The Weiner Component #156 – Fear & the Economic Situation

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starting slowly, probably around the 1970s, the process of splitting real estate loans into a few parts began, and then, with the election of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981, the concept took off on a refined bases, with each real estate mortgage being broken into innumerable parts and having each piece put into a different hedge fund and sold as a safe investment. It was considered safe because any single or few losses on any one of these hedge funds would be so small that it wouldn’t be noticeable and would not really affect the amount of the dividend.

 

Two things occurred from the 1980s on: one was the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency of the United States and the imposition of a total Free Market Economy and the other was an incessant need in the general society for a much greater cash flow.  We were in a period where there was not enough money available to serve the overall needs of the population.  More cash was needed for the economy to function.

 

The agency of Federal Government that was supposed to be keeping track of this problem and monetarily serving the needs of the nation was the Federal Reserve.  It’s Chairman from 1987 to 2006, Alan Greenspan, like the President believed in a totally Free Market that would automatically adjust itself.  Consequently he and the FED did nothing to alleviate the problem. 

 

This in turn left the need prevalent and either purposefully or inadvertently it was picked up by the banks which were also deregulated by the Reagan administration.  They, at first, gradually and then, with ever increasing speed, using real estate as their base, picked up the speed of creating new value or money throughout the society.  This was to continue through late 2008 when the banks had far     exceeded the amount of money needed for the society to properly function and the Great Real Estate Crash occurred.

 

What happened was that the banks, by their lending policies from the 1980s until late 2008, over 28 years, created trillions of dollars of additional value based upon the public housing industry within the United States.  In addition deregulation also allowed them to freely invest their deposits into the agencies or funds that directly serviced this expansion.

 

By 2007 most bankers were aware that property values had far exceeded a sane level and that a crash was probable.  But by 2007 most of the bankers had been making high commissions on the property market for most, if not all, of their banking careers; they were in denial that conditions could ever change. 

 

The Real Estate Market crashed or the Real Estate Bubble burst in late 2008 under President George W. Bush.  Virtually overnight the economy of the United States went into an instant depression.  There was suddenly mass unemployment, many people owed more on their homes than they were then worth.  Some people just walked away from their homes, others stayed, the hedge funds, which many or the deregulated banks had also invested in, collapsed from non-payment on mortgages.  Bush and his Treasury Secretary bailed out some of the banks; then his term ended and Barack Obama became the next President of the United States.

                        ********************************

Barack Obama would spend his eight years in office dealing with this mess.  For his first two years he had a Democratic Congress and their full support.  From 2011 on the House of Representatives gained a Republican majority and thereafter passed no legislation that dealt with the economic emergency.  In fact they passed economizing laws that actually increased the disaster.  President Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, using Creative Monetary Policy were able to change the depression into a recession.  The country is still dealing with this problem that the House of Representatives refused to deal with.

 

Conditions have improved.  Unemployment is now at about 5%, a long way from the initial 12½%  The Republicans still have done nothing to improve conditions, instead they have actually worsened them.  They are a great political party for complaining and blaming.  But what they are blaming President Obama for, is mainly for what they, themselves, have not done, passing fiscal laws creating jobs and upgrading the infrastructure.

                 *****************************

In 2008, the year of the Real Estate Crash, the Gross Domestic Product   was at 800 trillion dollars.  In 2009 it dropped to 700 trillion dollars.  By 2010 it was slightly above where it had been the year before.  By 2015 it was in the area of 17.95 trillion dollars.

 

Keep in mind that the GDP refers to the market value of all goods and services produced within the country during the fiscal year.  Interestingly the United States is now ranking first in the world’s GDP level.  That makes it, even now with 5% unemployment, the world’s richest nation.

 

If, as we’ve seen in the GDP, the overall wealth within the United States was continually increasing by 2010 above the 2008 Real Estate Crash level then why was the U.S. up to 12 ½% unemployment?  The answer, of course, comes into the area of spending priorities mostly by the United States Government and the overall population.

 

Congress, from 2011 on, with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, was on an economizing bilge. The country underwent and is continuing to undergo Sequestration, spending cuts across the board in virtually every area.  The President, on the other hand, particularly in 2009 and 2010 underwent expansive spending programs to avoid a depression greater than that of 1929.  Basically what started from 2011 on was a redistribution of income, with gradually more and more money going to the upper echelon of society and less and less being available for the middle and lower classes, these amounts increasing yearly.

 

In 2009 and 2010 the Obama Administration spent inordinate amounts of money extending unemployment benefits, saving the American banking and auto industries, among other things.  From 2011 on gradually most of these programs ended and government began a struggle between the House of Representatives and the President.  In 2013 we had both Sequestration and a shutdown of the Federal Government from October 1 through October 16, 2013, for 15 days.  The shutdown was over the issue of government funding for Planned Parenthood in the 2014 funding bill.  The Republican House of Representatives attempted to force its will upon the President and the Democratic led Senate.  The President and Democratic Senate would not cooperate with the Republican led House of Representatives.  In many cases Congress has refused, or through different Republican disagreements, has been unable to act.

 

The positive movement that had occurred in the economy, turning a potential Great Depression into a Great slow-moving Recession came about through Creative Monetary Policy, government spending policy, by the Federal Reserve with the compliance of the President.  In essence it’s been a battle between the President and the Republican House of Representatives, with the administration slowly winning since national unemployment is today in the area of 5%.

                  *****************************

The question that arises: if the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) today is greater than it was in the period prior to the 2008 Real Estate Crash then why is the middle class in the United States continually shrinking and why are more and more people continually having a harder and harder time economically surviving?  The answer to that questions is that the National Income is like a balloon filled with helium, slowly and continually rising and becoming part of the incomes of the top few percentile, the upper 5 or so percent of the population.

 

In essence the rich are getting richer and everyone else has less money.  It would seem that the society is geared so that the rich pay a lower percentage of their incomes in taxes than everyone else does.  For example: Donald J. Trump, who is running for the presidency in 2016 as the Republican candidate, has refused to show his tax returns for any prior year.  Trump claims to have over ten billion dollars.  The probability is that he is not showing his income taxes because he doesn’t pay any of these taxes.  Being in real estate he would have endless write-offs and building depreciations.

 

But it isn’t just people in real estate who have these tax advantages, it’s anyone who earns over $464,850.  The income tax system is graduated up to that point; that is the more one earns, the higher a percentage of his/her income he/she pays in taxes.  Anyone earning over $464,850 pays the same rate as those earning that amount.  A person earning a million dollars or 25 million a year pay the same percentage of the incomes as the person earning the above figure.

 

While the number of individuals is not large compared to the overall population of 350 million people, yet the taxation system is rigged in favor of the very rich.  The more they earn over $464,850 the smaller a percentage of their income do they pay in taxes.

 

This change or decrease in taxes was brought about during the last five years of the Obama administration.  The Republicans actually lowered taxes for the very rich.  The Democrats were forced to go along with this in order to pass other similar required legislation.

 

The Republican argument for this action is that the rich need more money because they are the ones who invest in new industry.  Without them there would be no growth in the economy.

 

This argument that has been endlessly repeated over the years sounds wonderful.  But it is a myth.  It has never happened.  The rich invest their surplus incomes in old established industries that pay a set reasonable income or they, like Mitt Romney, bank some of it overseas where somehow they pay no taxes on the interest received.

 

Taxes are geared so the less an individual earns the higher a percentage of his/her income is paid in taxes.

 

The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.  Yet its unequal taxation system taxes the poor and middle class far more than the wealthy, they pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes.  It also has an underclass that is so poor they live in the streets and even though these people pay no income tax they also pay a higher percentage of their incomes in other taxes than the rich.  The national distribution of income is today a farce.  Someone like Warren Buffet has remarked that it’s a strange situation where he pays a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary.

                            ****************************

In 2016, the year of the next Presidential Election, this created a strange phenomenon within both political parties within the nation.  Currently there is a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress.  Very little if any needed legislation is being passed.  This situation has existed since 2011 when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives.  In both major political parties there are large numbers of people who are totally frustrated with their Federal Government.  Many of whom are not overly well educated or generally too busy with their lives to follow what is actually happening in Washington D.C.  Their knowledge of the government is what they’re told by the news media, which can be tilted to the right or the left by which channel they are watching.  This doesn’t really answer their questions or needs. 

 

What exists today are large segments of the population which are looking for easy answers to what seems impossible questions or problems.  They want a simplistic solution which, in essence, is a return to a past which never existed.  They want a simplistic solution to their economic problems, to bring the manufacturing jobs back to the United States and allow people to earn more money so they will no longer be economically stressed out.  Whether this is real or not is beside the point; there is a strong desire among many for a simplistic change within the society.

 

For the Republicans the person who will do this is Donald J. Trump.  He claims that he will force the companies that have moved their manufacturing overseas or to Mexico to bring these jobs back to the U.S.  In addition he will get rid of all illegal foreigners in the U.S. and lessen competition so that there will be jobs available for everyone who wants to work.  He will also make the U.S. safer by not allowing alien radicals to migrate to the U.S. and keep Mexicans out of the country by building a wall between the United States and Mexico.  And so on.  He will bring us to a golden age that never existed in the U.S.

 

In essence Trump is feeding on all the basic prejudices and fears that seem to still exist in this country.  He is opposed to Mexicans, Hispanics, Muslims, Syrians, Blacks, Women having a right to deal with their own bodies, and the list goes on.  Trump has promised to take us all to-never-never land if he becomes president.  He seems to open up all the hidden prejudices in a large percentage of his followers.  He has also increased bullying among the children of his followers.

 

For the Democrats there is Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist.  Over a year ago he changed his party registration from an Independent Socialist who always caucused with the Democratic Party to a Democrat.  Sanders now calls himself a Democratic Socialist.  This has enabled him to run as a Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2016.

 

I strongly suspect that Bernie Sanders initially expected to run as a protest candidate with no chance of winning.  However he inadvertently tapped into the younger generation of voter; those who had been too young to vote in prior Presidential Elections.  To these people and the others who have joined them he offers a utopian future. Free education from pre-school through college and free medical coverage for everyone.  He supports abortion rights and a more liberal drug policy.  He believes in gun control, immigration reform, LGBT rights, expanding social security, and tax reform.  Among other things he has stated: “We need to get big money out of politics and restore our democracy,” and “Climate change is real, it is caused by human activity.”

 

He has also brought large numbers of Independents and some older Democrats to his cause.  His campaign took off like a rocket shooting upward and Bernie could almost taste victory.  But he never quite caught up with his competition, Hillary Clinton. 

 

He is promising a new society with benefits for everyone.  And all this will be paid for by the rich who have up to this point exploited their position in society.  The image is wonderful but the reality doesn’t exist.

 

I suspect that the majority of the population agrees with most of if not all of Senator Bernie Sander’s goals.  But they would have to be paid for if they were to be put into laws.  And his solution to this is rather naïve.  He says he would put a tax on Wall Street’s excess profits.  Traditionally in United States history, going as far back as the Revolutionary War from 1776 on the practice has been to make someone else pay for what you want.  The Southern planters owed millions to English merchants which they never paid after the Revolutionary War.  Afterwards Daniel Shay, a Revolutionary War veteran, led Shay’s Rebellion where the inland farmers refused to pay taxes that were brought into being by the Tidewater merchants in the coastal cities.  In recent years there was an attempt on the California side of Lake Tahoe to tax the Time Share facilities to pay for the public schools in the region; it failed.  It’s always nice to get someone else to pay for what is needed or wanted but generally it doesn’t work.

 

The term Wall Street is an abstraction; it has no specific meaning.  Are they talking about the banks or the large commercial corporations, or any company that sells stock?  An excess tax on the sale or purchase of stock or company profits would bring about economic disaster.  A tax on profits already exists, increasing it could destroy incentive.  Senator Bernie Sanders funding solution sounds just but it is nonsense.

 

Hillary Clinton is much more pragmatic.  The very existence of Senator Bernie Sanders has pushed her farther to the left in her own position.  She may be able to achieve many of Bernie’s goals which he should be able to get into the 2016 Democratic Platform. 

 

Sanders, on the other hand, as President would face endless frustration, even if he were to get Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress, which is a low probability.  In all likelihood the House of Representatives will retain its Republican majority.  And even if Senator Bernie Sanders were to get an all Democratic Congress he would still have trouble both passing and funding his program.

                             ******************************

In the early 1800s England began the Industrial Revolution in the cotton industry.  Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which allowed the cotton plant to be quickly separated from it many seeds.  Machinery was developed for spinning the cotton plant into thread and machinery was also invented for weaving the thread into cotton cloth.  Overnight spinners and weavers became obsolete, their occupation ceased to exist.  Some became luddites, breaking into factories and destroying the new machines in an attempt to bring back the past when they had a functioning occupation.

  

 Even if Trump, by some strange miracle, were to get elected the probability is that the results of the 2016 Presidential Election would leave a number of people totally dissatisfied  with the changes that don’t seem to be happening,  You can’t bring back the past, real or otherwise. 

 

Can conditions be improved?  Jobs are available in the United States.  The problem is that they require training and mobility.  It now requires a trained skilled employee for the jobs that pay a decent wage.  For those who refuse to undergo any training or move to where these jobs exist there are public sector occupations that do not pay much but that take almost no skills to do.

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

English: Seal of the President of the United States Español: Escudo del Presidente de los Estados Unidos Македонски: Печат на Претседателот на Соединетите Американски Држави. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

.

The Weiner Component #154 – President Obama & the Republican Party

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Traditionally the Republicans stand for smaller government and the Democrats for a system responsible for the welfare of it citizens.  This means that the Republicans want more individual freedom and choice for the citizens, including the right to starve or go without proper medical care through a lack of funds.  The Democrats are more socially responsible and feel a need to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

 

Perhaps one of the most ardent Republicans was President Ronald Reagan who continually talked about “government being the problem.”  He voiced a desire for less government but left Washington at the end of his two terms in office with a far larger government than that with which he had begun eight years earlier.

 

In line with their desire to lower federal costs and weaken or do away with Obamacare, which was based upon a Republican model, the Republicans have recently won a pyrrhic victory against the 2010 law, Affordable Health Care.  Around May 12, 2016 a Federal Judge, initially appointed by a Republican President, found the practice of the Federal Government of helping to subsidize premium payments for those who cannot afford to make them, illegal since it was not specifically mentioned in the law.  The 38 page decision by the judge who reasoned that since the law did not specifically state this practice, the act of doing so was illegal.  The judge, however, did not put her decision into immediate operation.  Instead she allowed the practice to continue until after her decision is appealed.  Way to go Republicans, attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor who may lose their medical coverage!

**********************************

Watching the progress of Congress by both the Republicans and the Democrats one gets the impression that nothing ever gets done.  No necessary laws ever get passed.  The House of Representatives has given itself a 110 day legislating year; they are working a three day week, not including holidays.  The Senate will meet for a somewhat longer period.

 

The two political parties began the preliminary process of choosing their presidential candidates early in 2016.  In the Republican state preliminary elections and caucuses the initial debate between the possible candidates dealt with how bad the present administration is and how a Republican president would make the country great again.  It’s as though nothing has happened since 2009 when Barack Obama was elected to the presidency.  It would seem, according to the Republican candidates that there is no history behind the present campaign.  This, of course, is not true.  The history has been ignored or edited, particularly by the Republican Party.

 

The Great Recession, which could easily have been the Greatest Depression in our history, began under the reign of the Republican President, George W. Bush toward the end of 2008, his last year as president.  He took some action but mainly left the problem for the next President, Barack Obama.

 

During his first two years in office, 2009 and 2010, President Obama changed a potential massive depression into a recession, restored the major banking houses in the United States and the automobile industry from bankruptcy by massive government loans and signed the Affordable Health Care Bill into law.

 

At the time both the House of Representatives and the Senate had Democratic majorities.  In the 2010 Midterm Election a large number of Democrats did not bother to vote and the Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Representatives, actually killing any chance for further reform since the Republican philosophy of government tends to be the opposite of that of the Democrats .  In addition since 2010 was a Census Year, the Republicans gerrymandered the states where they controlled the governorships and the legislatures making it easier for them to keep control of the House of Representatives.  In the 2012 Presidential Election the Democrats cast a million-and-a-quarter more votes were cast for Democratic candidates than for the Republican members of the House of Representatives but the Republicans still retained control of the House.  The same thing is likely to happen in the 2016 Presidential Election.

*******************************

In the 2016 Primary Elections the Republicans are quite vociferous in stating what President Obama didn’t do.  What they don’t state is that most of the things he is blamed for not doing are functions of Congress.  Congress passes the laws in the United States.  The President can sign or veto a law.  If he vetoes a law Congress can still pass it with a 2/3 majority in both Houses.

 

Basically the current Congress, which has a Republican majority in both Houses, has done virtually nothing since they achieved a Republican majority in 2014 or since the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2011.  Today we have the Tea Party which is an extremely conservative section of the conservative Republican Party that is totally against Big Government and sees all economics as Micro, small economics.  Unfortunately they represent a number of seats in the House and Senate.

 

Economists today understand depressions and recessions and how to properly deal with them.  Economics exists upon two major levels: one is called Microeconomics, which deals with household finances, city, state, and business funding.  The other is Macroeconomics which deals with the Federal Government, which owns the printing presses that print and issue money.  They are two totally different entities.  Except the Republicans do not understand or accept the concept of Macroeconomics.

 

Money today has nothing behind it except the word of the government that printed it.  There is no gold or other precious metal that today stands behind any currency.  The amount in circulation is supposed to be regulated so that there is enough to easily carry out all the business functions within the nation and between nations.  Unfortunately this does not always happen and inflation or deflation can occur.  In the United States the Federal Reserve controls the amount of cash in circulation.  In most other nations there is generally a National Bank that does this.  This process is Macroeconomics.

 

The National Debt, of which the Federal Government owns over 50% of its own debt and will, at times, use it to control the amount of currency in circulation.  This was done recently by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, for over a two year period adding 85 billion dollars a month to the National Cash Flow.  It was gradually ended by the current Chairperson, Janet Yellen.

 

The members of the Republican Party do not appreciate or understand any of this.  From statements made by various Congressional members of the Tea Party and other Republicans their understanding of economics is based upon raising a family, Microeconomics.  They see everything in those terms.  One has an income, taxes, and one can spend it.  If an individual or country wants to spend more he has to borrow money which, in turn, has to be paid back with interest.

 

That seems to be the limit of their understanding.  It can lead to recessions and depressions.  Donald Trump has added another level to this misunderstanding.  He seems to think the government can renege on part of its debt as he has done in business with three bankruptcies.   Statements like that can destroy the value of the dollar, particularly if he were to be elected president.

**************************

To say that the Republicans have done nothing is to give them positive credit.  Instead they were able to get through the Budget Control Act of 2011 which began on March 1, 2013.  This was the sequester, automatic cuts across the board on all government programs with the exception of Social Security, Medicaid, federal pensions, and veteran’s benefits.  These would cover all other military and discretionary programs every year until the year 2021.  Medicare rates were reduced 2%.  Sequestration also resulted in unpaid time off to many federal government workers, this was known as furloughs.

 

These cuts during a recession tended to shrink the economy and slow recovery.  Interestingly by 2015 the military was complaining that with the sequester cuts their effectiveness was significantly decreasing.  From that time on Congress tended to pass yearly bills ignoring the effects of sequestration upon the military.

 

Also in 2013 the House of Representatives, with hefty leadership by Senator Ted Cruz who is not even a member of the House, shut down the Federal Government from October 1st through the 16th.  Government operations resumed on October 17, 2013.  800,000 government employees were indefinitely furloughed.  1.3 million other government employees were required to report for work without a known payment date.  The Republican led House wanted to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  They attached this to the Government Funding Bill.  The Democratic led Senate removed it from their version of the Bill before they passed it.  The Conference Committee, which consisted of representatives from both Houses of Congress, reached an impasse.  The cost of this shutdown is estimated at $20 billion.  So much for Republican frugalness!

***********************************

It should be noted that our understanding of economics has come a long way since 1929 and the Great Depression.  We understand the root causes for the economic waves that bring about these changes and we understand how to deal with them when they occur to lessen or mitigate their effects upon society.  But in order to do this we need both the President and Congress acting together as a cooperating unit.  This we have not had since 2011.

**********************

By 2008 the Real Estate Hedge Fund industry crashed in the United States.  Properties like individual homes dropped almost overnight to a fraction of their inflated values.  Millions of people, who had been encouraged by the financial institutions to use their homes like bank accounts by continually remortgaging them, were suddenly underwater on their loans, owing more on the property than it was then worth.  Employment also phenomenally decreased.  Most banking houses were over-extended and on the point of bankruptcy.  The Bush Administration in its last year in office lent public funds to some of the banks to keep them afloat.

 

In 2009 and 2010 there were both a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress.  The massive depression that would have been greater than that of 1929 was avoided by further public loans to the banking industry.  Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care or Obamacare, which incidentally was based upon a Republican plan, came into existence.  It was passed strictly on a party basis; no Republican voted for it in either House of Congress.  The American auto industry was also saved from bankruptcy by public loans.  Incidentally it should be noted that all these loans were eventually repaid with interest.

 

From 2011 on the Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Representatives.  Thereafter no bill was passed by the House that would lessen what was then the Great Recession.  In fact the bills passed by the House tended to exacerbate the unemployment by not only shrinking the Federal Government but also curtailing the amounts of monies that went to the individual states, forcing them to reduce            some of their programs and lessoning their levels of employment.

 

Mitch McConnell, the then minority leader in the Senate, stated that the Republican goal was to make Barack Obama a one term president.  The Republican attitude from that time on was to support absolutely nothing that President Obama supported.  Economic conditions in the country became secondary next to this goal.  The House Republicans did nothing that might reflect positively upon President Obama.  When he proposed a bill to create jobs by improving the outdated infrastructure of the U.S. the bill never even came to the floor of the House of Representatives for consideration; it was totally ignored.

 

President Obama continued to attempt to work with the Republicans for the next two years with no success.  By 2012, when he ran for a second term, it would seem that he understood that there was no cooperating with the Republicans.

 

President Obama and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, were able to use Creative Monetary Policy to improve economic conditions in the country.  The Federal Reserve added $85 billion a month for over two years to the National Cash Flow.  They did this by spending $45 billion a month buying up mortgage paper and also by purchasing back $40 billion in government bonds monthly for over two years.  The program was finally reduced by 10 billion a month until it was completely withdrawn.

 

The effect of this action was to buy back millions of pieces of mortgages in all fifty states, each one of which had been split into hundreds of pieces.  In essence these properties belonged to no one, as no one owned over 50% of the mortgages.  Without this action by the Federal Reserve these properties would have been lingering throughout the economy for the next decade or more before they were sold for back property taxes by the local governments.  This act gave the people who had not walked away from their underwater properties and still lived in these homes the ability to continue living in them without the possibility of foreclosure.  There was no way the government could have matched up all the pieces of all the properties in all 50 states to claim ownership of any of them.  Generally the money that would have been used in paying off the loans was spent in the overall economy creating more employment.  It was a giveaway by the Federal Government which was probably more than returned in local, state, and federal taxes.

*******************************

With the upcoming Presidential Election the Republicans are blaming President Obama and the Democrats for not doing anything to run the country properly.  They seem to have forgotten the Real Estate Crash of 2008 which took off during the Reagan Administration and continued from there until the 2008 crash.  They seem to have forgotten President George W. Bush’s unnecessary war with Iraq which destabilized the Middle East and began the situation which exists there at present.  Actually they have forgotten everything negative that can be attributed to them.  And all of these things have been blamed upon President Obama and the Democrats.

******************************

The actual Presidential Election should be interesting.  If Donald Trump is elected president he has practically promised to get rid of ISIS quickly and make America Great Again.  He seems to feel that he can solve all major international problems, whether he understands them or not, within the first 100 days or less.

 

If Hillary Clinton is elected and she has a Democratic Congress she can be expected to move successfully in the direction of solving many of America’s domestic and international problems.  If, however, the House of Representatives retains its Republican majority then the country will probably experience the same gridlock it has under President Barack Obama.

The Weiner Component #145 – The 2016 1.145 Trillion Dollar Funding Bill & the Republican Party

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

Official portrait of United States House Speaker (R-Ohio). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In October of 2015, John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives resigned from the House, effective the end of November.  His problem was getting what he considered necessary legislation through the House of Representatives without a government shutdown.  His immediate problem was extending the debt limit, which was then over 18 trillion dollars.  Not extending it would shut down the Federal Government as it would stop all government expenditures beyond a certain point that had almost been reached.

 

The extreme right of the Republican Party wanted to defund Planned Parenthood in return for extending the Debt Limit.  President Barack Obama had stated that if this measure were tied to the bill he would veto it.  By resigning, effective a month later, Boehner removed the House of Representatives from formulating the necessary bill.  The Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, proposed a short term bill extending the Debt Limit until early December which the Senate and later the House passed.  The President commented that he would not again sign a short term bill.  The final version of the bill was passed early in December raising the Debt Limit for a period of two years.

 

The next major initial problem of the House of Representatives was finding a new Speaker.  Kevin McCarthy, the House Whip, was in line for a short period of time but he didn’t have the votes.  Eventually Paul Ryan, after initially refusing, ended up being the individual who could muster enough votes to be made the new Speaker.  He accepted after setting special conditions.

 

The next important bill was one to fund the Federal Government.  It had to be passed by December 11, 2015 if the government were not to be shut down for not legally having funds to keep operating.

**********************************

Generally, every year Congress has to pass a Bill in order to fund the U.S. Government for the oncoming year or it cannot legally pay its bills.  This Bill has to originate in the House of Representatives which, according to the Constitution, initially begins all money bills.  All that is needed is a one sentence law stating that the Federal Government shall be funded for one or more years.  Since 2011, when the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, they have used that Bill as leverage or blackmail to obtain other things that they had wanted by adding endless amendments to the Bill, many at the very last moment.

 

For example on Thursday, 12/11/14, the House of Representatives passed, what was essentially but not really a 1,603 page bipartisan 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill that will allowed the Federal Government to continue to function until September 30, 2015, the end of the fiscal year.  The bill adhered to strict caps negotiated earlier between the White House and the deficit-conscious Republicans.  It is also salted through with GOP proposals which were actually Christmas giveaways to individuals and companies and have nothing to do with the spending budget.  The bill should have been passed months earlier but it was convenient for the GOP to keep it hanging as a potential form of blackmail against President Barack Obama until the last possible moment when it had to be passed or its absence would cause a government shutdown.

****************************

When Ronald Reagan was Governor of California he had a line-item veto over all bills passed by the State Legislature.  He could veto any section or group of sections that he thought was or were inappropriate and sign the document for the rest of the bill to become law.  But as President of the United States he could either sign a bill, veto it, or do nothing for ten days and allow it to become law.  Reagan was not too happy with this limitation but he had to accept it.  It would require an amendment to the Constitution to change this practice.

 

Not only does every bill have to be passed by both the House and Senate but both versions have to be identical.  If a word or punctuation is different, then the two versions are not the same.  Actually what happens is that the bill goes to a Committee of Congressmen dealing with that particular subject, they discuss the bill, usually modify it, and then send it to the legislative house to which they belong with their recommendations.  If it is passed then that version goes to the other legislative body, where it follows the same procedure.  In practically all cases the two versions are at least slightly different.  At that point the bill goes to a Conference Committee made up of members of the two Houses, where a final version is then hammered out.  This goes back to both Houses of Congress and it then has to be voted upon and repassed by the two Houses.  If the bill passes it then goes to the President.  After he signs it the bill becomes law.  This process generally takes at least a number of days.

 

The 1.1 Trillion Dollar Spending Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday, December 11, 2014.  The Congress was slated to end its session on Friday, December 12th.  This meant that the bill had to be accepted exactly as it was if the government was not to shut down the following week when it ran out of money.  In fact a short a short extension was also passed in case a few more days were needed to pass the bill.

 

Keep in mind that according to the Constitution only the House of Representatives can initiate a money bill since initially they were the only group directly elected by the People, the Senate was originally elected by the State Legislatures. The Founders felt that taxes should be authorized by the direct Representatives of the People so that the People are, in a sense, taxing themselves.

 

Also note that there are no rules about what a bill is supposed to contain.  It can deal with one subject or any number of subjects.  This finance bill dealt with innumerable subjects, most of which had nothing to do with financing the government.

 

Because of the catastrophe caused by a government shutdown President Obama urged the Democratic controlled Senate to pass the bill even though it had numerous amendments that were harmful to individuals or groups within the country.

 

One of these amendments cancelled parts of the Dodd- Frank Act that had been passed in 2010 as a reform measure after the 2008 Bank-caused Real Estate Collapse, to avoid such occurrences in the future and to keep banks from exploiting their depositors and the taxpayers.  Presumably the lobbyists for Citibank wrote the measure and it was secretly inserted the night before the bill came up for a vote in the House of Representatives.  The insertion rolls back regulations that limit banks from using federal deposit insurance to cover high-risk financial investments.  There had been no notice given or debate on this Amendment.  Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House strongly opposed this insertion as did Senator Elizabeth Warren who called upon the Democratic majority in the Senate to oppose the entire bill if this Amendment was left in.

 

Another interesting Amendment was trading land with an Indian tribe.  A sacred mountain containing a burial ground was to be traded for another piece of land.  The sacred mountain was wanted by a company for a copper mine.

 

Another last minute Amendment dealt with campaign finance, it was extended for individuals. It went from contributions of $32,400 to $324,000.  Republicans got a 60 million dollar cut at the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) reducing their workforce to the level they had been at in 1989.

 

Not all Republicans in the House supported the bill. Many of the Tea Party members wanted to defund President Obama’s immigration executive order.  This issue was left out of the House bill.

 

In both the House and Senate the bill required the votes of both Democrats and Republicans to pass.  In the House 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats voted for the bill.  139 Democrats and 67 Republicans were against the spending bill.  In the Senate there were 31 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and 1 Independent who voted for the bill and 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans, and 1 Independent who were against it.  In both Houses of Congress it required the votes of both major political parties in order to pass.

 

Interestingly the far right and the far left both opposed this bill, both for different reasons.  On the far right, Ted Cruz wanted a section added that would limit or eradicate President Obama’s executive order dealing with illegal immigrants whose children had been born in the United States.  And on the far left, the Congressmen wanted to remove many of the giveaways that had nothing to do with the spending bill.

 

Cruz, in a procedural vote extended the Senatorial Session into the weekend.  He did not get his Amendment to the bill passed.  Harry Reed, the majority leader in the Senate, used the additional time to get a large number of Obama appointees approved beginning with the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who had been opposed by the NRA because he had suggested earlier that guns were a disease since they killed a large number of people.  By the end of the session, Tuesday, December 15th, the Senate had approved a total of 69 controversial presidential appointments.

 

The Senate passed the Spending Bill on Saturday and President Obama quietly signed it on Tuesday.  Congress adjourned around midnight of Tuesday, December 16th and the new Congress, which would have Republican majorities in both Houses, met in January of the next year, after the holidays.

 

It is interesting to note that all that is required for the government to keep functioning is a one sentence bill that states that the Federal Government shall be properly funded for the fiscal year.  The 1,603 page bill detailing all the expenditures over the fiscal year was ridiculous.  In this bill every item that was to be funded had to be mentioned in detail.  For example: Vice President, Joe Biden’s and other top officials in the government’s salaries were frozen.  There was no automatic raise for them that was put into law several years earlier but the members of Congress  got their cost of living raise, raising their pay to over $140,000 each.

 

What happened originally was that several years earlier Congress had voted itself a raise.  The press got hold of the news and published it.  People were indignant over Congress giving itself an increase in salary when everyone else was hurting financially.  There was a protest and the increase was rescinded.  Thereafter Congress quietly passed a law making pay increases for Congress and government officials automatic.  From then on there was no protest or even public knowledge that this was occurring.  In 2014 Congress has voted through its 1,603 page bill not to freeze its own salary but to do so to the Vice President and other high government officials in the Administration.  How petty could they get?

**************************************

In December of 2015 the Federal Government funding situation was far different from what it had been a year earlier.  For one thing there was a major Presidential Election coming up in a little less than a year.  A government shutdown at this point could have dire consequences for the Republicans in the election if they were blamed for it.  Also the people had had enough of the shenanigans that the Republican House of Representatives had pulled since 2011 when they took control of the House of Representatives.  The President and the Democrats in both Houses of Congress were not about to go along with what the Republicans had pulled the preceding year. And they would need Congressional Democratic votes to pass any spending bill in both Houses of Congress.

 

The 2015 omnibus bill, 2,200 pages long, incorporated legislation from twelve subcommittees and was the work of nearly a year.  There had been months of negotiations between the two major parties.  The bill passed in the House with 316 positive votes to 113 negative ones.  150 Republicans supported the measure and 95 opposed it.  50 members did not vote.  Among the Democrats, 166 voted for the legislation, 18 voted against it.

 

On both extremes there were Congressmen who thought the bill did not go far enough or that it went too far in the wrong direction.  Many conservatives felt it overspent, didn’t go far enough blocking abortions and Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S.  Liberals felt that the bill did nothing to address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, did not positively enough effect environmental concerns, and that it lifted a 40 year ban on exporting domestic oil export.

 

The bill funds the United States Government through September of 2016, nine months.  The probability is that another bill will be easily passed at that time to fund the government at least until the end of 2016.  The country will be too close to the 2016 Presidential Election for any games to be tried at that time.

 

But if a Democrat wins the 2016 Presidential Election and the Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives, the December 2016 Government Financing Bill should prove very interesting.  Who the next President will be will not be known until the November 2016 Presidential Election is over.

*******************************

This omnibus bill will be noted for what it left out, rather than for what it included.  There is no mention of Planned Parenthood or of the Syrian refugee crisis; nor of numerous other things that were important to both political parties.  Speaker Ryan promised the Democrats that the House would deal with the Puerto Rico Debt Crisis in March; that brought a number of Democrats into line to support the bill.  Ryan also spread-out the decision making process so that many members of Congress felt that they owned parts of the bill.

********************************

Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, was asked why the Democrats hadn’t pushed harder.  Her answer was, “I don’t think they would have passed it.”  The implications are that both the Democrats and the Republicans had each gone as far as they could in working out this compromise piece of legislation.  As a result of the negotiations neither side could claim victory or defeat.  Both had squeezed the other side as hard as they could.  President Obama praised the Republicans for doing what Congress has done so well in the past, compromising to the point of hammering out a bill both sides could live with.

 

The Democrats considered the permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 Health legislation a major win.  As a result of the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City a large number of the rescuers had breathed in toxic dust and, those who had not since died from resulting cancer and other maladies, still had expensive medical needs.  Reauthorizing this medical coverage would help a large number of people.  Lifting the 40 year ban on oil drilled in the U.S. being sold outside it continental borders was called by Ryan a big win.  Republicans also were able to block proposed bans on weapon purchases by people on federal terrorist lists and also federally funded research on gun violence.

 

Perhaps the most important thing that the bill did was to do away with the automatic Sequester cuts for 2015.  These cuts, which would have automatically gone into effect early in 2016, would have seriously hurt government efficiency for both defense and non-defense programs, across the board.  The military budget was actually increased above what it had been the prior year.  And this was also true for a number of other programs.  The White House was touting tax breaks for the wind and solar programs.  In all there were $680 billion in tax cuts for both businesses and individuals.  But sequestration is still there and will automatically come into being at the end of 2016 unless new legislation is passed then to stop or end it.

**********************************

Does this legislation denote a new feeling of friendliness between the two political parties?  I think not.  What it demonstrates is a wide division between both Democrats and Republicans.  It took nearly a year to come up with this 2,200 page detailed bill and make it acceptable to both political parties.  Neither party was strong enough to push any of this legislation through on its own; it required a joint effort to pass it.

 

If anything it denotes the great distance between our political parties.  Speaker Ryan has recently commented that the House will soon take up defunding Obamacare. That will mean that this bill will have been passed over 50 times without once being taken up in the Senate.  Considering that the House will officially only meet for 110 days in 2016 that is spending a lot of time upon a bill that will go nowhere.  Ryan stated that, outside of the increasing number of people signing up for the service, the bill is a failure.  Interestingly outside of his statement he offered no evidence other than his word.

****************************

The December 11th deadline for this bill to pass was extended one week to Friday, December 18.  Directly after the bill was passed in the House of Representatives it was sent to the Senate where it was passed.  From there it was sent to the President, who signed it with positive remarks for the compromise legislation.  Obviously the Government shutdown was avoided.

***************************

It should be noted that on Wednesday, December 6th the    House of Representatives, under Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership, passed a bill for the 62d time defunding Obamacare and stripping Planned Parenthood of Federal Funding.  The bill was passed in the Senate last year through a special provision that avoided a filibuster in the Senate and was sent to the President for the first time.  On Friday, December 8, two days later, it was vetoed by the President, who stated that the Affordable Health Care Act had helped millions of Americans who couldn’t otherwise afford Health Care.  Republicans do not have the votes to override the veto.  Still they claimed victory, claiming that they had passed a repeal bill and that they are keeping a promise to voters in an election year.  They stated that they are capable of repealing the law if a Republican wins in the November election.  I wonder if that’s true if Donald Trump were to become the next president.

 

Of course they would still have to keep control of both Houses of Congress.  2016 promises to be a colorful year in Congress.  We may go beyond gridlock.  This should be particularly true with the House working a three day week and taking a four day weekend and all holidays.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Weiner Component #140A – Congress: How it Works & Doesn’t Work

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...

According to the United States Constitution, Article I: the legislative, law making power, is given to a bicameral, law-making, Congress that consists of two Houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Only they have the power to make laws that have to be identical when passed by both Houses of Congress and then signed by the President.

 

Originally the House was directly elected by the people and the Senate, which was supposed to represent the states, was elected by the legislatures of each individual state.  In 1913 this was changed by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which had the people of each state directly elect the Senators, making them directly responsible to all the people of their respective states.

 

In the Constitution all financial bills have to originate in the House of Representatives.  This was put in so that the direct representatives of the people who paid the taxes could feel responsible for all government expenditures.  Even though the 17th Amendment changed this the power still rests with the House as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives recently stated in an interview.

 

House members serve for a two year term and then have to be reelected for another two year term.  Senators are elected for a six year period and can then stand for reelection if they so desire.  All members in both Houses are currently paid $170,000 a year for their services.

 

Today the number of legislators in the House of Representatives is fixed at 435.  Every ten years an enumeration of the population is taken and the seats are reassigned to the election districts within the states based upon increases in and/or population changes which may then redefine the election districts both in number and size within the individual states.  This was last done in 2010 and those states that had Republican legislator majorities redrew their districts in terms of their political favor by blatantly gerrymandering.  In fact in the 2012 Election over a million and ¼ more Democrats voted nationally for House Representatives but the Republicans emerged with majority representation in the House of Representatives because of favoring their party in creating the allowable number of election districts within their states.  Currently there are 247 Republicans in the House and 188 Democrats.  Each of the smaller states, even if their entire population is below the count for representatives in the larger states ate entitled to at least one representative in the House.  There are also six non-voting members representing Washington, D.C and most of the territories belonging to the United States.

 

In the Senate there are 100 members representing the fifty states.  The number of senators can be increased if additional states are added to the union.  As stated the Senators today represent the people of the entire state they come from and are elected by the entire voting population of each individual state.

 

One of the basic concepts of our country is the concept of compromise.  Without this ability our founding fathers would never have been able to bring forth the Constitution.  A document that established a government between the 13 states that were both free and slave, large and small, based with beliefs and basic values that were literally miles apart.  The current Congress seems to have lost that ability.  In fact if the current congressmen had to write a constitution today they would be unable to do it and the country would end up at best as a group of small federations.

********************************

What always struck me as a basic concept of our form of government was best stated in a quote from Benjamin Franklin, which he wrote in all seriousness.  “In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.  For the former therefore to return among the later was not to degrade but to promote them.”   Somehow this concept has become lost, particularly to many of the current Republicans in both Houses of Congress.

 

All of our members of Congress, according to Article VI of the Constitution take an oath, upon becoming a member of Congress, to uphold the Constitution.  Somehow, of late, I get the impression that many of our legislators have either forgotten or never understood this concept.  I also get the feeling that in the minds of many of our Republican legislators that the people’s function is merely to keep them in office so that they can force their will or agendas upon the nation.  And if these hard-core Republicans cannot get what they want then what exists is total gridlock, which is what seems to exist in the House of Representatives at the current time.

 

To the Tea Partiers among the Republicans in the House of Represenatives the country will function their way or not at all.  The fact that they and possibly their constituents constitute a minority of the population is immaterial.  Even though a Democratic Republic is supposed to be ruled by the will of the majority of the population they believe absolutely that they are right and everyone else is wrong or misinformed.  This is all very reminiscent of the old Communist Party where all the members had to follow the party line, or be expelled from the party.  In their hearts these people, the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, the 40 hard-liners know what is right for the American People and they will have their way or nothing will happen in Congress.

 

John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, has resigned both as Speaker and as a member of the House, effective October 31st.  His immediate replacement, Kevin McCarthy, the House Whip has withdrawn as a candidate for the Speakership.  He did not have the votes within his own party.  The one other possible replacement, Paul Ryan, has initially turned down the offer of assuming that role.  Presumably the price of taking it was to support numerous positions that he found unacceptable.  Boehner said he will stay in office until a replacement is found.  After a little over a week of negotiating and also being cajoled Paul Ryan accepted the Speakership.  He got the support of most of the Tea Party and the majority of the other Republican House Congressmen.

 

The Freedom Caucus, which seems to hold the balance of power among the Republican House members, were thrilled at presumably getting rid of Boehner.  If they did achieve this it was a pyrrhic victory.  They may have gotten him to resign but now Ryan is the new Speaker and in order to get him to accept the position most of the House Republicans have sworn allegiance to him.  This includes the majority of the Freedom Caucus but not the entire group.

 

There was also a move at the end September to “Ditch Mitch.”  Many far right Republican Senate members do not consider him aggressive enough to run the Republican Party in the Senate.  Louisiana Governor and Presidential Candidate Bobby Jindal has called upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to resign.  They want someone who will stand up to the President and take some risks.  McConnell has too much support from Republicans in the Senate to be in any danger in terms of being forced out of the Senate.

 

The frustration for these hard-liners seems to be that they, the Republicans, have the majority in both Houses of Congress but their particular group doesn’t have the votes to stop legislation if it is also supported in both Houses of Congress.  The fact that this situation exists in Congress would indicate the epitome of dysfunctionality.

**************************

The basic question, in terms of Congress, comes down to: What is the main purpose of the Government?  And the answer to that question, most simply stated is answered in the preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This is what the members of Congress have taken an oath to do.  Is this what they, particularly the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, are doing?

 

Currently the House of Representatives has a new Speaker as its presiding officer.  There are currently 247 Republicans in the House and 188 Democrats.  The majority party has easily elected a new speaker if all the Republicans vote for whoever is running for that position.  But on the far right of the conservative party is the Freedom Coalition.  These are the 40 ultra-conservative hardline Tea Partiers.  To them the rest of the Republican Party is not far enough to the right.  Presumably they will not support anyone who will go against their agenda.  They want to get rid of Affordable Health Care and defund Planned Parenthood.  I suspect many of them may also be racial bigots.    I imagine this feeling goes beyond this specific group to many other Republicans in Congress.  Has any of this changed with the election of Paul Ryan?

 

If 40 votes are subtracted from the 247 currently elected Republicans they do not have enough votes to pass legislation if the 40 and the 188 elected Democrats do not support their move.  Basically what this means is that the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader both have to get the support of the majority of Democrats in order to pass bills that a percentage of their party will not support.

 

John Boehner has faced this situation since becoming Speaker of the House in 2011 and Mitch McConnell will face this situation for the next fourteen months.  Will Paul Ryan have to face this same situation?  The Republicans may have the majority in both Houses but it will take a coalition of both political parties to run the country.  This has to be the ultimate irony and could well lead to the formation of a new national political party after the 2016 elections.

 

The nation is now at the point of crisis.  Legislative actions will have to be taken or the functioning of the government could be forced to cease.  The Debt Limit Crisis has been averted by negotiations between the President, the Senate Republican leadership and the former Speaker, John Boehner, raising the Debt limit for the next two years.

 

There is also funding the Federal Government.  This could stop the Federal Government if Congress does not pass a bill by December.  John Boehner was able to avoid a Federal Government shutdown by resigning as Speaker and quitting the House effective October 31.  But that pushed the deadline from September to December.  It will again be reached in December of 2015.

 

This major problems still must be dealt with this year but there are numerous others that will be coming up early in January of 2016 like the automatic cuts of about 5% across the board on federal and discretionary spending if Congress does not act to stop some or all of this spending.  That is sequestration, which stays in existence until 2023.

 

This does not count infrastructure problems like hundred or more year old bridges, some of which seem to be ready to collapse at some near future point or intercontinental train tracks which are having innumerable accidents particularly oil tankers that are jumping tracks and burning for days on end, causing massive evacuations from the deadly toxic smoke of towns and large sections of cities.  This country is filled with infrastructure that was built in the first half of the Twentieth Century or earlier which needs to be replaced and/or modernized to meet the needs of today’s population.

 

There are also an obscene number of people being shot every day by people who, for mental reasons, should never be allowed to purchase guns.  We can follow the advice of Presidential candidate Jeb Bush who after the shooting of innocent students at a college said, “Stuff happens.”  A week later, after another similar shooting, he kept his mouth shut.  I expected him to say, “Stuff still happens.”  Mentally disturbed people should not have easy access to weapons.  Somehow, even with the NRA, Congress needs to deal with this problem.  It is time we stopped leading the industrial nations of the world in gun homicides.

 

There are other problems, including everyday things, like fiscal policy, the War against ISIS, the other crises in the Middle East, China, and Russia that require participation by Congress.  None of this is being dealt with by Congress.  They seem to be getting paid $170,000 each for taking vacations and leaving the country to go its own way without their participation.  In fact the House of Representatives will meet for 111 days in 2016.  No work week for them exceeds three days.  Most of the fighting going on by the U.S. Military has never been authorized by the Congress.  The Constitution clearly makes them the arbiters of war and peace.  Congress has left these decisions completely in the hands of the President.  They have refused to take any action.

 

In essence Congress is dysfunctional.  Speaker, Paul Ryan, in his acceptance speech has defined Congress as broken.  He says he will start anew.  But Speaker Ryan is himself not far to the left of the Freedom Caucus.   Will there be positive changes or will the House fall back into non-functionality?  Will the House shut down the Government again?   The political future should be interesting.

The Weiner Component #136 – Part 3: The Sequester

Following is perhaps one of the most important reasons for the Election of 2016.  Its results will strongly affect the future of the United States in terms of whether the country moves toward economic fulfillment for most of the population, stays where it is now, or goes further in the direction of continuing to exist mainly operated by the rich, be run by the rich, and mainly exist for their benefit.

 

On August 1, 2011, the House of Representatives passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was then approved by the Senate, and signed reluctantly by President Obama.  The Act provided that if the Joint Select Committee did not produce bipartisan legislation that made across the board spending cuts then automatic spending cuts would take effect on January 2, 2013.  Its commencement was by law delayed until March 1, 2013.  On that date, with no bipartisan deal having been reached, the initial sequestration cuts would take effect at midnight.  While President Obama signed the bill putting the cuts into effect he referred to them as being “deeply destructive.”

 

On March 6, 2013, the House of Representatives passed a bill to extend the continuing resolution and to enable defense and the veteran’s programs to adjust to the cuts brought on by sequestration.  Other bills were passed adjusting many of the visible cuts like those made to airport traffic control.  Suddenly most of the airports had long waits for planes taking off and landing as the number of air traffic controllers was cut by the sequester.  This and other visible cuts were adjusted; but many of the invisible ones like a decreases in school breakfasts and lunch programs for the children of the poor or, for that matter, meals on wheels for poor senior citizens, were also cut but they tended to be invisible so there was no large scale objection to these.

 

The cuts were divided evenly in dollar amounts between the defense and non-defense categories.  Some major programs like Social Security, Medicate, federal pensions, compensation for legislators, and veteran’s benefits were exempt.  Medicare benefits were reduced by 2% a year.  Instead of cutting some Federal pay rates a system of furloughs was set up which resulted in involuntary unpaid time off for government employees was utilized.

 

The sequester is supposed to lower total Federal spending by $1.1 trillion over an eight year period, from 2013 to 2021.  In 2013 it was supposed to lower non-defense discretionary spending by 7.8% or $294 billion and slightly lower in succeeding years; and it was supposed to lower defense spending by 10% or $454 billion, with slightly lower cuts in succeeding years.

 

In point of actual face since the application of the bill was delayed from the beginning of January of 13 to March 1, 2013 the actual savings for that year was 85 billion dollars instead of 110 billion dollars.  After two years the cuts have been devastating to both the defense and non-defense sections of the government.

*********************************

This was the non-compromise compromise that the Republican legislators in both the House and Senate insisted upon to force the Democrats and their President to compromise upon lowering government spending.  Was it a good idea?

 

Generally, with the exception of 2013, the sequester goes into effect at the end of the year and if the required cuts have not been made in all the programs then those not made by legislation during the year automatically go into effect on January 1 of the new year unless a special bill is passed limiting one or another sequester areas of defense or non-defense spending.  Keep in mind that this process is supposed to continue until 2021 and that only the third installment will have passed by the end of 2015.  There will be an additional six years to go.

 

The sequester will, if no significant changes are made, lower all Federal Government spending by a total of 1-1 trillion dollars from 2013 to 2021.  It decreased non-defense spending by a range of 7.8% in 2013 and will lower it to 5.5% by 2021.  This is a total of 450 billion dollars for the first year.  Defense spending was also lowered 10% in 2014 and will drop to 8.5% by 2021.

 

It is also important to realize that the sequestration has significantly cut federal and non-federal employment in the many hundreds of thousands.  In late 2008, Republican President George W. Bush’s last year in the office, the total economy tanked after thirty plus years of constant and sometimes irrational growth.  Bush and his Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, during the last months of that year spent many billions of dollars bailing out the major banking houses in the country, keeping them from going bankrupt.  The pattern of governments stopping potential bank failures and saving banks became an international operation in many industrial nations.

 

In the United States the oncoming economic failure became obvious in 2007 when the loans to homeowners became frenzied with mortgage lending 125% of the then value of the property.  The bankers were in complete denial that ever-rising values could ever stop happening.  Most of them had spent their entire prior work life during a period of ever-increasing real estate growth.

 

With the 2008 Real Estate Crash there was suddenly massive economic collapse with value dropping like bombs from airplanes during wartime.  The value of the dollar dropped to about ten cents overnight.  A good percentage of homeowners, particularly those who had continually refinanced their homes suddenly found themselves owing more on the properties than they were worth.  As a last minute move before the crash some banks were frantically continuing the process.  It had become by 2008 frenzied madness.

 

The new President, Barak Obama, inherited this problem when he assumed office in 2009.  He spent his first two years in office with a Democratic Congress, successfully working on this problem and getting Affordable Health Care passed.  He continued the bailout of the banks and saved both the financial institutions and the American auto industry with massive loans.  By the 2010 Midterm Election a goodly percentage of the people who had voted for him and change did not vote.  Probably they felt he had not brought any or enough of the change he had promised in the 2008 Election.  Consequently the Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Representatives and thereafter would pass nothing favored by President Barak Obama.  This continued through his first term in office and largely through his second term.  In 2014 Midterm Election the Republicans all achieved a slight majority in the Senate.

 

Consequently during most of Obama’s presidency Congress has refused to even consider fiscal policy, spending money to create jobs and modernize the infrastructure.  The Federal Reserve has utilized monetary policy, lowering the interest rates paid by the banks to consumers to almost nothing, one tenth of one percent, for most of the money deposited into the banks.  Despite all this in August of 2015 unemployment dropped to 5.1% of the work force looking for jobs, the lowest point since the Real Estate Crash of 2008.

****************************************

During Reagan’s presidency, in addition to massive military spending, the banks were deregulated.  In 1932, during the midst of the Great Depression, bank reform bills or regulation to avoid another massive depression, which mostly the banks had caused in 1929, were passed.  They had been added to over the years.  All this disappeared during the Reagan Era when the “Free Market” became dominant.  That was during the 1980s.  By 2008 the big banks had again undone the economy.  All this was strongly continued by the two Bush presidencies.

*************************************

Basically the Republican position has been “No new taxes,” even though Reagan and the first Bush president both oversaw some tax increases.  With the second Bush presidency it was two wars and a large tax decrease, particularly for the wealthy.  If more money is needed for any reason the Republicans would reduce non-military spending, particularly discretionary spending, to make up the difference.  Discretionary spending is programs which aid the elderly, the poor, and the middle class.  In essence their programs have been welfare for the rich at the expense of everyone else.

 

The Democratic position has been that the country can increase spending by having newer and fairer taxes.  This is the means of paying for new programs and increased costs.  They will not go along with paying increasing or new costs by decreasing the money spent on the lower levels of society.

 

From these two positions there is no way to achieve a compromise.  Thus we have sequestration, which is in essence squishing the bulk of the population and the functioning of the government. It is an interesting act of spite perpetrated by the Republicans upon the Democrats and the rest of the country.  There is no possibility of compromise.

*****************************************

If the sequester were not in existence unemployment would currently be down to 2 ½ % or lower and there would be a labor shortage.  This would automatically raise the minimum wage and everyone’s standard of living would rise with the rise of wages as employers would be competing for workers.  The FED would have raised interest rates to hold down inflation and the GDP would be far higher than it is now.  The amount taken in in taxes, on all levels of state and federal governments, would have increased substantially and the Federal Government might even be slightly paying down the National Debt.  But instead the Republicans have to be “penny wise and dollar stupid,” holding down economic growth in the nation both as spite and as an economizing measure.

 

For the end of January 2015 President Obama had asked for an end of sequestration and an overall 7% increase in all areas of spending.  This was an opening position on the 2015 budget debate with a Republican Congress.  He got none of these.  The end of 2015 is coming up.  Both the time for the final cuts to the 2015 sequester and the 2016 Presidential Election will soon be with us.

 

The military is currently in worst shape than it has been since the end of World War II; when the war ended and the government overnight cancelled all war contracts and began quickly releasing a large percentage of its army back into civilian life.  This continued until the Federal Government realized there was a Cold War going on with the Soviet Union; then it reversed itself.  Currently, according to the armed services top officers another round of sequestration will have dire consequences, which will include the ability to win a ground war.  The size of the navy and air force is shrinking as these services cannot afford to replace outdated ships and air planes.  And this does not include all the other cuts that sequestration is causing.  The military is at present in a worst position of preparedness than it has been since the end of W.W.II.

 

On a non-military basis poor children are going to school hungry and staying hungry all day while trying to learn.  Senior citizens are doing without food and dying because of program cuts.  They often have to choose between rent, medicine, and food.  They can’t afford all of them.  Food is the first expense to go.  The country will lose a generation of scientists as research funding, which already has been cut 50% continues to decrease.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report at the end of 2013 entitled, “Voices from the field,” that cites the effects of sequestration upon the F.B.I.  It states that, among other things, new intelligence investigations were not opened; criminal cases were being closed; informants couldn’t be paid; and there was not enough funding for agents to put gas in their cars.  And early Head Start programs were eliminated to balance budgets.

 

All these and many other programs tend to be invisible to the general public.  Also the effects of these and other unnecessary cuts bring about a significant loss of employment in the overall economy and, as we’ve seen, a noticeable drop in the GDP.   Sequestration is hurting the nation.  As it continues the damage increases.  Further cuts will have to be made at the end of 2015.

 

What amazes me is that virtually all the Congressional Republican legislators have taken an oath/pledge in writing to Grover Norquist, a libertarian-leaning Republican lobbyist and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, who has no direct connection with the Government, that they will never raise any taxes.  These same Republicans have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  It would seem that the first oath here comes before the one to the Constitution.  It would also seem that a number of Republicans would like to get rid of the sequestration but they are bound by their pledge or oath to Grover Norquist.

 

President Obama has stated that the government can raise the tax revenue to pay for doing away with sequestration by “fixing a tax code that is riddled with loopholes for special interests.  Some of these loopholes were passed during World War II, over a half century ago, to encourage the amount of gasoline produced during the war.  They are still on the books and Norquist sees them being done away with as an increase in taxes.  The current situation and inability of the two parties goes beyond sanity.

 

My solution to this problem would be to have both political parties appoint a bipartisan committee and lock them in a room without access to a bathroom which they cannot leave until a solution is reached.  And if others in Congress refuse to accept the compromise then automatically appoint them to a new committee and lock them in the same room until they reach a compromise.  This process would be continued until everyone is in agreement on a compromise.  If possible Grover Norquist should be added to all the different committees.

 

The members of Congress are each being paid 170 thousand dollars a year and take an oath to serve the country.  Each has a budget of over a million dollars for their staffs.  It’s time they did a competent job as legislators.  The taxpayers are spending a lot of money on them and their staffs.  The Republicans seem more interested in a welfare state for the rich than in a country that functions for the benefit of all its members.  Sequestration should never have happened; it’s the type of thing children would do: spite for the sake of spite.  The oncoming 2016 Presidential Election is an opportunity for the voters in America, despite the various suppression of voting in many Republican controlled states, to get rid of a number of legislators that are serving causes other than the welfare of the United States.

The Weiner Component #135 – The Republicans & the First Primary Debate

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

English: Seal of the President of the United States Español: Escudo del Presidente de los Estados Unidos Македонски: Печат на Претседателот на Соединетите Американски Држави. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently the first Primary Republican Debate of the ten leading Republican potential candidates in the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election ended.

 

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

It was supposed to consist of the ten most popular Republican candidates out of the 17 attempting to run for the presidency.  The top ten were chosen based upon the last five national poles.  But the fifth pole tied the percentage of the 10th and 11th candidates, making the number chosen eleven.  Consequently Fox News, who ran the debate, skipped the 5th pole and used a 6th pole that did not have a tie in the last place and ended up with ten potential candidates.

 

Fox News, the official new arm of the Republican Party, devised the format of the debate that was not really a debate.  It consisted of questions addressed to specifically candidates.  And these questions were not always friendly, particularly many of those aimed at Donald Trump who was the most popular of all the candidates.

 

Probably because of intense outside pressure, Fox held a separate session for the losing or less popular seven candidates earlier in the day.  They treated them obliquely with contempt, using a large empty stadium and calling them by their first names as the Fox commentators asked them questions.  It was going along with popular pressure in a put-down fashion.

 

It should also be noted that Fox News sold the candidates a lot of advertising space for the candidates to make themselves popular among national Republicans.  Because Republicans watch Fox News nationally this was the only way the candidates could sell themselves to the general Republican public.  Fox devised the method and certainly profited from it.  Interestingly the one exception here was Donald Trump.  He apparently was known to everybody and needed no additional publicity.

***************************

The main event in the evening, which was probably watched by more people than any other broadcast in the history of television was hardly a debate.  It featured three of Fox’s leading commentators asking specific questions and quickly moving on to another participant with another question.  All the speakers seemed well prepared and their answers, even though generally dealing with the topic of the question, did not really answer it.  There was only one  instance of a follow-up question and the answer given still did not reply to that specific question.

 

The leading Republican candidate for the presidency in terms of being the most popular among Republicans was Donald Trump.  I suspect the overall assumption among the millions of TV watchers was that he would blow his cool at some point and verbally erupt at someone or something.    The closest he came to that was with one of the Fox commentators, Megan Kelly, when she asked him about some of the negative statements he has made about woman.

 

The candidates attempted to define themselves and denounce President Obama and the Democratic Party.  President Obama was denounced as a week and failed president who essentially did everything wrong and bowed to the Iranians in giving them everything they wanted in order to become the leader of terrorism around the world, giving Iran the money to finance this process and allowing them to develop in order to become an atomic bomb nation.  And all these positive statements were made, I got the impression, without even bothering to read a draft of the 100 plus page agreement.  Most of these candidates practically or directly guaranteed we would go to war with Iran if one of them was elected.

 

It seemed as though the forthcoming election was all about them, the individual Republican candidates, and not about the disaster they could bring about if elected.  Most practically stated that they would straighten out all the world’s problems.  Their implied method was that they would do this by the use of military force if necessary.  They seemed to also not know that the United States is one of six nations that negotiated the treaty with Iran over a two year period, that if the U.S. rejects the agreement it will likely be the only one of the six nations on the United Nations Security Council to do so.

*********************************************

Basically what was heard in the debate was demagoguery.  They, the Republicans, have taken no responsibility for any of their past actions and blame everything on President Obama and the Democrats.  My response to all this is: Get real!

 

Mostly by implication and sometimes directly, the ten hopeful Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential Race blamed President Obama for virtually everything wrong in the society today..  It was as though the Republicans have done nothing to bring about the problems or conditions that exist today.  They would do away with Affordable Health Care (Obamacare) and the Dodd-Frank banking reforms that came about after the 2008 economic crash, or anything else.  I suspect if the weather was inclement it would have been Obama’s fault.

 

The Dodd-Frank Banking Reform Law was a washed down version (Washed down because of intense bank lobbying.) of what a finance committee, headed by Paul Volker, a former Federal Reserve Chairman, had proposed in order to do away with the causes that had brought about the economic disaster of 2008 which could have sent the nation into a depression far deeper than the Great Depression of 1929.  Today many banking executives feel economically inhibited by some of the few things they can no longer legally do and would like a totally free hand again.

 

While most of the participants in the so-called debate stated that they would do away with the Affordable Health Car Law, which incidentally has greatly reduced the rate of medical costs by slowing down the rate of medical cost increases, only one of them, Donald Trump, seemed to have a plan for its replacement.  He would, he said, make the insurance companies for its plan members function on a national instead of state level and for those who could not afford to buy insurance he implied obliquely that he would have the government provide a single payer plan for them.  Would he be able to do this if elected?  An interesting question.  Especially if Congress retained its Republican majorities in both Houses.

 

Of the faults of Obama as a failed president, one by implication was the National Debt.  After all aren’t the Republicans the party that espouses a balanced budget?

 

Since 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency, the Republicans controlled the presidency for 20 years and the Democrats for 15.  The country had Reagan for 8 years, Daddy Bush for 4 years, and Bush Jr. for 8 years.  The two Democratic presidents were Clinton and Obama, each for 8 years.

 

Reagan started with a National Debt of $1 trillion and raised it to $2.8 trillion, almost tripling it.  Ever since President John F. Kennedy had lowered taxes during his administration and the government had then collected far more in revenue than it had before the decrease in taxes other presidents had unsuccessfully attempted to do the same thing.  Reagan cut taxes, especially for the well-to-do and upped government spending, particularly military spending.  He believed, wrongly, that the Soviet Union was far ahead of us militarily and that we had to catch up and get ahead.  He introduced the concept of “star wars” and other science fiction type concepts which our scientists were supposed to develop.

 

What President Reagan inadvertently did was to force the U.S.S.R. to militarily keep up with the United States and that brought them to the edge of bankruptcy and to the fall of the Soviet Union.

 

But what Reagan did for the United States was to almost triple the National Debt to $2.8 trillion.   George H.W. Bush with his inept diplomacy actually encouraged Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait and then he organized operation Desert Storm to liberate them.  This and his other actions cost the U.S. Government an additional $1.55 trillion.  Bush Jr. by engaging in two military operations (wars), one totally unnecessary, added another $6.1 trillion to the National Debt bringing it to $11.8 trillion.  And at the same time President George W. Bush also lowered taxes, particularly for the rich.  In fact today anyone earning over $400,000 a year pays no taxes on any amount over $400,000.  Welfare for the very well-to-do.

 

What has happened is that taxes for the upper 1% has been gradually cut in half or more and the ever increasing deficit has been used to force cuts in services for the middle class and the poor while the middle class with gradual inflation has found its income tax bill increasing.  Currently the Sequester, a law that automatically makes cuts across the board yearly unless Congress passes a bill stopping a part of it like certain cuts to the military for that year is enacted, is slowly decreasing funding for most programs including the military that is now at the lowest point of readiness than it has been for many years.  So far these cuts, which the Republicans insist on having, have been largely invisible.  At some time, probably around the end of this current year or at the most next year, many of them will become blatantly visible and the blame game will begin between the two political parties, with the Republicans, who have brought it about, screaming the loudest.

 

Under President Bill Clinton the deficit actually decreased slightly.  President Barak Obama inherited a heavy recession from Bush Jr. and had to spend quite a bit to avert a greater economic decline than the Great Depression. Among other things he bailed out the banks, who by their irresponsible behavior had brought this negative economic condition about, and the auto industry.  And, with phenomenal negative interference from 2011 on by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, President Obama has brought the economy back from the Republican induced total disaster.  In this process he has increased the deficit but he may end his last year in office with a surplus paying down a small percentage of the Republican induced debt.

 

Taken together the three Republican presidents over their 20 year tenure raised the National Debt 13.5 trillion dollars and left the nation on the edge of a greater depression than that of 1929 which persisted for over ten years.  Electing a Republican president will probably mean another war in the Middle East with Iran.  That will make three separate wars being fought there and the national deficit will shoot up even more.

******************************************

In the various questions and answers discussed during the debate, with one exception, the economy was not mentioned.  Jed Bush stated that he can achieve 4% economic growth over his 8 year tenure as President and create 19 million new jobs.  He would do this by simplifying the tax code, repealing the 2010 Health Care Law, reducing regulations on the oil and gas industries and putting people in the country illegally on the legal jobs tax rolls.  While Climate change was not mentioned Jed Bush’s proposal would worsen the conditions that bring it about.  Student loan debt and affordable college were also not mentioned.  Gun violence in the United States was also ignored.

 

In terms of the War on Women, Scott Walker was against all abortions: rape, incest, and even where birth could terminate the life of the mother.  He felt that the medical profession, in every case, could save her life.  Mike Huckabee wants a Constitutional Amendment giving the fetus full protection before the law from conception on.  Apparently the question of choice for women is nonexistent.  Marco Rubio wants no exceptions for abortions in cases of rape or incest.  These men know absolutely what is right for all women; but they will not have the government share in the responsibility for raising or providing for any of these women or children.

 

The solution to illegal immigration was Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and have Mexico pay for it.  Apparently he doesn’t understand that a goodly percent of illegals come from all over the world including Canada.  Technically he would need fences on all areas where the United States borders on another country as well as a careful check upon all visitors to the country and how long they are legally allowed to stay in the U.S.

 

Among the ten candidates none stood out as a dynamic leader.  If anything some of their comments tended to insult a large part of their audience.  Donald Trump kept rationalizing about the disadvantages of being “politically correct,” as if it were some sort of disease.  He justified his verbal abuse of women by naming one.

******************************

As I’ve stated, what was most significant was what was not mentioned, global warming was one example.  Bush, if he were to become president, could do away with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).  That could create jobs because adding the additional pollution to the United States and the world would probably create a multitude of new jobs.

 

What came to my mind as I watched the performance was the phrase “Myth & Reality?”  These people were prefabricating and defining conditions that did not exist.  They were creating a situation where verbally everyone would live “live happily ever after” if one of them were elected to the presidency.  Well some people just like them had been elected to the presidency in the past and many people, both Americans and those we were fighting, died or were maimed for life and the National Debt rose like a hot-air balloon.  What we must remember is that they are pandering to the extreme right of the Republican Party in order to be chosen as the Republican candidate in the primary elections.  Whoever gets chosen will still have to defeat the Democratic candidate in the general election.  Are they purposely lying or stating nonsense?  Or do they actually believe the myths they are espousing?  That’s an interesting question.

 

In any case what is needed is reality.  If that so-called debate is the best they can do then it becomes everyone’s duty to vote against all or any of those self-important candidates, particularly if they want to see their version of changes within our society.