Friday, February 28, 2014

Joe Biden's Got a Bridge to Sell You

Two weeks ago, at a Democratic retreat in Maryland, Vice President Joe Biden told Democrats that Obama would not get fast-track trade authority any time soon.
"Nancy, I know it's not coming up now,” Biden said to Pelosi, according to a Democratic aide in the room.
He further tried to allay Democratic concerns about the lack of transparency in negotiations:
Biden also assured the lawmakers in the Friday address that the administration would be transparent about its plans.
"Look at me, I promise," Biden said, according to an aide. It was unclear if Biden meant transparent to the general public, or just lawmakers, who already have access to the sealed information about the deals. Obama's trade representative recently cut off a briefing to Vermont lawmakers when they insisted that the public be allowed to listen in.
Today, however, Biden has an op-ed in the Financial Times, entitled "We cannot afford to stand on the sidelines of trade," extolling the benefits of the TPP and TTIP and calling on Congress to pass fast-track authority. 
Here are excerpts:
The US is currently negotiating major trade agreements across the Atlantic and Pacific. Both deals are historic in scope, offering us a chance to shape the global economy in ways that strengthen US leadership in the world and the American middle class at home. …..
The global economy is at an inflection point. The choices we make now will determine our role in the world for decades to come. We have an opportunity to shape the path of global commerce to spread our values and benefit our people, and we should seize it.
The US has been the world’s pre-eminent economic power for many years and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But the rise of new economic powers means we will face fierce competition from more places than ever before.
The two agreements now in the works would place the US at the centre of two vast trading regions. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would connect America to economies as diverse as Japan, Malaysia and Chile. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would significantly deepen what is already a multitrillion-dollar economic relationship with the EU. Together they would unite nearly two-thirds of the world economy in support of open and fair economic competition.
After decades when our economy grew but the middle class took a beating, Americans are understandably worried about rising inequality at home. The president and I are determined to address this. So the deals we are negotiating are different from those our country has signed before, reflecting the lessons of two decades of globalisation. They include unprecedented steps to protect labour standards, the environment and intellectual property, as well as new commitments against favouritism for state-owned enterprises. They require nations that might otherwise try to undercut us to match our high standards instead.
But the benefits are not just economic. As America reasserts its role as a Pacific power, many in the region are asking whether we are there to stay. Deploying soldiers and diplomats is essential. But as other nations use their economic might to compete for influence and even coerce smaller neighbours, there is no substitute for robust American economic engagement – on behalf of our own companies and in defence of open commerce and fair competition. The TPP has become a symbol of American staying power. We must see it through. Our European allies are already our security partners of first resort, from Libya to Afghanistan. TTIP will spur growth that helps both sides of the Atlantic continue to modernise and invest in the most powerful alliance in history.
When a president receives support and guidance from Congress, that strengthens America’s hand at the negotiating table. That is why the president and I have asked Congress to grant us trade promotion authority. This means that Congress outlines US objectives in detail and sets the terms for close consultation. Congress gets the final say when it puts the resulting agreements to a simple vote.
I realise trade can be a contentious issue. Having run for office a few times myself, I do my best never to tell another man or woman his or her politics. But I also believe that good policy makes good politics. And trade that strengthens America’s middle class is both.
As CEPR's Dean Baker has frequently noted, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are not about trade. Rather, they are about gutting environmental and consumer protections and extending corporate privileges. Leaked text from the TPP has shown the US's efforts to boost profits for Big Pharma and make medicines more expensive, require the patenting of medical procedures, and create more restrictive copyright laws to better line the pockets of Hollywood moguls. These deals will also promote fracking and offer backdoor financial deregulation. The TPP would ban "buy local" or "buy America" purchasing provisions and weaken food safety regulations. TTIP (or TAFTA) would do the same

Both also create investor-state courts that allow a handful of private attorneys to order unlimited sums of taxpayer compensation for health, environmental, financial, and other public interest policies corporations claim undermine “expected future profits.” Such courts have caused much damage already.

The Economic Policy Institute has also debunked the boosterism around job creation from these deals, using NAFTA and KORUS (U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement) as case studies.

House Democrats have been skeptical of the administration's lobbying efforts, as well they should. Not only has USTR Michael Froman been blatantly rude to them, but he has also backtracked on his promises for better environmental protections.

Joe Biden seems to be trying to rebrand himself as a "working-class hero" in advance of a potential 2016 bid. If you believe that, then, well, I've got a bridge to sell you.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

European Parliament Passes Resolution Condemning US Drone Strikes by Liberty Equality Fraternity and TreesFollow

Earlier today, the European Parliament voted 534 to 49 to condemn US drone strikes that have killed thousands of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.

Here are passages from the resolution, sponsored by the European Greens with cross-party support:
   "drone strikes by a State on the territory of another State without the consent of the latter constitute a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country"
   "thousands of civilians have reportedly been killed or seriously injured by drone strikes [but] these figures are difficult to estimate, owing to lack of transparency and obstacles to effective investigation"
   "drone strike policies have been documented as causing considerable harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians in the countries concerned, including deep anxiety and psychological trauma, disruption of economic and social activities and reduced access to education among affected communities."
The resolution further stresses that EU member states should strictly refrain from participating in or facilitating extrajudicial targeted killings, such as by sharing relevant intelligence with the US. Here's how the various European parliamentary groups voted:

ALDE/ADLE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats): 67 FOR out of 67 present

ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists): 31 AGAINST, 1 abstention out of 32 present

EFD (Europe of Freedom and Democracy): 6 FOR, 9 AGAINST, 2 abstentions, out of 17 present

EPP (European People’s Party): 221 FOR out of 221 present

Greens/EFA (Greens-European Free Alliance): 53 FOR out of 53 present

GUE-NGL (European United Left-Nordic Green Left): 23 FOR, 2 AGAINST out of 25 present

NI (Independent): 13 FOR, 7 AGAINST, 6 abstentions out of 26 present

(Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats): 151 FOR, 1 abstention out of 152 present
For those of you not familiar with European politics, here's a short description of the political leanings of each group:

ALDE/ADLE: liberalism/neoliberalism/centrism/pro-Europe (e.g., UK's Lib Dems)
: conservatism and Euroscepticism (e.g., UK's Tories)

EFD: right-wing populism and Euroscepticism (e.g., UK Independence Party)

: Christian democracy, liberal conservatism, and European federalism (e.g., Germany's Christian Democratic Union, France's Union for a Popular Movement)

Greens/EFA: green politics; regionalism as represented by the Basques, Catalans, Scotland's SNP, etc.

: anti-capitalist left, communism, democratic socialism (e.g., France's Left Front, Germany's Die Linke)

S&D: social democracy or the "Third Way" politics that many center-left parties have adopted over the past few decades (e.g., UK's Labour, France's Socialists, Germany's Social Democrats, etc.)


The two leftists who voted against it were the Greek Communists Party's Charalampos Angourakis and the Portuguese Communist Party's Inês Cristina Zuber. The sole social democratic abstention was Malta's John Attard-Montalto.

The present MEPs from 14 states voted en bloc for the resolution (no abstentions): Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

The largest source of opposition came from the UK. Only 22 of the 40 MEPs in attendance voted for the resolution. 15 voted against it, and 3 abstained. 9 out of the 40 Polish MEPs, 6 out of the 20 Dutch MEPs, 5 out of 40 Italian MEPs, and 7 out of the 18 Czech MEPs voted against it. No other countries had opposition greater than one.

Elizabeth Warren Gives Speech at Georgetown Focusing on Civilian Casualties and National Security

My senior senator--Elizabeth Warren--was invited to give a speech on national security at Georgetown University, my alma mater. Her speech, entitled "Collateral Damage, National Interests, and the Lessons of a Decade of Conflict," was the 2014 Whittington Lecture at the McCourt School of Public Policy (formerly the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, or GPPI). Leslie Whittington was a GPPI professor and associate dean, who, along with her husband and daughters, died tragically on September 11, 2001, when American Airlines flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.
We have not heard much on foreign policy from Warren so far. Granted, most senators tend to avoid talking foreign policy or engage in jingoistic saber-rattling.

Back in August, as the President, his cabinet, and the Democratic Party leadership were beating the war drums and calling for direct military intervention in Syria, Warren responded with skepticism and hesitation:
"It's critically important that we remember about unintended consequences," Warren said. "We may have good intentions, but the consequences of our acts are not limited by those intentions."
More recently, she endorsed the interim deal with Iran and expressed hope for continuing diplomacy and opposition to the efforts of some of her colleagues to interfere with that democracy.

However, this is one of the first times we've gotten to hear her deliver a speech specifically devoted to national security and foreign policy. She chose to focus on civilian casualties, an issue few of her colleagues are willing to discuss. Although much work must still be done to change the foreign policy consensus in Washington, this speech marked a step in the right direction.

Here is a particularly cogent passage:
When military action is on the table, do we fully and honestly debate the risk that while our actions would wipe out existing terrorists or other threats, they also might produce new ones? Do we talk seriously about the price our great nation, built on the foundation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, may pay if others come to believe that we are indifferent to the deaths of civilians? Do we fully take into account the effect on our interests if people around the world are inflamed by such casualties, or if they do not believe that our actions align with our values?
    Many policymakers in Washington seem hesitant to broach the subject and to ask these questions – hesitant to acknowledge the reality that military commanders deal with every day, the reality that civilian casualties affect U.S. interests abroad. And when we debate the costs and benefits of intervention – when we discuss potential military action around the world – the talk about collateral damage and civilian casualties too often seems quiet.
    The failure to make civilian casualties a full and robust part of our national conversation over the use of force is dangerous – dangerous because of the impression that it gives the world about our country, and dangerous because of how it affects the decisions that we make as a country. Our decision-making suffers – and our ability to effectively advance our interests suffers – when we do not grapple fully and honestly with all of the costs and benefits, all the risks, all the intended and unintended consequences of military action.
And here are her remarks, as prepared for delivery.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

$250,000 Makes You Middle-Class, But $47,000 Makes You Rich.

Although chained CPI will not be in the initial White House budget (although the White House is still open to a "grand bargain"), Obama is still pushing for increased cost shifting/means-testing in Medicare. The same AP report that gave us the former information gave us the latter as well.

In Reuters today, Mark Miller discussed what these Medicare cuts would do:
Meanwhile, advocates for seniors are waiting to learn if the Administration - or Republicans in Congress - will again serve up proposals from last year's budget that would shift a greater share of Medicare costs to beneficiaries, including:
- Higher deductibles: The Part B annual deductible, currently $147, would be boosted for new enrollees in three $25 increments, for a total of $75 by 2021.
- Higher home health charges: New beneficiaries would pay $100 for five or more home health visits that weren't preceded by a hospital stay or nursing home.
- Medigap surcharge. New beneficiaries who buy supplemental Medigap policies with first-dollar coverage would face a surcharge equal to 15 percent of the average Medigap premium.
- More high-income surcharges. Wealthier seniors already pay substantially more for Part B and Part D premiums. Last year, President Obama proposed expanding these surcharges, and the idea likely will turn up again in this year's budget, according to advocates with sources close to the White House.

Currently, individuals with income of $85,000 and above ($170,000 for joint filers) pay a higher share of the total premiums. The president's plan would boost some of those fees, and gradually pull in seniors with lower incomes. Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates individuals with incomes of $47,000 and higher ($94,000 for joint filers) would be affected.
Whenever Obama has spoken about such cost-shifting, he speaks about asking "wealthy seniors to pay more." Apparently, $47,000 a year makes you rich. 

However, when talking about taxes, Obama and the Democratic Party always define "middle-class" up to $250,000. The "fiscal cliff" deal, however, defined "middle-class" all the way up to $450,000.
The best way to create more rich people is to define down the threshold for being rich. Politicians will never do that for taxes, but they all-too-often seem fine (if not excited) about doing that when it comes to cutting benefits. How very strange.

House Passes Cell Phone Unlocking Bill with Anti-Consumer Poison Pill

Yesterday, the House passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act 295 to 114.

200 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for it. 94 Democrats and 20 Republicans voted against it. The strange bedfellows opposition consisted of many of the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans.

The bill legalizes cell-phone unlocking, making it easier for consumers to switch providers without buying a new phone…but with a catch.

After the bill already passed Committee but before it came to a vote, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte inserted a provision that would keep the ban on bulk unlocking, as the CTIA (the lobbying association for cell-phone service providers) wanted.

Because of this, groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge withdrew their support.

EFF argued that, with the new provision, the costs for users now outweigh the benefits:
For more than a year, users have been up in arms about a change in the law that cast a legal cloud over the basic and common practice of unlocking your cell phone. That cloud arose in a somewhat convoluted fashion but here’s the short version: Unlocking nominally requires interfering with software on your phone.  That, in turn, may mean violating a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that makes it illegal to “circumvent” technical measures designed to control access to copyrighted content, even if your purpose is otherwise perfectly legal. As we’ve noted repeatedly, this provision (Section 1201) has caused enormous collateral damage with little corollary benefit.
It's not at all clear that Section 1201 properly applies to unlocking, but as long as there is uncertainty, there is risk. Until recently, however, that risk was minimized thanks to a legal exception granted by the Librarian of Congress. Every three years, the Librarian and the Copyright Office review possible exemptions to 1201, that is, circumstances where users will be allowed to circumvent technical protections without running afoul of the law. But the exemptions must be proposed and considered anew each time, via cumbersome and expensive process.
In 2012, the Librarian of Congress ruled that phone unlocking would no longer be whitelisted, and set the ruling to take effect in 2013.  That caused a huge public outcry, with good reason. Section 1201 was supposed to inhibit copyright infringement, not stop people from switching phone carriers (or jailbreaking their devices, or remixing videos, or sharing information about security flaws, all of which Section 1201 also inhibits). Phone locking is designed to protect a business model, not a copyright.
Congress, the White House, and the Federal Communications Commission have responded with a variety of proposals, including a deal brokered by the FCC requiring carriers to allow customers to unlock their phones when their contracts expire.
Which brings us to 2014. The bill set for a vote tomorrow builds on the FCC deal by making phone unlocking legal for end users and people who help them, at least until the next exemptions are decided. (That’s about a year and a half from now, if you’re counting.) A tiny and temporary fix, but better than nothing, right?
Wrong.  That’s because the latest version of the bill contains new language expressly excluding “bulk unlocking.” Bulk unlockers acquire phones from a variety of sources, unlock them, and then resell them. By expressly excluding them, this new legislation sends two dangerous signals: (1) that Congress is OK with using copyright as an excuse to inhibit certain business models, even if the business isn’t actually infringing anyone’s copyright; and (2) that Congress still doesn’t understand the collateral damage Section 1201 is causing. For example, bulk unlocking not only benefits consumers, it's good for the environment—unlocking allows re-use, and that means less electronic waste (our friends at iFixit have a great set of resources on that problem.)
[emphasis added] 
EFF offered Zoe Lofgren's Unlocking Technology Act, introduced last May, as an example of a bill that appropriately addresses the problem. Lofgren's bill has 7 co-sponsors: Democrats Anna Eshoo, Jared Polis, Pete DeFazio, Rush Holt, Steve Israel, and Sam Farr and Republican Tom Massie.
Rep. Jared Polis expressed a similar sentiment:
"The last-minute change that was made in this bill… puts a real poison pill in this bill for consumer advocates such as myself," Polis said. "Many consumers won't be unlocking their phones themselves. There needs to be a market in unlocked phones."
Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, Democrats from Silicon Valley, organized last-minute opposition against the bill. As I noted earlier, the bill split the Democratic caucus in half. 
Here are the 94 Democrats who opposed the bill:

Karen Bass (CA-37)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)
Bob Brady (PA-01)
Mike Capuano (MA-07)
John Carney (DE)
David Cicilline (RI-01)
Katherine Clark (MA-05)
James Clyburn (SC-06)
Joe Courtney (CT-02)
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Diana DeGette (CO-01)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Bill Enyart (IL-12)
Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
Elizabeth Esty (CT-05)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Al Green (TX-09)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-03)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Eddie Johnson (TX-30)
William Keating (MA-09)
Robin Kelly (IL-02)
Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-04)
Dan Kildee (MI-5)
Anne Kuster (NH-02)
Jim Langevin (RI-02)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
David Loebsack (IA-02)
Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
Nita Lowey (NY-17)
Ben Luján (NM-03)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Carolyn Maloney (NY-12)
Doris Matsui (CA-06)
Betty McCollum (MN-04)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Jerry McNerney (CA-09)
Grace Meng (NY-06)
George Miller (CA-11)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Grace Napolitano (CA-32)
Richard Neal (MA-01)
Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35)
Beto O'Rourke (TX-16)
Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Chellie Pingree (ME-01)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Jared Polis (CO-02)
David Price (NC-04)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Linda Sánchez (CA-38)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)
Brad Sherman (CA-30)
Louise Slaughter (NY-25)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Eric Swalwell (CA-15)
Mark Takano (CA-41)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
John Tierney (MA-06)
Dina Titus (NV-01)
Paul Tonko (NY-20)
Niki Tsongas (MA-03)
Chris Van Hollen (MD-08)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Peter Visclosky (IN-01)
Tim Walz (MN-01)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Peter Welch (VT)
John Yarmuth (KY-03)

Here are the 20 Republicans who opposed the bill:

Justin Amash (MI-03)
Michele Bachmann (MN-06)
Kerry Bentivolio (MI-11)
Jim Bridenstine (OK-01)
Paul Broun (GA-10)
Tom Cole (OK-04)
Jeff Duncan (SC-03)
Blake Farenthold (TX-27)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Tim Huelskamp (KS-01)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
Tom Massie (KY-04)
Mick Mulvaney (SC-05)
Scott Perry (PA-04)
Reid Ribble (WI-08)
Tom Rice (SC-07)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48)
Mark Sanford (SC-01)
Steve Stockman (TX-36)
Ted Yoho (FL-03)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

President Bill Gates? Go Home, Ralph Nader. You're Drunk.

America is sick. Do you know what can heal America, my friend? A billionaire, that's who!
At least, that's what Ralph Nader thinks.

Earlier today, Ralph Nader released a memo highlighting 20 "modestly enlightened rich people" (MERPs) that he thinks could run for president and shake up the two-party system.
The problem with the two-party system, apparently, is that there aren't enough billionaires.
He doesn't necessarily endorse any of these twenty billionaires, but he offers them as examples, as models for his vision of shaking up the system.

Let's take a look.
(1) Thomas Steyer – former Hedge Fund entrepreneur, and a determined, environmental advocate especially on climate change. (2) Ray Dalio – heads the country’s largest hedge fund and is an engaged philanthropist.
(3) Oprah Winfrey – founder of the Oprah Winfrey Show, advocate, actress and philanthropist.
(4) Jerome Kohlberg – co-founder of KKR – large leveraged buyout firm, contributes to education and has funded campaign finance reform.
(5) Barry Diller – media, cable business, believes in the public airwaves as a public trust.
(6) John Arnold – former energy trader, now promoting the Giving Library connecting philanthropists with nonprofits, among many other projects.
(7) Ted Turner – cable television business, philanthropy includes $1 billion to the United Nations and other major donations to environmental, peace and population control programs that he advocates.
(8) Thomas Siebel – software company creator, heads several companies in software, real estate and agriculture, and creator of the annual educational Siebel Scholars program.
(9) Chase Coleman – successful money manager and creates venture capital firms.
(10) Marc Andreessen – supports Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and advances all-investing-partner philanthropic commitments.
(11) David Rubenstein – former, energetic White House assistant to President Carter and co-founder of a successful venture capital firm – the Carlyle Group – expanding philanthropist and convener.
(12) Steve Case – former CEO and chairman of AOL and exuberant philanthropist for innovative projects.
(13) Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook, author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and a co-founder of the Lean In Foundation which supports women in reaching their career goals.
(14) Bill Gross – leading bond mutual fund manager, supports, among other organizations, Doctors Without Borders.
(15) William Conway – co-founder of Carlyle Group – whose priority philanthropic mission is to generate job producing activities.
(16) Stanley Druckenmiller – investment firm manager, now giving to medical research, education and the fight against poverty.
(17) Abigail Johnson – President of Fidelity Investments, trustee of the Fidelity Foundation which has provided over $200 million to nonprofits in the United States and Canada.
(18) Tom Golisano – former independent candidate for Governor of New York, founder and Chairman of the Board of Paychex.
(19) Bill Gates, III – co-founder of Microsoft, now more of a philanthropist with emphasis on prevention of infectious diseases and education.
(20) George Kaiser – chairman of BOK Financial Corporation, and advocate for renewable energy and tax reform.
Tom Steyer, although I support his anti-Keystone work, is still a major supporter of fracking. He's also a major Democratic Party fundraiser.

Oprah is the grand cultural icon for the neoliberal era.

Barry Diller won the honor of being called "America's laziest man" by Nicholas Kristof back in 2007 because he was the nation's highest-paid chief executive--at a time when his company's stock was falling.

John Arnold made his money rigging energy markets in California at Enron and is currently waging a war against public pensions. He was also an Obama bundler.

Thomas Siebel is a Republican bundler. Here's how he introduced Sarah Palin at a 2008 campaign fundraiser: "Sarah Palin carries the flag of outrage ... for each of us who cries out, 'We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore."

Marc Andreessen was a Romney supporter.

Let's hear a gem from David Rubenstein: "I analogize [private equity] to sex ... You realize there were certain things you shouldn’t do, but the urge is there and you can’t resist."  And here's him mocking a Working Families Party protest against tax favoritism: "When history is written and people talk about the great protests, I don't think that this will be in that category."

Here's a good piece on Sandberg's Facebook feminism, a form of feminism that justifies neoliberalism and praises Republican politicians who try to make life harder for working women.

Here's a fun story about "bubble baron" Stanley Druckenmiller.

I totally trust Abigail Johnson, the president of a company that makes money from 401(k)s, with the future of Social Security.

Tom Golisano moved from New York to Florida because taxes made him sad.

The Gates Foundation pushes corporate school deform at home and Big Ag abroad.

George Kaiser is quite the fan of tax avoidance.

I don't know much about the others. But let's just say that their backgrounds don't inspire me any more than the others.

Go home, Ralph Nader. You're drunk.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Question for Nancy Pelosi on Chained CPI

On November 10, 2010, when the preliminary draft of the Simpson-Bowles plan was released, Nancy Pelosi did not mince words in her condemnation of the proposal:
This proposal is simply unacceptable. Any final proposal from the commission should do what is right for our children and grandchildren’s economic security as well as for our nation’s fiscal security, and it must do what is right for our seniors, who are counting on the bedrock promises of Social Security and Medicare. And it must strengthen America’s middle class families–under siege for the last decade, and unable to withstand further encroachment on their economic security.
Her office quickly backtracked, noting that the plan did not meet her standards of job creation, deficit reduction, and Social Security preservation "at this time." 
A year and a half later, she said she supported the same proposal and would be happy to vote for it.
On December 19, 2012, amidst the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind the President's chained CPI proposal (something that had been one of the major points of contention in Simpson-Bowles):
   Q: Members of your Caucus are organizing against the chained CPI that the President has put on the table in negotiations, is that something you can support in any deal at this point? I mean…
    Leader Pelosi. Well, whatever the final arrangement is, we’ll have to have balance. So, we’ll see where that figures. But I’ve said to the Members: “express yourselves.” You know, speak out against, because I’m not thrilled with the President’s proposal, I mean, it is what it is in order to save the day. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll all identify with every aspect of it. So, they go forth with my blessing.
    Q: Do you consider that a benefit cut?
    Leader Pelosi. No, I don’t. I consider it a strengthening of Social Security. But that’s neither here nor there. There’s no use even discussing that because we don’t even know if we have a plan.
Now, this past Thursday, when the White House said that chained CPI would not be in the President's budget--although the White House still supports it in the framework of a "grand bargain"--Pelosi remarked, "Democrats applaud the president for eliminating chained CPI from his budget." 

Minority Leader Pelosi, if chained CPI would "strengthen" Social Security, then why are you and other Democrats applauding its exclusion from the budget? Please explain.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Liberals Are Such Easy Sells, or How the War Against Austerity Has Long Since Been Lost

Austerity (noun): "a form of voluntary deflation in which the economy adjusts through the reduction of wages, prices, and public spending to restore competitiveness, which is (supposedly) best achieved by cutting the state's budget, debts, and deficit."
~Mark Blyth, Austerity The History of a Dangerous Idea
Two days ago, when poring through the Nation's website, I came across an article entitled "How Pro-Austerity Groups Lost the Deficit Wars."

The piece celebrates the commendable efforts of grassroots activists in fighting the "Grand Bargain" push of Fix the Debt and its astroturf youth group The Can Kicks Back.

It argues that the pro-austerity forces are losing, highlighting the following examples:

(1)    That a clean debt ceiling hike just passed both Houses of Congress
(2)    That several members of the Democratic caucus are now calling to expand Social Security, trying to go on offense rather than just defense
(3)    That the Murray-Ryan budget deal did not include cuts to Social Security or Medicare
(4)    That Fix the Debt failed to get Congress to pass a “Grand Bargain” in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security and Medicare and Republicans agree to raise taxes very slightly on the rich
(5)    That the 2014 State of the Union address contained less deficit-mongering than past addresses, with only one reference in the presented speech

These grassroots activists may have won temporary battles against cuts to Social Security and Medicare (temporary because, as the author admits, the forces working against the New Deal never relent---and because the chained CPI "offer" is still on the table and Medicare cuts will be in the President's budget). But they've already lost the war against austerity.
Part of the problem is equating "austerity" with "cuts to social insurance programs," rather than (correctly) cuts in general across programs. We've managed to save Social Security and Medicare--for now. But we've lost quite a lot.

When most people think of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (if they even do), they think of the Supercommittee and sequestration. However, in addition to setting the stage for the $1.2 trillion in indiscriminate cuts enacted by sequestration, the Budget Control Act established binding limits (“caps”) on annual appropriations bills for the next ten years, reducing projected funding for discretionary programs by more than $1 trillion through 2021, relative to August 2010 baselines. Discretionary spending covers education, national parks, the EPA, low-income housing assistance, medical research, and many other programs. (Remember that the Senate Democratic caucus voted to pass this legislation 46-7. The House Democratic caucus split 95-95.)

And President Obama has been proud of this, claiming that bringing discretionary spending to the lowest level as a share of the economy since Dwight D. Eisenhower was President as an accomplishment. He used that line throughout the 2012 election. I remember hearing it at two different events in Philadelphia. I cringed both times.

Lest you think he's changed his mind, the White House touted that statistic in the fact sheet supplement to the State of the Union address.

A year ago, John Conyers introduced the Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013 to repeal the line in the Budget Control Act that authorizes the sequestration cuts. He had 38 co-sponsors, all Democrats. Although they wanted to repeal—and not replace—the sequestration cuts, they did not seem to care about undoing the other deep cuts of the Budget Control Act. Democrats have already accepted those as part of the new status quo.

The Murray-Ryan budget deal spared Social Security and Medicare, but it can hardly be considered a success.

First and foremost, the budget deal failed to extend unemployment benefits for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans, a morally wrong and economically misguided decision especially given the fact that long-term unemployment is at its highest level since World War II.

At current growth rates, the US will not see full employment until 2020 (if then). The budget deal did little (if really anything) to change that. It ended the benefits to the long-term unemployed but didn't put any effort into helping them get jobs.

The budget deal continues the war against public workers happening in states across the country, raising the amount that federal workers have to contribute to their pensions (the equivalent of a payroll tax increase). And this came after federal workers' salaries had been frozen since January 2010.

The budget deal also left the sequestration cuts largely in place. It only undid $63 billion of the $240 billion in cuts. And it extended sequestration cuts for an extra year, to 2022.

Last July, the CBO estimated that sequestration cuts could cost up to 1.6 million jobs in FY2014. With only a partial rollback, many of those jobs will still be lost. And that's only one year.

The budget deal only provided the partial sequestration relief for two years. When those two years are done, the path of sequestration cuts will begin again. Austerity today. Austerity tomorrow. Austerity forever.

And although Obama did not focus on the deficit during his State of the Union address, he did push deficit reduction as a goal in the complementary White House fact sheet:
Investing in Growth While Continuing to Strengthen Our Nation’s Long Term Fiscal Position. Over the past four years the deficit has been cut in half as a share of the economy, falling by 5.7% of GDP, the largest four-year deficit reduction since the demobilization from World War II. The long-run deficit outlook has also improved considerably due to slowing the growth of Medicare while improving solvency and benefits in the Affordable Care Act, a fairer tax code enacted in the 2012 fiscal cliff deal, and discretionary spending which is on track to be the lowest as a share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President. The recent bipartisan Budget agreement undoes some of last year’s damaging cuts to priorities like education and research, and clears the way for Washington to avoid setting back our economy this year with manufactured fiscal crises. The President wants to build on this progress with a growth and opportunity agenda that includes a commitment to strengthening our long-term fiscal position. This entails a commitment by the President to not only pay for all of his new, ongoing initiatives but also to support additional deficit reduction in a balanced manner from pro-growth tax reform that levels the playing field for the middle class and further efforts to reform and strengthen entitlements. This approach will accelerate growth and ensure that the debt is on a downward path as a share of the economy over the next decade and the debt and deficit are stabilized over the longer term.
The largest four-year deficit reduction since the demobilization from World War II is apparently not enough for Obama.

Over the ensuing two weeks, the House and Senate passed a Farm Bill with $8.7 billion in cuts to food stamps. Some liberals liked to count this as a victory because, although it was clearly sadistic, it was not as sadistic as what the Republicans wanted. What standards! 46 out of the 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted for the bill. Thankfully, the majority of the House Democratic caucus voted against the bill, but 89 Democrats (close to half of the caucus) did vote for it. In his remarks before signing the bill, Obama ignored these cuts and praised the bill as "a bipartisan..bill that is going to make a big difference in communities all across this country." Yes, it will make a difference--but not in the way he's implying.

Obama's FY2015 budget, per the Associated Press, will include $56 billion in expanded programs (half social, half military). The FY2015 spending levels contained in the Murray-Ryan budget only undo $18.4 billion of sequestration cuts, out of the roughly $120 billion set to take place. Even with Obama's Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative spending, sequestration cuts will remain deep.  And the BCA spending caps will, of course, remain, regarded with their usual silence.

You aren't winning when the knife isn't going in faster and deeper. You're only winning when it gets taken out.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

117 House Democrats Sign Letter Opposing Chained CPI

Since Allyson Schwartz (PA-13) faced a backlash for her connection to Third Way (She was, of course, honorary co-chair) after Third Way's attack on Elizabeth Warren, Schwartz has severed her connections to Third Way and tried to forge a more progressive image for herself (especially because of her run for governor). For example, on December 3, she became a co-sponsor of the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013, the main bill calling for an expansion of Social Security. The change is welcome, especially given that she was one of the 22 Democrats to vote for Simpson-Bowles the one time it got a vote in the full House.

Today, Schwarz led 116 other House Democrats in a letter calling on Obama to exclude chained CPI from his FY2015 budget.

The lead co-signers are Reps. Bruce Braley (IA-1), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), David Cicilline (RI-1), and Jan Schakowsky (IL-9). Braley is running for the open Senate seat in Iowa.

Outside supporters of the letter include the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, the Campaign for Community Change, the UAW, Greater Harleysville and North Penn Senior Services, the AFL-CIO, and the Military Officers Association of America.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to rule out using the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) to calculate cost-of-living and inflation adjustments for federal programs in your Budget for Fiscal Year 2015.

Switching to a chained CPI would be devastating for seniors, veterans, federal retirees, disabled individuals and others. Under legislation enacted in 1983, Social Security benefits for seniors retiring in the coming years are already scheduled to be reduced. Today, the average worker earning $43,000 annually who retires at age 65 will find that Social Security replaces 41 percent of their previous earnings. Soon, this will decline to just 36 percent of previous earnings, as the full retirement age climbs from 66 to 67 over the 2017-2022 period.

Chained CPI would further reduce those earned benefits over time because it fails to take into account inflation for older Americans. While the Affordable Care Act has had a positive effect in reducing Medicare spending growth, increased medical costs continue to take a larger and larger share of Social Security earned benefits. As you know, many seniors already face tight personal budgets, challenges that the recession has only exacerbated. For many seniors living on a fixed income, any reduction in benefits would have a serious impact on their ability to afford basic necessities.

While there have been protections proposed to mitigate the impact of chained CPI on the very elderly and certain vulnerable populations, such as the blind, disabled and seniors with limited income, many with limited, modest incomes would still be impacted. For instance, even with the benefit enhancements that have been proposed, a low-wage retiree receiving $9,600 per year would see their benefits reduced by an average of 1.5 percent between ages 62 and 81, a loss of more than $140 per year.

Your Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 proposed a comprehensive $1.8 trillion deficit reduction package that sought to replace sequestration and reflected the compromise you offered to House Speaker John Boehner in December 2012. That plan incorporated a Republican proposal to use chained CPI to reduce cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, as well as military veterans, people with disabilities, and beneficiaries of other federal programs. Since then, however, the Republican majority has consistently refused to discuss a balanced approach that would include increased revenues and the closing of tax loopholes.

We recognize that additional measures are required to address our nation’s long-term budget challenges, and we appreciate the difficult choices you are wrestling with as you prepare a fiscal blueprint to promote economic growth. But, we respectfully ask that you not place the burden of additional deficit reduction on the backs of seniors, veterans, federal retirees, disabled individuals and others by including chained CPI in your Budget for Fiscal Year 2015.
Here are the signers: 
Rep. Allyson Schwartz (PA-13)
Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-1)
Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Rep. David Cicilline (RI-1)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9)
Rep. Ron Barber (AZ-02)
Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-03)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)
Rep. Robert A. Brady (PA-01)
Rep. Corinne Brown (FL-05)
Rep. Lois Capps (CA-24)
Rep. Tony Cardenas (CA-29)
Rep. Andre Carson (IN-07)
Rep. Matthew A. Cartwright (PA-17)
Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32)
Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-05)
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09)
Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (MO-01)
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05)
Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09)
Rep. John Conyers (MI-13)
Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-02)
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07)
Rep. Danny K. Davis (IL-07)
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04)
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-03)
Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (FL-21)
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Rep. Michael F. Doyle (PA-14)
Rep. Donna F. Edwards (MD-04)
Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Rep. William L. Enyart (IL-12)
Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty (CT-05)
Rep. Lois Frankel (FL-22)
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11)
Rep. John Garamendi (CA-03)
Rep. Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Rep. Al Green (TX-09)
Rep. Gene Green (TX-29)
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (AZ-03)
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (IL-04)
Rep. Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Rep. Colleen W. Hanabusa (HI-01)
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20)
Rep. Brian Higgins (NY-26)
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)
Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Rep. Michael M. Honda (CA-17)
Rep. Steven A. Horsford (NV-04)
Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02)
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08)
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)
Rep. Henry C. "Hank" Johnson (GA-04)
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Rep. William R. Keating (MA-09)
Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-02)
Rep. Daniel T. Kildee (MI-05)
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Rep. James R. Langevin (RI-02)
Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Rep. John Lewis (GA-05)
Rep. David Loebsack (IA-02)
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Rep. Alan S. Lowenthal (CA-47)
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01)
Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08)
Rep. Daniel B. Maffei (NY-24)
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12)
Rep. Doris O. Matsui (CA-06)
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04)
Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04)
Rep. Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Rep. James P. McGovern (MA-02)
Rep. Grace Meng (NY-06)
Rep. Michael H. Michaud (ME-02)
Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY-10)
Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35)
Rep. Richard M. Nolan (MN-08)
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (TX-16)
Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
Rep. Bill Pascrell (NJ-09)
Rep. Gary C. Peters (MI-09)
Rep. Collin C. Peterson (MN-07)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-01)
Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Rep. Nick J. Rahall (WV-03)
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (NY-13)
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)
Rep. Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Rep. Bobby L. Rush (IL-01)
Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-13)
Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (CNMI)
Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (CA-38)
Rep. John P. Sarbanes (MD-03)
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (CA-28)
Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (VA-03)
Rep. Jose E. Serrano (NY-15)
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)
Rep. Albio Sires (NJ-08)
Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (NY-25)
Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15)
Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41)
Rep. Dina Titus (NV-01)
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02)
Rep. Paul Tonko (NY-20)
Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51)
Rep. Marc A. Veasey (TX-33)
Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Rep. Peter Welch (VT)
Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24)
Rep. John A. Yarmuth (KY-03)

Who from the Congressional Progressive Caucus is missing?

Karen Bass (CA-37)
Xavier Becerra (CA-34)
Michael Capuano (MA-07)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Joe Kennedy III (MA-04)
Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03)
George Miller (CA-11)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Ed Pastor (AZ-07)
Jared Polis (CO-02)
Nydia Velazquez (NY-07)

More Democrats Care about Protecting Medicare Advantage Than About Protecting Medicare

As you may remember, on Friday, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and fifteen Democratic senators sent a letter to the White House urging the president not to include any cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid in his budget. Many of us were disappointed or troubled by the fact that only 16 senators had signed onto the letter, especially as it had been circulating for a month.

Well, that same day, 19 Democrats joined a group of 21 Republicans to protest cuts in Medicare advantage in a letter to Marilynn Tavenner, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
We write to raise serious concerns about the Medicare Advantage (MA) 2015 rate notice and the impact further cuts may have on the millions of individuals enrolled in the program. We are strongly committed to preserving the high quality health plan choices and benefits that our constituents receive through the MA program. Given the impact that payment policies could have on our constituents, we ask that you prioritize beneficiaries’ experience and minimize disruption in maintaining payment levels for 2015.
That's right: More Democrats care about cuts to Medicare Advantage than about cuts to Medicare itself.

Medicare Advantage plans are private plans run by insurance companies but paid for by Medicare. They began as Medicare+Choice plans in 1997 but were renamed Medicare Advantage in 2003. MA plans are notoriously inefficient because they generate corporate profits rather than more efficient care. Payments to MA plans average about 14 percent more than the cost of providing the same care to beneficiaries in traditional Medicare. Overpayments in 2009 alone totaled $11.4 billion. The Affordable Care Act sought to address this problem by reducing the subsidies to these private plans, shoring up Medicare itself and saving money to fund other aspects of health care reform.

This reduction of overpayments, you may remember, was one of the Republicans' favorite talking points in 2010 and 2012. Republicans, who themselves wanted to destroy the Medicare program by turning it all over to MA-style vouchers, lambasted Obama and the Democrats for "cutting Medicare" and were able to boost their numbers with seniors because of such deceptive messaging.

Now back to our 40 senators who are very concerned about the health of the health insurance companies.

Here are the 21 Republicans:
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Dan Coats (R-IN)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Dean Heller (R-NV)
Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Tim Scott (R-SC)
John Thune (R-SD)

And here are the 19 Democrats:
Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Bob Casey (D-PA)
Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Mark Udall (D-CO)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Mark Warner (D-VA)

Of these 19 Democrats, only three--Kirsten Gillibrand, Ed Markey, and Jeff Merkley--signed Sanders's letter as well.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Progressive Massachusett Asked the MA-Gov Candidates Some Questions. Which Ones Didn't They Answer?

Two weeks ago, Progressive Massachusetts released the results of its candidate surveys. The organization sent a questionnaire to the candidates for each of the four statewide races this year: Governor, Lt Governor, Attorney General, and Treasurer. The questionnaire covered jobs & the economy, education, health care, housing, and revenue & taxation.

Four out of the five Democrats responded: Don Berwick, Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, and Juliette Kayyem. Joe Avellone did not.

When reading through the survey responses, I was caught by the number of hedges. The survey had many simple Yes or No questions to which candidates responded with neither a Yes nor a No.
Below, I've included all but one of the Yes/No questions for a side-by-side comparison. I left out the housing question because all of them agreed ("Yes") and the bulk of that section consisted of written responses.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

100 House Democrats Sign Letter Opposing Additional Iran Sanctions

In advance of the start of talks on a permanent agreement between P5+1 countries and Iran later this month in New York City, 100 Democrats and 4 Republicans co-signed a letter supporting the diplomatic effort and opposing additional sanctions.

The letter, organized by David Price (NC-04) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), reads as follows:
Dear Mr. President,

As Members of Congress and as Americans, we are united in our unequivocal commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would threaten the security of the United States and our allies in the region, particularly Israel.
The ongoing implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed to by Iran and the “P5+1” nations last November increases the possibility of a comprehensive and verifiable international agreement. We understand that there is no assurance of success and that, if talks break down or Iran reneges on pledges it made in the interim agreement, Congress may be compelled to act as it has in the past by enacting additional sanctions legislation. At present, however, we believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance. A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.

We remain wary of the Iranian regime. But we believe that robust diplomacy remains our best possible strategic option, and we commend you and your designees for the developments in Geneva. Should negotiations fail or falter, nothing precludes a change in strategy. But we must not imperil the possibility of a diplomatic success before we even have a chance to pursue it.
Here are the 100 Democrats: Karen Bass (CA-37)
Joyce Beatty (OH-03)
Timothy Bishop (NY-01)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Madeleine Bordallo (Guam)
Corinne Brown (FL-05)
G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Lois Capps (CA-24)
Mike Capuano (MA-07)
Andre Carson (IN-07)
Matt Cartwright (PA-17)
Donna Christensen (US Virgin Islands)
Yvette Clarke (NY-09)
Lacy Clay (MO-01)
Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05)
James Clyburn (SC-06)
Steve Cohen (TN-09)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Joe Courtney (CT-02)
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Diana DeGette (CO-01)
Rosa DeLauro (CT-03)
John Dingell (MI-12)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Bill Enyart (IL-12)
Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-03)
Luis Gutiérrez (IL-04)
Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Jared Huffman (CA-02)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Eddie Johnson (TX-30)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
William Keating (MA-09)
Robin Kelly (IL-02)
Dan Kildee (MI-5)
Ann Kuster (NH-02)
John Larson (CT-01)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
John Lewis (GA-05)
David Loebsack (IA-02)
Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04)
Betty McCollum (MN-04)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Jerry McNerney (CA-09)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
George Miller (CA-11)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35)
Rick Nolan (MN-08)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Beto O'Rourke (TX-16)
Ed Pastor (AZ-07)
Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10)
Pedro Pierluisi (PR)
Chellie Pingree (ME-01)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Jared Polis (CO-02)
David Price (NC-04)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Bobby Rush (IL-01)
Tim Ryan (OH-13)
Gregorio Sablan (CNMI)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)
Bobby Scott (VA-03)
Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)
Louise Slaughter (NY-25)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Mark Takano (CA-41)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
John Tierney (MA-06)
Paul Tonko (NY-20)
Niki Tsongas (MA-03)
Chris Van Hollen (MD-08)
Nydia Velázquez (NY-07)
Peter Visclosky (IN-01)
Tim Walz (MN-01)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Peter Welch (VT)
John Yarmuth (KY-03)

Five of them are non-voting: Madeleine Bordallo (Guam), Donna Christensen (US Virgin Islands), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Pedro Pierluisi (Puerto Rico), and Gregorio Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands).

The list of 100 Democrats contains, to my count, 50 of the 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

These 100 Democrats were joined by four Republicans:

John Duncan, Jr. (TN-02)
Richard Hanna (NY-22)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
Tom Massie (KY-04)

In contrast, last August, the House voted for additional sanctions on Iran 400 to 20. Only 17 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted no. One Democrat--Hank Johnson (GA-04)--voted present.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bernie Sanders Leads 15 Other Senators in Letter Urging Obama Not to Cut SS, Medicare, or Medicaid

Today, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and fifteen other senators delivered a letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to include cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in his FY2015 budget. As you probably remember, Obama included cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits via chained CPI for the former and increased means-testing for the latter in his FY2014 budget, a reprise of the offer he made to Republicans during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. Obama also expressed willingness to cut the programs in the July 2011 debt ceiling negotiations--and even back in 2009.

The 15 Democrats who co-signed the letter are the following:

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Kirsten Gillibrand
Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Edward Markey (D-MA)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Brian Schaz (D-HI)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Barbara Mikluski (D-MD) all co-sponsored the Harkin-Sanders resolution against chained CPI last year but are not co-signers on this letter.

Here is the text of the letter:
Dear President Obama:

We would like to thank you for all of the work you have done to improve the economy, create jobs, and reduce the deficit.

We have made significant progress since the Great Recession. Our economy has now created over 8 million jobs and had 47 consecutive months of job growth. Today, while the long-term unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since October of 2008. The $1.4 trillion federal deficit that you inherited has been cut by more than half—the largest reduction in the deficit in more than 50 years.

As you have acknowledged, much more work needs to be done and we are committed to working with you to build on this progress. We need to get more Americans back to work, create the millions of jobs that the American people need, increase the wages of American workers, protect the retirement benefits that our constituents have earned, and reduce the deficit in a fair way. The severe level of income and wealth inequality in America that you have been focusing on is an issue that must be addressed effectively. While those on the top have more than recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression, tens of millions of Americans continue to lose ground economically.
Today, retirement insecurity is as high as it has ever been. Only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for a majority of their income.

Given this reality, we respectfully urge you not to propose cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits in your Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

In good times and bad, Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of senior citizens, widows, orphans, and persons with disabilities out of extreme poverty. Before Social Security was developed, about half of our seniors lived in poverty; today senior poverty is down to 9.1 percent. Without Social Security, one-third of senior citizens would have virtually no earnings at all.

Social Security has not contributed one penny to the deficit. Social Security has a surplus of more than $2.7 trillion and can pay every single benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 19 years.

We are also opposed to shifting the cost of healthcare onto senior citizens, the poor, and the disabled by cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits. As you know, half of all Medicare recipients make less than $22,000 per year, and typical senior citizens already pay more than 17 percent of their fixed incomes on healthcare.

Further, Medicaid is a vital lifeline for some 72 million Americans. Two-thirds of all Medicaid spending supports senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Cutting Medicaid would jeopardize the quality of health care, long-term services, and nursing home care for tens of millions of Americans. There are significant cost issues in America’s health care system that must be effectively addressed, but these challenges will not be remedied by benefit cuts to vulnerable Americans.

Mr. President: These are tough times for our country. With the middle class struggling and more people living in poverty than ever before, we urge you not to propose cuts in your budget to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits—cuts which would make life even more difficult for some of the most vulnerable people in America.

We look forward to working with you in support of the needs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor—and all working Americans.
During today's daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked whether chained CPI will be in the president's budget again. His response was this:
"What I can tell you is the president has demonstrated in the past and continues — and will continue to demonstrate his commitment to achieving additional deficit reduction that addresses our medium- and long-term challenges through a balanced approach," he said.
That sounds like a yes to me.

Climate: When Broad but Shallow Public Support Meets Narrow but Deep Industry Pockets

Yesterday, I came across an article in ClimateProgress entitled "New Poll: Most Republicans Want To Regulate Carbon Pollution." It was on the latest report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

The report does show that a majority of Republicans support regulating carbon pollution. But it also shows why that doesn't mean anything.
Look at the chart below.

A majority of Republicans support treating carbon as a pollutant and policies that help shift the economy away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Sounds great, right?

Don't get your hopes up.

First of all, Republicans just don't see global warming as an important issue.

As you can see, only 19% of Republicans and 25% of Independents deemed global warming a "high" or "very high" priority for the president and Congress. Global warming was the least important issue to Republicans. It was second least important to Independents (abortion was least important).
Only 57% of Democrats saw global warming as a "high" or "very high" priority. That, again, is depressingly low, given the severity of the problem.

Partisan differences are also sharp in ranking global warming among environmental issues:

Republicans viewed it as the second least important of the issues listed; Independents, the third least important.

For Democrats, it was one of the six issues with supermajority (60%+) concern. Only one issue--water pollution--saw supermajority concern among Independents, and two others--clean energy and toxic waste--saw majority concern. No issue registered majority concern among Republicans.

Revealing, though hardly surprising, was how channeling an issue through a partisan lens affected levels of support:

Both questions included the following language:
“…strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce climate change and improve public health. Power plants would have to reduce their emissions and/or invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase.”
When the policy was presented outside of a partisan frame, majorities of Democrats (75%), Republicans (51%), and Independents (60%) supported it.

But when Obama entered the picture, things changed. The Democratic margin of support rose by six points (+50 to +56). The Republican margin of support fell by 36 points (+3 to -33). The Independent margin of support fell by 20 points (20 to 0).

Public opinion is heavily influenced by partisan cues.  This reminded me of a fascinating (although depressing) article by Geoffrey Cohen, "Party over Policy: The Dominating Impact of Group Influence on Political Beliefs." He showed how liberals would support stringent welfare policies if told that Democrats supported them and that Republicans would support generous welfare policies if told that Republicans supported them. The effect of party reference group overrode substantive content for both groups.

If you can accomplish that with partisan cues, then getting Republicans to oppose a Democratic policy that they only weakly support is quite easy.

When public support is broad but shallow (and malleable) and the pockets of fossil fuel companies are narrow but very, very deep, how do you think politicians will respond?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Good News about EPW But Bad News about Energy

Let's start with the goods news.

Since Max Baucus (D-MT) was just confirmed as US Ambassador to China, Ed Markey was given his spot on the Environment and Public Works Committee:
WASHINGTON (February 11, 2014) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) was appointed today to the Environment and Public Works Committee, providing an important placement to help Senator Markey advance legislation that attacks climate change, creates infrastructure jobs, and keeps the air and water clean in Massachusetts and across the nation. The appointment comes after a successful history of work by Senator Markey on issues overseen by the committee.

“The work done on the Environment and Public Works Committee is proof that we can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment at the same time, creating jobs even as we cut pollution,” said Senator Markey. “Whether it’s repairing our roads and bridges, expanding commerce at Boston Harbor, or combating climate change, I am going to use my service on this committee to help Massachusetts now and in the future. I look forward to working with Chairman Boxer and my other colleagues on the committee.”
Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Committee said, “Senator Markey will be a great addition to the Environment and Public Works Committee because of his proven effectiveness as a legislator.  He has shown great leadership on the issues that the EPW Committee is working on right now, including addressing climate change, investing in critical transportation and water infrastructure, and ensuring that our nuclear facilities are safe and secure.  I welcome Senator Markey to this Committee and look forward to working with him on these critical issues.”

Senator Markey is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations, Commerce, and Small Business Committees. On the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Markey is the Chairman of the International Development and Environmental Protection Subcommittee, which handles foreign aid programs, international energy and climate agreements, oceans, and other issues. He is also lead co-Chair of the Climate Change Clearinghouse. The combination of these appointments gives Senator Markey a broad platform to represent issues central to Massachusetts and the nation.
From 2007 to 2011, Markey was the chair of the House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, and he is currently a co-chair of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change. He was also, along with Henry Waxman, a co-sponsor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House in 2009. 
This bodes well for EPW. Max Baucus, one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus, supports the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, opposes placing a fee on carbon, and had one of the lowest lifetime LCV ratings in the caucus.

Almost exactly a year ago, Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders introduced a comprehensive climate proposal, consisting of the Climate Protection Act (a fee-and-dividend bill) and the Sustainable Energy Act. With them at the press conference, showing support for the legislation, were representatives from various environmental, consumer, and liberal groups:  Bill McKibben, founder of; Mike Brune, executive director of Sierra Club; Tara McGuiness, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund; Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen’s energy director; and Meg Power of the National Community Action Foundation.

I wrote about it last year (linked above):
Pricing Carbon: First, their proposal would enact a carbon fee of $20 per ton of carbon or methane equivalent, set to rise 5.6% each year over a ten year period.  The fee would be applied upstream---at the coal mine, the oil refinery, the natural gas processing point, or the point of importation; it would, consequently, apply to 2,869 of the largest fossil fuel polluters and would cover 85% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  The tax would, according to the Congressional Research Office, generate $1.2 trillion in revenue over the next decade.  Additionally, the Climate Protection Act would set a long-term emissions reduction goal of 80% or more by 2050 (as science demands) and would reduce emissions by approximately 20% from 2005 levels by 2025.

Protecting Communities from Fracking: In order to ensure that a carbon fee does not harm communities through increased extraction of natural gas, the Boxer-Sanders legislation would end the "Halliburton exemption" from the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking and would include all the provisions from the FRAC Act to guarantee disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process.

Investment in Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy: The Boxer-Sanders legislation would use some of the revenue gained from the carbon tax to invest in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies in order to create jobs and further reduce emissions. The bill would provide funds to weatherize 1 million homes and would triple the budget of ARPA-E for energy research and development.  It would create a Sustainable Technologies Financing Program that would leverage $500 billion, through public-private partnerships, in investments in wind, solar, geothermal, advanced biomass and biofuels, ocean and tidal energy, hydropower, advanced transportation projects, and energy efficiency technologies. It would invest in domestic manufacturing and energy-intensive industries to promote energy efficiency and would fund $1 billion a year in worker training to help transition to a clean energy economy.

Family Clean Energy Rebate Program: The Boxer-Sanders bill would use 3/5th of the revenue from the carbon fee for this program, based on the design of Alaska's oil dividend, to provide a monthly rebate to every U.S. resident in order to offset potential increases in utility bills.

Fair Trade and International Cooperation: The Boxer-Sanders legislation would levy the same carbon fee on all imported fuels and products unless the exporting nation has a similar program or carbon fee in place. The revenue gained here would help communities make infrastructure more resilient and fund adaptation projects that protect natural resources and wildlife, and it would help the U.S. to meet international commitments to assist in global climate adaptation. The bill intends for the fee to spur other nations to take similar actions and to work towards an international treaty.
Debt Reduction: Part of the revenue raised from the carbon fee, along with that raised by ending fossil fuel subsidies, would contribute approximately $300 billion to debt reduction over the next decade.
It has seen little movement, and with Baucus in the Committee, it couldn't have passed out of Committee, let alone the Senate. 
However, the terrain is much more favorable today. The current Democratic (caucus) members of EPW are the following:

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Tom Carper (D-DE)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Ed Markey (D-MA)

Boxer, Carper, Cardin, Sanders, Whitehouse, Udall, Merkley, and Gillibrand are all on record supporting a carbon tax. Ed Markey has championed the idea as well, as has the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change (of which he is now a co-chair).

Cory Booker is currently the only Democrat in EPW who has not publicly endorsed placing a fee on carbon emissions. During the New Jersey special election, Rush Holt (NJ-12) criticized him for not having a stance on the issue. His Senate website does not have a developed issues page. His campaign website said that one his priorities regarding environmental protection would be "working to support comprehensive climate change legislation that incentivizes the creation of green jobs and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions."

Anyway, the landscape in EPW for climate legislation is now much more favorable than it was before. Climate legislation could not pass the Senate right now; however, a favorable Committee landscape is important for establishing the foundation for legislation later in the decade. Every single member of the Committee represents a blue state, which means (granted no one retires) this will likely be the look of the Committee for the rest of the decade.

Now, the bad news.

With Max Baucus's retirement, Ron Wyden has taken his spot as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Wyden was formerly chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Now that he's gone--and since Tim Johnson (D-SD)'s retiring, Mary Landrieu (D-OIL) becomes chair. And that's deeply troubling for anyone who cares about the future of the planet (and its people).

Upon taking the new position, Landrieu said,
“I am excited and honored to lead this committee that is so critical to Louisiana and the nation’s economic vitality, job creation and energy security,” she said in a statement. “I’m humbled to be a part of the long list of pro-energy senators from both parties who have led this committee with strength, vision and distinction, including one of Louisiana’s finest, J. Bennett Johnston.”
And by "pro-energy," she means pro-oil, pro-gas, and pro-coal. Her Energy Security page only mentions wind and solar dismiss them as inferior to natural gas in job creation. The page reads as a paean to fossil fuels. 
Last Thursday, she joined a group of Republicans and red state Democrats calling on Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. She has been one of Keystone's most vocal champions in the Senate, co-sponsoring a resolution with John Hoeven (R-ND) expressing the sense of Congress that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is in the best interest of the nation.

Landrieu has been a big champion of exporting liquefied natural gas, which would increase carbon emissions and subject more sensitive land to environmental risk.

Mary Landrieu has consistently been one of the top recipients of oil and gas money in the Senate. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, she is the third largest recipient of oil and gas contributions this election cycle--and the biggest Democratic recipient. During the 2008 election cycle, she was the top congressional recipient of contributions from BP and expressed no intention of returning said contributions after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"Campaign contributions, from energy companies or from environmental groups, have absolutely no impact on Sen. Landrieu's policy agenda or her response to this unprecedented disaster in the Gulf," Saunders wrote. "The Senator is proud of the broad coalition she's built since her first day in the Senate to address the energy and environmental challenges in Louisiana and in the nation. This disaster only makes the effort to promote and save Louisiana's coast all that more important."
No effect at all, eh? 
She is currently among the top 10 congressional recipients of money from the fracking industry--and the only Democrat to make the list.

She has the second lowest League of Conservation Voters score in the Senate Democratic caucus, second--of course--to Joe Manchin (D-COAL).

For all practical purposes, having Landrieu as Energy Chair is the same as ceding the Committee to the Republican Party. Landrieu, Mancin, and the Republicans on the Committee can form a fossil fuel majority to pass environmentally destructive legislation. If Landrieu gets re-elected, the best for which we can hope from the Energy Committee for the rest of the decade is that its bills never make it into laws.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

House Votes to Undo Mil Pension Cuts (which it just passed) by Extending Sequestration

Yesterday, the House passed a bill to undo the cuts to military pensions from the Murray-Ryan budget deal and to pay for this change by extending sequestration cuts to mandatory spending under Medicare for an additional year, to 2024 instead of 2023.

The budget deal had cut the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans under the age of 62.

Republicans quickly wrote the bill language yesterday after deciding against attaching the restoration of pension funding to the debt ceiling. They attached it to S. 25, the South Utah Valley Electric Conveyance Act as a means for passage.

The bill passed easily 326 to 90. 206 Republicans and 120 Democrats voted for it. 71 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against it.

The Hill reported on the grounds for each faction's opposition:
"So we're really simply robbing one group of deserving people to pay another group of deserving people," said House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.). "That is hardly responsible and hardly helpful." Republicans had their own reasons for opposing the measure — many GOP members have said they disapprove of the idea of paying for current spending by promising cuts 10 years out.
The 19 Republicans were the following: 
Joe Barton (TX-26)
Doug Collins (GA-09)
Scott DesJarlais (TN-04)
Joe Heck (NV-03)
Tim Huelskamp (KS-01)
Adam Kinzinger (IL-16)
Pat Meehan (PA-07)
Mick Mulvaney (SC-05)
Richard Nugent (FL-11)
Reid Ribble (WI-08)
Todd Rokita (IN-04)
Paul Ryan (WI-01)
Mark Sanford (SC-01)
Aaron Schock (IL-18)
David Schweikert (AZ-06)
John Shimkus (IL-15)
Marlin Stutzman (IN-03)
Frank Wolf (VA-10)
71 Democrats opposed it. 36 out of the 71 are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 23 of them also voted against the Murray-Ryan budget deal in December.
Karen Bass (CA-37)
Xavier Becerra (CA-34)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Bob Brady (PA-01)
Matt Cartwright (PA-17)
Yvette Clarke (NY-09)
Lacy Clay (MO-01)
James Clyburn (SC-06)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Susan Davis (CA-53)
Diana DeGette (CO-01)
Rosa DeLauro (CT-03)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Eliot Engel (NY-16)
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Lois Frankel (FL-22)
Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-03)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01)
Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
Jared Huffman (CA-02)
Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Eddie Johnson (TX-30)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Robin Kelly (IL-02)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
John B. Larson (CT-01)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Sander Levin (MI-09)
Ben Luján (NM-03)
Doris Matsui (CA-06)
Betty McCollum (MN-04)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Jerry McNerney (CA-09)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
Grace Meng (NY-06)
George Miller (CA-11)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Jerry Nadler (NY-10)
Grace Napolitano (CA-32)
Gloria Negrette McLeod (CA-35)
Rick Nolan (MN-08)
Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
Donald Payne (NJ-10)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)
Linda Sánchez (CA-38)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Allyson Schwartz (PA-13)
Jose Serrano (NY-15)
Louise Slaughter (NY-25)
Adam Smith (WA-09)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Paul Tonko (NY-20)
Nydia Velázquez (NY-07)
Peter Visclosky (IN-01)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Henry Waxman (CA-33)
Frederica Wilson (FL-24)

Loretta Sanchez (CA-46) voted present.

Most of the Congresspersons who voted for the House bill to undo the military pension cuts voted for the military pension cuts in the first place. This shows the idiocy in governance these days.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure no one is going to put any effort in undoing the cuts to civilian worker pensions.