Friday, March 20, 2009

We Must Pass Obama's Budget




I supported Barack Obama not just because I thought he could win an election, but because I actually wanted to see his policies and programs put in place. He said what those policies were on the campaign trail and now he's trying to implement them as President. He's keeping his word.

The budget he proposes is extremely ambitious. It sets up the country to finally deliver on some really important things, namely alternative energy and comprehensive healthcare reform.

Green jobs and healthcare coverage that costs us less green.

We need these things, we want these things, we deserve these things. Short term and long term.

But it's not just up to him. This is democracy. It's also up to us.


Right now, right-wing naysayers (who can point to no viable alternative plan) are putting pressure on moderate Democrats to water down the budget bill by stripping it of its most important and prudent provisions.

And we're on the front lines here in Louisiana.

The President needs the support of Representative Charlie Melancon and Senator Mary Landrieu, but both of them are waffling.

We need to put pressure on our elected officials to support the Obama budget.

Republican activists are very good about writing letters and making phone calls. I think that sometimes we don't think that these things don't make a difference. In reality, they do.

It takes very little time to make a phone call.


Rep. Charlie Melancon:

Washington, DC Office
404 Cannon House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20515-1807
Phone: (202) 225-4031
Fax: (202) 226-3944

Houma
423 Lafayette St, Ste. 107
Houma, LA 70360

Phone: 985.876.3033
Fax: 985.872.4449

Gonzales
1201 S. Purpera Ave. Ste. 601
Gonzales, LA 70737

Phone: 225.621.8490
Fax: 225.621.8493

Chalmette
8201 W. Judge Perez Dr.
Chalmette, LA 70043

Phone: 504.271.1707
Fax: 504.271.1756

New Iberia
124 East Main Street
Suite 100
New Iberia, LA 70560

Phone: 337.367.8231
Fax: 337.369.7084





And since he claims to be a closeted Democrat, let's also add Rep. Cao to the list:


Washington Office

2113 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6636

Fax: (202) 225-1988

. New Orleans Office

4640 So. Carrollton Ave. Suite 120
New Orleans, LA 70119
Phone: (504) 483-2325
Fax: (504) 483-7944



Sen. Mary Landrieu:


Washington, DC

328 Hart Senate Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Voice: (202)224-5824
Fax:(202) 224-9735

Email Senator Landrieu

New Orleans

Hale Boggs Federal Building
500 Poydras Street
Room 1005
New Orleans, LA 70130

Voice: (504) 589-2427
Fax:(504) 589-4023

Baton Rouge

Room 326, Federal Building
707 Florida Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70801

Voice: (225) 389-0395
Fax:(225) 389-0660

Shreveport

U.S. Courthouse
300 Fannin Street
Room 2240
Shreveport, LA 71101

Voice: (318) 676-3085
Fax:(318) 676-3100

Lake Charles

Hibernia Tower
One Lakeshore Drive
Suite 1260
Lake Charles, LA 70629

Voice: (337) 436-6650
Fax:(337) 439-3762


Just take a moment. Three phone calls a day until this budget is passed.

6 comments:

DAMIAN said...

Passing the budget isn't in doubt, though I appreciate your activism.

Given that it's a virtual lock to become law: does the $2,000,000,000,000 one-year deficit bother you? That's around $6,600 for every person in America, and around $18,000 per taxpayer. I'm confused about where that money is expected to come from. Perhaps you can expand on that.

E said...

I STRONGLY disagree, Damian.

Obama's budget is very much at risk of being badly watered down by moderate Democrats.

While it is a given that there will be a budget, it is certainly not not not not a given that the budget will actually do what we need it to do in terms of investing in renewable energy, healthcare, and education.

Clearly you're concerned about debts and deficits over the long term. This is a reasonable thing to think about Certainly down the road, we'll have to do something to cut spending or raise revenues. But to make this the overarching concern in this economic climate is totally irresponsible and indicative of an irrational denial about the problems this country faces in the near term.

If we want to restore GDP growth over the long term, we'll need to invest in education and infrastructure while reducing costs around things like health care and energy. Sure that contributes to our debt but without creating the conditions for sustainable growth, we'll have no means to pay off the debt we've already created under George W.

DAMIAN said...

"Obama's budget is very much at risk of being badly watered down by moderate Democrats. While it is a given that there will be a budget, it is certainly not not not not a given that the budget will actually do what we need it to do in terms of investing in renewable energy, healthcare, and education"

That's a perfectly fair distinction (having A budget, versus having a USEFUL budget), but I don't think that's something we're going to have any control over. In your post, you indicated that we should contact our representatives to ask them to support the budget priorities as-is (if I read you correctly), but isn't the process of "watering down" caused by individual politicians skewing the massive federal budget in an attempt to benefit their own districts? This is a pretty ingrained process. To ask our own representatives to abstain from this time honored tradition denies the laws of political reality and also, indirectly, hurts our district by denying us a share of the loot (as someone recently said, pork is only bad when it's on someone else's plate). To be clear, I object to bloated budgets, and I object to pork projects, but I think the answer is turning off the budget spigot, not turning away a drop of money that could come our way.

Also, keep in mind that I did not suggest that your readers NOT contact their respective reps. I just asked if the deficits bothered you.

"Clearly you're concerned about debts and deficits over the long term."

Clearly.

"This is a reasonable thing to think about."

I agree.

"Certainly down the road, we'll have to do something to cut spending or raise revenues."

Certainly.

"But to make this the overarching concern in this economic climate is totally irresponsible and indicative of an irrational denial about the problems this country faces in the near term."

Economists differ on how long we can keep this level of deficit spending up. Some think we can do it indefinitely. Others think we've already wrecked the dollar as the world's reserve currency and that hyperinflation or mass-government defaults are now inevitable. I don't think asking questions about it is "totally irresponsible". I also disagree strongly that I have "irrational denial" about the country's near term problems. They are, to put a word on it, severe.

I'm not in irrational denial about our military spending (by far our largest discretionary cost), at $500,000,000,000 per year, almost equal to the rest of the world's military budget combined. I'm not in irrational denial about the billions of ADDITIONAL military dollars we'll be spending in Iraq, where we're apparently trying to get out, and Afghanistan, where we're apparently trying to get in (?).

I'm not in irrational denial about the $25,000,0000,000 we're going to spend this year prosecuting and imprisoning non-violent drug users, or the hundreds of millions of dollars we'll spend on bogus homeland security initiatives that have almost no statistical chance of ever catching a terrorist. I'm not in irrational denial about our non-discretionary spending, which is expected by ALL economists to skyrocket in the next decade as a result of Bush's idiotic and unsustainable prescription drug plan (among other unsustainable programs).

A lot of that is inherited from Bush, but that's all in THIS budget. If Obama wants my support, he has to be willing to stand up to the drug warriors and nation invaders and so on, and tell them: Your ideas are not only immoral, they're also unaffordable. But he hasn't done that; he seems content to perpetuate the worst of Bush's abuses and blunders.

It's all expected to add up to trillions of dollars that are not accounted for in tax income. There are only two ways to spend money you don't have: you can borrow it or print it. We appear poised to do both. I asked you if that concerns you, and so far, I don't feel like you've answered that question (except to say that not spending trillions we don't have concerns you MORE). I find that answer a bit irresponsible.

"If we want to restore GDP growth over the long term, we'll need to invest in education and infrastructure while reducing costs around things like health care and energy. Sure that contributes to our debt but without creating the conditions for sustainable growth, we'll have no means to pay off the debt we've already created under George W."

You have taken as a premise that spending now will increase GDP growth long term. That's based on the sound idea of investment: If I work two jobs to put myself through college, I can make more money later. If I save up money and invest it in a tractor, I can plough more fields, etc.

But is your premise sound? Let's say that instead of working two jobs to get through college, you take out $100,000 in loans. Now your future prosperity becomes more problematic. You are obliged to spend that money on an education that will really profit you, or you're going to be in WORSE financial condition later. Majoring in French history could be economic suicide for your future.

Although there are billions of dollars in this budget for "education and infrastructure"--college and tractors if you will--there are hundreds of billions for war, bureaucracy, imperialism, and gigantic corporate bailouts for America's richest bankers and businessmen. Given that economic reality, it becomes ESSENTIAL to examine the premise: will these spending priorities increase our future prosperity, balanced against the risk we take with our currency and our solvency?

I hope these arguments don't come across as those of a Bush apologist. I'm aware that the federal deficit exploded under Bush. I would prosecute him for criminal economic negligence if I could, right after I prosecuted him for torture, murder, kidnapping, lying under oath, dereliction of duty, eavesdropping, graft, and treason.

Instead of attempting to right the ship, Obama seems to have concluded that he has to outspend Bush. If he were cutting the military budget to a reasonable level (perhaps to the level of England, France, Russia, and China combined--you know, pacifist numbers) and ending our imperial wars, I would gladly accept his infrastructure and education proposals (I'm not convinced about them either, but they're unlikely to do great damage, compared to killing people in Asia).

But he isn't. So, for what it's worth, I have to remain the skeptic. To me, it looks like we're signing our own death warrant.

If the most pessimistic economists are correct, it doesn't matter: Bush was sufficent to totally collapse the American economy, and there's nothing Obama can do one way or the other.

I'm not that pessimistic. I think we have an opportunity, through austerity, prudence, and frugality, to set our economy to rights. Instead, we seem intent on keeping the party going through more borrowed and printed money. I don't think I'm going to convince you either way (though I'm happy to discuss it at further length), but perhaps we can renew this argument in a few years, and see where the current path takes us.

After all, this is not philosophical, this is a real experiment, in which we are both testers and subjects.

E said...

Unfortunately I'm a bit too busy to address what you've said point by point.

Generally, you're misinterpreting what I'm saying. I am not suggesting that Landrieu and Melancon take some sort of no-pork pledge when it comes to the budget. That's not really a big issue on the budget bill and not even close to what I was talking about.

The legitimate concern, and I'm not the only one out there talking about this, is that pro-business Democrats will cut out or won't ardently fight for really important provisions fundamental to the longer term efforts to rebuild our economic infrastructure such as cap and trade to incentivize the growth of an American green tech industry (amongst other things) AND the large down payment for health care reform which will hopefully reduce the drag that care costs represent to our GDP.

You talk about ending the war on drugs and cutting defense spending as a more responsible way of reducing debt while increasing social services. I think that in a magic fantasyland these would be on the table. Obviously, you understand that there are political constraints on what Barack Obama or any other American President can do in that regard - that is until society develops more sophisticated views on drug policy (though I think we're on the right path).

And I don't think anybody in their right mind would make wholesale defense spending cuts in the midst of two wars.

A big part of Obama's future plan to reduce our deficit involves drawing down from our two resource-hogging foreign entanglements.

DAMIAN said...

> Unfortunately I'm a bit too busy to address what you've said point by point.

That's fine; I don't interpret a lack of response as an admission of defeat. I tend to go on overlong anyway.

"Generally, you're misinterpreting what I'm saying. I am not suggesting that Landrieu and Melancon take some sort of no-pork pledge when it comes to the budget. That's not really a big issue on the budget bill and not even close to what I was talking about."

It's totally possible that I was misinterpreting you; your remarks were brief. What you said was this:

"...right-wing naysayers ... are putting pressure on moderate Democrats to water down the budget bill by stripping it of its most important and prudent provisions...We need to put pressure on our elected officials to support the Obama budget."

...which I interpreted as a call to support the Obama budget "as-is", and not argue to remove any of its spending provisions. I disagree, since I think there are LOTS of things I'd like to see stripped from it. Since I can't support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, I would indeed ask my representatives to oppose the budget, due to those concerns.

"The legitimate concern, and I'm not the only one out there talking about this, is that pro-business Democrats will cut out or won't ardently fight for really important provisions fundamental to the longer term efforts to rebuild our economic infrastructure such as cap and trade to incentivize the growth of an American green tech industry (amongst other things) AND the large down payment for health care reform which will hopefully reduce the drag that care costs represent to our GDP."

Remember, debt obligations are also a long-term drag on our GDP. Cap-and-trade and green tech incentives are drops in the budgetary bucket compared to any of the huge-ticket items I mentioned in my last comment. Pennies on the dollar.

Health care, less so, but I think American health policy is really a separate issue. It encompasses so much more than simple budgetary dollars, I hesitate to approach it in this context.

I appreciate that the initiatives you mentioned are important to you, and quite likely important for the world. I hope we make great strides in those fields. But from a simple budgetary perspective, they are insignificant.

Of course, it NEED not be so. One of the biggest weaknesses of the "free market" is that environmental damage is never properly priced. So a company like Dow can produce chemicals cheaply by forcing all of the people injured by chemical pollution to subsidize the costs of their industry. That is profoundly unfair, and significantly distorts the economy of an industrialized civilization. In the magical fantasy land you mention below, we would impose those costs (somehow) on the offending industries, forcing them to demonstrate sustainability directly in their business model. Such a change would have HUGE economic ramifications. Cap-and-trade is an acceptable first step, but not a huge budgetary player.

"You talk about ending the war on drugs and cutting defense spending as a more responsible way of reducing debt while increasing social services. I think that in a magic fantasy land these would be on the table."

That magic fantasy land is called Portugal, which has no ongoing states of war and has decriminalized pot, cocaine, and heroin, with great social, medical, and penal success. My views are not so very radical, are morally consistent, and have terrific empirical records based on real national case studies. Just not in the US. Yet.

"Obviously, you understand that there are political constraints on what Barack Obama or any other American President can do in that regard - that is until society develops more sophisticated views on drug policy (though I think we're on the right path)."

Attorney General Holder has announced that he will cease ordering federal raids on medical marijuana distributors who comply with their state law. In other words, he has tacitly admitted that medical marijuana is now a state concern, pro or con. That's progress, but it's a tiny step in a country that imprisons millions of its citizens for non-violent, consensual drug use.

But I'd like to look at your question a bit more broadly. Yes, I understand that there are political constraints on a president. To what extent does that obligate ME, a private citizen, to compromise along WITH the president? As far as I'm concerned, the Iraq War is a moral black hole. It was launched against a country that did not, and could not, threaten us, based on a combination of known lies and known distortions, to fulfill a bankrupt mission benefiting rotten corporate actors while making America LESS safe. Even paying my taxes on time makes me complicit in the murder of between 100,000 and 1,000,000 persons. Must I also ACCEPT this crime, and in fact actively advocate for it, because the president cannot oppose it and successfully seek reelection? Do I have to approve his $500B for the military because he might lose face or congressional support if he actually did the right thing?

For me, the answer is "no". Obama is going to do what he's going to do. As long as that involves perpetuating war, I have to oppose him. To the extent that he scales back the wars, I'll scale back my opposition. Perhaps some day, I'll be able to support him wholeheartedly. By current estimates, that would be some time in 2010, but frankly I have my doubts even with that deadline.

"And I don't think anybody in their right mind would make wholesale defense spending cuts in the midst of two wars."

Perhaps I'm not in my right mind, then. I'll point out that these are aggressive wars, not defensive wars. If we retreat, the Afghan Army cannot follow our army back to America. I would not be arguing to cut military spending if China were sending troop ships across the Pacific, or if Mexico invaded Texas. Of course, both of those scenarios are ludicrous. In fact, the US faces NO threat that can be meaningfully defended with a standing army.

"A big part of Obama's future plan to reduce our deficit involves drawing down from our two resource-hogging foreign entanglements."

The Pentagon budget this year is a roughly $40B increase over Bush's last year in office. Are we facing $40B more danger now that a year ago? As soon as Obama actually starts drawing down our foreign entanglements, I'll be right here to congratulate him.

Anyway, I've gone on at length again. I think my first question remains the most important. If you're going to go $2T into deficit in one year, how can you predict how much damage that's going to do? Money has to come from loans or taxes (if it's real) or from printing presses (if it isn't). Some day, perhaps some day soon, we're going to have to come to terms with our skyrocketing deficits.

Reagan put the question off. Bush I put the question off. Clinton actually presided over a break-even budget, (though in retrospect I wonder if that was due to the dot-com bubble causing giant economic distortions... but nevertheless, kudos, Clinton). But then Bush II plunged us back under. Obama has decided to follow the Republican trend. This worries me. I don't think my worry is irrational or irresponsible.

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