The Bush administration delivered its 2007 budget request to Congress on 2/6/06. The $2.77 tln budget calls for more cuts in "discretionary" spending, such as agriculture, education, energy, health and housing. The National Institutes of Health budget budget is flat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sees a 2% cut, Medicare payments to health care providers drop $36 bln and Bush would eliminate the $107 mln Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides food to low-income mothers, children under 6 years old and the elderly poor. He cuts $600 mln from Housing and Urban Development, slicing $300 mln from the public housing capital fund that helps low-income housing. In education, he proposes to eliminate 42 programs but revives an effort to create vouchers to subsidize tuition for private or parochial schools. assumes no costs for reconstruction of New Orleans in 2007. The Defense Department would receive a 5% increase and would be 45% greater than the Pentagon budget when Bush took power. But it assumes no expenditures in Iraq or Afghanistan after 2007. It also cuts the Army Corps of Engineers budget by 11% and the Corps' construction budget 34% and it assumes no additional costs for the reconstruction of New Orleans after this year.
And support for troops? Bush proposes $43 bln in fee increases over five years, including higher charges for soldiers, veterans, air travelers and pensions. Veterans face $6.8 bln in new fees on medical care.
Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.), top Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said Bush's budget seeks to make a $712 bln down payment on privatizing Social Security. "The president's budget outlines his plan to privatize Social Security in no uncertain terms," said Rangel. "The $712 billion price tag and $6.3 billion in benefit cuts Bush proposes are just the tip of the iceberg. To be honest, this isn't what I expected from a president who, just last week, suggested that Democrats and Republicans should hold hands and work this thing out. How can we take the president's offer at face value when his budget clearly tells us that, at the end of the day, he wants to privatize Social Security?"
Bush also has proposed to cut $5 bln from programs that help farmers and rural communities survive, including a 5% across-the-board cut in payments to farmers who produce grain, cotton and milk. "For the second year in a row the administration is proposing drastically cutting the 2002 farm bill safety net at a time when the rural economy is struggling," National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson said. "Commodity prices have been declining, production in many areas has been down as a result of weather-related disasters, and input costs have skyrocketed as a result of energy costs."
Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said Bush would cut programs on farm income, conservation, renewable energy, broadband loans and agricultural research. Harkin noted that it fails to follow through on Bush's State of the Union call to substantially invest in renewable fuels.
"This budget once again confirms that the Bush administration's rhetoric about farmers and rural America does not match its actions," Harkin said. "The president promised to invest in renewable fuels, but his budget falls well short of what's needed to make a dent in our country's dangerous and costly dependence on oil. The president also talked kindly about investing in rural development and conservation when he signed the farm bill, but yet the Bush budget cuts the very initiatives he touted. These empty promises and this budget are the wrong path for Iowa and the nation's rural economy." Congress in January put the finishing touches on budget cuts targeting rural development, conservation, agricultural research and farm-based renewable energy initiatives totaling nearly $3 billion over five years.
Among other pokes in the eye, Bush's budget cuts $103.5 mln in federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) over the next two years, noted Josh Silver of Free Press (freepress.net).
If the deficit shrinks over the next few years, it will be in spite of the president's policies, not because of them, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted. Projections released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) show the deficit declining over the next few years, largely as a result of the economy's continuing recovery from the recent downturn. But if Bush's tax cuts are made permanent, as he proposed again, CBO projects rising deficits in the second half of the coming decade, with annual deficits approaching $500 billion by the end of the decade. Edmund Andrews noted in the 2/7/06 New York Times that Bush's budget omits nearly $500 bln in costs that are likely in the next decade.
On 2/2/06 the Senate approved $70 bln in tax cuts similar to those the House already approved. Both bills cost well more than the $39 billion in reconciliation budget cuts -- in Medicaid, student loans, child support enforcement and other programs -- that the House and Senate narrowly approved.
DO JOB FIGURES FIB? The economy generated 193,000 new jobs in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2/3/06. Christian Weller, senior economist with the Center for American Progress (americanprogress.org), noted that was higher than the average job growth of 158,000 per month over the past six months, but millions of Americans -- particularly women and minorities -- are still unable to find the economic opportunities they are looking for. In March 2001, 64.3% of the adult population was employed. In January 2006, it was 62.9%. If the employed share of the population had stayed the same as in March 2001, an additional 3.2 mln people would have been employed. With these additional job seekers, the unemployment rate would actually total 6.7%, instead of the reported 4.7%.
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research noted that the Current Population Survey, which is the Labor Department's most important measure of the labor market's health, has suffered from an increase in non-response rates. In the early '90s the non-response rate was less than 5%, but it is now close to 11%. For certain groups, such as black and Hispanic men, the non-response is more than 30%. His colleague, John Schmitt, estimates that the CPS overstates overall employment by 1.5 percentage points, and 8 points for African-American men. "This research implies that poverty rates are understated and health insurance coverage rates are overstated," Baker noted.
Finally, Lee Price and David Ratner at the Economic Policy Institute (epi.org) did a little calculating and found that when you subtract the government-funded jobs, most due to the military sector, no net jobs have been added because of tax cuts. Assuming that job growth in 2006 matches Bush administration projections, the economy will have added about 2 mln jobs to the private sector from FY 2001 through FY 2006. But Defense Department estimates its own spending has created 1.495 mln jobs. Furthermore, increases in non-defense discretionary spending since 2001 added another 1.325 mln jobs in the private sector, for a total of 2.82 mln jobs created by increased government spending. "The mere fact that the projected job growth resulting from increased defense and other government spending exceeds the actual number of jobs projected to be added to the economy through 2006 clearly indicates that the tax cuts hardly seem plausible as the engine of the modest job growth in the economy since 2001," Price wrote 1/27/06.
McCAIN BLASTS OBAMA: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., apparently got under the skin of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for suggesting that McCain support the Democratic Caucus' ethics reform package instead of waiting for a bipartisan task force to chew it over. Obama had attended a meeting on 2/1/06 with McCain and senators committed to a bipartisan task force on ethics reform. The next day, National Journal's Hotline reported on 2/6/06, Obama wrote McCain that he preferred to go ahead with a bill instead of waiting for a task force. He suggested McCain take another look at the Democrats' "Honest Leadership Act," which does not have a Republican cosponsor. Wrote Obama: "I know you have expressed an interest in creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters, but I and others in the Democratic Caucus believe the more effective and timely course is to allow the committees of jurisdiction to roll up their sleeves and get to work[.]" McCain replied sarcastically, "I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform were sincere." McCain concluded, "I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics the public interest isn't always a priority for every one of us. Good luck to you, Senator."
Quite a tantrum from the Arizonan who ended up embracing George W. Bush after Bush's campaign slandered his family and questioned his mental fitness and war record in 2000 and smooched with the president when the GOP slandered John Kerry's war record in 2004. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com suspects McCain is leading the effort to slime Obama, a rising star in Democratic circles, in an effort to ingratiate himself with GOP right wingers.
BEST LINES FROM NSA HEARING: Before the Senate Judiciary hearing, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said: "This administration reacts to any questions about spying on American citizens by saying that those of us who stand up for our rights and freedoms are somehow living in a 'pre-September 11th, 2001 world.' In fact, the president is living in a pre-1776 world." Then, on the first day of hearings, Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales disclosed that the NSA goes back farther than previously known: "President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale."
FCC GETS TELECOM LOBBYIST: George W. Bush on 2/3/06 named telecom lobbyist Robert McDowell to an open seat on the Federal Communications Commission, restoring the 3-2 Republican majority. McDowell is a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Comptel, a trade organization representing phone companies that compete with regional telephone companies. He served as a lawyer for the Bush-Cheney team during the Florida vote recount saga in 2000 and did advance work for Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in 2004, Reuters reported. The agency's agenda for the year includes a review of whether local authorities are slowing attempts by AT&T and Verizon to compete with cable providers. The FCC is also expected to begin rewriting rules that limit media ownership. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had to delay starting an examination of the rules when he was unable to reach an agreement with colleagues on details of the review.
STATES EYE EMINENT DOMAIN: Forty states are examining their authority to seize private property through eminent domain laws after a US Supreme Court decision last June clarified that it was up to the states, the Associated Press reported. The Constitution says governments cannot take private property for public use without "just compensation." Governments have traditionally used eminent domain to build public projects such as roads, reservoirs and parks. But for decades, cities have turned to eminent domain to take property and turn it over to private developers to eliminate urban blight. In a 5-4 decision last June the court found that state law gave New London, Conn., the authority to take homes for a private development project. But the court also noted that states can ban that practice. AP's Robert Tanner wrote 2/5/06 that four states passed laws reining in eminent domain. Another 40 are considering legislation. In Congress, the House voted to deny federal funds to any project that used eminent domain to benefit a private development. A federal study aims to examine how widely it is used.
GM SUPPORTS FLEX FUEL: The American Corn Growers Association commended General Mothers for support of ethanol-fueled cars. GM in February launched an unprecedented national advertising and marketing campaign to build awareness and market acceptance for ethanol/gasoline blended fuel (E85) vehicles, which operate on up to 85% ethanol. The campaign, "Live Green Go Yellow," will continue throughout the year with print, web and broadcast media components to make consumers, energy producers and policy makers aware of more than 1.5 mln GM E85 vehicles in the market, and to pave the way for more E85 vehicles that will launch this year. In 2006, GM will offer nine E85 FlexFuel models, bringing an additional 400,000 E85 FlexFuel vehicles into its fleet. ACGA hopes the demand for ethanol will increase corn prices, figuring that US corn farmers sold their 2005 crop for about 80 cents per bushel less than what it cost them to raise.
HEALTH HORROR STORIES WANTED: Michael Moore wants to hear your health care horror story. The Oscar-winning filmmaker plans a documentary on the health industry (don't tell the HMOs!) He writes: "Have you ever found yourself getting ready to file for bankruptcy because you can't pay your kid's hospital bill, and then you say to yourself, 'Boy, I sure would like to be in Michael Moore's health care movie!'? Or, after being turned down for the third time by your HMO for an operation they should be paying for, do you ever think to yourself, 'Now THIS travesty should be in that "Sicko" movie!'? Or maybe you've just been told that your father is going to have to just, well, die because he can't afford the drugs he needs to get better -- and it's then that you say, 'Damn, what did I do with Michael Moore's home number?!'" OK, here's your chance. Send a short, factual account of what happened to you -- and what IS happening to you right now if you have been unable to get the health care you need. Send it to email@example.com. [Sorry, Moore doesn't give a regular postal address.]
MEAT, MILK MINERALS DROP: Mineral content of milk and meats has fallen significantly in the past 60 years, according to a new analysis of the chemical composition of everyday food, the London Guardian reported 2/2/06. The research looked at government tables published in 1940, and again in 2002, in the nutritional bible, *The Composition of Foods*, to establish levels of important minerals in dairy products and meat before the Second World War and today. The analysis was published in *Food* magazine by the consumer watchdog the Food Commission. Levels of iron recorded in the average rump steak have dropped by 55%, while magnesium fell by 7%. Looking at 15 different meat items, the analysis found that the iron content had fallen on average by 47%. The iron content of milk had dropped by more than 60%, and by more than 50% for cream and eight different cheeses. Milk appears to have lost 2% of its calcium, and 21% of its magnesium too. Academics in the US and Denmark have also reported signficant changes in the nutritional profile of modern foods.
GOP CAUCUS VOTING PROBLEM: House Republicans were embarrassed when the first count of ballots at the 2/2/06 caucus to pick a new majority leader showed more votes than there were Republicans present at the meeting. A reader of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted, "the Repubs are so corrupt they can't even hold an honest INTERNAL election." The GOP caucus ended up picking Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as its new majority leader. Boehner, a close ally of embattled former majority leader Tom DeLay who also has ties to the "K Street Project" and the Abramoff scandal, gave nearly $150,000 to colleagues from his PAC, The Hill reported 2/2/06.
ABRAMOFF STEERED INDIAN DONORS AWAY FROM DEMS: As much as we hate to get in the way of a Republican talking point, an analysis of campaign donations from Jack Abramoff's tribal clients, done by a nonpartisan research firm for The American Prospect, shows that a great majority of contributions made by those clients went to Republicans. Despite George W. Bush's claim that the disgraced lobbyist (who raised more than $200,000 for Bush presidential campaigns) "was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties," not only did Abramoff never give a Democrat a donation, but the Morris and Associates analysis showed that donations of Abramoff's tribal clients to Dems dropped by 9% after they hired him, while their donations to Republicans more than doubled, increasing by 135% after they signed him up; five out of seven of Abramoff's tribal clients vastly favored Republican candidates over Democratic ones; four of the seven began giving substantially more to Republicans than Democrats after he took them on; and Abramoff's clients gave well over twice as much to Republicans than Democrats, while tribes not affiliated with Abramoff gave well over twice as much to Democrats than the GOP -- exactly the reverse pattern.
MAKING PROTEST A FELONY: A new provision tucked into the PATRIOT Act renewal now before Congress would allow authorities to haul demonstrators at any "special event of national significance" away to jail on felony charges if they are caught breaching a security perimeter. "[The] measure ... would extend the authority of the Secret Service to allow agents to arrest people who willingly or knowingly enter a restricted area at an event, even if the president or other official normally protected by the Secret Service isn't in attendance at the time," Fox News reported. "So any 'event' could be deemed of 'national significance' and any gatecrashers could be sent to jail," Nathan Newman wrote at NathanNewman.org. "A nice way to make sure no awkward questions are ever again asked of any politician."
SOME DEMS FOUGHT ALITO: It's no fun to get beaten on a filibuster fight, but at least progressive Democrats, spurred largely by the online blogs -- and largely absent leadership from the party officials -- put up a fight against right-wing judge Sam Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. As Markos Moulitsas wrote at DailyKos.com: "... the outpouring of emails, letters, faxes, and phone calls was unprecedented for the netroots and particularly surprising given how weak our issue groups organized against Alito. We should've played a supporting role to strong efforts by NARAL, People for the American Way, and others. Instead, we ended up being pretty much the entire effort." In the end, 24 Democrats and an independent sided with those that don't want to see a rollback of civil liberties and health and labor standards. Alito still ended up on the Court, but the grassroots managed to get the attention of the Democratic leadership that we expect them to put up a fight. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was criticized for playing down expectations for an Alito filibuster, but he could only afford to lose three or four of the 44 Democratic senators, one had already stated he would vote for Alito and many more were wobbly or worse. It turned out that 19 Democrats surrendered on cloture. (According to the AP, they included Daniel Akaka, Max Baucus, Jeff Bingaman, Robert Byrd, Maria Cantwell, Tom Carper, Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, Daniel Inouye, Tim Johnson, Herb Kohl, Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller and Ken Salazar. Tom Harkin did not vote. The final vote of 58-42 to confirm Alito was as meaningless as it was foreordained.)
If any of the Timid Twenty represent you, send them a note expressing your disappointment. (And if they voted for the filibuster, send them a note of appreciation.) If your timid Democrat is up for election, see if there is a primary opponent who would do any better. Support progressive candidates where you can. But come November, withholding your vote from a Democrat because he or she didn't vote to keep Sam Alito off the Supreme Court doesn't make sense. When Bush was re-elected, we knew something like this would happen, particularly as the Dems lost seats in the Senate. Send Harry Reid some reinforcements.
CORRUPTION DOGS GOP: A new strategy memo from James Carville and Stan Greenberg says the danger for the Republican Party heading into the midterm elections is that corruption integrates the doubts Americans have about the country's direction and makes them relevant to people's lives. Key talking points: "The lobbyists got their way on an energy bill that gave oil companies more subsidies while doing nothing about high gas prices and home heating; a prescription drug bill that helped the drug companies but gave seniors higher prices and confused plans; and in Iraq, no-bid contracts for Halliburton, fined millions for overcharging the military, costing billions in wasted spending. The Republicans are at the center of a lobbying scandal in Washington that has hurt average Americans." As noted by PoliticalWire.com, a Democracy Corps poll showed Democrats with a very stable 8-point lead in the generic congressional battles -&endash; and a stable lead in the Senate and House contests (using incumbent names) &endash;- that has not changed since September of last year. Just 31% say the country is headed in the right direction, the lowest level for years, with 60% wanting a new direction. Just 38% want to continue Bush's direction for the country &endash;- almost at the low point on that indicator. Independents break overwhelmingly against Republicans and the direction of Congress: only 16% want to continue the direction of Congress. The challenge for Democrats: "Whether the Democrats realize these big gains will depend in part on whether Democrats lead the change &endash;- become the voice of the public's frustration; emerge as champions of the ordinary voters, outsiders and reformers prepared to change a corrupt Washington that works for the corporate special interests, not the people."
CARTOON HERO: There are few good guys in the controversy over the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, which has outraged Muslims and caused violent outbursts as well as the Bush administration's condemnation of the cartoons. Jay Elias, writing at DailyKos.com 2/7/06, nominates Jihad Momani, editor of the Jordanian weekly newspaper Shihane, as a hero. On 1/26/06 Momani published three of the Danish cartoons, running them alongside Momani's editorial that said "Muslims of the World, be reasonable."
"What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?" asked Momani. The following day he was arrested, he was fired by the publisher and all issues were pulled from newsstands. A few days later, another Jordanian, Hashem al-Khalidi, editor of a weekly tabloid Al-Mehwar, also reproduced a few of the cartoons and was likewise arrested. "In all the things that I have read about the Danish cartoon controversy," Elias wrote, "the best and most inspiring has been from [Reason magazine's] Tim Cavanaugh, who wrote 'If freedom of expression isn't dangerous, than it isn't worth defending.'"
He urged readers to contact the Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 3504 International Dr NW, Washington, DC 20008; phone 202-966-2664; fax 202-966-3110; email: HKJEmbassyDC@aol.com. Let Ambassador Karim Kawar know that neither Mr. Momani nor Mr. al-Khalidi should go to jail.