Bankrupting America’s Spending Daily

| March 20 2013

Spending Daily | March 20, 2013

Sequestration Protest Has Reasons, But Few Rhymes
The Wall Street Journal reports, “On Wednesday, members of the American Federation of Government Employees will rally in downtown Chicago, scene of some of history’s most storied labor protests. Their aim is to stop sequestration, the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to the federal budget that took effect March 1. For many workers, this turns out not to be the most rousing cause. The cuts roll out slowly, in early April for some agencies and programs but not until May for others. Most agencies aim to trim around the edges to avoid layoffs. Workers in some departments aren’t in line for furloughs at all, and for others it might be just a few days. … “I’ll be honest. People are saying ‘you’re giving me a day without pay? I’ll take July 5,’ ” says Brent Barron, president of AFGE Local 648. Midwestern U.S. government workers aren’t plentiful to begin with. The AFGE is the largest federal employee union, but it has only about 10,000 members in the entire state of Illinois. Many of them are throwing up their hands at the idea that a one-hour rally can reverse yet another aggravating Washington edict. … John O’Grady, president of AFGE Local 704, a veteran of demonstrations against banks and the war in Iraq, has been saving slogans for years. On the eve of sequestration, he dug into his pile and labored to adapt them to more mundane times. ‘Government Furloughs Make Us Nervous—Don’t Disrupt Our Public Service.’… ‘OK, these are a little weak,’ says Mr. O’Grady.”

Senate Finance Bill Protects Favored Programs from Sequester
The New York Times reports, “The worst of the federal cuts to a major infant nutrition program would be reversed. Embassy security and construction could be spared in the wake of the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya. And child care subsidies, once seen as critical to the success of welfare reform, would take a haircut, not the hammer blow that President Obama once loudly warned was coming. With the expected Senate passage this week of broad legislation to finance the federal government through Sept. 30, a lucky few programs will be spared the brunt of the automatic spending cuts now coursing through the federal government. Also, managers in some departments, especially the Defense Department, will gain more flexibility to carry out cuts. The overall size of the cuts will remain the same, as will the short-term impact on the economy, because total spending outside of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security must remain beneath a hard cap of $984 billion.”

House Republicans Want Spending Cuts in Exchange for Debt Ceiling Hike
POLITICO reports, “If hiking the debt ceiling seemed difficult in 2011, it’s even trickier in 2013. They might have appeared to stand down from the last clash over the debt ceiling in January. But don’t be fooled: House Republicans are still planning to push for steep spending cuts or budgetary reforms alongside legislation to allow more borrowing. House Speaker John Boehner’s majority has cut so deep into discretionary spending, they know they cannot go any deeper. So this time, to raise the nation’s debt cap — something GOP leadership estimates is likely to happen in July — they are moving on to tweaking entitlements. ‘You can’t cut the discretionary spending,’ Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said. ‘You can’t do this forever based on discretionary spending. You’re going to have to get to entitlements.’ The House Republicans’ strategic options, described by sources involved in party planning, is coming into clearer view as Congress heads into a two-week recess. … First, HouseRepublicans are considering passing a bill in April to prioritize government payments if the nation defaults on its debt. The idea, which was discussed recently at a private meeting of top elected Republican lawmakers, would allow the GOP to say it is preparing options if Washington cannot come to a debt ceiling agreement. It’s also meant to disarm Obama of the ability to say which government services he will provide in case of default.”

New Report Finds Federal Agencies Spurn Troubled Postal Service
The Washington Guardian finds that federal agencies have “spurned” using the Postal Service for deliveries, writing, “Despite spending $337 million last year on shipping, federal agencies only gave the financially troubled Postal Service $4.8 million in business – less than two percent. ‘Although its competitors have consistently captured more than 98 percent of shipping revenue from federal agencies through GSA contracts, the Postal Service has opportunities to increase its share of this market,’ said a report by the agency’s Office of Inspector General. … ‘Both FedEx and UPS offered significantly lower prices on next day express delivery of packages,’ the IG report said.  The Postal Service is cheaper for local deliveries, but ‘for longer distances, FedEx and UPS have a price advantage over the Postal Service.’”

“Strapped for retirement, more hope to work longer”
The Washington Post reports, “After a long era of planning on earlier exits from the workforce, more Americans are planning to work longer to make up for their failure to save enough for retirement. Nearly half of Americans have little or no confidence they are financially prepared for retirement, a problem many of them intend to solve by working longer, according to a new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The survey found that 10 percent of workers plan to retire between ages 66 and 69 and a another 26 percent intend to put off retirement at least until age 70, far more than planned to work that long when EBRI conducted its first retirement confidence survey in 1991.”

Political Fallout From Sequester Yet to Be Seen
Roll Call reports, “At the White House and in the Capitol, sequestration has nearly faded from view as an issue, with no compromise in sight to roll back automatic spending cuts that were supposed to bring a doomsday scenario but so far have been met by shrugs across the country. … There are certainly a host of impacts that will start to bite next month — including furloughs at the Defense Department and shuttered air traffic control towers at smaller airports across the country. But while the impacts are starting to appear in local media across the country, particularly near military bases, rank-and-file Republicans generally say they aren’t feeling much pressure yet, and they expect the sequester will simply stay in place. … ‘I think, generally speaking, people haven’t noticed,’ said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, noting that the flap about canceled White House tours is one exception.”

Vote-A-Rama
POLITICO reports, “If they turn on C-SPAN2 toward the end of this week, even savvy political viewers might be shocked. Senate Republicans will be on the floor offering an unlimited number of amendments to the Democratic budget resolution. No, lawmakers have not come down with a very unusual case of bipartisanship. Instead, the Senate will be conducting a rare and chaotic ‘vote-a-rama,’ in which senators of either party can offer an unlimited amount of amendments to the budget resolution. Such a freewheeling process is peculiar to the budget resolution, which the Senate hasn’t considered for four years since one was last introduced in 2009.”

Study: Low-Wage Workers Have Gloomy Outlook
The Associated Press reports, “America’s lower-income workers have posted the biggest job gains since the deep 2007-09 recession – but few are bragging. As a workforce sector, those earning $35,000 or less annually are generally pessimistic about their finances and career prospects. Many see themselves as worse off now than during the recession, a two-part Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of workers and employers shows. The survey revealed that many people at the lowest rung in the workplace view their jobs as a dead end. Half were ‘not too’ or ‘not at all’ confident that their jobs would help them achieve long-term career goals. And only 41 percent of workers at the same place for more than a decade reported ever receiving a promotion. Yet 44 percent of employers surveyed said it’s hard to recruit people with appropriate skills or experiences to do lower-wage jobs, particularly in manufacturing (54 percent). While 88 percent of employers said they were investing in training and education for employee advancement, awareness and use of such programs among the lower-wage workers was only modest.”

Dems: Ryan Budget Hurts Poor, Women and Minorities
The Hill reports, “House Democrats intensified their efforts Tuesday to turn the House Republican budget into a weapon against the GOP. In a series of press conferences, floor speeches, YouTube videos and cable news interviews, the Democrats said the Republicans’ budget plan, unveiled last week by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would hurt the poor, women and minorities — all demographics that propelled President Obama back into the White House and helped his party pick up seats in both congressional chambers last year. Republicans have brushed off the attacks, arguing that the GOP’s message of balancing the budget in just 10 years will appeal to voters more readily than the Democrats’ alternative plans, which don’t prioritize deficit reduction in the short term.”

Blame Game Continues at Hearing
According to The Washington Post, “Lawmakers introduced government executives to the world of austerity during a pair of House oversight hearings on Tuesday. Or maybe it was the other way around. Members of both parties accused each other of having it backward as the Oversight and Government Reform Committee checked the Obama administration’s cost-saving practices. GOP lawmakers accused the Obama administration of hyping the impacts of the government-wide spending cuts that took effect March 1. … Democrats said GOP lawmakers should take ownership of the automatic reductions, known as the sequester.”

Cyprus And EU Officials Work To Come Up With New Plan
The Wall Street Journal reports, “The Cyprus government was working with European officials on contingency plans to keep the island’s teetering financial system afloat in case of a crippling outflow of deposits when the island’s banks reopen after an extended bank holiday. But analysts weren’t expecting the same help to come if Cyprus rejects its portion of a bailout deal, as its parliament effectively did on Tuesday by resoundingly defeating a plan to raise its €5.8 billion share from a levy on bank depositors. Imposing costs on bank depositors broke a taboo in the euro zone’s handling of its three-year financial crisis. Banks will reopen no earlier than Thursday and may stay closed until next Tuesday, officials said. … But after Tuesday’s ‘no’ vote, the ECB issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to provide liquidity to banks ‘as needed within the existing rules.’ The statement implied that banks would get the help if Cyprus’s Parliament agrees to the rescue package, analysts said. But if the deal was rejected, the banks would be insolvent and the ECB would withdraw its support.The contingency measures, described by three European officials, may not need to be implemented if the deposit outflow looks containable.”

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