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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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What’s Fiscally Conservative

A thought experiment today.

In recent years, Republicans in the US Congress, and in state legislatures as well, refused to approve budgets unless they cut programs.  Which programs?  Well, the ones that benefit the low and middle classes at the expense of the wealthy, of course.  There are a number of kinds of hypocrisy here, to be sure.  Two occupations and private defense corporation operations to the tune of $2,000 billion and counting?  Republicans didn’t bat an eyelash to approve all of that.  Tax cuts for the wealthy that weren’t balanced in the budget?  No eyelash there either.  A prescription drug program that cost additional billions of dollars?  Yup, still no eyelash.  Those are only a few examples of real costs that Republicans forced American taxpayers to pay for.  Cost that grew the national deficit and debt – issues that Republicans cared about only when a Democrat (and a black one at that) became President.  The Teabaggers didn’t get organized until the Kochs told them to get organized after Obama took office.  I don’t want to go through with this experiment, but if a Republican in 2016 is elected President, I’m willing to bet the Teabaggers wouldn’t object to continued deficit spending – so long as it’s their ideological causes that receive the largesse.

Given all this, I play “what if” when I read news stories.  Earlier this week, there was news that the Obama administration wanted to spend $236.3 million to eight states to improve electricity infrastructure in rural areas.  Which got me to think, “Where would Republicans demand spending cuts for “fiscal conservatism” to remain true to their debt fetish?”  Of course, Republicans will not demand spending cuts.  But maybe Democrats should.  In order to remain deficit neutral, what should we cut to spend $236.3 million taxpayer dollars – dollars that primarily came from urban areas by the way?  Should we cut agriculture subsidies?  Should we cut rural road spending?  How about drought and flood insurance subsidies?  See, this is where the rubber meets the road, Republicans.  What are you willing to give up to spend money to ensure rural areas have power in the face of weather losses?

Or how about the problem of forest fires?  By and large, this is a wilderness and rural problem.  Fires are burning in Washington and Oregon right now.  Where does the money come from?  Again, primarily urban taxpayers.  If Republicans want to cut SNAP money to veterans and children, why won’t they also propose cutting rural firefighting dollars as well?  Because they know the former affects more urban Democrats and the latter affects more rural Republicans.  Why don’t the mountain folks pull themselves up by the bootstraps and fight their own fires?  Why must they continue their federal welfare addiction?  Why do they like the nanny state so much?  Wouldn’t fighting their own fires instill a little confidence in themselves so we could reduce the federal debt?

How much do Republicans really care about the debt?  Only so much that it hurts their political opposition.  Republicans are considered serious thinkers when they propose cuts to programs that keep people out of poverty, that keep American children educated, that keep our food and water safer than they otherwise would be – programs that by and large impact more urban people.  The corporate media would make a clown out of any Democrat that, in the name of fiscal responsibility, proposed cutting programs that benefited rural populations.  I for one would sure like to know when Republicans are ready to get serious about debt reduction.


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President Obama Still Can’t Negotiate

The President this morning had important statements on what the group to be led by Vice President Biden will do in the wake of the Newtown terrorist attack.  After his announcement, the press asked many questions regarding the fiscal curb negotiations.  Here is a gem of a response from President Obama (emphasis mine):

I have gone at least halfway in meeting some of the Republican concerns.

Did Americans vote for President Obama to go more than halfway in meeting Republican concerns?  They did, even if they didn’t consciously think about it beforehand.

This is a frightening admission.  The start of fiscal curb impacts won’t start for another two weeks and Obama has already given up more than half the field to his opposition.  How many football games would you win if you let the other team start at your 45-yard line?  In the last four years, Obama’s defense hasn’t kept Republicans out of the end zone when he should have been scoring his own points.  How far will Obama yield just to satisfy his own intense desire to make a deal with anybody, no matter how ridiculous they are?  The American people are on the record rejecting Republican fiscal proposals, yet Obama continues to add them to his own proposal.  If the stakes weren’t so high, it might be entertaining to watch how this unfolds.


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How Much Of The Big 3 Will Obama Give Away Just To Make A Deal?

We heard plenty of rhetoric from Obama super-supporters leading up to the November election: how we had to vote for Obama because crazy ol’ Mitt Romney would destroy the country.  It turns out Democrats are just as eager to scare-monger as Republicans are when it comes to protecting those in power from accountability.  Largely left unsaid was what Obama would do if re-elected.  I argued with many friends about this topic.  I saw what the first-term was all about: taking progressive policies off the table prior to negotiation, negotiating for too long, yielding concession after concession while not getting anything of equal value in return from Republicans who only wanted to see him lose the 2012 election.

Now that Obama has been reelected, a political “crisis” that Obama and Congress purposefully created for themselves needs our attention.  The fiscal curb is approaching.  For a couple of weeks, Obama made a good show of touring the country and showing voters how smart they were to vote for him, because he wasn’t going to capitulate and concede on tax cuts for the obscenely rich or the Big 3: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  Social Security doesn’t add to the deficit because it has a guaranteed revenue stream.  Medicare and Medicaid could be made solvent for decades with minor adjustments that have nothing to do with things Republicans think they do.

I had no doubt we would see the following.  Obama made the following proposal yesterday: in exchange for extending middle-class tax cuts, raising the debt limit, extending unemployment benefits, and new spending on infrastructure, he would continue Bush’s high-income tax cuts for income up to $400,000 and would cut Social Security benefits.  That’s $1.3 trillion in revenue for $850 billion in spending cuts.  Obama has already given up on raising taxes for incomes over $250,000.  And he threw Social Security under the bus.  For nothing in return.

Mark my words: the Big 3 will take massive hits.  And unlike in 2005 when the country resisted a Republican President doing it, a Democratic President will do it in 2012.  Republicans will successfully get even more spending cuts in programs that need only slight tweaks while raising the income limit that gets subjected to a return to tax rates under Clinton than is present in this offer.  How do I know?  Speaker Boehner quickly rejected the President’s offer.  Why?  Because it ensures that Obama will continue to foolishly engage with the Speaker in closed-door meetings instead of speaking in front of the American people.  If he did the latter, as was his initial strategy, Boehner would have to agree to the President’s proposal.  Because Republican plans consist of everything Americans don’t want to see: slashing unemployment insurance, tax hikes on the middle class while the rich walk away untouched, cuts to the Big 3, etc.

And here is why that will happen: Barack Obama wants his legacy to be defined by his ability to make deals with Republicans.  The specific details don’t matter that much to him.  He wants to be perceived as someone who gets things done, regardless of who came up with the idea in the first place.  Health care?  Let’s try the Republican plan Mitt Romney got through in Massachusetts.  Climate Change?  Let’s try the Republican plan from the 1990s.  Budget balancing?  Let’s try what Republicans have wanted for decades: no social programs and lots of defense spending.

The best part?  We’ll all do it together!  Yay!  Be happy, Democrats!  You prevented the world-ending Mitt Romney from being elected and now your party’s President will dismantle the most successful programs that kept millions of Americans out of poverty in the 20th century.  Because we all had to vote for the lesser of two evils.  Phew, disaster was narrowly avoided, wasn’t it?


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Drilling In Colorado & Paying Your Fair Share

The Colorado Petroleum Association paid for a report that says if Colorado were to eliminate the corporate welfare currently given away to oil and gas corporations, Colorado taxes would rank second in the nation behind Wyoming. The message they’ve manufactured is that taking away their welfare will end up costing consumers more. I’m not buying it.

Here is the important fact: the ad valorem tax credit allows energy companies to subtract 87.5% of their property tax bills from the mineral taxes they owe the state. Why was the credit established? Gov. Ritter has provided that answer. The credit has its roots in the late 1970s when Colorado wanted to help the energy industry establish itself in the state. Does anyone seriously think the drilling industry isn’t established in Colorado? I agree with the Governor: enough is enough. Oil and gas companies are recording record profits every quarter. If the companies want to continue to do business in the state, they should pay what they owe.

Once the giveaway is canceled, the state will receive an additional $260 million in revenue. Gov. Ritter, looking ahead for our state, wants to use some of that money to underwrite “Colorado Promise” scholarships. That makes sense to me: oil and gas corporations pay their fair share and young Coloradans gain another avenue to further themselves.

There is an alternative ballot measure that would redirect the taxes to a different recipient: transportation (read: roads). This is a less optimal situation. Once the money is spent on roads, it’s spent. Roads need additional funding, that’s for sure, but Republicans are trying to do so without raising taxes. Here is my opinion: if our infrastructure needs investment, let’s invest in it. If nobody ever pays anything for the infrastructure, it’s going to fall apart and end up costing us more in the long-term. If the money is directed toward improving citizens’ future earning potential, I think the state sees a larger benefit from that in the long term. They’ll not only earn more, and therefore generate more revenue for the state, but they’ll produce more for the state during their careers, thanks on their increased education.

The oil and gas corporations want people to buy into their myth that eliminating their welfare would hurt their industry.  I’ll expose that for the lie that it is: are the corporations fleeing Wyoming, where their taxes are higher, for Colorado?  Of course not.  The energy industry is thriving in Wyoming also.

Colorado deserves its fair share from the energy industry just like it does from every other industry.  The time for giveaways is over.

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