantes. They just don’t have the credibility to pull off arguments from authority any more. And it doesn’t say much for their perspicacity that they apparently had no idea that the world has changed.
TPP’s Democratic supporters thought they could dictate to their party like it’s 1999. They can’t.
(click here to continue reading Decline and Fall of the Davos Democrats – NYTimes.com.)
Will Obama have to resort to veto pen finally, now that Harry Reid is no longer blocking ridiculous GOP bills from getting passed? I guess we’ll soon see. And the real test will be on the non-sexy things, like regulatory reform.
Obama Has Only Vetoed 2 Bills. That’s About to Change—Thanks to Democrats | Mother Jones: “Regulatory reform: By far the least sexy of the topics that might be forced on Obama, changes to how the government writes its rules could pose the biggest trouble for the president. Unlike finance, environmental rules, or health care reform, it’s an obscure topic unlikely to garner an outpouring of public outcry. These are changes portrayed as making government more sensible and business-friendly, always a favorite image to project by moderate Democrats who still cling to Bill Clinton’s mantra of deconstructing Big Government, yet they could stymie efforts to write rules for those specific policy areas.
Changes to how the government writes rules ‘seem both kind of technical and innocent, because they talk about things like cost-benefit analysis, or increasing judicial review, or more economic requirements to help small business’ says Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. ‘Things that don’t sound threatening and maybe even ease tensions with constituents who don’t really like the idea of red tape and have this idea that if we change it at the federal level lots would be easier at home.’ But in essence, these rules just offer cover for big business to delay the laws that they don’t want to comply with—continuing to set their own rules and skating by for years after the public thinks they’ve already been kept in check.
Last week, the House passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, a bill that would force all agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each rule. This process tends to favor business interests over consumers. The bill would also make it easier for judges to toss aside rules and force agencies to hold lengthy public hearings for each rule they consider. Past iterations of this bill have received support from Senate moderates like Florida’s Bill Nelson, Maine’s King, and West Virginia’s Manchin.
That group of 10 to 15 Democrats willing to break from the rest of the party aren’t hiding their plans. ‘If Republicans want a minimum of six or more Democrats to work with them,’ Manchin said earlier this month, ‘and they’re sincere about policy and good policy moving forward, they’re definitely going to reach out, and I’ve reached out to them.'”
Gail Collins provides a good elevator pitch description of a tax policy tool called tax extenders…
One of the very, very few things the current Congress seems determined to deal with before it vanishes into the night is the problem of “tax extenders.” Extenders are strange but much-loved little financial mutants. Sort of like hobbits or three-legged kittens.
Congress, in its wisdom, has created a raft of temporary tax breaks for everybody from teachers to banks that make money overseas. Most are really intended to be permanent. But calling them short-term measures tricks the Congressional Budget Office into underestimating how much they cost.
“If you pass a new tax cut, you’ve got to find offsetting spending cuts. But these are in a sense free,” said Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center.
After the election, both parties appeared inclined to just extend all the tax cuts for two years while making principled mumbling about reform down the line.
But then the Koch brothers roared into the picture. They feel that it’s wrong for the government to give a special benefit to an industry that’s one of their competitors. Especially a government that they and their associates devoted nearly $60 million to getting into office. Politico reported that their representatives have been meeting with Speaker Boehner’s staff.
And you know, they have a point. If Congress actually wanted to do serious reform, it should get rid of special tax breaks for the wind and solar energy sectors. While, of course, also removing all the tax breaks for drilling oil.
(click here to continue reading Congress Extends Itself – NYTimes.com.)
Latest news is that Sterling Bay has withdrawn from the development.
embiggen by clicking
I took Bill Davies Folly on April 25, 2014 at 07:29PM
and processed it in my digital darkroom on October 10, 2014 at 02:33AM
embiggen by clicking
I took Congress Hotel in the Fog on June 22, 2014 at 08:51PM
and processed it in my digital darkroom on June 27, 2014 at 02:44AM
Not surprising, really, the GOP political motivation has been transparently directed towards demagoguery and re-election for a long, long time. Why else the so-called Southern Strategy? Why else the anti-civil rights positions regarding same-sex marriage? Why else other than fooling the rubes and (theoretically) winning elections. What’s happened is the GOP schtick has gotten tiresome, antiquated, and a smaller percentage of the voting public is convinced that tax breaks for wealthy corporations is beneficial for the rest of us…
If the tea party faction thought that they could lay claim to the idea of representing “real America” by dressing up in colonial clothes and calling President Obama some sort of foreigner, that idea is now out the window. After the Republican-controlled House of Representatives decided to shut down the government in a desperate attempt to take away the ability of the less fortunate to get health insurance, their polling took a major hit. Over half the country now thinks that it’s a bad thing that the Republican Party controls the House; three quarters of Americans believe that Republican members of Congress don’t deserve re-election.
All of those numbers would be bad in their own right, but there’s one that’s even worse, as Steve Benen at MSNBC reports:
The results cover quite a bit of ground, but there was one question in particular that stood out for me: respondents were asked whether they believe the various officials in Washington are more interested in doing what’s best for the country or what’s best for themselves politically. It’s an interesting question because it speaks to something that isn’t often polled: perceptions of motivations. I put together the chart above to capture the results, which should terrify Republican officials. By a nearly four-to-one margin, Americans believe GOP lawmakers in Congress aren’t concerned with the nation’s best interests. That’s just astounding.
Given the revulsion that the American public feels toward Congress in general, it’s unsurprising that Democrats on Capitol Hill are operating at a deficit in this regard as well, even if it isn’t nearly as steep as that faced by their Republican counterparts. But what should scare Republicans even more than their own abysmal numbers? President Obama’s. Despite every single thing that Republicans have said and done to delegitimize the President, ascribe evil intentions to him, and impute that he does not share American values, a majority of Americans think that he cares about what is best for the country more than being motivated by selfish intentions.
(click here to continue reading Daily Kos: The final blow: Americans think Republicans don’t care about them.)
The proof will arrive, or not arrive, in the fall of 2014 – all else is speculation until then.
Numbers 2013 sucks, by the way…
Read the rest of this entry »
If you were told you needed to spend 5 hours of every day in office doing a certain activity, wouldn’t you assume that activity was the biggest reason you were hired for the job? The US Congress is dysfunctional for a lot of reasons, but this is a large one.
After the elections in November, Democratic Party leaders gave a PowerPoint presentation urging their freshman members to spend as much as four hours a day making fund-raising calls while in Washington, and an additional hour of “strategic outreach” holding breakfasts or “meet and greets” with possible financial supporters. That adds up to more time than these first-term lawmakers were advised to spend on Congressional business.
(click here to continue reading For Freshmen in the House, Seats of Plenty – NYTimes.com.)
Five hours a day fundraising, on average, probably some days more. How is this even considered serving the citizens? How does this advance the national interest? It only advances the moneyed interests…
The amount of time that members of Congress in both parties spend fundraising is widely known to take up an obscene portion of a typical day — whether it’s “call time” spent on the phone with potential donors, or in person at fundraisers in Washington or back home. Seeing it spelled out in black and white, however, can be a jarring experience for a new member, as related by some who attended the November orientation.
Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), now a top official at the Center for American Progress, said that the four hours allocated to fundraising may even be “low-balling the figure so as not to scare the new Members too much.”
Congress members make the dreaded calls from a room in the office of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or a similar one at the headquarters of the National Republican Congressional Committee. After votes in the House, a stream of congressmen and women can be seen filing out of the Capitol and, rather than returning to their offices, heading to rowhouses nearby on First Street for call time, or directly to the parties’ headquarters. The rowhouses, where Larson said he prefers to make calls, are typically owned by lobbyists, fundraisers or members themselves, and are used for call time because it’s illegal to solicit campaign cash from the official congressional office. Former Rep. Walt Minnick’s (D-Idaho) career in finance enabled him to buy a Capitol Hill rowhouse that he allows Democrats to use for call time. “There’s less turmoil and background noise” in the rowhouses compared with the DCCC call center, said Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who retired from office this year.
(click here to continue reading Call Time For Congress Shows How Fundraising Dominates Bleak Work Life.)
Wow, that’s unexpected. Sounds like the Union caved, but perhaps I’m wrong.
A 10-year strike at the Congress Plaza hotel in downtown Chicago, believed to be the longest hotel strike in history, has ended.
A attorney for the hotel said Unite Here Local 1, the union representing cleaning and maintenance workers, has offered an unconditional return to work as of midnight Wednesday.
The union confirmed Thursday morning that it is ending the strike.
“The decision to end the Congress strike was a hard one, but it is the right time for the union and the strikers to move on,” Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamarin said in a statement. “The boycott has effectively and dramatically reduced the hotel’s business. … There is no more to do there.”
Tamarin said when the strike started, the standard wage for room attendants was $8.83 per hour — a wage contract workers still make. The city wide standard for room attendants is now $16.40 an hour, he said.
(click here to continue reading 10-year strike at Congress Plaza Hotel is over – chicagotribune.com.)
Facing low approval ratings after a historically unproductive 112th session and a series of last-minute showdowns over fiscal matters, Congress is now less popular than root canals, NFL replacement referees, head lice, the rock band Nickelback, colonoscopies, carnies, traffic jams, cockroaches, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used-car salesmen and Brussel sprouts.
When asked if they have a higher opinion of either Congress or a series of unpleasant or disliked things, voters said they had a higher opinion of root canals (32 for Congress and 56 for the dental procedure), NFL replacement refs (29-56), head lice (19-67), the rock band Nickelback (32-39), colonoscopies (31-58), Washington DC political pundits (34-37), carnies (31-39), traffic jams (34-56), cockroaches (43-45), Donald Trump (42-44), France (37-46), Genghis Khan (37-41), used-car salesmen (32-57), and Brussels sprouts (23-69) than Congress.
What a surprise! The anti-American GOP Congress has decided farmers are not a core constituency, or at least are not as important as defense contractors. Since the GOP doesn’t believe in climate change, the drought is just god’s will, and farmers should pray for rain, avoid asking for government assistance.
When Congress returns to business this week, it will be met not by the Code Pink antiwar protesters or the Tea Party supporters who often gathered near the Capitol last year. Instead, farmers will be out in force, rallying for a bill that lawmakers failed to pass before they recessed five weeks ago.
That unfinished bit of business threatens to cut off aid to farmers across the nation. But lawmakers, fresh off their parties’ conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking.
When the Senate reconvenes on Monday, it will move to begin debate on a jobs bill for veterans that is championed by President Obama. The Democratic leadership is also considering yet another vote on Representative Paul D. Ryan’s budget, for no other apparent reason than to embarrass Republicans facing tough re-election battles.
In the House, Republicans will vote on a bill that seeks to phase out the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program that financed Solyndra, the bankrupt maker of solar power equipment. They also want Senate Democrats to come up with a measure like one already passed by the House that would replace the large-scale budget cuts for the Pentagon that are scheduled to take effect with other trims on Dec. 31. The military cuts were set in motion by an agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer, and they became automatic when a special select committee failed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.
Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill that the House declined to take up. House leaders also refused to consider their own Agriculture Committee’s sweeping farm measure, instead pushing through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.
Mr. Boehner lacks enough votes to pass a bill because Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs, including food stamps, in the House committee’s bill. And many conservative Republicans would like to see more cuts over all in the measure.
(click here to continue reading Congress to Face Angry Farmers – NYTimes.com.)
Our Congress, hard at work…
In the 18 months the 112th Congress has been sworn in, the House has introduced 60 bills to rename post offices. Thirty-eight have passed the House and 26 have become law. During those 18 months, the House has produced 151 laws, 17 percent of which have been to rename post offices, according to Congressional Democrats. Not a single bill has come to the House floor aimed at reforming a Postal Service, which is bleeding billions of dollars because of Congressional mandates. … USPS claims that if Congress does not act, the mail service will default not only on the $5.5 billion payment due [August 1, 2012], but also on another $5.6 billion payment for future retiree’s benefit due September 30. The Postal Service has pleaded with Congress for years to end the requirement that it pre-fund its retiree’s health benefits. But many lawmakers claim that because USPS has such a massive workforce – there are 614,000 Postal Service employees-if it does not pre-fund retirement benefits, it will not be able to pay them in the future.
And as long as these disagreements persist, it looks like naming post offices is the closest Congress will get to passing postal reform.
(click here to continue reading 60 House Bills to Name Post Offices, Zero To Fix Mail Service – Yahoo! News.)
Paul Ryan is one of those time-wasters:
He’s been in Congress for nearly 13 years, but Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has only seen two of his bills pass into law during that time.
Ryan, who Mitt Romney has tapped as his running mate, passed a bill into law in July 2000 that renames a post office in his district. Thanks to Ryan, the post office on 1818 Milton Ave. in Janesville, Wis., is now known as “Les Aspin Post Office Building.”
(click here to continue reading Paul Ryan Only Passed 2 Bills Into Law In More Than A Decade.)
and speaking of wasting time, the Republican mouth-breathers in Congress have also wasted taxpayer money with symbolic votes re: the Affordable Care Act a/k/a Obamacare:
What grave business is the House of Representatives undertaking today? It is voting to do away with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—or, as the name of the bill puts it, on the Repeal of Obamacare Act. The title has a certain appealing conciseness, relative to what some of the other partial or entire repeal bills have been called, like the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act or the Repealing the Job-Killing Health-Care Law Act—Eric Cantor introduced that one, which stands as a true classic of the bill-title genre. (Reuters has a list of more.)
The names have been the bill-sponsors’ only real accomplishment, even though repeals have passed the House again and again—some thirty times, in various forms, since the G.O.P. got its majority, in 2010. Sometimes it’s been been brazen and loud (the NObamacare Act of 2012—isn’t there a ban on legislative names that rely on capitalization tricks?). And sometimes there’s an amendment that comes to Congress, as the saying goes, on little cat feet, attached to a big bill. All the significant ones have died, though, as everyone knew they would, and as today’s will as well, before getting anywhere near Senate passage, let alone the President’s desk. (If he signed it “NObama,” would that count as a veto?) The Republicans have some legislative options—reconciliation, debt-ceiling-collapsing blackmail—but not good ones. So why do they bother?
(click here to continue reading House Votes on the Repeal of Obamacare Act : The New Yorker.)
Good thing the nation is working perfectly with zero problems of any kind that need fixing so that the fools in Congress can play.
The so-called Farm Bill is a five year plan for American agriculture policy, and as usual, rewards food corporations instead of consumers, and is adverse to encouraging sustainable food production.
For decades, groups like Fred Hoefner’s [National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition] have worked hard to create a set of programs designed to at least partially offset US farm policy’s tendency to bolster Big Ag. The programs, which the Obama Administration in 2009 grouped under the banner of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, include initiatives designed to assist new farmers to get loans help communities roll out farmers markets, and reduce costs for farms to transition to organic.
Taken as a whole, Hoefner says, the programs amount to about $175 million per year—less than 1 percent of the non-food stamps portion of the farm bill. “These programs make up an extremely modest portion of the farm bill’s budget, but they’ve had a large impact on communities nationwide,” Hoefner said. Hoefner pointed to a wide-ranging recent USDA study documenting positive impact of the programs.
and of course having lots of money to hire lobbyists always pays off for food corporations:
Big Ag continues to get support for monster corn and soy crops. Large commodity growers will take a nominal hit in the next farm bill. For years, farmers in a few chosen crops—corn, soy, cotton, etc.—have received $5 billion per year in so-called “direct payments” based on the acreage under production. In order to receive direct payments, farmers had to sign so called “conservation-compliance” agreements, which obligated them to create conservation plans for highly erodible land and agree not to drain wetlands for planting. The conservation-compliance agreements were far from perfect, Hoefner says, but they did help slow soil erosion in the Corn Belt for years.
In the next farm bill, direct payments will almost certainly be scrapped, Hoefner says, and replaced by a revenue-insurance scheme that is projected to cost $3.5 billion per year, saving taxpayers $1.5 billion per year. Sounds like a step forward, right? Wrong. First of all, in current negotiations, there is no conservation-compliance requirement for revenue insurance—meaning that farmers will have incentive to drain wetlands to grow crops, as well as expand crops onto erosion-prone land. Moreover, the new scheme will likely insure prices at high levels—meaning that relatively small price dips could cost taxpayers serious money, potentially wiping out that promised $1.5 billion in savings.
The switch to revenue insurance, Hoefner says, will “further reduce the risk of putting the pedal to the metal on commodity production, [with] no incentive whatsoever to diversify crops or leave any ground unplanted.” All of that, of course, is manna to the companies that supply inputs to industrial-scale farmers: seed and pesticide companies like Monsanto and Syngenta; and to the companies that buy corn and soy and transform them into a range of low-quality, profitable foods.
(click here to continue reading The Worst Farm Bill Ever? | Mother Jones.)
Lobbyists won’t like this suggestion:
The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors due to be released on Thursday.
The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.
The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending.
Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.
The crop insurance subsidy, according to the G.A.O. report, ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation. A Congressional Budget Office study cited in the report estimates that the premium subsidy will cost $39 billion from 2012 to 2016, about $7.8 billion a year.
Unlike other farm programs that have income or payment limits, crop insurance payments have no such restrictions, so farmers can get millions in subsidies regardless of their income. The G.A.O. said a cap last year would have affected about 4 percent of farmers in the program, who accounted for about a third of the premium subsidies and were mostly associated with large farms.
(click here to continue reading Cap on Farm Insurance Subsidy Could Save Billions, Report Says – NYTimes.com.)
and we ignore climate change at our peril:
One of the biggest challenges facing this planet isn’t simply feeding a growing population — perhaps as many as 10 billion by the year 2100. The challenge is feeding all those people as the climate changes in ways we can barely project. A new report called “Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change” (PDF) illustrates the complexity of the problem and makes clear that action must be taken soon to address it.
Commissioned by Cgiar — a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank — it recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.
It is tempting to assume that expanding agricultural acreage and using new technology, like genetically engineered crops, will somehow save the day. The report says that efficiency and sustainability will also require fundamental changes in how we grow and consume food: reducing waste in production and distribution and finding ways to farm that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other “negative environmental impacts of agriculture,” like soil loss and water pollution. The report also calls for better dietary habits in wealthy countries, which have a disproportionately and unsustainably high calorie intake, and targeted aid to populations whose farming is most at risk.
(click here to continue reading Sustainably Feeding a Changing World – NYTimes.com.)
Speaking of Congressional corruption, why is gutting public transit even a consideration? Public transit over C-17’s that the Pentagon admits it doesn’t need? What kind of crazy budget priority is that? Especially when highway funding is sacrosanct.
The House leadership of the Ways and Means committee introduced a proposal yesterday that would exclude public transit from receiving federal motor fuels tax funding. The proposal is a part of a bill that will establish funding for a new five-year transportation bill now before Congress. The move would eliminate guaranteed funding in the Mass Transit Account – established in 1982 under President Reagan – potentially eliminating public transportation nationwide.
“The House Ways and Means Bill stops just short of defunding America’s public transit system. Instead it says that the real money with a funding source will all go to highways, while the tooth fairy will pay for transit. For Big Oil and the highway lobby, this is a dream, but it’s a nightmare for America’s transportation future,” said Dan Smith of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.
“Over the past several weeks, many of us were surprised to hear that House and Senate transportation leaders were unified in their desire to pass a surface and transit-funding bill in the near term,” said Richard Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “This development raised the rare possibly of bi-partisan action on an important piece of domestic policy. Well, all of that ended yesterday afternoon. Unlike the responsible and consensus-driven Senate version, House Chairman John Mica released a political document that surely elicited high-fives among his party’s most ideological stalwarts. The bill slashes Amtrak funding, zeroes out high-speed rail funding and maintains the “pave at all cost” mentality that is pervasive in American transportation policy.”
“We are deeply concerned that if this measure passes, Americans who use public transportation, or who would like that option in the future, will be thrown under the bus,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “This couldnʼt come at a worse time for people who need an affordable, reliable way to get to work, or for employers who need workers.” Corless noted the demand for transit has been rising as the economy slowly recovers and people are using public transportation to get to jobs and to avoid volatile gas prices.
“This bill is vastly outside the mainstream and does nothing for American commuters who are desperate for a comprehensive transportation system that actually improves their quality of life,” said Harnish. “Additionally, instead of tackling the foundational funding structure that is bankrupting the Highway Trust Fund, House leaders decided it would be best to garner new revenues through increased domestic oil drilling.
(click here to continue reading High-Speed Rail and Transit on Chopping Block | Midwest High Speed Rail Association.)
If you are so inclined, there is an email-your-representative form here
I thought the Tea Bagger bible celebrated railroads?
I hope Barney Frank continues to be in the public eye after he retires from Congress, his wit is keen.
Andrew Goldman interviews Mr. Frank in the NYT Magazine:
AG: You’ve long argued for the decriminalization of marijuana. Do you smoke weed?
AG: Why not?
Why do you ask a question, then act surprised when I give an answer? Do you think I lie to people?
AG: I thought you might explain why you support decriminalizing it but don’t smoke it.
Do you think I’ve ever had an abortion? I don’t play poker on the Internet, either.
(click here to continue reading The Not-So-Retiring Barney Frank – NYTimes.com.)
It’s of course perfectly standard for members of Congress to not be exceptionally proficient in technological matters. But for some committee members, the issue did not stop at mere ignorance. Rather, it seemed there was in many cases an outright refusal to understand what is undoubtedly a complex issue dealing with highly-sensitive technologies.
When the security issue was brought up, Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina seemed particularly comfortable about his own lack of understanding. Grinningly admitting “I’m not a nerd” before the committee, he nevertheless went on to dismiss without facts or justification the very evidence he didn’t understand and then downplay the need for a panel of experts. Rep. Maxine Waters of California followed up by saying that any discussion of security concerns is “wasting time” and that the bill should move forward without question, busted internets be damned.
The fact that there was any debate over whether to call in experts on such a matter should tell you something about the integrity of Congress. It’d be one thing if legitimate technical questions directed at the bill’s supporters weren’t met with either silence or veiled accusations that the other side was sympathetic to piracy. Yet here we are with a group of elected officials openly supporting a bill they can’t explain, and having the temerity to suggest there’s no need to “bring in the nerds” to suss out what’s actually on it.
“No legislation is perfect,” Rep. Watt said at one point, continuing the insane notion that the goal of the House should be to pass anything, despite what consequences it may bring. Later, Iowa Representative Steve King tweeted, somewhat ironically, about surfing the internet on his phone because he was bored listening to his colleague Shiela Jackson speak about the bill. Then, even more ironically, another representative’s comments calling him out for it were asked to be stricken from the record.
This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.
(click here to continue reading Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works | Motherboard.)