House appropriators began sharing proposed allocations for appropriations bills for fiscal 2014 on Thursday, with plans to seek committee approval next week. With overall base discretionary spending held to $967 billion, the allocations include $513 billion for defense and $73 billion for military construction and veterans affairs. War spending and mandatory funds would bring the defense total to $599 billion. The allocations, known as 302(b)s, provide a broad overview of spending by department without offering details, but the figures reflect prospective steep cuts in domestic discretionary programs. The Labor, Health and Human Services and Education allocations, for instance, would be reduced from the House request of $150 billion in the current fiscal year to $122 billion in the next fiscal year. Stepping back just a few years, that would be $42 billion — or 26 percent below what was enacted in fiscal 2010 for programs under the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rogers (R, Ky.) said he hoped the House and Senate “can come together on a sustainable budget compromise to replace sequestration and establish a responsible, single House and Senate top line discretionary budget number.”
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Posted by Matt Unrath on May 17, 2013
After a week of intensifying Senate Republican opposition to Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez, it’s unclear if Democrats can pick up the handful of GOP votes they likely will need to derail a possible filibuster. Several Republicans said Thursday that they would either oppose invoking cloture on Perez’s nomination or are still in the process of making that decision, implying they have not ruled out a filibuster entirely. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said last month that he will demand a 60-vote threshold on Perez. In October 2009, when Perez was confirmed 72-22 as the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, he received the votes of 17 Republicans, nine of whom are still in the Senate, including Alexander, Collins, Corker, Cornyn, Graham, Grassley, Hatch, Johanns and Murkowski. After two previous postponements, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to vote May 16 on the Perez nomination, the last step before it is sent to the Senate floor. Republicans have leveled multiple charges against Perez involving his role at the Justice Department and in prior positions. (more…)
Posted by Matt Unrath on May 10, 2013
Both the House and Senate are in recess this week so it has been relatively quiet in Washington. Before leaving last week, both chambers passed legislation allowing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to shift funds to end the furloughs of air traffic controllers and end the delays that had been experienced when the furloughs went into effect. That prompted protest from Democrats who argued that Congress should not just mitigate the sequester’s effect on one area, and leave other even more important programs to face funding cuts. Some Democrats suggested they would seek the same treatment for social programs impacted by the sequester. But this week, House Democratic leadership said they will stick with a strategy of pressing for a full repeal of the sequester and won’t seek for domestic social programs the kind of special law that eased the impact of spending cuts on air traffic controllers. There is no expectation that serious discussions about the sequester and a broader fiscal deal will begin until lawmakers are faced with a deadline of sorts, whether it is the need to clear new appropriations to fund the federal government in September or to raise the limit on federal borrowing, which may not arise for months.
In coming months, Democrats intend to continue highlighting what they call “draconian” reductions demanded by the recent budget control laws. They may get some help from the House Appropriations Committee, since committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) will need to stick with the current spending cap of about $967 billion, while his Senate counterpart, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is seeking to use the pre-sequester figure of $1.058 trillion. Lawmakers have criticized the across-the-board cuts mandated for fiscal 2013, but Democrats on House Appropriations are not expected to vote for the deeper cuts, leaving GOP lawmakers to make decisions to scale back and even eliminate some federal programs to meet the fiscal 2014 caps. Some Democrats believe this may make the Republicans more willing to consider a larger budget deal that would ease the effect of the sequester.
Posted by Matt Unrath on May 3, 2013
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and senior committee Republicans, signaling unease with spending bills set at a sharply low level dictated by sequester, said Thursday that GOP lawmakers will face tough choices with measures that will have a “severe” impact on federal programs. Rogers is proceeding with appropriations bills under a discretionary spending level scaled by $91 billion under sequester. The recent budget-control laws would cap the federal government’s regular operating expenses at about $967 billion. That’s even less than the current level of about $984 billion. Rogers opposes the sequester and expects the cuts in spending to be replaced in a broader fiscal deal sometime later this year. (more…)
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 26, 2013
The DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a comprehensive report on the ‘working poor’ last week. Of the 46 million Americans who live below their respective federal poverty level, 10 million workers are defined as ‘working poor,’ meaning they worked for more than half the year but their incomes were still below the poverty line. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog breaks down the numbers, citing low wages, part-time work and low education as causes of the large number of ‘working poor.’ The analysis also points to the racial disparity and the large number of children in ‘working poor’ households. A similar report came out in January from the Working Poor Families Project, which asserted that a third of American working families qualified as working poor–or families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line (FPL).
This research certainly has some benefit and exploring the foundational issue of deteriorating job quality is critical. But let’s be honest, all of this research is built on a very weak methodological and philosophical foundation: the federal poverty line. The income thresholds are based on family food budgets in the 1950s, and have only been updated for inflation. The FPL does not account for variance in living costs across the country or family types.
Despite these significant limitations, the use of the FPL for determining program eligibility, benefit adequacy, and for this type of research is nearly ubiquitous. And it is critical to ask why, and how much it limits our understanding of the proportion and number of American families who are struggling to get by. Why not compare their incomes to the cost of living? Or the cost of raising kids and the cost of rent? Or to a certain percentage of median income in their local area?
Of course, WOW would submit that our Basic Economic Security Tables Index would well meet this need. But there are a lot of options! Our partners at the Insight Center released a report last week that reviews all of the different measures of family economic security, produced by various organizations across the country. Employing any of these measures paints a much direr picture of economic insecurity than the research which relies on the federal poverty level. Indeed, WOW’s analysis finds that nearly half of American households lack incomes that meet their basic needs, as opposed to the one-third or three percent cited in analyses by the Working Poor Families Project and Bureau of Labor Statistics, respectively.
Before the poverty line’s invention in the 1960s, policymakers and advocates advanced greater definitions of good jobs with moral arguments about how much a job should return and ensure for a family. Indeed, in 1922, Republican President Harding argued:
The wage earner’s lowest wages must be enough for comfort, enough to make his house a home, enough to insure that the struggle for existence shall not crowd out the things truly worth living for. There must be a provision for education; for recreation and a margin for saving.
We have lost this type of vocabulary and vision. The BLS report does not classify the working poor by their inability to care for their families, or save, or enjoy even a bit of recreation, and our politicians rarely affirm that workers have a right to be some compensated. It seems possible that we’ve lost this vision, at least in part, by investing far too much meaning in an archaic statistical benchmark. Relying on the federal poverty level limits any conversation of what is just compensation for American workers, and confines our sense of what is right and wrong. Its inadequacies limit our moral dialogue, our understanding of the American economy, and our ability to build political will and construct policies that respond to the major challenges the American worker faces.
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 24, 2013
Between Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon and its ensuing investigation, the interception of letters containing poison addressed to the President and members of Congress, as well as the threat of suspicious packages on Capitol Hill, the highly charged gun issue being considered on the Senate floor, and finally a devastating explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant, this was a tragic, tension filled week for the nation. The week’s other high-profile legislative development was the unveiling of a comprehensive immigration reform proposal by the Senate’s bipartisan ‘Gang of 8’ on Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on the legislation on Friday and another hearing on Monday, although the over 800-page piece of legislation will not be considered by the Committee until May. The group of senators and their staffs worked over several months with outside groups to hammer out a proposal that would allow a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. Under the agreement, the border would have to be secured first through a series of triggers. There also will be considerable changes to visa laws for both low- and high-skill workers, as well as farm workers. (more…)
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 19, 2013
While the House and Senate remained in recess this week, many in Washington prepared for the release next Wednesday (April 10) of the President’s 2014 budget. It is being reported this morning that the budget being released next week will propose significant cuts to Medicare and Social Security and fewer tax hikes than in the past, a conciliatory approach that he hopes will convince Republicans to sign onto a grand bargain that would curb government borrowing and replace deep spending cuts that took effect March 1. Further, it is being reported that President Obama will break with the tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities. Instead, the document will incorporate the compromise offer Obama made to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last December in the discussions over the “fiscal cliff” – which included $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction through spending cuts and tax increases.
As Washington begins to get serious about corporate tax reform, many businesses are reported to be getting cold feet. Many corporations apparently don’t want to give up their special tax breaks. And they have gone on the offense to protect their favorite loopholes. On Tuesday, the US Chamber of Commerce said it wants any tax rewrite to protect breaks for capital investments, such as new machinery. Pharmaceutical and technology companies are telling the House Ways and Means Committee that credits for research costs should be preserved. Energy companies don’t want the treatment of expenses related to drilling touched. This concern stems from the fact that while the current corporate tax rate is 35 percent, many companies can shave 10 to 15 percentage points, or more, off that number by taking advantage of special provisions in the code. For corporate tax reform to have any chance at succeeding, it will need the strong support of the business community, and the more companies rebel, the more its prospects dim.
There is new momentum to revamp Washington’s budget process. The Senate’s recent vote to embrace a biennial budget, coupled with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) endorsement, has significantly boosted the chances it could pass in this Congress. The budget revamp would require the president to propose a budget every other year at the beginning of each Congress. Backers say a biennial budget would give lawmakers more time to focus on oversight and policy areas instead of constantly trying to meet spending deadlines, which are often missed. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) have introduced bills on budget reform. Isakson successfully passed an amendment on the Senate’s non-binding budget resolution on this issue earlier this month. While former President Clinton backed a biennial budget, President Obama has not yet weighed in.
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 5, 2013
March 1st came and went, and with it, any concern among media elites and policymakers for the consequences of sequestration. They’ve moved on to the next issue, the next budget battle, the next crisis.
A product of the Budget Control Act passed in the summer of 2011, sequestration means more than $1 trillion in federal budget cuts over the next ten years, divided evenly between defense spending and non-defense discretionary spending (which means all federal spending, minus major programs like Social Security and Medicare). This is the equivalent of around 5% cuts in all appropriations this year alone.
Our national media has not done a great job in explaining the consequences of sequestration to the American public. Cuts to government spending are usually covered as airport lines and national park closures, as if they make up the majority of federal spending. For example, check out this embarrassing piece by NPR’s Marketplace, which aired on Monday, which asks where the effects of sequestration are and wonders if the Obama administration lost credibility for crying wolf. “Where’s all that pain the White House, federal agencies, advocates and Congressional Democrats were crowing about” it asks.
For all the doubters out there, here it is: (more…)
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 5, 2013
WOW is excited to announce Atlantic Philanthropies’ continuing support of the Elder Economic Security Initiative. Thanks to a new grant, WOW will support ongoing efforts advancing the Initiative around the country and break new ground in promoting the use of the Elder Index.
Central to WOW’s upcoming activities are new campaigns to promote the adoption of the Elder Index as a planning tool and public assistance eligibility benchmark. WOW will concentrate its efforts in two states, Massachusetts and New Jersey, and will work in partnership with our state partners, the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans and the New Jersey Foundation for Aging.
In coming weeks, WOW will hire a new Elder Initiative Project Director and a Communications Officer to support the nationwide Initiative and the concentrated efforts in Massachusetts and New Jersey. The Project Director will perform national advocacy work and serve as the principal contact for our partners across the country. The Communications Officer will promote the successful public framing of economic security across the lifespan and media coverage of our work.
WOW will also hire a consultant in both Massachusetts and New Jersey to promote the economic security framework and advance Initiative work on the ground. They will engage policy makers, state agencies, aging organizations, other advocacy groups, and non-traditional partners and work closely with our state partners.
It is our and Atlantic Philanthropies’ hope and objective that this work will inform and benefit advocacy action in your state, as well. (Check out the Elder Economic Planning Act, a victory of our California partner, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, for an example of what we intend to advance.) We hope to hear about your own related experiences so we can include your knowledge in our current effort and future materials. We are very grateful and excited for this opportunity to continue working with all of you to build the economic security of older adults across the country.
Posted by Matt Unrath on July 6, 2012
“Every teacher that will lose a job, every parent who will lose Head Start” needs to call their representatives in Congress, insists Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).
Sen. Murray told a cross-section of advocates representing domestic services on Wednesday. Members of Congress are receiving daily calls from defense contractors in their districts who detail how many people will lose jobs if scheduled defense cuts are allowed to take effect in January. A similar outcry from human needs groups is absolutely necessary, Murray said.
Sen. Murray and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) sponsored amendments to the farm bill last week that would require the Office of Management and Budget to estimate the impact of cuts on both defense and non-defense domestic discretionary programs. Sen. McCain has been part of a relentless campaign to exempt the Pentagon budget from required spending cuts. Sequestration, requiring automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion in from defense and non-defense discretionary programs, was enacted as part of the deficit deal a year ago. Under the Budget Control Act, cuts totaling $900 billion have already begun to be implemented.
Murray, who said the threat of sequestration was necessary to get the deficit under control because Republicans would not allow revenues to be put on the table, said she feared votes as early as this summer that will get members off the hook by making trade-offs in order to protect defense programs.
“You need to come up with a mantra for us,” she said to the group assembled by the Coalition on Human Needs. “Call about people losing their jobs, people losing their services.”
Workforce development programs have been cut by an estimated 30% in the past two years and would be cut another 20% over the next two years with sequestration. CHN estimates at least 75,000 children will lose Head Start and another 25,000 will lose child care support. Meanwhile, 17,000 elders will lose access to Meals on Wheels and 734,000 households stand to be cut from energy assistance.
Posted by Matt Unrath on June 29, 2012