09 April 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 Budget Battle, Part II

Less than an hour ago, a deal was apparently reached that would cut $78.5 billion from the federal budget for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year (all six months of it).  Mind you, had the Republicans not insisted that the Bush tax cuts be extended for individuals earning $250,000 or more per year, the federal revenue would have increased by about that much.  If you're keeping score at home, that means if we'd let those cuts expire we could have paid for everything that's being cut.  And if we let the tax cuts expire and we still cut $78.5 billion, that would have had a cumulative impact on the budget of $157 billion.

Entering the week it was unclear just what the problem even was with reaching a deal.  As the week progressed, though, it became increasingly clear that it was the Republicans who were playing hard-to-get.  Throughout the week, we heard adamant remarks from GOP leaders that the Democrats weren't willing to give up enough to their liking.  In the last 24 hours, we heard a lot about two riders that the GOP insisted were non-negotiable.  The first would de-fund Planned Parenthood; the second would have gutted the Environmental Protection Agency.  I'd like to address both of those issues for a moment.

Planned Parenthood provides more services than just abortions.  In many communities, they're the only affordable provider of these services to women.  I'm personally appalled by the idea of using abortion as birth control, but is it really worth it to prove a point by cutting funding to a health service provider as extensive and useful as Planned Parenthood?  Mind you, not one federal penny pays for abortions; federal funding only covers other services, such as screenings.  Even if the GOP saw to it that Planned Parenthood never received another dollar for any services, what would that accomplish?  We would have a lot of women without access to those services, and even if it caused a cascade effect of forcing Planned Parenthood to shut down--which would clearly be a hoped-for goal of starving their funding--that would only affect one supplier of abortions.  It would do nothing to address the demand for them.

If we're serious about reducing abortions in the United States, we need to be grown-ups about sexuality.  Abstinence-only sex education is an ineffective exercise in willful denial.  Even if your teen isn't sexually active, she's far more interested in sex than she's willing to admit to you, and she knows a lot more about the topic than you allowed her teacher to discuss in class.  You know how I know?  Because I was a teen.  I was, admittedly, a complete dork and I wasn't getting any, but I certainly thought and talked about it quite a lot.  How self-deluded would I have to be to think that a teen today would be any different?

Along with this, we've got to expand the practice of distributing contraceptives to teens.  They're having sex anyway, but they often resist buying contraceptives because they've been made to feel guilty about it and mistakenly think that if they buy a condom everyone will know they're having sex...but they aren't thinking about how everyone will know they've had sex if it results in a pregnancy.

Secondly, we've got to do a better job of promoting positive self-images among our girls and women.  Study after study has demonstrated that girls and women who aren't secure about themselves are much likelier to engage in promiscuous sexual behavior, which in turn increases their likelihood of becoming pregnant.  Rather than attack Title X as an imposition, we need to revise how it is implemented.  Additionally, we need to close the gap between the pay that men and women receive in the workplace.  There is no justification for continuing to pay women less for the same job as men.  What message does little Sally hear, knowing that Mommy gets paid less than Daddy?

The Pregnant Teen by ~poetic-acid on deviantART

Regarding the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the three reasons it was on the chopping block appears to have been the Clean Air Act.  That's right, the GOP was willing to shut down the federal government because it wants to empower businesses...to resume polluting our air.  It is astounding to me that we're not discussing how to make environmental protection regulations easier and less expensive for business to comply with, nor how to make them more efficient, but rather whether we should be protecting the environment at all.  Really?  We have to actually have the conversation, "Polluted air is a bad thing because..." in 2011?  Are you serious?  If you can't understand how not polluting the air we breathe is a good thing, then you have no business representing anybody in government.

My district is now represented in the Senate by Rand Paul, who recently argued that implementing proposed regulations to reduce the instance of black lung disease among coal workers was "burdensome" to the coal industry.

Rand Paul, currently representing other people in my district.
"There is a point or a balancing act between when a regulation becomes burdensome and our energy production is stifled. We have to assess the cost."
Mind you, the estimated cost of these regulations is about 1% of overall coal profits.  Rand Paul is arguing that it's worse to cost the coal industry 1% of its profits than it is to do nothing to reduce black lung among workers.  It's true that black lung is all but inevitable for those who work in the mines.  But are you seriously telling me that it's better to keep money in the pockets of owners than it is to actually do something about those conditions?  Regulation isn't just an arbitrary meddling in your life by a bureaucrat with nothing better to do.  It's there to prevent business owners from completely exploiting and endangering the safety of workers.

Now, stop for a moment and look at this post (thanks for reading this far, incidentally).  I've talked about abortion and black lung, but not the budget itself.  That seems off-topic and wrong, doesn't it?  That's exactly how I felt, knowing that these were the things that the GOP fought for until literally the eleventh hour.  See how distracting those subjects were, just in this blog post?

Back to the budget battle itself, many--including myself--were outraged to learn that in the event of a shutdown, members of Congress and the president would continue to be paid.  Something that didn't receive nearly enough media coverage was Senate bill S.388, sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).  S.388 would have denied payment to Congress and the president during a shutdown.  S.388 passed the Senate without amendment, with unanimous consent.  It was held at the desk when sent to the House of Representatives; Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans refused to consider it.  There is simply no excuse for threatening to shut down the federal government while refusing to give up your own pay.  Even though there will not be a shutdown (at least, for the time being), I strongly urge you to contact your Representative and chastise him or her for the House's rejection of S.388.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Photo: Getty Images
One more little thought.  President Barack Obama has been roundly criticized for "failing to lead" on the budget.  The Constitution spells out that it is the responsibility of Congress to create a budget.  It wasn't until President Franklin Roosevelt took the reigns during the Great Depression that the White House was part of the creation of the federal budget.  We've become used to the idea of the President submitting a budget to Congress, but that's not how the Constitution describes the responsibility.  Strictly speaking, no president should be taking the lead on any budget.  Lend public support to specific proposals, sure, but it's not the responsibility of the Executive branch to lead the Legislative branch.

Of course, Mr. Roosevelt and his successors have clung to the co-opted power and aren't likely to entirely cede it, but Mr. Obama should not have been expected to "lead" these talks.  That's why we have a Senate Majority Leader and a Speaker of the House.  It's their job to marshal support for legislation.  I'm not saying all this to pass the buck, but merely because I don't think enough people realize that the president isn't actually supposed to be part of creating a federal budget.

Speaking of the Speaker, I may have been unfairly harsh about Speaker Boehner in my last "Thoughts on the 2011 Budget Battle."  It came to light in the last couple of days that the House Republicans were pretty divided between the old school GOP members who kept barking about the social issue riders, and the Tea Party who apparently were concerned with large cuts in general and weren't particular where they came from.      I don't envy Speaker Boehner for having zealots nipping at his heels.  Early in March, Tea Party founder Judson Phillips blasted Boehner and openly declared that the movement should actively seek to field a candidate to unseat the Speaker in the 2012 elections.

Oh, and about the Tea Party: There can be no mistake that they were the ones rooting for a government shutdown; their supporters were chanting, "Shut it down!" at different rallies and speaking engagements this week.  These people view compromise as a failure, which is unrealistic in any relationship and especially one as complex as government.  I don't think my marriage would be in its fifth year if neither my wife or I were willing to compromise, and I can't imagine us threatening to divorce over a disagreement.  That's no way for anyone to behave, and I can tell you that I am disgusted by the movement's foray into legislating.  There is no room for runaway zeal when the consequences of your actions can cause catastrophic consequences for millions of other people.  I did not vote Senator Rand Paul into office, but he now represents me.  I expect him to pursue legislation that recognizes my interests and beliefs just as much as those of his constituents who did vote for him.
Absolutism has no place in reality.

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