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Countdown to Sequestration: One Month to Go

By Mark Thompson / Dec. 02, 2012 / TIME US
Click for original article
Sequestration Hourglass
by BILL KELLER / Op-Ed Columnist / New York Times
November 18, 2012

Hardly seems like it was eight months ago today that Battleland began its monthly countdown to the pain of sequestration:

“That’s nine months from today,” we noted back on April 2. “Seems like a long time, but it’ll be here before you know it.”

If Congress and President Obama can’t agree on $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and/or tax revenues for the coming decade, the Pentagon faces up to $600 billion in spending cuts over the coming decade (atop a already-implemented $487 billion reduction in its spending plans). It would be painful because the cuts would be largely across the board, at least in the first year.

The deadline is only 31 days away, per last year’s Budget Control Act:

Budget Control excerpt

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Center for a New American Security last month that the topic surfaced while he was meeting with his southeast Asian counterparts in Perth, Australia.

“One of the defense ministers said, `You know, it’s great that you’re rebalancing to the Pacific, but can you sustain that when you have a Congress that is prepared to do sequester or walk off a fiscal cliff?’” Panetta recalled. “I said, `That issue whether our democracy can truly function, and have leaders that are prepared to make the decisions that have to be made in order for this country to govern itself, is, I think, you know, the issue that will determine ultimately whether we have national security.”

Well, sequestration – if it happens — is going to be painful, messy and disruptive. But paring U.S. military spending back to 2007′s level, which is what the sequester would do, won’t eliminate national security.

Recent inactivity and posturing, by both Obama and congressional Republicans, suggest that if the perils of Panetta are to be avoided, it’s going to happen at the last minute.

Probably best, then, to write your plans for New Year’s Eve in pencil.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

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Honey, I Shrunk the Pentagon

For defense conservatives, reinforced by members of Congress whose constituents build ships and aircraft, there is no such thing as enough. The determination to maintain our commanding position in a dangerous world is inflated by the clout of arms makers and sanctified by our civilian reflex to call everyone in uniform ‘hero.’

LET’S imagine you are the new secretary of defense, and, wow, has Secretary Panetta left you a full docket. You have to extract more than 60,000 troops from Afghanistan without leaving behind a Mad Max dystopia. You have to carry on shadow wars against homicidal extremists, refine contingency plans for Syria and Iran, keep an eye on China’s pushiness and Pakistan’s fragility, all without being too distracted by the frat-house antics of hormonal generals.

It’s easy to overlook in all that excitement, but your best opportunity to make a major contribution to the security of your country is none of the above. It is the unglamorous, unpopular, unfinished business of right-sizing our defense budget, without putting us at grave risk. What’s that you say? You’d rather go back to reading General Petraeus’s flirty e-mails? I sympathize. Imagine trying to get people to read a column about the budget.

Yet here you are with a historic opportunity to push the “Refresh” button on our national security. One long ground war is over, another is ending, and there is no prospect of (or stomach for) new wars of occupation. No new cosmic threat has arisen, much as hawks have tried to promote China, our biggest lender and one of our biggest trading partners, into that role. And, to cap it all, your budget is headed for that dread fiscal cliff. In the absence of a budget bargain between Congress and the president, half of the automatic spending cuts that take effect in January will come from your domain — almost 10 percent applied evenly across all accounts. This is widely viewed with alarm by military experts in both parties who see it, rightly, as budgeting by meat ax. So, then, what’s the alternative?

This country accounts for more than 40 percent of the money spent on defense worldwide. We spend as much as the next 14 countries on the top-spender list, combined, and most of them are American allies. And that’s just the Defense Department. It doesn’t include the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons program, the C.I.A.’s drone franchise, the NASA satellites, the benefits provided by Veterans Affairs, and so on.
READ FULL ARTICLE/CLICK HERE

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Antipoverty Programs Having Big Impact, New Government Poverty Measure Shows

by Arloc Sherman / Center for American Progress (CAP)
November 14, 2012

The Census Bureau today released data showing that SNAP (food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and unemployment insurance kept millions of Americans out of poverty in 2011, using a new poverty measure that counts taxes and non-cash government benefits.

These figures are particularly timely given the looming expiration of two key measures that account for part of these programs’ large antipoverty impact: federal emergency unemployment insurance and the 2009 Recovery Act’s improvements in refundable tax credits like the EITC.

Letting these measures expire at year’s end could push large numbers of families into poverty.

For more details, see CAP’s Commentaries on the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity website.

Related Posts:
The Myth of the Exploding Safety Net
Poverty Rate Would Nearly Double Without the Safety Net

Poverty Would Have Fallen Last Year if Jobless Benefits Hadn’t Shrunk

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Rally for Jobs, Not Cuts!
Voters Rejected “You’re on Your Own” Philosophy, Call on Congress to Do Same

On Election Day, voters across America rejected the “You’re On Your Own” philosophy of The Ryan Budget Plan that guts vital services and provides tax breaks to the wealthy. We chose to let Bush era tax cuts expire, rebuild the middle class, invest in good jobs and protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Missourians joined together from across the State to call on Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt to make the right choices for our families when they return to Washington for the Lame Duck session of Congress. The photo to the left was featured in the Kansas City Star this morning!
GRO’ing & Building a Better MO!!

Click logo for website and more information

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Dem think tank: Cut $1Trillion from defense — but not through sequestration

By Jeremy Herb – 10/31/12 / THE HILL

The Center for American Progress report released Wednesday says that the sequester’s across-the-board cuts are bad policy. But the report argues that the $1 trillion topline figure that would be cut if sequestration occurs is more than achievable.

“The members of our Task Force agree with the near-universal consensus that sequestration is more about political maneuvering than sound budgeting practice,” the report’s authors write.

“But we argue that the amount of cuts to the Pentagon budget mandated by both parts of the debt deal is readily achievable with no sacrifice to our security — if the cuts are done in a thoughtful manner over the next decade.”

The report comes after months of political fighting over sequestration in the presidential and congressional campaigns, even as most Democrats and Republicans want to do away with the $500 billion across-the-board cuts.

The size of the military is going to be a major part of the fiscal cliff debate during the lame-duck session that includes numerous big-ticket items.
READ ENTIRE ARTICLE/CLICK HERE

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Budget Woes Await Winner of Presidential Election

October 31, 2012 / Afro.com
Click here for orginal article
by Julianne Malveaux

No matter who wins the November 6 election, he will have a mess on his hands. The Budget Control Act of 2011 will cut $109 billion from the federal budget in 2013 unless Congress is able to figure out how to either reduce the deficit or cut another deal. The cuts will range from 7 to 9 percent, and they’ll hit everything – Pell Grants, housing, employment services and defense.

Already, some government contractors are cutting back in anticipation of what is called sequestration and some politicians are saying that our national defense will be “hallowed” by the process. While Mitt Romney talks about getting more ships for the Navy, the fact is that all of us will have to do with less if Congress cannot see its way out of this mess.

The deficit reduction sequester – a result of the failure to enact legislation that reduces the budget deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years – is scheduled to begin in January. It will affect all non-exempt federal programs, with equal savings coming from defense spending and from non-defense spending, according to the House Budget Committee.

Congress pushed itself into sequestration in 2011 when our nation’s credit rating slipped because our leaders failed to pass a budget. In a showdown with President Obama, Congress stepped all the way out on the cliff that we are now poised to fall off. Rather than making reasoned decisions about cuts, the notion of something automatic was supposed to scare everyone into sanity. The last year, however, has reminded us that few who make public policy are sane.

Sequestration has come up only tangentially in the presidential debates. Yet it is one of the most important immediate issues that our nation faces.

Most economists are clear that cutting spending during a recession or its weak recovery makes no sense. Deficit notwithstanding, taking money out of the economy is a prescription for disaster. We have only just climbed out of a recession, but recovery is not assured. We face the possibility of a double dip recession by withdrawing money from the economy.

One of the biggest challenges in avoiding the sequester is the fact that the Congress that will convene to attempt to make a deal in a lame-duck Congress.

Some will lose their jobs as of January, but they still have the opportunity to pass laws between November and January. They have nothing to lose by continuing their obduracy, and they have few incentives to compromise, something they haven’t done before.

Republicans don’t want to raise taxes, especially on the wealthy, which is one way to avoid the sequestration trap. Democrats don’t want to cut vital social programs. That simplifies matters just a bit, but the bottom line is we get more money either by increasing taxes or cutting programs. We can’t increase taxes on the already beleaguered middle class, and the poor don’t have a penny to spare. That leaves the wealthy, but they are the sacred cows of the Republican Party. Cutting social programs hurts those who have already been hurt. Congress has a dilemma.

One of the things we know about sequestration is that it will cost jobs, both in the federal government and in companies that contract with the federal government.

Our extremely weak recovery, which leaves us with an official unemployment rate slightly less than 8 percent, cannot sustain more job losses. Our Congress, with a median wealth of $750,000, excluding the value of their homes, cannot fathom the lives of ordinary human beings. These are people who get up in the morning, pour cereal in a bowl, take a fast crack at the newspaper before hopping a subway or bus on the way to work, put in their hours, often more than eight, and then take the subway or bus back home. Many make a pit stop at a day care center or school, and then rush home to put food on the table. With median wealth of about $20,000, including home ownership, their lives are a far cry from those of their elected representatives. The gap, perhaps, explains why the American Jobs Act has not yet been passed after languishing in Congress for nearly a year.

Sequestration has come up only tangentially in the presidential debates. Yet it is one of the most important immediate issues that our nation faces. Across the board cuts hit more heavily at the bottom than at the top, and those who are already suffering will find themselves suffering more. It would have been great to have one of the debates focused specifically on this issue of sequestration. The way this sequestration is implemented is likely to depend on the outcome of the election. Yet both candidates have been mostly silent on this matter.

What happens after November 6? Whether President Obama or Willard Romney wins, hard choices will have to be made.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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Commentary: Does the US need to increase defense spending?


Posted on Wed, Oct. 31, 2012
Debate: Pia Lopez and Ben Boychuk
The Sacramento Bee
CLICK HERE FOR ORGINAL ARTICLE

THE ISSUE: Monday’s presidential debate revealed that President Obama and Gov. Romney fundamentally disagree on levels of U.S. defense spending. Romney has pledged to peg the base budget (not counting war funding) “at a floor of 4 percent of GDP.” Should the United States increase defense spending?

Pia: No. Pegging defense spending to a share of the economy is a terrible idea – not based on any assessment of threats. It would mean that as we wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and as our economy grows out of a deep downturn, defense spending would be arbitrarily high and increase in perpetuity. By setting defense spending at 4 percent of GDP, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would increase defense spending in the 2013-2022 decade by $2.3 trillion more than Obama – $2.1 trillion more than in his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget.

Ben: Yes. Historically, U.S. defense spending has been much higher than 4 percent. During roughly half a century of the Cold War, for example, military spending averaged 6 percent.

Obviously, how much the United States spends on national defense is less important than how we spend it. The Pentagon is a bureaucracy like any other, and nobody believes that every dollar spent in the name of national defense is money well spent. But the program cuts we’re now contemplating under a second Obama term – $55 billion in automatic cuts this January, with more to come unless Congress acts – would be folly.

Pia: Under Obama, defense spending would go from $525 billion in 2013 to $634 billion in 2022; under Romney, to $989 billion in 2022. Why does Romney want this huge military buildup? He doesn’t say. But hints come from former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney adviser. Keep defense spending high to starve domestic spending on infrastructure, environmental protection, education and other priorities. Romney also wants to cut taxes and balance the budget. Voodoo economics.

Ben: The reasons for a new military “buildup” are easy to surmise. Apart from the wear and tear the armed forces incurred over a decade of conflict, the Obama administration effectively neutered the U.S. missile defense program. Our satellites are wide open to attack. And though this never came up in the debate, the U.S. nuclear stockpile is aging and badly in need of modernization.

Pia: You wouldn’t know it from the Romney camp or Ben, but the United States has a military that’s second to none. We have 11 aircraft carriers; nobody else has more than one. We have more nuclear-powered submarines and modern armored fighting vehicles, twice as many modern battle tanks, three times more “fourth-generation” tactical aircraft (plus “fifth generation”), three times more naval cruisers and destroyers, 19 times more tanker aircraft and 48 times more unmanned aerial vehicles than any other country.

This is not a “weak” America on a “path to a hollow military,” as Romney claims.

Ben: It isn’t just quantity that counts; raw numbers don’t tell the whole story. Even with the new F-22s and F-35s, the Air Force still relies heavily on old aircraft. The F-15 Eagle is pushing 40, and the F-16 is six years past its planned retirement date. The Air Force is still flying B-52 bombers, for goodness’ sake, and plans to keep them in service until 2045 – nearly 90 years after they first took to the skies.

Pia: Ben misses Obama’s modernization program – 2,006 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, five of the latest Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines, two new Ford-class super-carriers, etc. The Navy is expanding missile-defense-capable warships from 26 to 36 by 2018. Our current and potential foes – including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and others – account for 17 percent of global military spending, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The United States accounts for 39 percent – our allies add another 29.5 percent, reducing our burden.

Ben: Where is it written that U.S. military superiority is simply a fact of life? Here’s where Romney’s argument for rebuilding the Navy becomes relevant. Romney wants a 350-ship Navy by 2042. Obama’s plan calls for 307 ships – nine short of the minimum the Navy says it needs. We’re decommissioning carriers and cruisers faster than we can build new ships. Meanwhile, China has quadrupled its navy’s budget since 2000, and Russia plans to spend more than $775 billion on new subs, ships, planes, missiles and tanks over the next 10 years.

Pia: The United States spends five times more on defense than China, the No. 2 spender, and 10 times more than Russia, the No. 3 spender. As Obama makes clear, spending should be “driven by a strategy, not the other way around.” As we wind down two wars, we need to rebalance our military forces and turn to deficit reduction and nation-building at home, not a new military buildup.

Ben: National defense is a constitutional duty of the federal government. The Pentagon over the past two decades has shifted from a posture of keeping peace through strength to building nations out of backwaters. It’s a strategy for failure, and our adversaries have noticed.

Join Pia and Ben as they continue the debate online at http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/ .

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The Pentagon’s Waste, Fraud and Abuse has Gone too Far.

Friends Committee on National Legislation: ISSUES

How does a department lose $102 billion in one year? The Pentagon is the only department that has never passed an audit, so it’s easier than you’d think. And with a total budget of over $700 billion per year, the Pentagon’s excesses come at the country’s expense. Take action now to cut waste, fraud and abuse in the Pentagon.

Losing track of inventory and leases
Ineffective ordering practices lead to overstocking of spare parts — more than the military needs or will use.1 So while $5 billion in unneeded spare parts sit in military warehouses, about $1 billion in additional parts are on order at any given time.

When the Pentagon doesn’t return shipping containers on time, it racks up late fees. Because it spends millions on leases, those late fees cost taxpayers millions more. Between 2001 and 2011, late fees on shipping containers totaled an outrageous $720 million.

Paying for Contractor Profits
The Government Accountability Office reports that 80 percent of the weapons programs are paying higher prices per weapon than in the original bid. Contractors regularly increase prices, and the Pentagon pays out the difference.
At the same time, Pentagon contractors regularly report billions in profits.4 Some of those profits come from markups that allow contractors to charge many many times the value of an item — including charging $284 for an $8 helicopter door part!

Missing Money
The Commission on Wartime Contracting reported last fall that there was an estimated $31 to $60 billion in Pentagon waste and fraud related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Those losses were described as largely avoidable.

Poor record keeping means that contractors owe the Pentagon $200 million in uncollected debt, but the Pentagon only has contractor identification information for half of that — keeping the debt from being processed and collected.

READ MORE HERE

Staffers from the Friends Committee on National Legislation will be in St. Louis on Oct. 29th. Click here for more info

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Memo to the Presidential Candidates: Cut the Warfare State, Not the Welfare State

Huff-Post/Politics
10/15/2012

If you listen only to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, you could be forgiven for thinking that the United States is not simply in need of strong interventionist leadership abroad. It is also short of military hardware and troops.

A Romney Administration, the Governor told the Virginia Military Institute on October 8, would “make the critical defense investments that we need to remain secure.” That would include restoring “our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines” plus effective missile defenses against threats. And on this, Romney said, “there will be no flexibility with Vladimir Putin.” Instead, a “call to our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 per cent of their GDP to security spending.”

A Romney Administration, we were told, will make the 21st century an American century in ways that an Obama Administration has so far failed to do. How? By, among other things, exercising more American leadership on the global stage, increasing military spending, tightening sanctions on Iran, standing lock-step with Israel, and letting our foes know that, if they attack us, we will hunt them down. “America must have confidence in our cause,” the Governor said, “clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might.” The implication was obvious – that under Barack Obama, American foreign policy has had none of those things.

We face the prospect after November, that is, of a Romney-initiated arms race, one entirely driven by a Republican misreading of the state of our contemporary military condition and our foreign policy stance. Republicans see “a failed national security strategy” under Obama: one that must be replaced, if America is to be safe again, by bolder American leadership abroad and more military spending at home. That reading of our needs could not be more mistaken: for at least the following reasons.

Our military expenditure is already globally excessive
The Romney call to increase military spending is clearly meant to have us believe that the United States has been less safe under the Obama Administration because of some failure to adequately fund the military. But nothing could be further from the truth. We already spend massive amounts on the military. With just 5% of the world’s population and a quarter of total global output, the United States is currently responsible for over 40% of total global military spending. As a nation, our military budget exceeds that of the next 14 big spenders combined, many of them allies; and is double that of the military spending of China, the UK, France, Russia and Germany taken together. In 2010 the Pentagon absorbed 4.8% of US GDP. The equivalent Russian figure was 3.1%. For the UK, it was 2.7%, for France 2.1%, for China 1.5% and for Germany 1.4%. Whatever else the Obama Administration may or may not have failed to do, properly funding the Pentagon is clearly not one of those failures.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE

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Jewish groups worry about effect of sequestration cuts on elderly

By Ron Kampeas · October 11, 2012

WASHINGTON (JTA) –Jewish groups that care for the elderly are looking forward to the election, and not because they favor a candidate or a party — they want Washington’s fractious establishment to get back to figuring out how best to fund programs the groups say are essential. Between the Nov. 6 election date and Jan. 1, Congress and the Obama administration – whether lame duck or reelected – are set to head off “sequestration,” when massive across-the-board cuts go into effect with the new year.

Elderly care groups want to make their voices heard on the matter, given the condensed time that Congress will have to address the issues – but getting through is hard right now.

“It’s a little difficult to do serious advocacy. It’s difficult right now to get anyone to focus on anything but the congressional elections,” Joyce Garver Keller, the chief lobbyist for Ohio Jewish Communities, said. “Everyone is focusing on the election. The best I can do, what I try to do is to keep some of our members of Congress aware of the fact that this is something very much on our minds.”

The two federal programs that provide the bulk of funding for elderly care, Medicare, which funds care for the elderly, and Medicaid, which provides medical care for the poor, will be relatively unscathed should sequestration kick in, with its across-the-board cuts of about 8.5 percent. Medicaid is not designated for cuts; Medicare is designated for 2 percent cuts. Health industry professionals predict that even the 2 percent in cuts for Medicare could prove far reaching. A report by American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association anticipates close to 500,000 jobs lost in the first year, Kaiser Health News reported on Wednesday.

Even with Medicare and Medicaid spared, however, ancillary programs coming under other rubrics will sharply affect elderly care, said William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of Jewish Federations of North America.

READ FULL ARTICLE/CLICK HERE

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White House Report Details Automatic Budget Cuts

Damian Paletta, Wall Street Journal, September 14th, 2012
Automatic spending reductions set to begin in January would cut $109 billion from the federal budget through Sept. 30, 2013, including broad cuts to the military, food safety and U.S. embassy security, a new report from the White House said Friday.

The White House and members of Congress say they want to avoid the cuts, but so far they have made little progress toward an agreement on how to replace them with other deficit-reduction measures.
(CLICK TO READ MORE)

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Americans want taxes raised on wealthy before federal budget cuts

IRS­
In a recent survey, not surprisingly, the majority of Americans said that in lieu of cuts to broad services regulated by the federal government, such as border safety, the Food and Drug Administration or veteran services, they would rather see higher taxes imposed on the wealthy.
(CLICK TO READ MORE)

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The Pentagon Should Pay Its Fair Share

The reductions Pentagon contractors are protesting — $1 trillion over the next 10 years — would only bring Pentagon spending back to what it was in 2007, at the height of the Iraq War. And if Pentagon spending isn’t cut by at least this much, Congress is likely to shift the cuts to “non-defense” spending — which has already seen huge budgets cuts.
Every day, contractors and their lobbyists are on the Hill and in congressional offices across the country, talking about how important Pentagon spending is to that member’s state and district. We’ve heard from members of Congress that they are hearing the voice of contractors loud and clear — but they aren’t hearing as much from people like you, and they need to hear those voices too.
Many members of Congress understand what choice they face — and what could happen if they try to reduce the deficit only on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society. Yet members of Congress also do listen to their constituents and if the dominant voice from their districts is arguing against Pentagon cuts then they may be swayed to vote that way. You can play a key role in these policy decisions by working with FCNL to create a constant stream of respectful, reasoned messages to Congress that the Pentagon must pay its fair share in any effort to cut the budget.

(CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION)

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