Four Things to Know About the Next Big Budget Battle

Now that the sequester is working its way into effect, the next act of our fiscal follies takes place March 27, when the federal government will sort of shut down (it takes quite awhile to fully shut down)  if congress doesn’t act to continue to fund it.   They can avoid a shut down by passing a continuing resolution (CR), which will fund the government for another stop gap period. CR’s are a regular part of the way they operate, as there are parts of each budget that they continue to rangle over until finally funding them.

English: Al Gore and Newt Gingrich applaud to ...

English: Al Gore and Newt Gingrich applaud to US president Clinton waves during the State of the Union address in 1997. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A failure to refund everything at once is unusual, though it happened under President Clinton back in 1995.  The two parties could not come to an agreement about continued funding, so the government “shut down” for a few weeks.  That is unlikely to happen this time around seemingly due to what has been called “fiscal fatigue”.  Congress seems as tired of these budget battles as most of us.  Not so tired as to really fix anything, but tired enough to take a little break.

The CR ties to the sequester in that in developing a continuing resolution, both houses are also talking about making sequester  cuts more flexible, with the Republicans most interested in doing that with the defense spending and the Democrats with the social programs.   I imagine they will refund a number of the cuts as well, so it will take awhile to see what has really been cut.

All of that together isn’t going to have much impact on solving our deficit and overall debt problems, but it will keep  our creaking ship of state above water for the time being and allow me to concentrate on the other form of March Madness.

By the way, I unashamedly stole the title for this post from a fuller explanation by Ailsa Chang of NPR,    The link connects to an audio that takes less than four minutes, while there is also a written version for the hard of hearing.   She adds much clarity to my thumb nail version.

Chuck Hagel, the Budget Battle and the Washington Follies

Last year, 2012, my posts were largely about the presidential election and/or the nature of our political scene which has been aptly dubbed an era of  “post truth” politics.  Now I am considering themes to form a topic list for 2013, and I plan on describing them in an upcoming post.

English: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) arrives at ...

Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) shown at Camp Ramadi for a short visit in Iraq with U.S. servicemen when still a Senator.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not surprisingly, continuing to separate truth from layers of falsehoods and distortions will be one of those themes, while the question of political polarization and Congressional gridlock will be another.   I will address the debate over gun violence as well.

Speaking of the last-named topic, I picked up a copy of Columbine by Dave Cullen as background reading.   Published 10 years after the event and dispelling many media distortions of that moment, it makes chillingly fascinating reading, much of the fascination tied to the questions:  Who were these killers?  How did they come to be?

In the process the author describes psychological terms, such as psychotic, as one of the killers appears to have been so.   While psychotic “covers a spectrum of severe mental illnesses,” I infer a commonality being that in all such cases the individual is disconnected more  or less from the reality that most of us seem to share.  On a lesser level it may be paranoia, at the extreme “they lose all contact with reality.”

At times I read something written by a Neo Con or radical libertarian and  I feel they have lost all contact with reality.   Of course, those on the right have some figures on the far left they feel the same about.   When it comes to politics, we Americans tend to live in one of two realities as drawn by either party’s operatives.   One might say that from either end of the party spectrum, the opposite reflects varying degrees of psychosis.

But the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary should not be a case in point.   By what I would call centrist standards he seems an excellent pick, but not to Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, or Neo Con, so-called intellectual William Kristol (*1).   Several years ago these guys were all pretty chummy Republicans, and Kristol even made a case for Hagel back in 2000 to be G. W. Bush’s running mate.

Hagel’s sin is that in the interim he has acted like the maverick John McCain once was, and has expressed views that fit less and less with the ever more right trending Republican Party.   And perhaps his biggest sin of all.  He seems to like and respect Barack Obama.   If RINO was in the dictionary, Hagel’s picture would be right next to it.   If Republicans had excommunication, he would no longer be a member of that church.

I think  Chuck Hagel has not changed so much, but the Republican reality has and Hagel no longer fits in.  From their perspective he has become a political psychopath.   So, a guy who used to be thought imminently capable, while outspoken, is now painted as someone unfit to serve as Defense Secretary.   I would say that’s crazy, but more likely it is simply pandering to the far right elements of the Republican party.

If you haven’t heard already their criticisms of Hagel, you’ll hear plenty over the next couple of weeks or so, but here is what I believe is their biggest concern.  Hagel has talked about the Pentagon being “bloated” in the past, even before he became ostracized.  As a combat veteran himself,  he is the perfect candidate when it comes to paring that budget down (*2).   When he will argue that our military can remain dominant without this or that, no one will be able to accuse him of not caring about our troops in the field.   The Republicans continue to clamor for deficit reduction, but not when it comes to touching their sacred Pentagon cow.

Chuck Hagel will look for sensible cuts in the Pentagon budget, which is not something Republicans want to hear about.   But Democrats do.


(*1)  William Kristol founded and is the editor of the Weekly Standard, which I would describe as a Neo-Con propaganda instrument.    I overheard him say on FOX the other day that “Obama is not concerned about having a strong national defense.”  I will address the absurdity of this statement in my next post, or one soon after.   He was one of the early backers of Sarah Palin as McCain’s VP candidate, which in my mind largely dismisses him from the category of serious thinkers.   He did come to realize that Palin did not really make a good presidential candidate in 2012 and recently he said he saw no reason for Republicans to live or die over raising taxes somewhat for the rich.   I’ll give him a couple of points for making some sense for a change, but I group him among those who are so soaked in their ideology they douse most of what might otherwise be illuminating.   Another topic to be addressed later.

(*2)  David Brooks, a conservative moderate whom I do respect, describes the political wisdom of Obama’s Hagel pick in this column.    Unfortunately, he ends the editorial with a cheap shot:   “How, in short, will Hagel supervise the beginning of America’s military decline? If members of Congress don’t want America to decline militarily, well, they have no one to blame but the voters and themselves.”

David, David, David….  I thought you were better than that.    “Decline militarily”?   Of the money spent worldwide on military forces, we spend about 42% of it.  Put another way, our military spending is more than the next 17 countries in the world combined.  Don’t you think there are probably some areas that could use paring down given our deficit problems?

I will go into that more in my next post.  Which will be short to compensate for this long one.

Is it a Fiscal Cliff or Curb or Slope or What?

 We have all heard our upcoming congressional budget battle referred to

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

as a fiscal cliff, but some have called it either a “fiscal curb” or a “fiscal slope ”  instead.  What a difference a choice of words can make.   A slope sounds much less scary than a cliff, doesn’t it? Couldn’t we roll down a slope and not get hurt?

Simply put, we are facing in January the expiration of some major tax cuts if they are not renewed along with automatic across-the-board spending cuts in the federal budget.

If congress cannot come up with some sort of compromise between now and January, all of these tax breaks and spending cuts automatically go into effect, which might seem a dream come true to super deficit hawks.  Except for one thing:  Most economists believe such a sharp reduction in tax breaks and government spending  would throw our economy in reverse. i. e. back into recession.

The latter spending cuts are the result of a congressional agreement made in 2011, so that Republicans would allow for the debt ceiling to be raised (in pre-Tea Party days, largely a formality for decades (*1).  These automatic cuts were put into place to supposedly force congress to work together to come up with sensible reductions before this January deadline, but since they failed to do that, the cuts will simply be made across-the-board (though with some exceptions).  This is commonly described as cutting the budget with a hatchet instead of a scalpel.  Another rhetorical flourish.

All that happening at once would be a fiscal cliff, but not likely to play out that way given the well-proven ability of congress to make deals lacking immediate consequences.  Most likely they will come up with some mini-partial deal, while giving themselves another six months or so to work out the details (of which in truth there would be many if tax loopholes, let’s say, were actually going to be broached).

And even if congress doesn’t get an agreement by January, they can make an agreement later and make it retroactive, which might initiate a slip off of the fiscal curb in the interim, rumblings in the  stock market, and an increase in overall national anxiety, but we wouldn’t be falling off a fiscal cliff.

Also,  Treasury Secretary Geithner could freeze paycheck-withholdings — the government’s cut out of each paycheck — even if tax rates rise at the end of the year.   To summarize a report from Bloomberg News, “By letting taxpayers keep about $10 billion per pay period, that would single-handedly curb about half of the economic effect of the fiscal cliff and help the country avoid a recession.”

People who, in contrast to me, actually understand these matters, undoubtedly could suggest other factors that will more or less soften the landing, implying that we won’t fall off a fiscal cliff unless most of the key players become brain dead simultaneously.   My guess is the “cliff” will be ground down to a slope over the next few months, albeit a bumpy one with some potholes added by global economic events.

If I’m right, that’s the good news.  The bad news is the huge iceberg of debt will remain dead ahead.  At best, this will only move the steering wheel slightly.

Also, sometimes there are unintended consequences.  Anyone who saw the movie Rebel Without A Cause (1955) or just know about it through the legend of James Dean, will recall the “chickie run” in which a teenaged Dean and a local hood test their courage by driving jalopies full speed towards a cliff to see who will jump first.

Technically the hood won because he never jumped.  His jacket got caught on a door handle.   Oops.

Let’s just hope the budget negotiations don’t get caught on a door handle.


(*1)  Why do they have a debt ceiling?  The U. S. government since its inception has operated with varying degrees of debt.  The debt ceiling might be thought of as a periodic pause for thought as to how much debt government is willing to tolerate at a given time.  Raising the debt limit had become almost automatic prior to 2011, but Republicans made it an issue then.  More on that battle can be found here.

FREE AT LAST! Post-Election First Reflections

Free from all those nasty commercials.  Free from all that political junk

Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

mail.  Free from all those phone calls pushing one candidate and trashing another, though I did appreciate President Clinton calling me.   I felt honored, but I still didn’t pick up.   I haven’t picked up in two months which have been jammed with so many unwanted calls that I almost cancelled my land line.  Unfortunately I often need it to locate my cell phone.


Yeah, and don’t tell me about how Romney was smeared as well.  Romney was portrayed as a very wealthy guy out of touch with the average American and our concerns, an image he cemented with his behind closed-doors speech to big donors in which he indicated at least “47%” of us think of ourselves as “victims” expecting government to solve our problems.   That is not smearing him. That’s who he is.

Carl Rove complains that Romney was portrayed as “a rich guy who only thinks about himself.”  O. K., that’s not complimentary, but I don’t think it prompts hatred.   Not compared with Obama being profiled as a secretly foreign-born, anti-American Muslim socialist who made-everything-worse as president.  That’s more than smearing; it’s sliming.

So, despite the fact that this has been a  “six billion dollar status quo election”…….   (Same president, same Democrat “managed” Senate and Republican “controlled” House ) …….   I feel so much better that I can begin to focus on what is happening in terms of addressing our nation’s problems, rather than defend Barack Obama’s last four years in office. (*1)

I have had criticisms of the president;  but I was so busy clearing away Republican distortions and lies I never got around to them.  In any event, I’m glad he has been given a second chance to do better on a number of fronts, and I think he will.   But more of that in upcoming weeks.

And more election reflections, too.   I have plenty to think about.

One more thought for today:

The #1 Issue was the Economy:    I find it ironic that, according to just about everyone, the economy was the key issue, but I found the economy almost never talked about in any real way during all of those months of babble.   Obama didn’t want us to dwell on the slow recovery and Romney didn’t want to detail how he would improve it.   Better to just be the Un-Obama, he seemed to think.   Perhaps he recalled how the rope-a-dope worked for Ali vs. Foreman so many years ago.

I often heard how the Obama campaign had sidetracked Romney from talking about the economy, but when Romney did talk about it, he never really said anything.   Maybe he liked being sidetracked.  He did indicate that he had created 100,000 jobs through Bain Capital, but never gave any proof and stopped saying that when pressed.  (If that were true, don’t you think each of us would have received in the mail a multi-colored booklet highlighting all those jobs?).

Otherwise Romney just made assertions like when he became president he would create 12,000,000 jobs, but never how he would do it.  As it turns out, that is what many economists predicted anyway.  No matter who would be elected.   Maybe even me.  (Thanks again for your vote, reader.)

So maybe Obama will “create” all those jobs, but if so, than Republicans will not give him credit but instead point to the natural cycling of the economy that Obama cashed in on.   And there would be some truth in that.

The booming economy during the Clinton years had already begun to turn around right before his first election, but not enough so the public really noticed.   So, George Bush was out (whom I think of as Bush the Better), and  Clinton was in and got to ride the rising tide.   In short, praising or blaming presidents for the shape of an economy imagines much greater powers than they have and ignores luck, lots of luck. (*2)

Given the shaky world economy, we can’t assume continued improvement in our own, but it would be ironic, and unfair, had Romney been elected and the improvement be called the “Romney Recovery.”  In that case, the Republicans would have forgotten economic cycles.  Fareed Zakaria points that out in a Washington Post piece that should cheer you up about our economic future, if you don’t think too much about it.

His is a lonely view compared to most you might read right now, especially with THE FISCAL CLIFF looming.  But save that other reading until later.  For now, take Daniel L. Reardon’s advice:  “In the long run the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip.” (*3)

Have fun this weekend.


(*1)   I do realize the election produced significant changes, but not in terms of the balance of power in our central government.   For example, in keeping Obama in office the composition and politics of the allegedly apolitical Supreme Court figure to change down the line.

(*2)  I know Democrats would argue Clinton did a number of things to prompt the growth of the economy and a budget surplus.   My point here is his policies didn’t turn the economy around; it was turning before he took office.

(*3)   I don’t know who he is or was, either.  If curious, you’ll have to do your own search.

Why I am Voting for Barack Obama

Although regular readers of this blog know that I have favored Obama for reelection as opposed to Romney, I have never painted a coherent picture as to why, but only given glimpses of my reasoning here and there.  Not that I think I will sway anyone at this point.  It is likely that all of you have decided what you will do, including not vote.  (One reader voted for me, which was heart warming, but I’m trying to see if I can shift the vote to Obama somehow, like they do in conventions).  I do want to put down some thoughts, for possible future reference if nothing elseAfter that I plan on shutting up until Nov 9, the Friday following the election.   I am about as sick of all this as you probably are.

The Short Version:

I began to describe my reasons for supporting Barack Obama and the piece began to look like a booklet, not a post.  So, though this is not short (you might want to grab a beverage before continuing), it is the shortened impressionistic version:

English: Cropped version of File:Official port...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Republicans have consistently painted Obama’s term with every ugly color they could find.   On the more absurd side has been coloring the president as un-American by birth or in spirit or both and dabbing on the reddish hue of a socialist.  No matter that Warren Buffet, who has made his huge fortune thanks to capitalism, is a staunch supporter.  The Republicans also blame him for the slow recovery we have had from a recession which the Bush team left at the White House door step when they left.

To evaluate the president’s performance one must understand this was not just another recession, but the worst since the Depression.  No other had to repair a collapsed housing market, with millions of mortgages going under water, a market which is only beginning to come back now.  The Republicans continue to blame the president for trillion dollar deficits each year but a 2011 study in the NY Times described the primary sources of  those deficits as  “the Bush-era tax cuts, war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recessions.”

The same Republicans who now act holier-than-thou regarding fiscal responsibility went along with billions in unbudgeted spending by Bush and we are still paying for that while the recession has sharply reduced government income also prompting greater deficits.   Add to this the Republican congressional resistance to anything Obama has proposed, even if they had proposed similar things before.  Factor in their refusal to consider raising taxes along with budget cuts – a combination most economists and financial types think necessary if we are really going to confront our budget problems – and most of their criticisms are misleading at best, lies at worst.

Under an Obama administration an economic collapse was averted and, while there is plenty that might be criticized, we are still a float and the economy is slowly on the mend.   And, yes, despite the Republican talking point to the contrary, the 800 billion stimulus did work according to a large majority of studies.  Of course, the amount of national debt remains a huge problem dead ahead, but it is not as if Romney/Ryan have the answer, despite the pretense of having a detailed plan.   Again, their plan does not include tax hikes, so it lacks a basis in reality according to most serious opinion on the issue, including some figures on the right, though not on the far right of course.  At least Obama begins with a sense of reality, despite his vagaries.

I would sum up Obama’s domestic performance as decent amidst awful conditions, which makes decent relatively good.   His performance in foreign policy was even better I think, but that is debatable.  In any event, Mitt Romney’s foreign policy isn’t much different as he articulated in the third debate.  Those willing to give Obama a fair shake would have to admit that all in all, he’s done a fair job, which is why moderate Republican Collin Powell is endorsing him once again – not because he’s also black as Romney surrogate John Sununu has suggested.   Sununu being one of many Republicans whom I find disgusting.  Donald Trump would be another.

Whatever his short-comings as president, Obama is a student of history and I believe he can learn from his mistakes, such as remaining aloof from the nitty gritty of congressional politics.   Prior to the last election he was often criticized for his inexperience, both as an executive and in foreign policy.   Now he has four years of experience in both arenas, as president no less, something I think he will build upon.  In comparison, Mitt Romney is a rookie.

Which reminds me that I am not only voting for Barack Obama, but against Mitt Romney.  I have paid close attention to him over these past seven months as indicated in several of my 60 posts, and I still do not know who Mitt Romney is.  NO, REALLY!  The frequent chameleon-like portrayal is not a caricature but a crystal clear image of Mitt’s positions and stances which swirl around like an old lava lamp.  It all just keeps changing in front of our eyes.  I love that one comment of his to a reporter who questioned him about a previous statement.  Romney said:  “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.”

I do think he has some impressive accomplishments and if president, he might add more, but I can not predict what they would be.  At their convention his wife Ann assured us in her speech that if Mitt was elected “he will not fail.”  And I thought, fail to do what?   He says if he is elected he will create 12 million new jobs, but many economists predict that is the amount of new jobs that will be created no matter who is president.

More often Romney simply asserts that in every area he will do better than Obama.  He is slipperier than a greased pig when it comes to what and how, but apparently he thinks the Obama brand has become so tainted (with tons of help from Mitt’s cronies of course) that it only takes a relentless effort to portray himself, Mitt, as the Un-Obama to win the day.

The following Romney comment said behind closed doors regarding those who do not pay federal income tax is enough for me not to vote for him.  “There are 47 percent who are with him (Obama), who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

But putting all that aside, even judging by the lowest denominator, I’d vote for Barack Obama preferring the devil I know to the etch-a-sketch one I don’t.  This is especially so as I believe the one thing we can depend upon in a Romney presidency is more conservative nominees to the supreme court which already tilts in that direction.  At least a couple of judges seem likely to retire over the next four years.

Do you really want our Supreme Court to become more conservative than it is now and to remain that way possibly for decades?

I don’t, a final reason why I will vote for Barack Obama.

A Look at the Budget Game or at the Fall TV Lineup?

Which would you like to look at now?   First, I guess I should describe the budget game.   According to a piece in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank, there is a new video game called:  “Budget Hero: Election Edition,” …” in which people of all ages can try their luck at balancing the federal budget.”

As Milbank describes it:  “Playing off the music simulation game ‘Guitar Hero,’

English: The new logo of .

English: The new logo of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the nonpartisan Wilson Center and the Public Insight Network devised the game, at, to allow would-be budget-cutters to try their preferred mix of policy proposals.

“Play the “Romney Badge” and plug in the various elements of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s fiscal policy. Uh oh, you lose: The government goes bust — the point at which it can pay for nothing other than mandatory spending such as Medicare and Social Security — in 2025. Playing the “Obama Badge” isn’t much better: President Obama’s policy prescriptions would have the government going belly up — the Pentagon and most other government functions shutting down — in 2028.

Play a bit more and you quickly find out that nobody comes out a Budget Hero.” (emphasis added)

Oh, dear, maybe I have  ruined all the fun by revealing too much.  Well, if anybody does play the game and can beat the Obama score by much, please let me know.

For now, since some new TV shows debut this week, perhaps you’d prefer to preview them and push consideration of our budget woes until later since that is what  Congress is doing.    If so, you can go to this Washington Post link, which gives brief reviews of the fall series lineup and grades them (not including premium channels like HBO, of Showcase).  There is a certain timeliness to this in that at least a couple are on tonight, Tuesday.

One is The Mindy Project debuting on Fox which got the second highest grade of the 22 shows previewed, an A-.  The other is The New Normal, which has aired at least one episode and received a B+ (I’d downgrade it to a B – from the episode I saw, but a friend thought it funny).    Anyway, the highest ranked show was Nashville, which won’t debut until mid-October.  Here are the top six if you just want to check them out:

Nashville – A

The Mindy Project – A –

Elementary – B +

The New Normal – B +

The Neighbors – B

Those who don’t watch TV will have to figure out something else to do with themselves.   I can’t be held responsible for entertaining everyone.

“Has God forsaken the Republicans?”

In my my last three posts I’ve considered the problems that the Romney/Ryan ticket has created for themselves.   Given the happenings over the past few days, Todd Akin in particular, I have pondered the difficulties the Republicans have had in launching an effective campaign from the beginning.  Has the divine hand of providence been backing the other side?  At least certainly not the group soon to meet in Tampa.


Medicare (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Thinking of the hand of providence, I recalled the time a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, half black and half white, was elected President of the United States.  That remains a remarkable event even in this land of so yesterday.  I believe Barry Obama to be a unique combination of racial backgrounds that allowed him to win.  I would say he won because, in addition to running a great campaign, he transcends race.  He is the personification of the American melting pot, which has prompted the far right to work all the harder to  caricature him as a secret Muslim socialist  born in Kenya.

His winning the Presidency was remarkable, even if his Presidency has been far less so, though given the circumstances far better than the Republicans portray.   Given continued 8% unemployment and a sluggish economy, what I also find remarkable is the inability of the Republicans to mount a strong campaign against him.   To begin with they couldn’t  even find a candidate they really liked (too soon for another Bush and too early for Chris Christie), so they wound up with Mitt Romney.   There was some truth in Rick Santorum’s assertion that Romney was the “worst candidate” for the Republicans .  The problem was the others available, including Santorum, were worster.  If they wanted to win that is.

I wasn’t being entirely facetious in a previous post when I suggested that Romney chose Ryan as his running mate because he was dying to be liked by his own party.  Certainly if the pick was more rational, the campaign brains didn’t think it through, as I have also argued in recent posts.  And that was before the Akin factor.

Etch-a-sketch Romney combined with facts and figures and clear cut statements on record by Ryan has been like trying to stir together oil and water.  And one undissolved hunk is Ryan’s stance on Medicare, aimed at  saving some form of the program but at what cost to recipients?  This would  seem the last thing the Republicans would want as a banner item at their Tampa convention in the grayest state in the union.

But wait,  Missouri Republican Senatorial candidate Todd Akin topped that when bursting on to the national  scene like a hand grenade with his novel theory of a woman’s body being able to shut down and prevent conception as long as the rape is “legitimate.”   Trying to avoid the shrapnel from his statements, Republicans distanced themselves and one by one called for him to resign.  John McCain called him an “idiot” and the normally intemperate Ann Coulter, hearing that Akin refused to drop out of the race, outdid herself with:  “I officially hate him.”   Romney seemed to wait for others to demand the resignation before he felt it necessary to demand it as well.

Unfortunately, new VP candidate Paul Ryan can’t distance himself completely because he and Akin co-sponsored a number of bills limiting abortion, with no clauses exempting women who are raped, which also just happens to be a party plank at the convention that now has drawn unwanted attention as well.

Medicare, rape and abortion – all tied to Paul Ryan in some way –  just what the Republicans don’t want in the news right before their convention.  And of course you’ve heard about this budding hurricane working its way toward the Tampa area.  

I don’t know about God forsaking the Republicans, but he, she or it sure doesn’t have their backs at the moment.


P. S. –   I stole the title for this  post  from an editorial by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post a few days ago.   I had begun my piece when encountering Milbank’s and was going to just scrap my own and link you to his, as we cover much the same ground in a similar way.  But I wanted to add a few things of my own, so ……….    Also, his piece offers some additional details, so I suggest you read it as well.  Linked right here.

Finally, I think it curious that current Republican events seemed bizarre enough that both Milbank and I were prompted to look for para-normal explanations.