House Republicans moved legislation forward (5/7) aimed at preventing any reductions in military spending, even if that means cutting much needed programs for the nation’s poorest. The House Armed Services Committee’s bill provides $554 bln for the Pentagon — $29 bln more than DOD had requested — while the GOP-led Budget Committee packaged six bills that would slice $261 bln from food stamps, Medicaid, social services and other programs for struggling Americans. On Fox News (5/7), House Majoriy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed that the Republicans were just trimming the fat from the budget and getting rid of wasteful spending.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would push 1.8 mln people off food stamps and could cost 280,000 children their school lunch subsidies and 300,000 children their health insurance coverage through the federal and state Children’s Health Insurance Program. Elimination of the social services block grant to state and local governments would hit child abuse prevention programs, Meals on Wheels and child care, the New York Times reported (5/8).

A further 23 mln would be affected by the repeal of the Social Services Block Grant, which helps fund child care and disability assistance to low-income Americans.

Eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which cost $830 bln, would more than provide twice the $381.5 bln savings the Republicans are seeking.

But not only are House Republicans protecting weapons systems and programs by cutting needed social services, their motivation stems from trying to prevent military spending cuts of nearly $500 bln over ten years because of the Budget Control Act’s sequestration trigger. “Luckily for the GOP,” Ben Armbruster noted at ThinkProgress.org (5/8), “the Center for American Progress has found more than $500 bln in Pentagon cuts — i.e. the real budget fat — that could be implemented over the next decade while still maintaining our vast military superiority.”

While the GOP plan has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, the AP noted (5/7) that it is “likely just a sample of what’s in store next year from Republicans if Mitt Romney wins the White House and the GOP takes back the Senate.”

SENATE GOP BLOCKS STUDENT LOAN BILL. Senate Republicans (5/8) filibustered a Democratic plan to pay for the extension of low interest rates on student loans by closing a corporate tax loophole that allows wealthy Americans to underpay their Medicare and Social Security taxes. The Senate voted 52-45 to extend the low interest rates for student loans, but 60 votes were needed to overcome the filibuster.

If Congress doesn’t act by July, student loan interest rates will double from 3.4% to 6.8%, costing needy students as much as $1,000 per year in added interest payments.

Before the Senate Republicans blocked the Democratic plan, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, told students at a town hall meeting in Greendale, Wis., that he would not support preventing a hike in their student loan interest rates if it was paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes.

Instead of closing corporate tax loopholes, Ryan suggested paying for the bill by cutting “lower-priority spending.” House Republicans have proposed cutting preventative health care funds that would provide hundreds of thousands of breast and cervical cancer screenings for women, and using that money to prevent the interest rate hike.

Student loan debt currently tops $1 tln, outpacing both total credit card debt and auto loan debt. The cost of college has nearly sextupled over the past 25 years, growing far quicker than general consumer items, gasoline, and even health care. The rub, according to Scott Keyes of ThinkProgress.org (5/7), is that Ryan’s budget actually aims to close corporate tax loopholes, but does so to pay for tax breaks for wealthy individuals, not students struggling with loan debt.

McCONNELL, CHAMBER URGE COURT TO DOUBLE DOWN ON CITIZENS UNITED. The Supreme Court is considering whether to hear a case that will enable it to correct its error in Citizens United and overrule its decision to allow unlimited corporate and other wealthy donor money to influence elections. But Ian Millhiser noted (5/2) that neither the corporate lobby nor the Senate’s top Republican are eager to see this occur. Both of them filed briefs in the Supreme Court (5/1) urging the justices to not only reaffirm Citizens United, but to do so without even hearing argument in the case.

Millhiser note that the Chamber is one of the nation’s biggest spenders on elections and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has long been an opponent of campaign finance regulation. Before President George W. Bush appointed Justice Alito, who became the fifth vote to tear down much of America’s checks on big money in politics, the seminal case upholding America’s ability to defend against such money was McConnell v. FEC. In that case, Sen. McConnell was the lead plaintiff who sued — mostly unsuccessfully — to toss out the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law.

While the briefs are unsurprising, they demonstrate both the corporate lobby and the Republican Party’s commitment to keeping wealthy interest groups’ ability to buy and sell elections intact.

ROMNEY SEEKS CREDIT FOR AUTO INDUSTRY COMEBACK. During an interview with WEWS-TV in Cleveland (5/7), Mitt Romney continued his contortionist’s act regarding the Obama administration’s rescue of the auto industry, saying that he deserves a lot of credit for the industry’s turnaround. “My own view, by the way, was that the auto companies needed to go through bankruptcy before government help. And frankly, that’s finally what the president did. He finally took them through bankruptcy. That was the right course I argued for from the very beginning. It was the UAW and the president that delayed the idea of bankruptcy. I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back.

Pat Garofalo noted at ThinkProgress.org (5/8), “Since penning a 2008 op-ed calling for letting Detroit go bankrupt, Romney has desperately tried to spin the eventual auto rescue as his idea, ignoring that he doubled down on his original op-ed by writing in February, ‘The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.’ ”

But Romney’s plan for a bankruptcy devoid of government financing has been blasted by auto industry insiders and reporters as “truly reckless, detached from reality, and dishonest.” “Romney’s take just doesn’t square with the facts as I lived them,” said Yahoo! Autos reporter Justin Hyde. The Economist wrote that Romney “conveniently ignores” history with his position on the rescue.

Even Republicans who have endorsed Romney disagree with his take on the auto rescue. “There was no one that could have picked up those pieces other than the federal government,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). But Romney keeps trying to spin the rescue as a success for himself, rather than a case in which he got the policy exactly wrong.

LABOR BLAMES GOP FOR ECONOMY. America’s economy continued to add jobs in April, which is welcome news. But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said “the addition of 115,000 net new jobs last month is not nearly enough to put our economy back on track to full employment, shared prosperity and sustainable growth. Republican obstruction to the President’s jobs agenda has left working people in a holding pattern. Our economy continues to be severely off balance. We need our policymakers to commit to robust and sustained policy action to create jobs on the scale needed to put America back to work.

“There are still too many working men and women struggling to find work, pay the bills, and make ends meet. Yet for purely political and cynical reasons, Republicans in Congress have blocked President Obama’s efforts to keep propelling growth, whether it’s the American Jobs Act or routine highway infrastructure investments.

“Meanwhile, Republicans push catastrophic budgets that threaten our economic security and break our promises to the next generation. Our leaders must show the courage and the sense to reject more of the failed policies that allow people like Mitt Romney to game the system and leave working people behind.

“Pursuing tried and failed economic policies is the definition of crazy – and exactly what Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Boehner and others would do. Their austerity agenda concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, starves our nation of the funds needed to invest in our future, further deepens the wealth divide and chokes off any hope of a strong recovery.

“There is a clear contrast between Mitt Romney’s vision of America and that of working people. We have a choice. We can build an America of financial brokers and Wall Street or a real economy where we build, innovate, train, and invest in our future.”

JOBS METRICS. Six months before the presidential election, Sudeep Reddy of the Wall Street Journal noted some key jobs metrics in the April report (5/4):

April’s jobless rate of 8.1% is lower than the 8.3% rate in February 2009, the president’s first full month in office, but it’s still above the 7.8% rate when he took office. (Unemployment was 5% in January 2008.)

Overall, the nation’s non-farm payrolls reached 133 mln in April’s preliminary seasonally adjusted count from the Labor Department. That’s 152,000 more than the level in February 2009, though still 572,000 fewer than in January 2009 (January 2009 posted the worst jobs decline of the downturn, a loss of 818,000 jobs in a single month.)

Total private payrolls are now higher than they were in January 2009. The latest count put private-sector jobs at about 111 mln in April, or 35,000 jobs more than January 2009.

The difference is that public sector employment, at 22 mln in April, was down 607,000 from January 2009, with the losses coming from state and local levels. Employment by the federal government, at 2.8 mln in April, was 31,000 more than in January 2009. State governments employed 5.1 mln in April, down from 5.2 mln in January 2009. Payrolls of local governments stood at 14.1 mln, down from 14.6 mln in January 2009.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist, who has been promoting his new book, End This Depression Now!, recently said at the Economic Policy Institute that returning the public-sector jobs that have been slashed at the state and local levels could lower the unemployment rate to nearly 7%, Tula Connell noted at the AFL-CIO blog.

PUSH PELOSI TO PROTECT MEDICARE, SOCIAL SECURITY. Former Sen. Russ Feingold urged progressives to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to get her to stand up against plans to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. “For years, wealthy individual and corporate interests have used the influence they’ve bought in Washington to make privatizing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and getting their hands on the resources devoted to those programs, a national priority,” Feingold said in an email message to his supporters.

“Yet, these are three of America’s most successful programs, and they’re especially critical to poor and working families who depend on them in their retirement, or if they become disabled. Gutting Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits, seen as a significant step in the privatization effort, would be disastrous for millions of families.

“Recently, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has signaled a disturbing potential willingness to adopt a plan that could slash these benefits. And it follows a pattern: Too many House Democrats, including Steny Hoyer, are already on board.

“Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits are unacceptable, and they shouldn’t be put on the table by Democrats for any reason — including cynical, political ones. Leader Pelosi must stand up for these crucial programs,” Feingold wrote. Find more information, including a petition, at progressivesunited.org/blog for (5/4).

SENATE AG CUTS FARM BILL PROGRAMS. The Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee in late April makes $23 bln in cuts to critical programs, including those for Americans struggling to put food on the table, farmers employing conservation practices and rural communities, said the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Overall, the bill represents a step backwards for efforts to bring about a more fair, sustainable and healthy food and farm system.

The bill included a major overhaul of commodity programs, shifting money from direct payments toward an expanded insurance program. The shift does not address fundamental challenges in agriculture, where corporate concentration and extreme price volatility continue to put farmers at risk. A National Farmers Union proposal for a Market-Driven Inventory System would help ensure fair prices for farmers, reduce commodity program costs and dampen price volatility.

The expanded crop insurance program does not include conservation compliance measures which were required under direct payment programs, and under crop insurance provisions in previous Farm Bills. Crop insurance payouts are climbing dramatically, and are expected to continue to increase as extreme weather events associated with climate change become more common. Despite more than 46 mln Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) due to the struggling economy, the bill proposed $4.49 bln cuts of the next 10 years. The SNAP program makes up 70% of the Farm Bill costs.

The bill also includes deep cuts for programs for Disadvantaged Farmers and Beginning Farmers, Conservation and Rural Development, while doing nothing to address competition issues linked corporate concentration in agriculture, IATP said.

National Farmers Union (NFU) and a coalition of agricultural, conservation, environmental, energy, forestry, hunger, and rural stakeholders sent a letter to Senate leadership today urging them to bring the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 to the Senate floor as soon as possible. NFU led the effort, which was supported by more than 125 organizations.

The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 passed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on April 26 by a 16-5 vote. The broad range of the 125 cosigners emphasizes the expansive reach and impact of the farm bill.

“This strongly bipartisan bill ensures that agriculture does its part to reduce the deficit, cutting spending by $23 bln, while still maintaining a safety net that family farmers and ranchers need,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Some farm bill programs have already expired, and the rest expire on Sept. 30. It is critical to pass a farm bill as soon as possible so that Americans have the agriculture, conservation, environmental, forestry, hunger, and rural development programs that they need. While many of us will continue to work for improvements in the bill, we all agree that we need a farm bill this year.”

BEACH BOYS ABIDE AT JAZZ FEST. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is one of the great music festivals, conveniently situated in the Crescent City on the last weekend of April and the first weekend in May. Seven stages and five tents at the Fair Grounds race track were filled with talent from around the world, and one of the highlights of the 43rd manifestation was the reunion of the Beach Boys on the 50th anniversary of the period between the group’s founding in 1961 and their debut album, Surfin’ Safari, in 1962. Brian Wilson, the creative but mentally troubled engine behind the band, had stopped touring in 1965, hadn’t appeared onstage with the band since 1996. As late as September 2011, Brian was still denying that he would be reuniting, but he was there Friday, April 27, and if he didn’t move much from the grand piano on the side of the stage, he did sing the lead on “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows” from the band’s 1966 masterpiece album, Pet Sounds, as well as a new song, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” the title of the band’s new album. The Beach Boys worked through a 28-song set that included most of the band’s hits and if frontman Mike Love was shaky at the start on vocals, the others, including Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, filled in nicely on the harmonies (helped by the crowd that was singing along). As for Brian, if 90% of life is just showing up, well, Brian was at least 90% there, and that’s a better deal than you can get for a reunion of their onetime rival, the Beatles.

There were great bands working all over the Fair Grounds that weekend, and many of them arguably played more competently than the Beach Boys. For example, when Bruce Springsteen showed up with his E Street Band to close out the Sunday, April 29, lineup, the only question was whether Clarence Clemons’ nephew, Jake, could fill the space left by the late sax-blowing Big Man (Jake did fine); the Boss summoned the ghosts of New Orleans and blew away the crowd of more than 65,000 with selections from his new Wrecking Ball album, the 2006 Seeger Sessions album and previous classics in a 23-song set that ran 2-3/4 hours and even dared a soulful version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Other highlights included the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, Luther Kent, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Feist and Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone, to name just a few, and you can check out highlights from both weekends at nojazzfest.com.

But for pure drama it’s hard to beat the reunion of the Beach Boys, and if Brian, Mike and the rest of the Boys can resurrect those dulcet tones, there must be hope for Israel and Palestine.

UNION FILES FREE TRADE COMPLAINT AGAINST ANTI-IMMIGRANT LAW. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and a Mexican labor lawyers group filed a path breaking complaint with Mexico’s Department of Labor (4/26) challenging Alabama’s anti-immigrant law HB 56 under the supplemental labor agreement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the US committed to uphold international labor principles and to effectively enforce labor laws related to those principles. The NAFTA labor agreement is the only trade agreement with a clause that specifically protects the rights of migrant workers, requiring that they be given the same legal protection as US nationals in respect of working conditions.

Calling Alabama’s anti-immigrant law “discriminatory” and “abusive” toward all workers – not just immigrants – the complaint filed by the SEIU and the Mexican National Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD) says that HB 56 violates international human rights and labor rights standards and undermines the ability of federal authorities to effectively enforce labor and employment laws.

“We are going to fight HB 56 with everything we can bring to bear under US law,” said Eliseo Medina, SEIU’s International Secretary-Treasurer. “But we’re not going to stop at our borders – we are bringing the fight to a global stage and putting HB 56 under international scrutiny.”

On 4/2, SEIU filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland, charging that HB 56 violates workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively under international standards. See seiu.org.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2012


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