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Tags: Budget

Ryan Saves GOP from Itself



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Did Paul Ryan’s budget deal save the Republican party from itself? I think it did.

Everyone acknowledges that Ryan-Murray is not a great deal. But the fact is, its passage will avoid a government shutdown. That’s crucial.

If the GOP wants to retake the Senate and hold the House in 2014, the key issues must be the catastrophic pitfalls of Obamacare and better economic growth. A shutdown would be a distraction. It would take the heat off Obama and Obamacare, and all the Democrats who falsely promised that if you like your insurance and doctor, you can keep them.

Read my full column here

Tags: Budget

Dealing With the Budget Deal



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The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt features a look at why the Washington area can never seem to cope with any amount of snow (or even rumors of snow!), another inspiring example of your tax dollars at work, and, of course, examining the budget deal announced last night:

Budget? Deal With It.

Great news for everyone who was tired of the recent Republican unity over Obamacare and fantastic momentum heading into the midterm elections: House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) worked out a budget deal with Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray (D., Tennis Shoes).

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 would set overall discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion — about halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion. The agreement would provide $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. In fiscal year 2014, defense discretionary spending would be set at $520.5 billion, and non-defense discretionary spending would be set at $491.8 billion.

The sequester relief is fully offset by savings elsewhere in the budget. The agreement includes dozens of specific deficit-reduction provisions, with mandatory savings and non-tax revenue totaling approximately $85 billion. The agreement would reduce the deficit by between $20 and $23 billion.

This is not what most of us would consider a “good” deal. The deficit reduction is pretty paltry. The “non-tax revenue” includes things like raising the $2.50 per-passenger per-flight “TSA fee” on flyers, which will sound a lot like a tax hike to a lot of folks. But there is a tiny bit of pension reform for federal workers:

These sections increase federal-employee contributions to their retirement programs by 1.3 percentage points. The proposal affects new employees hired after December 31, 2013 with less than five years of service.

And there’s a bit of what we would consider to be entitlement reform in the treatment of military pensions:

This provision modifies the annual cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees by making the adjustments equal to inflation minus one percent. This change would be gradually 3 phased in, with no change for the current year, a 0.25 percent decrease in December 2014, and a 0.5 percent decrease in December 2015. This would not affect service members who retired because of disability or injury. Service members would never see a reduction in benefits from one year to the next.

This, or any other long-term deal, avoids a government shutdown for the next two years. And you have to figure Barack Obama and Harry Reid are itching to have another government shutdown, as it provided the Democrats their one most optimistic political moment, just before Obamacare the Destructor appeared on the horizon.

Above: Obamacare, in marshmallow form.

Here’s the political environment at the moment, according to Quinnipiac:

President Barack Obama’s job approval among American voters drops to a new low, a negative 38 – 57 percent, as the outlook for Democrats running for Congress and the U.S. Senate fades also, according to a national poll released today. He even gets a negative 41 – 49 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old and a lackluster 50 – 43 percent approval among Hispanic voters.

American voters say 41 – 38 percent that they would vote for a Republican over a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives, the first time this year the Democrats come up on the short end of this generic ballot. Independent voters back Republican candidates 41 – 28 percent. Voters also say 47 – 42 percent that they would like to see Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate and the House. Independent voters go Republican 50 – 35 percent for each.

If Quinnipiac’s not to your liking, here’s the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this morning:

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that more Americans disapprove of the president’s job performance than ever before; half say they’re either disappointed or dissatisfied with his presidency and 54 percent believe he’s facing a long-term setback.

Perhaps more significantly, Obama has seen a drop in key presidential attributes.

Just 28 percent give the president high grades for being able to achieve his goals (down 16 points from January); only 37 percent give him high marks for being honest and straightforward (down 5 points from June); and 44 percent give him high marks for being able to handle a crisis (down another 5 points since June).

Only 34 percent believe the health law is a good idea (down 3 points from late October), while 50 percent say it’s a bad idea (the highest percentage on that measure since the NBC/WSJ poll began asking this question).

Also, by a 51 percent to 43 percent margin, respondents say they are bothered more by the Obama administration’s troubled health care website and some Americans losing their health plans than by the Republican Party’s continued efforts to undermine the law.

And asked which one or two issues have been most important in shaping their views about the president, the top response was the health care law (58 percent) — followed by the economy (25 percent), the government shutdown (23 percent) and the situations in Syria and Iran (16 percent).

The Ryan-Murray deal puts Obama and Reid in a box. Only a few events would be big enough to change this dynamic, and the most likely is another shutdown. But to get another government shutdown, they have to shoot down this deal — putting them on the wrong side of a happy-talk “bipartisan compromise” and making them the scapegoats for any failure to reach a deal. Sure, they could dig in and force another government shutdown, but they would get the blame for this one.

Mike Memoli nicknames it “The Bland Bargain.”

Tags: Paul Ryan , Patty Murray , Budget , Barack Obama , Polling

Senator McConnell: White House Meeting ‘Unproductive’



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I interviewed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday night’s Kudlow Report. When I asked him about that day’s shutdown meeting at the White House, McConnell described it as “unproductive.” Here’s a report on the interview by CNBC desk producer Elizabeth Schulze, and the video, too:

Washington is still far from resolving its differences over the fight to reopen the U.S. government.

That’s according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in an interview on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report” following a meeting at the White House Wednesday night.

“It was cordial but unproductive,” McConnell said. “The President continues to maintain privately the position that he has had publicly, which is he doesn’t want to negotiate about the continuing resolution to operate the government or over raising the debt ceiling.”

After a two-hour meeting with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. McConnell offered no timeline for Congress to pass legislation to end the government shutdown.

“Obama can’t get his way exactly the way he likes it,” McConnell said. “The American people expect us to come together and figure out how to solve this problem and sooner or later, we’re going to do that.”

“The shutdown will end,” he added. “Nobody is in favor of a government shutdown, but these are important principles that we are fighting for, for the American people. We obviously want to continue the operation of the government, but we want to keep it within constraints with the Budget Control Act.”

McConnell insisted on maintaining spending levels under the Budget Control Act, the 2011 law which created sequestration. Tax increases to reopen the government, he said, are off the table.

“We don’t want to walk away from the spending reductions we have already promised the American people for the next two years,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the Bush tax cuts are now permanent law. We don’t want to walk away from the permanent tax relief that we achieved New Year’s Eve. “

McConnell shifted the debate to the debt ceiling, saying “America is not going to default on its debts.”

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that the government’s flexibility to continue to fund itself without additional debt will end around Oct. 17. 

“Our view is it’s time to talk to eliminate the government shutdown, to find out what conditions need to be attached to raise the debt ceiling so the full faith and credit of the United States continues to be honored,” McConnell said. “But we also need to do something about this enormous debt that has been accumulated during the Obama years.”

In response to President Obama’s insistence on a “clean” budget proposal in an interview on CNBC earlier Wednesday, McConnell said the President’s position is “unacceptable.”

“The President’s position so far is that he wants it clean no matter what,” McConnell said. “I think that’s an unacceptable position for Senate and House Republicans. It should be an unacceptable position for the American people.”

McConnell said the President fails to recognize that the American people elected a divided government under the assumption that both parties would negotiate.

“There will have to be a compromise no matter what the President says today because his party doesn’t control the entire government,” he said. “The American people have frequently elected a divided government. When they do that, they don’t expect us to do nothing, to not talk to each other.”

Senate Democrats, McConnell said, are reinforcing the stalemate in their refusal to negotiate with House Republicans.

“The House has sent over a number of different proposals, including the last one to go to conference and have a discussion about this,” he said. “Senate Democrats voted that down, too. Who’s being unreasonable here?”

Tags: Budget , Obamacare , Government Shutdown

The Sequester Fight, Not Following the Left’s Playbook



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The Thursday Morning Jolt examines the reports, and repercussions, of claims of chemical weapons being used in Syria, and then this development, closer to home:

Liberals Are Starting to Wonder if They Won’t Win the Sequester Fight After All

Sure, congressional Republicans have a long and distinguished history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And nobody should speak too soon; we’re only 21 days into the national Fallout 3 Simulation that is called the sequester.

But for now, there are some signs that the GOP actually handed the sequester right.

You’ll recall last week I wrote:

Nobody wants a government shutdown; thus it is extremely unlikely that you’ll see one. The GOP is winning the sequestration debate, or at least they think they’re winning the sequestration debate, because the public hasn’t really noticed the cuts. Certainly the markets don’t mind.; A government shutdown would be noticed and for Republicans, they would come across as not merely anti-waste but anti-government and a government shutdown would probably also be bad news for Obama.

Apparently both parties got the memo:

The U.S. Senate today passed legislation to avoid a partial government shutdown, in a rare example of bipartisan cooperation on federal spending. The chamber voted 73-26 to forward on to the House a measure that would keep agencies’ lights on through Sept. 30, the end of the 2013 fiscal year. Republicans there probably will clear it for President Barack Obama’s signature. Legislation currently funding the executive branch expires March 27, and without action by Congress, agencies would begin running out of money.

Now let me offer part of a column from Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, who is usually the last guy to declare that the Democrats are in trouble, and that the Republicans have played any cards right:

Maybe I’m wrong about this. But it’s looking more and more like progressives and liberals are going to be facing a tough question: Which is worse, indefinite sequestration or a grand bargain that includes serious entitlement cuts? Seems to me that sooner or later, major players on the left are going to have to stake out a position on this question.

With Republicans seemingly refusing to yield on new revenues, it’s looking increasingly as if they are going to stick with sequestration and gamble that they can ride out the politics until sequestration-level spending becomes the “new normal.” Brian Beutler has a gloomy take on why this is looking likely. Obama, of course, will continue to push for a “grand bargain” that trades entitlement cuts for new revenues, on the theory that the bite of the sequester really is going to be felt over time — the Huffington Post details that job losses really are starting to happen — which could force at least some Republicans back to the table.

It’s unclear to me which of those two endgames is going to happen. But one thing that appears very unlikely is the preferred progressive endgame: As the sequester grows increasingly unpopular, Obama and Dems rally public opinion to force Republicans to replace it with a deal that combines new revenues with judicious spending cuts that don’t hit entitlement benefits. I’m just not seeing any way this happens.

That means that at some point, liberals may well be faced with a choice — should they accept the grand bargain that includes Chained CPI and Medicare cuts, and join the push for that, or essentially declare the sequester a less awful alternative, and instead insist that we live with that?

If you need a moment to go, “mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” please take one.

Now maybe within a month or so, the public’s view will change, they’ll hate the sequester with a roaring passion, and endorse tax increases to avoid the continued pain of this 2 percent cut. Or maybe you’ll hear more of an uproar about the potential expense of the Air Force’s fantasy football league.

Tags: Barack Obama , Budget , Congressional Republicans , Sequester

Democrats’ Proposed Cuts Amount to One-Seventh of Deficit . . . for Tuesday



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More perspective on the scale of the GOP’s proposed cuts:

The national debt jumped by $72 billion on Tuesday even as the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to fund the government for just three weeks that will cut $6 billion from government spending . . . At the close of business on Monday, according to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt, the total national debt stood at $14.166 trillion ($14,166,030,787,779.80). At the close of business Tuesday, the debt stood at $14.237 trillion ($14,237,952,276,898.69), an increase of $71.9 billion ($71,921,489,118.89).

The total cuts proposed by Democrats remain at $10.5 billion.

Tags: Budget , Spending

Gangster Government, Pinocchio Government, Whatever



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Michele Bachmann  (and I) call it “gangster government.” The Washington Post calls it “three-Pinocchio” government, assigning the Democrats’ most recent budget claims a credibility rating of roughly You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me. Seriously: Even the Washington by-God Post is getting the message about Fiscal Armageddon.

At issue are Democratic claims that they are offering the Republicans a meaningful compromise on spending cuts, that they are meeting them “halfway.” Which, as the Post points out, is true, if your baseline is an imaginary budget that was never enacted. Congressional Democrats never could be bothered to actually pass a budget on their watch (and, seriously, if you were them, would you want to put all those numbers together in one handy place? Or would you rather spread the spending out so it’s hard to see?), so Obama’s 2011 proposal was never enacted. That means that the only real numbers we have to go on are actual 2010 spending, from which Democrats propose to trim a grand total of approximately nothing.

Quoth the Post:

The Democrats’ posturing that they have met Republicans “halfway” on budget cuts does them no credit. Either they should take a stand and say they won’t accept any further cuts, or they should begin a real negotiation that leads to a higher number. Obama signaled he was willing to deal when he said he was “prepared to do more.” But the persistent claims of going “halfway” when in fact Democrats have done little to engage Republicans on the issue will only hurt their credibility in the long run.

Given the uncertain constitutional status of Obamacare, and given the sneaky way it’s been budgeted for, how about we hold onto that $105 billion in implementation spending that Michele Bachmann is so excited about until we’ve got a Supreme Court ruling on the mandate, etc? That does not seem to me unreasonable, and making the Republicans’ $60 billion in cuts $165 billion would move us that much closer to national solvency.

If somebody isn’t already planning the next rally on the Mall to remind Republicans of why they’ve got a House majority and what we expect them to do with it, it’s time to get moving. The Republicans have been properly wary of overreach thus far, but this is the point at which political momentum can easily be dissipated. Spending-cut precedents have to be established, with real credibility, before we move on to the next — and significantly harder — task, which is straightening out the entitlement mess. (By which I mean straightening out the Medicare mess, mostly. Social Security and Medicaid are relatively easy fixes, but Medicare is going to be a beast.)

—  Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, just published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.

Tags: Barack Obama , Budget , Debt , Deficit , Despair , Fiscal Armageddon

Democrats: We Are Not Going To Cut a Thing



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So the Democrats are drawing their line in the sand: at $6 billion in spending cuts.

A top Senate Democrat said Sunday that the $6 billion in additional spending cuts that his party offered is the limit Democrats can accept – drawing a line well short of Republicans’ goal with less than two weeks to go before a government shutdown if the two sides can’t agree.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said the $6 billion proposal, released Friday, has “pushed this to the limit” on domestic spending. That comment stands in sharp opposition to a House Republican bill containing an additional $57 billion in cuts below 2010 spending.

Republicans should take up cudgels over this. $6 billion is nothing: Congress spent $3.3 trillion in 2010. $6 billion is 0.001 of that, a number that rounds down to about zero. Nothing.

Republicans are rightly afraid that a government shutdown will turn into a replay of their Clinton-era troubles, and they should be careful. But if you’re  going to have a fight, this is the fight to have: Democrats are saying in essence that every dollar of federal spending is sacred, that spending is never coming down, and that government has a prior claim on the wealth of generations of Americans unborn. I don’t usually give advice to politicians, but I’d make a marquee message out of that fact: Even after the shellacking, Democrats are willing to cut nothing of any significance. This isn’t shaping up to be a replay of 1995; it’s shaping up to be a replay of 2010.

Tags: Budget , Debt , Deficits , Democrats , Despair

Gates Opens the Discussion on Cuts



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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates breaks the ice with a plan for some reductions at the Department of Defense.

Question: If DoD can take a scalpel to its budget, which funds an actual, legitimate federal responsibility, where are the secretaries of HUD, HHD, Education, Energy, etc? Those departments should be looking not at scalpels but at meat axes.

Tags: Budget , Fiscal Armageddon

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