Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Moment of Truth - Part I

I think as citizens it is our right to ask questions – so here are mine.
(And yes – I am reading the whole thing – more tomorrow and the next day.)

“The Moment of Truth: Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform”

“RECOMMENDATION 1.2: CUT BOTH SECURITY AND NON-SECURITY SPENDING.”  …All security spending, which constitutes about two-thirds of the discretionary budget, has one overriding goal: to keep the nation safe. The remaining third of the discretionary budget is dedicated to non-security programs – the large array of domestic activities, including education, housing, law enforcement, research, public health, culture, poverty reduction, and other programs.  (p.17)
If “domestic activities” account for only 1/3 of the discretionary budget – why are they always the first to be cut?
How much do we have to spend to keep the “nation safe”?  Can we document a causal affect between money spent on a specific type of security and actual “safety” provided?  I think that question needs to be asked and where they cannot find a causal affect – that security budget should be cut.  We can no longer afford “the delusion of safety” when some of it is contributing to 2/3 of the discretionary budget.
Discretionary spending constraints must not ignore spending for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other future conflicts….Spending for OCO [Overseas Contingency Operations] would not count against the general security spending cap, but would constitute a separate category subject to a dollar limit of its own.  …Under these criteria funding for OCO could only be used in geographic areas in which combat or direct combat support operations occur, …(pp. 18 & 19)
Why is this separate?  Isn’t this currently part of the security cost that are eating up 2/3 of the discretionary budget?  Why does it not “count against the general security spending cap”  Are we not creating a new cost center here that defeats the purpose of reducing security spending?  And why, why do they think that this separation of funds is appropriate and necessary?  What is really going on with this suggestion?  “Other future conflicts” – I think we need to address that issue, ‘cause we CAN:T AFFORD IT!
The Commission plan explicitly sets aside funds for disaster relief and establishes stricter parameters for the use of these funds.   The disaster fund budget authority (BA) will be limited to the rolling average of disaster spending in the most recent 10 years, excluding the highest and lowest year.  (p. 19)
Why is this separate?  Isn’t FEMA part of Homeland Security – which is part of the “general security spending”?  Why does it not “count against the general security spending cap”  Are we not creating a new cost center here that defeats the purpose of reducing spending?  And why, why do they think that this separation of funds is appropriate and necessary? 
The Commission recommends gradually increasing the per gallon gas tax by 15 cents between 2013 and 2015. Congress must limit spending from trust funds to the level of dedicated revenues from the previous year. …Shortfalls up until that point would be financed by the general fund.  (p 20)
This one I have more than just general questions on.  To me there is something inherently wrong with this.  I would like to see a proposal that we review the Department of Transportation contracts and costs - cut costs, and then – only then – raise the gasoline tax.  They admit in this report “This hybrid treatment results in less accountability and discipline for transportation spending” (para 1, line 2)  Cut cost first – then look at implementing more taxes.
Like many other people who are commenting on this suggestion I feel that this is a regressive tax that will impact the working class the hardest.  Even if gradually phased in this will have tremendous impact on the working poor, the working middle class, anyone who drives for their living.  I cannot see how this is not regressive – this will have little to no impact on higher income earners – yet will cause more economic distress on the working and middle class.
Why are they not proposing additional taxes on luxury vehicles?  Why are they not proposing additional taxes on luxury private airplanes (a part of the DOT)?  I have to ask why - becauseican???
The significant growth in domestic spending over the last decade has brought an alarming proliferation of federal programs – many of which duplicate pre-existing federal efforts and each other. …The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will soon release its first annual duplication review of overlapping federal programs, agencies, and initiatives. The Commission recommends that in 2011, congressional authorizing committees report out legislation to consolidate and eliminate duplicative programs within their jurisdiction, and that Congress rescind savings from reduced overhead and program elimination.  (p. 21)
If it is known – as is stated / inferred here - why has someone not address this before?  It is interesting to me that the GAO is releasing its “first annual duplication review”.  Would like to give credit to Obama and the just past Democratic Congress for this – but don’t know (can’t find it).
Reduce Congressional and White House budgets by 15 percent. Although the nation’s economy continues to struggle, there’s no recession in Washington.
Impose a three-year freeze on Member pay. Unlike most Americans, members of Congress benefit from an automatic salary increase every single year
Reduce federal travel, printing, and vehicle budgets. Despite advances in technology, federal travel costs have ballooned in recent years, growing 56 percent between 2001 and 2006 alone.  …We propose prohibiting each agency from spending more than 80 percent of its FY 2010 travel budget and requiring them to do more through teleconferencing and telecommuting.
Have absolutely no issues with these suggestions.  I would like to see the Members take a pay cut NOW, followed by a pay freeze – it’s the right thing to do.
I do have one question.    If the Federal budget on travel is cut without setting more stringent rules on payment for travel, aren’t we opening up the potential for more back-door lobbyist paid travel by Members?  I think the travel proposal has to come with a strict set of rules – ‘cause frankly, I think the majority of the Members think they work for the lobbyists and not the US people.
Sell excess federal real property. The federal government is the largest real property owner in the country, with an inventory of more than 1.2 million buildings, structures, and land parcels.
In this economy who are they going to sell this property to?  China?  The Saudi’s?  Taiwan? Brazil?
Eliminate all congressional earmarks. In FY 2010, Congress approved more than 9,000 earmarks costing taxpayers close to $16 billion.  …The Commission recommends the elimination of all congressional appropriations and authorizing earmarks as well as limited tax and tariff benefits. This proposal will save at least $16 billion in 2015. (p.23)
I really don’t think this is a legitimate issue – even though it’s a popular talking point right now – I can’t support anything that “eliminates ALL”.  I think that earmarks need to be more closely scrutinized – but to eliminate all of them is not appropriate or necessary.
I agree with a past statement by the James Oberstar (D-MN) "They [earmarks] are a way for citizen concerns to be heard and responded to when they have tried through the normal procedure… and they don't get their fair share and their needs are neglected and ignored," Oberstar said. "This is a way for them to petition their member of Congress, who votes on these things and for whom they vote."  (Source)

To meet the discretionary spending caps we recommend above, Congress will have to make tough choices. The list of illustrative savings options accompanying this report includes $200 billion in potential savings in security and non-security discretionary spending.
Yes, they will.

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