David Swanson / War Is A Crime & Ryan Grim / The Huffington Post – 2011-09-23 00:25:06
70 Congress Members Ask 12 Congress Members to End the Damn Wars if They Really Want Savings
David Swanson / War Is a Crime.org
WASHINGTON (22 September 2011) — Of the 70 who’ve signed this letter to the Super Congress there might be two or three I’d trust to fight for it as far as I could throw them, but it is an accomplishment these days to speak any bit of humane truth aloud. So read this letter and go forth and speak likewise.
Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515
September 21, 2011
The Honorable Patty Murray & The Honorable Jeb Hensarling
Co-Chairs: Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
The Honorable Xavier Becerra
The Honorable James E. Clyburn
The Honorable Chris Van Hollen
The Honorable Max Baucus
The Honorable John Kerry
The Honorable Dave Camp
The Honorable Fred Upton
The Honorable Jon Kyl
The Honorable Rob Portman
The Honorable Pat Toomey
Members: Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
Dear Co-Chairs and Members,
Congress and the American people have entrusted you with a great responsibility — ensuring the economic well-being of our nation and the creation of jobs. This is no simple task and will require both bold decisions and fair compromises.
We understand that you will consider many options when it comes to reaching the benchmarks set by Congress. But too often, when it has come time to reduce spending, the most vulnerable — the working poor and the middle class — have been asked to bear most of the sacrifice. Fortunately, there are other alternatives.
To generate much-needed savings, we strongly urge you to examine the costs of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, the wars have cost our taxpayers at least $2.3 trillion, with an additional $884 billion in future costs for veterans and their families. This adds up to a total of at least $3.2 trillion. By ending the wars and paying for a safe, orderly, and responsible redeployment of troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq, we can go a long way toward meeting our fiscal challenges. We propose:
Ending the overseas contingency operations emergency supplementals and on-budget appropriations starting in Fiscal Year 2013, providing $170 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 to fund redeployment, while saving more than $1.8 trillion (from current law spending levels over ten years.
These reductions are substantial and robust. They will put us on the road to a more prosperous and secure future while advancing our national security interests.
Exorbitant spending on failed wars that have killed thousands of Americans must not be exempt from budgetary scrutiny. Before we ask American families to pitch in more, let’s bring our troops home — and, in the process, our tax dollars home.
‘Super Congress’: Debt Ceiling Negotiators Aim To Create New Legislative Body
Ryan Grim / The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (July 23, 2011) — Debt ceiling negotiators think they’ve hit on a solution to address the debt ceiling impasse and the public’s unwillingness to let go of benefits such as Medicare and Social Security that have been earned over a lifetime of work: Create a new Congress.
This “Super Congress,” composed of members of both chambers and both parties, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, but would be granted extraordinary new powers. Under a plan put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his counterpart Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), legislation to lift the debt ceiling would be accompanied by the creation of a 12-member panel made up of 12 lawmakers — six from each chamber and six from each party.
Legislation approved by the Super Congress — which some on Capitol Hill are calling the “super committee” — would then be fast-tracked through both chambers, where it couldn’t be amended by simple, regular lawmakers, who’d have the ability only to cast an up or down vote. With the weight of both leaderships behind it, a product originated by the Super Congress would have a strong chance of moving through the little Congress and quickly becoming law.
A Super Congress would be less accountable than the system that exists today, and would find it easier to strip the public of popular benefits. Negotiators are currently considering cutting the mortgage deduction and tax credits for retirement savings, for instance, extremely popular policies that would be difficult to slice up using the traditional legislative process.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has made a Super Congress a central part of his last-minute proposal, multiple news reports and people familiar with his plan say.
A picture of Boehner’s proposal began to come into focus Saturday evening: The debt ceiling would be raised for a short-term period and coupled with an equal dollar figure of cuts, somewhere in the vicinity of a trillion dollars over ten years. A second increase in the debt ceiling would be tied to the creation of a Super Congress that would be required to find a minimum amount of spending cuts.
Because the elevated panel would need at least one Democratic vote, its plan would presumably include at least some revenue, though if it’s anything like the deals on the table today, it would likely be heavily slanted toward spending cuts. Or, as Obama said of the deal he was offering Republicans before Boehner walked out, “If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue.”
Republicans, however, are looking to force a second debt ceiling fight as part of the package, despite the Democratic rejection of the plan. Under the Republican plan, lawmakers would need to weigh in on the debt ceiling during the heat of the presidential election, a proposal Democrats reject as risky to the nation’s credit rating.
“We expressed openness to two stages of cuts, but not to a short-term debt limit extension,” a Democratic aide close to the negotiations said. “Republicans only want the debt ceiling extended as far as the cuts in each tranch. That means weâ€™ll be right back where we are today a few months down the road. We are not a Banana Republic. You donâ€™t run America like that.”
The aide said that Democrats are open to a series of cuts as well as a Super Congress, but only if the debt ceiling is raised sufficiently so that it pushes past the election.
“Our proposal tonight was, do two tranches of cuts, but raise the debt ceiling through 2012 right now, though the McConnell process would be one way,” said the aide, leaving open the possibility that Boehner could craft a new process and distinguish it from McConnell’s, which the Tea Party despises as a dereliction of duty. “Do that now with a package of cuts, and have the joint committee” — the Super Congress — “report out a package that would be the second tranch.
Republicans rejected that, and continued to push a short-term despite the fact that Reid, Pelosi and Obama all could not have been clearer that they will not support a short-term increase. A short term risks some of the same consequences as outright failure to raise the ceiling — downgraded credit rating, stocks plunge, interest rates spike, etc. It is unclear why Republicans have made this their sticking point.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel argued that the inability to come to a larger deal so far left a short-term extension as an “inevitable” option. “For months, we have laid out our principles to pass a bill that fulfills the president’s request to increase the debt limit beyond the next election. We have passed a debt limit increase with the reforms the American people demand, the ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance’ bill.
The Democrats who run Washington have refused to offer a plan,” he said in a statement. “Now, as a result, a two-step process is inevitable. Like the president and the entire bipartisan, bicameral congressional leadership, we continue to believe that defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States is not an option.”
Obama has shown himself to be a fan of the commission approach to cutting social programs and entitlements. Shortly after taking office, Obama held a major conference on deficit reduction and subsequently created, by executive order, The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
The White House made two telling appointments to chair the commission: The first was former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), a well-known critic of Social Security who earned notoriety by suggesting, among other things, that the American government had become “a milk cow with 310 million tits!”
Yet Obama’s Democratic appointment was even more indicative of whose interests took priority: former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. Bowles is a member of Morgan Stanley’s board of directors; an adviser to Carousel Capital, a private equity firm; and a director of Cousins Properties Incorporated, a firm with significant investments in commercial and mixed-use real estate.
Simpson and Bowles, perhaps unsurprisingly, produced a report recommending corporate and high-end tax cuts, along with cuts to Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits and a host of other social programs.
The commission needed 14 of 18 members to approve the plan in order for it to advance to Congress for a vote. The commission fell short, but did win a majority.
Proponents of slashing spending won’t make the same mistake with a new Super Congress. Only a simple majority will be necessary.
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