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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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IPS Blog

Entries tagged "spending priorities"

Anti-American Budget Cuts

July 11, 2013 ·

Families across the country recently celebrated the Fourth of July like they always do: with annual beach trips, barbecues, baseball games, and fireworks. But one of my favorite local traditions was canceled, courtesy of Congress.

Every year on the Fourth, without fail, my family and I would take a trip to Sagamore Hill. Affectionately nicknamed the "Summer White House," Sagamore Hill was President Teddy Roosevelt's home on Long Island. Today, it's a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service.

Josh Rothman/FlickrFor me, Sagamore Hill was a magical place that came to life on the Fourth of July. Rough Riders rode their horses. TR look-a-likes strolled across the grounds. Nature trails demanded to be explored. And the great mansion begged visitors to see its curious antiquities.

Not this year. Due to the sequester, this national treasure was forced to reduce its annual budget by $76,000. Independence Day was canceled in 2013.

You know things are bad when the Summer White House can't afford to stay open on the Fourth of July.

But Sagamore Hill's event wasn't the only one canceled. All across the country, communities went without their July Fourth fireworks, traditions, and festivals. Bands were silent. Skies were empty.

Yes, the sequester has had worse effects: School budgets, environmental initiatives, and health services across the nation have been cut. People are losing their jobs. Some children have lost their Head Start slots. Some seniors aren't getting the meals-on-wheels they used to.

But the cancelation of smaller programs also demands outrage. They may be taken for granted, but they're the kind of services that build communities.

Colleen Teubner is a student at the George Washington University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

No Peace Dividend? Not So Fast

April 16, 2013 ·

This blog post originally appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog.

Obama administration’s budget included a promissory note. It will take them a few more weeks to tell us what they plan to spend next year on the Afghan War. Their intention to bring that war to an end, though, is clear.

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his Harvard colleague Linda Bilmes are predicting that this will produce “little in the way of a peace dividend for the U.S. economy once the fighting stops.” They base this bleak assessment on the kinds of meticulous calculations that anchored their 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War: on the huge sums we will and must be spending to care for wounded veterans, for example, and the money squandered when war support functions were massively and unnecessarily shifted to private contractors.

They are surely and unfortunately right that what we will save by ending these wars has already been “spent” on the future, baked-in costs of misguided decisions made during those wars. But that doesn’t mean that the prospect of a “peace dividend” is gone.

That’s because the ending of the wars is coinciding with a broader defense downsizing, propelled by the battle over the budget deficit. And the effects of automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration” on the Pentagon budget will actually produce a smaller downsizing than any of the previous postwar periods: smaller than after the Cold War, or the Vietnam War, or the Korean War.

There is more downsizing to do, therefore, on a military budget that, adjusted for inflation, climbed higher during the post-9-11 period than any budget since World War II. During this period the idea of making choices among military priorities was simply shelved. And this budget grew on top of the separate budget that has funded the post-9-11 wars. 

With an economy starved from lack of public investment, we need that peace dividend. Will we get one? You wouldn’t think so, from the looks of the administration’s Pentagon budget request this year, which fails even to stay within the limits set by sequestration.

Jeff Attaway/FlickrBut there’s better news in what the new Defense secretary has been saying. Chuck Hagel’s first major speech April 3 at the National Defense University referred to the “inevitable downturn in defense budgets.” He criticized past weapons spending programs that produced “systems that are vastly more expensive and technologically risky than what was promised or budgeted for.” 

Hagel has committed to a serious reexamination of his Department’s spending practices, a “Strategic Choices and Management Review,” that will actually tie our national security strategy to the budget available to pay for it. 

It will identify actual priorities from among the long list of missions the Pentagon has claimed for itself in recent years. The last major Pentagon reorganization, he noted, came during the height of the Cold War, when “[c]ost and efficiency were not major considerations.”  He promises that the new review will take seriously the proposition that “DoD is incentivized to ask for more and do more,” and work to change this budget-busting combination.  

Will he succeed? No telling, as yet. The first Obama administration (and last Bush administration) Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, had some of the same intentions, most of them unrealized. But the post-sequester world is different. In this world we know it really is possible to shrink the Pentagon’s budget, despite the best efforts of the defense industry, its congressional allies, and much of the Pentagon staff itself to keep it climbing ever higher.

To get to a Pentagon budget that is sized for our new postwar world, the downsizing momentum needs to keep going. While the war budget declines, we need to make sure that the “regular” Pentagon budget comes down with it. This is where a peace dividend can be found. We can’t give up on that goal so easily.  

Pemberton is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author, with Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, of the Unified Security Budget for the United States.

Budgeting for the Great American Train Wreck

August 1, 2011 ·

It's Aug. 1, 2011. Does President Barack Obama know where House votes for that last-minute budget deal are?

The pact he forged primarily with Republican leadership in Congress after months of wrangling is no compromise. The GOP got just about all the cuts it wanted. The Democratic Party didn't get hardly anything it sought, such as a deficit-shrinking revenue boost or a firm commitment to leave Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security funding unscathed. If it becomes official, deep social spending cuts will deepen the nation's growing economic woes.

It did sound virtually official when the news broke yesterday. But as of 11:30 a.m. today, the political forecast for passage in the House "is much more cloudy." The Hill is reporting that only 21 representatives are likely to back it and 11 have asserted that they will vote against the deal. That leaves more than 400 House lawmakers undecided with one day to go before the debt-ceiling deadline.

That means there's still hope the nation won't have to eat what Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver, the Congressional Black Caucus chairman, called a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." Wall Street is blocking efforts to shut down overseas tax-dodging havens that could restore $1 trillion dollars to U.S. taxpayers within a decade, notes Institute for Policy Studies expert Chuck Collins. And a task force led by Miriam Pemberton, another IPS expert, found that trimming just nine military programs could save $77 billion in the 2012 fiscal year alone.

In these difficult financial times our government should perform two basic tasks:

  1. Stimulate the economy to create jobs.
  2. Ensure that everyone pays their fair share including the wealthiest Americans.

The budget deal Obama struck primarily with Republican lawmakers does neither. Instead, "the very wealthy will continue to receive taxpayer handouts, and corporations will keep their expensive federal giveaways," Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said. "Meanwhile, millions of families unfairly lose more in this deal than they have already lost."

As Grijalva and many others have wisely noted, Obama has the power to raise the debt ceiling without caving on spending priorities. He could invoke Section 4 of the 14th amendment. Or, even though it sounds outlandish, simply order the mint to produce two platinum coins, both worth $1 trillion. That sounds kooky, but some scholars say it would technically work. And it wouldn't damage the U.S. economy.

This deal will only make things worse for millions of unemployed Americans. Plus, it protects "every single loophole, giveaway and boondoggle in the tax code as a matter of fundamental conservative principle," Republican David Frum argued in a startling commentary.

Our economy needs a new stimulus package, not a poison pill.

Explosive Nuclear Spending

June 7, 2011 ·

The world's spending more than ever on nuclear weapons. The eight nuclear powers — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — plus North Korea, which aspires to join the atomic club, are collectively pouring approximately $100 billion into their nuclear weapons programs this year.

And, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), more than 5,000 nuclear weapons are now deployed around the world.

With social spending cuts on the rise in too many countries to count, there's a petition to "cut nuclear weapons and the $1 trillion per decade we spend on them, instead of cutting the things we really need," writes Bruce Blair on Time.com. "Citizens need to bring this to the attention of their governments urgently. You can sign the petition here: www.cutnukes.globalzero.org."

You can also check out this OtherWords op-ed by Kingston Reif on New START, and this column by William A. Collins that calls for scrapping nuclear weapons and reactors.

Who's Buyin' Ryan? Only the Rich Can Afford To...

April 5, 2011 ·

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker reminds us, the U.S. economic policies of the last three decades, by favoring corporations and the wealthy over average Americans, have achieved the world's most breathtaking upward redistribution of wealth. America's richest 1 percent are getting about $1.5 trillion richer each year. Studies also show that the top 5 percent in this country hold almost 64 percent of our wealth while and the bottom 80 percent of scrape by on just 12.8 percent of the pie.

Yet under the guise of debt reduction, the chairman of the House Budget Committee's budget proposal would take from the already poor, give to the already rich and attempt to achieve debt reduction not by cutting real costs, but by privatizing entitlement programs and shifting costs from the wealthy and corporations to struggling states, seniors, disabled, sick and low-income Americans. And the revenue-raising necessary for serious debt reduction is glaringly absent, with proposals instead to actually decrease tax-revenue from those most able to pay.

Although the details won't be released until later today, there's a fair amount that we already know: Its foundation is his 2010 "Roadmap for America's Future" and the similar healthcare recommendations of the Rivlin-Domenici Bipartisan Policy Center Task force. This reverse-Robin Hood scheme essentially privatizes Social Security and Medicare, converting Medicaid from a guaranteed benefits program to a limited block grant program. At the same time, it would repeal estate and corporate taxes, slashing the income taxes the wealthiest Americans pay and instituting a regressive national sales tax that would most likely increase tax obligations for poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans.

Even if his blueprint doesn't attack Social Security too, it won't be safe for long. Privatizing Social Security is another essential piece of this dangerous and unfair GOP agenda.

Instead of further shrinking the middle class and endangering the health and economic well-being of those of us not fortunate enough to be among the nation's wealthiest 2 percent, a responsible budget would look to ease long-term debt in some of the following ways:

First, fix our broken health care system. Under Ryan's health care schemes, beneficiaries would increasingly bear the burden of soaring costs with no guarantee of receiving the remedies prescribed by their doctors. A better and fairer approach would expand the single-payer Medicare system nation-wide, achieving cost-savings, implementing real cost control and retaining guaranteed healthcare for all Americans. Baker also suggests that if Ryan is such a fan of vouchers, how about a voucher system that achieves some of effective cost-saving and health-promoting results: give Medicare beneficiaries the option of to buy into the more efficient health care systems in Canada and Europe.

Second, my Institute for Policy Studies colleague Chuck Collins articulates our argument for four revenue-raisers that would bring in a whopping $400 billion each year: 1) impose a small tax on speculative financial transactions that do little to strengthen the real economy 2) reduce corporate tax dodging by closing overseas tax havens and requiring companies to pay U.S. taxes on the profits they actually earn in this country 3) establish higher tax brackets for households with annual incomes of $1 million or more, and 4) Institute a progressive estate tax on fortunes over $5 million, with higher rates on billionaire estates.

Finally, cut the bloated military budget. Obama's bipartisan Debt Commission called for cutting the Pentagon's spending by at least $100 billion over the next decade. We need to cut more than that but we shouldn't accept less.

The GOP is right about one thing: We have to be serious about debt reduction. Ryan's dangerous and seriously flawed scheme, however, is nothing more than an ideological ploy to shrink government programs that help poor and middle-class Americans while rewarding the already wealthy.