In Trying To Appease Both Sides, Obama’s Budget Satisfies Neither

By Nick Davis

President Obama released his 2014 budget a few days before Tax Day, albeit about two months late from his required deadline. In an interesting role reversal, Democrats seem to be tearing into the budget more than their GOP counterparts.

Much of the commotion centers on Obama’s proposal to reduce the rate of growth of Social Security payments. He has suggested that payments be calculated using chained CPI, something Republicans have campaigned for in previous budget and fiscal cliff discussions. Chained CPI is a more accurate formula for calculating cost of living expenses and would initially reduce payments by about $2 a month for each person.

Another major point of contention in the President’s budget revolves around $400 billion in Medicare savings over the next 10 years. These cuts would come from pharmaceutical and hospital payments as well as trimming benefits and increasing out-of-pocket expenses for upper income seniors.

Republicans have mixed reactions to Obama’s modest entitlement reforms. Speaker John Boehner praised the reforms. “He does deserve some credit for some incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget.” Others were less enthusiastic about the budget. As can be expected, Grover Norquist shot down the bill due to more than a trillion dollars in tax increases while Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon called it a “shocking attack on seniors.”

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the President’s budget is the sheer disgust shown by his own party. Democrats have long been the champion of social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid so any reforms to reign in their impact will be unwelcome by the left.  Arshad Hasan, the executive director of the liberal group Democracy For America, seemed to sum up Democratic sentiment best. “You cannot be a good Democrat and cut Social Security.”

Some have expressed concern that if this legislation were to pass, it would leave Democrats vulnerable in the 2014 midterms elections.  Representative Bill Pascrell of New York was one of many Democrats to demonstrate those concerns. "Seniors vote in even heavier numbers, proportionately, in off-year elections," he said. "So just looking at a political standpoint … I would think that this would be a damning blow to our chances of taking back the House next year."

I disagree. I don’t think Pascrell’s concerns are rooted in any sort of fact or logic. If the people are upset about cuts to entitlement programs, what makes them think that Republicans would be any different on the issue? In fact, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the GOP would cut them even more.  At this point, unless the budget actually gets passed without any major overhauls, which seems unlikely, any dissatisfaction with the budget lands on the shoulders of Obama, not his base. Progressive congressman Keith Ellison expressed this same sentiment. "They cannot lay that dead cat at our door," Ellison said Friday. "I don’t know how it’s going to affect the president’s brand, but it would be completely unfair to affect the House Democratic Caucus brand, because we had nothing to do with it and most of us are affirmatively and explicitly against it."

Could we be witnessing a shifting strategy from the President towards negotiations with Republicans? Or, has he been liberated to legislate as he pleases since he can’t be reelected? No matter what his motivations are, one has to wonder what Obama hoped to accomplish by releasing this budget. The President released his two months late and the House and Senate already released their budgets. Depending on how much of Obama’s budget is enacted, the only real thing he has accomplished is alienating his base, something that could and should be avoided as the Republicans are looking to unify themselves for 2016.

Budget Sequestration A Real Life Experiment For The President And Congress To See Who’s Right

By Nick Davis

Welcome to day 1 of sequestration. As President Barack Obama so eloquently put it the day after he signed Obamacare into law, “I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling, some cracks opening up in the earth… turned out to be a pretty nice day.” That’s right. Unless you’re a public school official, have a child in primary or secondary school, civilian defense personnel, or live in a military community, you’re unlikely to feel the direct effects of the sequester.

Let me be clear, in no way am I trying to minimize the hardship that these groups face. It’s rather unfortunate that our lawmakers have allowed our children and military to take the brunt of the spending cuts. But, let’s take a moment to really analyze the amount that is being cut here. Of our $3.5 trillion budget, only $85 billion is being cut for this fiscal year, approximately 2% savings according to my own rough math, just a drop in the bucket as I alluded to in my fiscal cliff blog last month.

According to the President and congressional Democrats, this relatively small cut would be catastrophic for the economy. Meanwhile, John Boehner and Republicans want Obama to stop his supposed ‘fear mongering’ and make a concerted effort to make substantive cuts. This political theatre shouldn’t surprise you in the least though. After last week’s weeklong recess, it should be crystal clear that neither side was ever serious about striking a deal.

Obama vacationed in Florida to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods. Other than the fake Vacationgate scandal about how transparent his Administration was being in not allowing the press corps to vacation with him, there was not much news from the Obamas. Congressional leaders took the same break to head back to their districts and visit with their constituents.

So, significant budget cuts are looming that threaten to plunge the United States back into recession and our lawmakers take a vacation? Nothing exemplifies their unattached attitude than congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. She went on MSNBC and repeatedly defended herself and her colleagues stating that the recess was planned months in advance and it just happened to fall the week before sequestration was supposed to take place. Competent and concerned leadership would have scrapped those plans in order to get a deal in place.

I suspect both sides of playing the ‘wait and see’ game this time around. Both parties have a lot to gain if events play out the way they expect. Obama will have concrete evidence that Republicans are responsible for another downturn in the economy. If these cuts turn out to be nothing more than a blip on the radar, they’ll point to the Senate and President’s budget incompetence.

The reality of the situation is that our representatives in Washington have almost no skin in the game. None of them will struggle to feed their families at night. When I think of their role in this situation, I imagine two stuck up, whiny children standing off to the side driving their remote control cars right at each other to see who will flinch first.  If the cars crash, it’s the other side’s fault and they live another day, business as usual.

The Attitudes We Have, Not the Choices We Make, Will Determine Our Future

By Nick Davis

The 2012 Presidential Election has come and gone and it didn’t arrive any too soon. In an intensely contested race for the Oval Office that was commonly hailed as one of the most important of our lifetime, Americans chose to put their faith back in the hands of President Obama for another four years. Many have argued that if we continue down this path, it will be the end of America as we know it.  However, this couldn’t be any further from the truth, and I voted for Romney. 

You see, while any number of crises could be the downfall of the United States, they are merely byproducts of a much deeper and ingrained culture of political bickering and one-upmanship that I liken to some sort of ‘social disease.’ One doesn’t have to look far to find its vile dark side. 

As the polling results began reporting back to the media last Tuesday, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded into an angry furor. My liberal friends rejoiced at the thought of ‘Mitt Money’ sulking in defeat while my conservative buddies were disgusted that we gave ‘that communist’ another term. According to them, our government was going back on what made us great.

I turned on the television and I couldn’t escape it there either.  As a political junkie, I enjoy watching both Fox News and MSNBC. I am easily amused by their painfully obvious bias to their respective party. However, it’s one thing to be biased, it’s another to be downright disrespectful and hostile to the opposing side.

On Fox News, I witnessed a completely jaded and vitriol Sean Hannity referring to Obama as ‘the anointed one’ and Karl Rove insisting that his mathematical background knows more than the ‘gobbledegook’ the trained statisticians were producing, also known as evidence. MSNBC isn’t free of any blame here either. Chris Matthews boneheaded-ly and proudly proclaimed that he was ‘so glad we had that storm’ referring to Hurricane Sandy. It apparently allowed Obama one more chance of ‘good politics.’ What an absolute disgrace. Attitudes like these where we put national politics ahead of the decency of common humanity are what’s hurting this country.

Even our own elected politicians prefer to spite the other party rather than work together to tackle today’s most important issues. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell summed it up best in October of 2010 when he stated, ‘my number one priority is making sure President Obama’s a one-term president.’ Really? Your number one priority isn’t to run on the platform you campaigned on, but to actively oppose the President in anything he does? I expect that kind of behavior from 14-year-old siblings, not public servants of the United States of America.

We as voters are just as much at fault as any of these media pundits or elected officials. During this last session of the 112th Congress, Senate leaders and Representatives garnered a pathetic 12% approval rating, the lowest such rating since 1947. It seemed as though we were ready for change; we were tired of the gridlock and infighting. You wouldn’t know it though by the way we voted. As whole, neither the executive branch nor either house of Congress garnered 50% approval and yet each party retained control of their respective institutions. We want change but we sure as hell don’t vote like it.

We’re stuck in this perpetual cycle of extreme partisan politics and hate. When we vote based on party affiliations and not policy solutions, we’ll never make decisions based on what’s best for our beloved country. When the politicians see the electorate as party minions, they’ll govern in such a way. Minions don’t compromise; they take everything they can get and then some. This in turn aggravates the other party, which in turn votes the party line just like before. When we interact with decency and respect, the media and politicians will follow.

The Student Loan Debate

Student Loan Debt

The total amount of student debt held in the United States exceeds $1 trillion.

Tuition at public, four-year universities have nearly tripled over the past two decades, while the cost of attending private institutions has nearly doubled.  Currently, the average student graduates from college with $25,000 of debt and many students are saddled with six-figure debt.

These figures should make it clear why a debate about student loans, and in particular government subsidized student loan interest rates are at the forefront of the political stage.

In 2007, Congress initiated a multi-year reduction policy on student loan interest rates or "Stafford loans." At 3.4%, interest loans currently sit at the lowest level of the aforementioned policy.  Set to double to 6.8% in July, one would expect the government, in an election year where young voters are a key constituency, to act swiftly to prevent the increase from taking place. But as can be expected in the current political climate, this issue been met with the usual partisan disagreement, inflammatory speech, and campaign rhetoric. 

Politicians are quick to visit college campuses, act “youthful” on late night television shows, and claim our educational system the key to remaining the world’s only superpower. Yet, they have been relatively inefficient in forging a solution that will keep college a viable option to millions of young Americans.  Just this week, top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, introduced a bill to extend the low interest rate for one more year, which he plans to pay for by raising taxes on the wealthy. He probably knows this won’t fly with his Republican counterparts, which makes you wonder if he’s trying to not get the bill passed.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell retorted " lets be honest, the only reason democrats have proposed this particular solution to the problem is to get Republicans to oppose it, to make us cast a vote they think will make us look bad to the voters they need to win the next election."

Whether its true or not, Reid certainly knows the Republicans would never pass this proposal. So, in response the Republicans submitted a bi-partisan plan that keeps rates low, and appeases both parties: you thought I was serious didn’t you?

What Republican Rep. Judy Biggert actually did was introduce a bill that similarly calls for a one-year extension on the low interest rates. To pay for it the bill calls for the elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund; a component of the 2010 healthcare reform law. As the Republicans would never pass higher taxes on the wealthy, the same can be said about Democrat’s hacking away at healthcare reform. Unfortunately, this back and forth just continues to take place.

This week, the House voted to extend the low rates on federal student loans. In a vote of (215-195), the $5.9 billion bill solves the interest rate issue along the lines of Biggert’s proposal. Yet, President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, a statement he made before the final vote had been tallied. So, as a result, American’s are left with no solution, and no change. Partisan politics are reigning supreme, and yet again, a looming deadline is staring into the eyes of every American.