Congressional Budget Deal Betrayal
by Stephen Lendman
Days ahead of adjourning until January, bipartisan complicity struck a deal no responsible government would accept.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R. WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D. WA) were involved.
On Tuesday, Obama thanked them for doing so. He asked for swift congressional action “so (he) can sign it into law and our economy can continue growing and creating jobs without more Washington headwinds.”
He’s mindless of the harm it causes. Throughout his tenure, he’s waged war on social justice.
He wants America’s resources earmarked for militarism, homeland repression, and generous corporate handouts.
Monied interests benefit enormously. Ordinary people are systematically denied. Budget terms hit them harder. More on that below.
Obama called Tuesday’s agreement “a good first step.” He lied saying it’ll grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.
He wrecked both throughout his tenure. He wants ordinary people hit harder going forward. He wants them increasingly on their own out of luck.
Budget terms replace a small portion of harmful sequester cuts. It’s far too little to matter. Around $1.2 trillion over 10 years was agreed on. Well over $1 trillion remains. Expect lots more added later.
Cuts target vital social programs too important to lose. Deficit savings come mostly at the expense of Medicare providers. They’ve been hit hard before. They’re targeted again.
Doctors and hospitals lose another 2% of their income. Doing so amounts to over $120 billion over 10 years. Social Security and Medicaid were spared.
Federation of American Hospitals president Chip Kahn criticized the deal, saying:
“America’s hospitals have grave concerns about the Murray-Ryan proposed budget agreement and urge Members of Congress to oppose it.”
“The budget agreement threatens access to critical health care services for seniors by trading off Medicare cuts for increases in government and defense spending today.”
“Rather than providing relief to the arbitrary Medicare sequester cuts, this agreement maintains the current cuts and extends these cuts into the future.”
“It sustains bad budget policy under the guise of solving real mandatory spending issues facing this country.”
Last spring, American Medical Association president Dr. Jeremy Lazarus said:
“Over the last 12 years, Medicare payments to physicians increased only 4%, while the cost of providing care jumped 20%.” Budget cuts make it harder for patients to get care, he added.
“One in five Medicare patients already (face) difficulties in finding a doctor to take them. If you cut their pay, this access problem will only get worse.”
Federal law triggers annual Medicare cuts. Congress blocked a 29% provider cut last January. It blocked others over the past decade.
Deficit reduction is too meager to matter. A short explanation said:
“The budget proposal saves $28 billion over ten years by requiring the President to sequester the same percentage of mandatory budgetary resources in 2022 and 2023 as will be sequestered in 2021 under current law.”
So-called mandatory budget resources refers mostly to Medicare providers. Budget deal terms are for two years. Government remains funded through September 30, 2015.
Cuts are about $63 billion in mostly domestic programs. FY 2014 spending increases to $1.012 trillion. In FY 2015, it’s higher at $1.014 trillion.
This year’s spending reflected compromise. Months earlier, Senate members passed a $1.058 trillion budget. House members approved $967.
Current fiscal year military spending is $520.5 billion. Generous off-budget add-ons and black budgets add tens of billions more.
Domestic programs are allocated $491.8 billion. Around $63 billion in new spending over the next two years provides somewhat more for Pentagon priorities than domestic ones.
Most sequester cuts are delayed. They’ll continue annually through FY 2024. They’ll be more later than now. Expect new cuts in the interim.
Social America is on the chopping block for elimination. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are prime targets. Expect stiff cuts later on.
Current ones affect Medicare providers. They hit newly hired federal workers. They’ll pay more into their pension fund.
Washington will contribute less. Effectively their pay is cut. It comes when inflation is far more than officially reported. Current federal employees aren’t affected.
Military retirees under age 62 face a 1% cost-of-living (COLA) cut. They’ll get less than they expected and deserve.
Selected government fees rise. Air travel got more expensive. One-way increases from $2.50 to $5.60. For round trips, it’s $11.20.
It’s for TSA security. It’s more illusion than reality. It enriches well-connected providers. They profit hugely.
Scamming people to falsely believe they’re safer pays well. Profiteers will earn more going forward. They’ll do so at travelers’ expense.
A dozen or more other cuts are imposed. They save a billion here, a few billion there. Combined they decrease government services.
They do so when increasing vital domestic ones should be prioritized. Regressive policies head them the wrong way.
Agreement terms don’t raise the debt limit. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates it’ll be reached between March and June.
In October, Congress agreed to suspend the borrowing limit until February 7, 2014. Emergency Treasury measures let Washington keep doing it short-term.
They include suspending pension payments. Neither party said how they’ll resolve the debt ceiling as next February approaches. Political brinksmanship may repeat.
Congress never failed to raise it. Since 1940, they did so 79 times. It lets the Treasury borrow more money. It’s needed to pay federal obligations on time.
In theory, the debt ceiling is supposed to control federal spending. In reality, it does nothing of the sort. Expect another increase before Washington runs out of money next year.
Democrats largely support the budget deal. So do most House Republicans. Speaker John Boehner said:
“While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings.”
Some Republicans oppose it. Senator Rand Paul (R. KY) said “undoing tens of billions of this modest spending restraint is shameful and must be opposed.”
Americans for Prosperity is a Koch Brothers affiliated group. AFP president Tim Phillips said:
“The American people demanded, and were promised, reasonable spending limits. Politicians choosing to go back on their promise will be held accountable for their actions.”
“Republicans should once again stand firm in upholding the modest sequestration spending cuts.”
Budget terms delivered a lump of coal for Christmas. Around 1.3 million longterm jobless workers are affected. Their unemployment benefits expire yearend.
Republicans, Democrats and Obama agreed. They won’t be extended. They’ll be cut off. So will another 3.6 million unemployed in the first and second 2014 quarters.
By summer next year, nearly five million needy people will be dumped. They’ll be ignored. So will their families.
Tax cuts for rich elites went untouched. So did generous corporate handouts. In 2014, they’ll get lower tax rates. It’s separate from the budget deal. It keeps America’s war machine well funded.
Vulnerable unemployed workers are on their own. It comes during protracted Main Street Depression conditions.
Real unemployment tops 23%. Fake numbers conceal reality. So-called recovery is a convenient illusion.
Leaving five million unemployed workers and their families on their own any time is reprehensible. Doing it when hard times keep getting harder is unconscionable.
Doing it while generously funding corporate interests and war profiteering exceeds harshness.
Imagine! The world’s richest country doesn’t care. Popular interests go begging. Others benefitting wealth, power and privilege matter most.
Budget deal duplicity continues force-fed austerity. Obama’s tenure reflects multiple rounds of social spending cuts. Vital programs were slashed.
Medicare was hard hit. More cuts are planned. Other vital programs are targeted. They face major cutbacks or elimination altogether.
Food stamp recipients were hit at the worst possible time. America’s hungry face less help ahead. Homeless people are entirely on their own.
America’s most disadvantaged face harder than ever hard times. Budget priorities increasingly ignore them.
Millions needlessly suffer. Bipartisan duplicity force feeds misery. Obama mandates it. So do most congressional members. Washington wages financial war on its most disadvantaged.
Neoliberal harshness is official policy. So is destroying America’s social contract. I don’t care defines Washington’s agenda. Profiles in courage are sorely lacking.
Waging war on living standards reflects race to the bottom priorities. America was never beautiful. It’s worse than ever in modern times.
Institutionalized inequality defines immorality. Future prospects look grim. America appears headed for third world status.
Disproportionate wealth and poverty extremes reflect it. So do millions of hungry children.
Leaving them on their own ill-nourished bears testimony to callous indifference. Bipartisan complicity assures it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.