White House Budget Insanity + More

Posted on Fri 02/18/2011 by

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“The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” –Thomas Jefferson

Government & Politics

Fiscal Insanity: The White House Budget

White House Budget

Last year, Democrats in Congress didn’t even bother to pass a budget. Given the increases proposed in the White House budget released Monday, it might behoove Congress to rinse, lather and repeat. Last November, Barack Obama’s very own deficit commission recommended that federal spending be cut by $4 trillion over the next decade — which is still far too little for our liking — but Obama must have misunderstood. He apparently thought they meant he should spend $4 trillion this year.

The administration’s budget proposal sets federal spending for fiscal 2012 at $3.73 trillion, yet another dubious new record for this administration. The deficit for the ’12 budget would be $1.65 trillion, or 10.9 percent of GDP, also a record. That would bring the total national debt equal to the worth of the entire U.S. economy, or $15 trillion. Yet Obama has the chutzpah to tout the shamelessly inadequate spending cuts in his budget.

Erskine Bowles, a Clinton administration lackey who co-chaired Obama’s deficit commission, was far closer to the mark when he said that the White House’s proposal is “nowhere near where they will have to go to resolve our fiscal nightmare.” Even Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asserted that it would leave the nation with “unsustainable obligations over time.”

As for the “cuts” and “savings,” The Wall Street Journal notes, “Although the White House trumpets $2.18 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, those savings are so far off in the magical ‘out years’ that you can barely see them from here.”

Perhaps most appalling is Obama’s utter failure to address entitlement spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — which together constitute the majority of federal spending. Even the liberal Washington Post gets it: “President Obama’s budget kicks the hard choices further down the road,” said the headline of its recent editorial, which also criticized the president for his budgetary “gimmickry.” In other words, the necessary cuts won’t happen unless House Republicans begin to undertake the hard work right now.

One of the reasons Obama can claim deficit reduction is the old tax trick — raise taxes and count on exact revenue increases, completely ignoring the negative effect that doing so will have on the economy. In fact, the White House anticipates economic growth of more than 4 percent in the next three to four years, which is a full percentage point higher than most private economists or the Congressional Budget Office project.

The budget anticipates that taxes on the top two income brackets will rise in 2013, and it includes raising the capital gains tax to 20 percent from 15 percent plus new taxes on energy companies totaling $300 billion. On top of that, the administration is seeking 5,100 additional IRS agents to reduce the estimated $300 billion in unpaid taxes. All told, Obama is counting on $1.5 trillion in new tax revenue — money taken out of the economy to pay for more government. He keeps calling that government spending “investment,” as if that makes it acceptable.

Under this budget, the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of ObamaCare (despite a judge’s recent ruling that the law is unconstitutional, we might add), will become the nation’s first $1 trillion department by 2014. “In fact,” says CNSNews editor Terence Jeffrey, “HHS already is costing American taxpayers more per year in inflation-adjusted dollars than the entire federal government cost back in 1965, the year President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed Medicare into law.” This year’s total is $909.7 billion, which is $170 billion more than the Department of Defense.

About his budget, Obama claimed, “Just like every family in America, the federal government has to do two things at once: It has to live within its means while still investing in the future. If your family [is] trying to cut back, you might skip going out to dinner, you might put off a vacation, but you wouldn’t want to sacrifice saving for your kids’ college education or making key repairs in your house. So you cut back on what you can’t afford to focus on what you can’t do without, and that’s what we’ve done with this year’s budget.” Such a claim is absurd. House Republicans should lead the charge against it.

News From the Swamp: GOP Works to Cut Spending

House Republicans are doing some budget work themselves, debating legislation to fund the government for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The GOP is considering measures that would reduce federal spending by $61 billion this year, including defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and eliminating $450 million for a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, though other defense cuts failed. Republicans are also debating blocking funding for ObamaCare, and dethroned nine “czars” Thursday. Some conservative Republicans are pushing for an additional $20 billion in cuts.

Barack Obama issued a veto threat almost as soon as the House began debate on the cuts. The White House said that the GOP’s plans “will undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world.” It’s important to note that $61 billion is still a pathetically small piece of the $3+ trillion budget, so Democrats might want to tone down their cries of despair — and Republicans might want to toughen up.

In Case Of Emergency......

Hope ‘n’ Change: The Wave of Waivers Continues

While the White House insists that ObamaCare is functional and here to stay, the Department of Health and Human Services continues to allow employers to opt out of the plan. HHS has issued 915 waivers to date to a variety of private companies and organizations, allowing them to continue offering so-called mini-med insurance plans with annual limits on the dollar amount of benefits provided. These plans have traditionally been affordable for many workers, and the 2.4 million employees who are under the waiver umbrella will be able to keep them. The other 99 percent of privately insured workers in America are out of luck, however, as they won’t be allowed to take part in this special dispensation.

HHS insists that these waivers are temporary, and by 2014, when they expire, “annual dollar limits will be prohibited and mini-med plans will no longer be necessary.” ObamaCare has already been ruled unconstitutional because of the individual mandate, and now this additional action by HHS continues to trample the Constitution by granting the president the power to suspend laws, a power that the executive clearly does not have.

New & Notable Legislation

The House and Senate voted separately this week to extend three provisions of the Patriot Act that were originally due to expire on Feb. 28. Congress wants another 90 days to consider further the validity of the items. At issue is the power to set roving wiretaps, seek tangible information on suspects’ business or library records, and engage in secret surveillance of non-American suspects not known to be tied to any terrorist group. Unlike the bulk of the Patriot Act, these items were given expiration dates due to their potential harm to civil liberties, and they are often reviewed to assess their continued benefit in combating terrorism.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Cybersecurity Freedom Act of 2011 on Thursday. It’s almost identical to a bill introduced last year, except for two changes. Politico reports, “First, it adds language explicitly stating the president can’t shut down the Internet. Second, it includes language permitting the owners of assets deemed critical infrastructure by the federal government — and therefore subject to additional Department of Homeland Security regulations — to appeal that decision in a federal court.” Collins said they added “explicit language prohibiting the president from doing what President [Hosni] Mubarak did” in Egypt.

From the ‘Non Compos Mentis’ File

In the shadow of what just days ago would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, little left-out Lefties feel the need to compensate by praising Barack Obama despite his utter lack of significant achievement. As we continue our celebration, Obama himself is horning in on the act. At the farewell gathering for outgoing Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Obama told a story about having borrowed Gibbs’s tie to wear during his speech at the 2004 Democrat National Convention. “Robert didn’t want to give it up because he thought he looked really good in the tie,” Obama said. “But eventually he was willing to take one for the gipper, and so he took off his tie, and I put it on.”

The gipper? It’s bad enough that Time magazine is comparing Reagan to his ideological antithesis, but when Obama takes part, it goes from ridiculous to just plain pathetic.

Around the Nation: Union Tussle in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker introduced a proposal to the state’s legislature this week that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees, as well as require employees to pay for half of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health insurance. Wage increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. The goal is to save $300 million over two years as the state deals with a $3.6 billion budget deficit over that span. Ironically, Wisconsin was the first state to grant public employees collective bargaining rights in 1959. How in the world did they survive prior to then?

Reaction was swift and angry. By Thursday afternoon, 25,000 people had gathered at the state capitol to protest the legislation. About 40 percent of Madison’s public school teachers protested by calling in “sick,” forcing the superintendent to cancel classes. (Think, for a moment, about the lesson that they’re teaching our children: If you don’t like the way things are going at work, stay home. Then make high-minded excuses about why you’re doing so. Nice lesson.)

In the state senate, all 14 Democrats left the state in order to deny the 19 majority Republicans the needed quorum for a vote. “The story around the world is the rush to democracy,” wailed Democrat Sen. Bob Jauch. “The story in Wisconsin is the end of the democratic process.” Funny how Democrats fled the state rather than participate in the “democratic process.”

Furthermore, the protests are fueled by an arm of the Democrat National Committee, Organizing for America, which is what’s left of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Unions did contribute heftily to his campaign, after all. The president even waded into the fray, calling Walker’s bill “an assault on unions.” Gov. Walker responded, “I think we’re focused on balancing our budget. It would be wise for the president and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budget, which they’re a long ways from doing.” Nazi comparisons and other violent imagery also abound among protesters. What ever happened to toning down the political rhetoric post-Tucson?

National Security

The Never-Ending Story: Middle East Unrest

As expected, the Muslim Brotherhood has stepped into the evolving mess in Egypt and announced Tuesday, “The Muslim Brotherhood believes in the freedom of the formation of political parties. They are eager to have a political party.” We can easily imagine how very eager they are, just as many tyrants have been eager to form a party. Among all the malignant influences in Egypt, the Brotherhood has the greatest potential to replace Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt but largely secular regime with a violent theocratic regime on par with that in Iran or Gaza. This must be avoided at all costs if Egypt is to have any chance of gaining more liberty.

Elsewhere in the region, also as we predicted last week, the events in Egypt have spread to Libya and Bahrain. Libya is a classic dictatorship, complete with brutal security forces and secret police. Bahrain, in contrast, is the most liberal of the Middle East nations, western-friendly, fairly relaxed about women’s rights and free expression, and host to U.S. NAVCENT, the naval component of CENTCOM.

Libyan protests aimed at replicating the outcome in Egypt were swiftly and brutally suppressed on Tuesday. In Bahrain, the perpetually aggrieved Shiite population used Egypt as an excuse for yet another uprising, albeit a much larger and more determined one. By Thursday, the King had called out the army to assist police in breaking up the main protest at Pearl Square in Manama, where the Hezbollah flag could be seen occasionally among the protesters. In Libya the protesters have little hope of overcoming the security forces, while in Bahrain the Shia garner no sympathy from the Sunni population, and neither government is likely to be seriously challenged. No word as to when Obama will begin supporting these “democracy movements.”

U.S. Offers to Join UN Rebuke of Israel

The Obama administration announced a stark reversal in U.S. policy with an offer to sign on to a UN Security Council statement rebuking Israel over settlements in disputed territories. The administration could be seeking to avoid having to veto a Palestinian-backed resolution declaring the settlements illegal, but the Palestinians rejected the administration’s offer and will push for a vote Friday.

According to Foreign Policy Magazine, “Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group, a bloc of Arab countries from North Africa and the Middle East. In exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.” If the U.S. vetoes, it would be its first ever, and it would leave us alone among the 15 member nations in opposing the Palestinian resolution. Maybe Obama could just have Rice vote “present” and see how that turns out.

Immigration Front: DHS and ‘Effective Control’ of the Border

On Monday, Secretary of Homeland (In)Security Janet Napolitano released a budget statement that says her department will not put another mile of the U.S. border under “effective control” in either fiscal year 2011 or 2012. Do you feel safer? According to Napolitano, the Border Patrol currently has 1,007 miles of the U.S. border under “effective control,” defined as “when the appropriate mix of personnel, equipment, technology, and tactical infrastructure has been deployed to reasonably ensure that when an attempted illegal entry is detected, the Border Patrol has the ability to identify, classify, and respond to bring the attempted illegal entry to a satisfactory law enforcement resolution.” That’s a definition only a bureaucrat could love.

The entire U.S. border runs about 8,607 miles and includes 1,994 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, about 4,000 miles between the U.S. and Canada, the Gulf of Mexico coastline, plus the coastlines of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If only 1,007 of those 8,607 miles are under “effective control,” that leaves a staggering 7,600 miles — nearly 90 percent — that are under “effective non-control,” or what we like to call “totally open.”

The massive, forest-clearing 3,311-page document released by Napolitano, entitled Congressional Budget Justification: FY 2012, also says that the DHS does not intend to hire any more border agents, nor will the department deploy more border agents in fiscal year 2012 to either the Mexican or Canadian borders. At this point, it’s fair to ask some questions: Didn’t Secretary Napolitano recently say that the U.S. border was already secure? And if it isn’t secure, shouldn’t DHS be securing it? And if DHS won’t secure the border, what exactly is DHS’s function, anyway? Apparently, they think it’s erroneously shutting down 84,000 websites for child pornography. Priorities.

Given the murder this week of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and the shooting of a second, we would suggest that Napolitano re-evaluate the definition of “effective control.”

Business & Economy

Getting the Fannie (& Freddie) Out of the Fire

When Team Yes-We-Can abruptly U-turned on its support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this week, we asked the obvious question: Why? Better yet: Why now? The cover story is that the departments of U.S. Treasury and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have both “seen the light,” as evidenced by a jointly published white paper that exposes buffoonery by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with the recommendation of dissolving the two Government-Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) behemoths — well, maybe.

We’re all for the current administration’s “seeing the light” — any light, frankly — with respect to paring down government to a less-than-ravenous size, and this especially applies to all-but-in-name, government-sponsored hedge funds like these. That said, we note the obvious disconnect between this latest stance and that taken by statists in the intervening 70+ years since FDR’s Raw Deal established these two beasts. Both holdings, which owned or backed more than half the nation’s mortgages before they collapsed, have dropped to mere pennies on the dollar, leaving American taxpayers stuck holding a $5 trillion bag.

As to actual recommendations for doing away with Fannie and Freddie, Treasury and HUD punted the ball to Congress, offering three options. Option One is to limit government-backed lending to credit-worthy low-to-moderate income borrowers. This would reduce taxpayer risk but (supposedly) lead to higher mortgage costs. Option Two would place government in the role of backstop in times of mortgage “crises” (as defined by…?), with the ability to push a ready reserve of cash out to stem an impending disaster — you know, like TARP. Option Three proposes that government guarantee only a “targeted range” of high-quality mortgages, effectively leaving the current process — albeit with a “different” GSE, we suppose — more or less intact.

We of course favor the first option, as it’s the closest to getting government completely out of the home-loan business. Frankly, however, we’re much less interested in options offered by this white paper than we are of the fact that it has been published.

Accordingly, let’s also not lose sight of the elephant in the room. We asked at the outset, “Why now?” Here, a smoking gun might be the fact that both GSEs have been declared exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to disclose their internal workings. That’s right: Fannie and Freddie are now exempt from any discovery attempts made by or on behalf of the American public. Among credible allegations levied against both are claims that each has contributed substantial sums to political campaigns of various candidates, including — you guessed itBarack Obama. The very notion that a quasi-governmental organization is even allowed to contribute to any campaign is deplorable, but the fact that these GSEs have readily wielded so much political power in the form of raw cash — at least until both of them cratered, anyway — is anathema.

A cynical take on the proposed demise of these GSEs is that certain vulnerable parties are desperately trying to hide all the skeletons before organizations such as Judicial Watch (which has upped its FOIA efforts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit) can open the wrong door. Unfortunately for the administration, America has every reason to be cynical.

Regulatory Commissars: Drilling Ban Forces Bankruptcy

Call it another casualty of the Obama penchant for “green” jobs. Nearly 500 workers at a Texas-based offshore drilling company are affected by their employer’s bankruptcy and have closed up shop. Seahawk Drilling, which owns 20 shallow-water offshore rigs, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week and will sell the rigs to a competing company for $105 million. Out of 20 rigs Seahawk owned, only seven were currently in use — the others were idled in part by the Obama moratorium on offshore drilling enacted after the Deepwater Horizon spill last April.

Despite a federal judge’s declaring the moratorium (and a virtually identical rewrite) null and void, as well as ordering Thursday a decision on permits within 30 days, Obama flipped the judge a metaphorical bird and has utterly ignored those rulings. The same judge even cited the administration for contempt for this fascistic disregard for Rule of Law. Meanwhile, the White House has also revoked plans to open up oil exploration in other parts of the Gulf and Atlantic while allowing companies promoting wind energy the opportunity to lease tracts in those same Atlantic areas.

In case you haven’t noticed: Gasoline prices are back above $3 per gallon. However, unlike the sharp run-up in 2008 — when prices soared past $4 per gallon in many areas — perhaps they have risen slowly enough for the president’s tastes this time.

TARP Inspector Resigns

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), has announced that he will step down on March 30. Stating that he has met the goals he set upon taking the job, the former prosecutor plans to pursue other endeavors. Appointed by George W. Bush in 2008, Barofsky became known as a passionate advocate on behalf of taxpayers, often angering those in the Obama administration along the way. In one of his nine quarterly reports, he exposed the program as a bottomless money pit; in another he said that the lack of transparency was “fueling anger, criticism and distrust” in TARP for the American people.

Some Treasury bureaucrats are certainly not sorry to see Barofsky go. One called his departure “a nice Valentine for us”; another said that criticism was fine but that he was “wrong about many big things.” Principled lawmakers, however, applauded his work. “No one has been more dedicated to protecting the American people’s tax dollars from waste, fraud and abuse,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa, the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has made clear his intention to investigate the Obama administration’s fiscal policies, as well as the Fannie and Freddie debacle.

Culture & Policy

Village Academic Curriculum: Is Our Teachers Learning?

Barack Obama’s latest attempt at education reform might as well be called “No Union Bureaucrat Left Behind.” This week, some 150 school districts representing 40 states sent school administrators and union bosses to a U.S. Department of Education Summit, which, as the Associated Press reports, “was billed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan as a groundbreaking effort to build trust between unions and the leaders who sometimes are their adversaries.” Just call it an attempt by labor and management to get top marks in the “works well with others” report card category.

There’s trouble on the playground, though. Before the summit even began, New York City and Washington, DC — two major school districts — backed out “because of ongoing disagreements between teachers’ unions and district management.” Chicago and Los Angeles were among other large school districts also absent.

Still, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel praised the summit, saying, “It’s about collaboration, about a belief that if you want to make changes for students, you need to find a way to talk to each other.” One superintendent, noting the need to keep children first in labor negotiations, called the summit “very symbolic.” Unfortunately, unless teachers’ unions and administrators put action behind their rhetoric and actually put children first instead of only talking about doing so, symbolic is all the summit will be.

Climate Change This Week: Wacky Weather Is Normal

From blizzards and cyclones to heat waves and typhoons, extreme weather has been ready fodder for climate crusaders arguing that man-made CO2 emissions are wreaking havoc on global weather patterns. Well, let’s just say the crusaders’ weather balloon has burst. According to the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project, an initiative that “contains objectively-analyzed 4-dimensional weather maps and their uncertainty for most of the 1900’s,” seemingly wacky weather isn’t so wacky after all. “In the climate models, the extremes get more extreme as we move into a doubled CO2 world in 100 years,” explains atmospheric scientist and project researcher Gilbert Compo. “So we were surprised that none of the three major indices of climate variability that we used show a trend of increased circulation going back to 1871.”

That’s right, research dating back to the Grant administration failed to show more extreme weather patterns. “There’s no data-driven answer yet to the question of how human activity has affected extreme weather,” states University of Colorado climate researcher Roger Pielke Jr. And as The Wall Street Journal notes, “Given the unknowns, it’s possible that even if we spend trillions of dollars, and forego trillions more in future economic growth, to cut carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels, the climate will continue to change — as it always has.” No doubt climate alarmists will continue to trade scientific studies for agenda-driven propaganda — as they always have.

Faith and Family: Latest MoveOn Abortion Ad Is a Crock

MoveOn.org has brought the abortion debate back around to the false and gruesome imagery of yesteryear, saying that because Republicans are pushing to strip federal funding for abortion from the budget, the GOP is trying to force women back to the days before Roe v. Wade. In MoveOn’s ad, as actress Lisa Edelstein is shown heading toward a closet with a single coat hanger on the rack, her voiceover laments, “Only decades ago, women suffered through horrifying back-alley abortions. Or, they used dangerous methods when they had no other recourse. So when the Republican Party launched an all out assault on women’s health, pushing bills to limit access to vital services, we had to ask, why is the GOP trying to send women back … to the back alley?” Edelstein plays a doctor on TV, so she should know, right?

First, the Left usually insists that federal money isn’t used for abortions … until conservatives try to defund Planned Parenthood, and then all of the sudden a woman’s “right to choose” is taken away. Second, it’s incredibly tragic that some women would choose to abort their babies even if it meant resorting to the dangerous and illegal methods of the pre-Roe era. But it’s preposterous to lay blame for that at the feet of pro-life conservatives.

And Last…

The late Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy always was adept at spending other people’s money while he represented the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. As evidenced by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate (the EMK Institute), this propensity for spending hasn’t changed, even though Kennedy died in 2009. According to the EMK Institute website, it “is dedicated to educating the public about our government, invigorating public discourse, encouraging participatory democracy, and inspiring the next generation of citizens and leaders to engage in the public square. The Institute will be a dynamic center of non-partisan learning and engagement that takes advantage of cutting-edge technology to provide each visitor and other participants with a unique and information rich, personalized experience that will bring history alive.”

The Institute has already cost the taxpayers $38 million, and it could cost another $30 million if supporters have their way. We suppose, though, with a federal budget fast approaching $4 trillion, $68 million is just water under the bridge.

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(Please pray for our Armed Forces standing in harm’s way around the world, and for their families — especially families of those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, who granted their lives in defense of American liberty.)

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