Sequester-ing It Up

Perhaps it is best to think about the political gridlock and massive dysfunction on Capitol Hill as just another storm in a politically turbulent climate (thank you for the brilliant analogy, Rachel Maddow).

If you don’t understand what a “sequester” is, you aren’t alone. There are a few different meanings, but for this instance and in Washington, it is the $85 billion worth of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget.

By 2023, $1 trillion will have been cut thanks to the sequester and that’s on top of the projected $1.5 trillion cuts that were passed in 2011. Overall, projections place total cuts for the next decade at $4 trillion.

A couple of years ago, during the debt-ceiling fiasco that resulted in a downgrade of our national credit rating, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011. The sequester was a part of the law and was designed to force a deal.

I say “force” because, by its nature, sequestration is something lawmakers actively avoid. It is designed to be so painfully unpleasant that they will do anything to avert it.

These cuts are so devastating that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that about 750,000 jobs will be lost and that’s just from the current $85 billion in cuts that took effect Friday.

It will also be devastating to the poorest and most vulnerable in our country.

Congress would do anything to prevent the loss of so many jobs in a weak economy, right? They wouldn’t take action that hurt those who are already suffering the most in this economy, would they? A deal – that didn’t happen.

While most economists agree that a mixture of spending cuts and increased revenue (higher taxes on the wealthy) is the best solution, Republicans on the Hill have refused to budge.

The president proposed the mixed approach. Republicans then demanded deep cuts with no tax raises. End of story.

Remember the recent “fiscal cliff?” A deal wasn’t reached on setting new tax rates until the last second, where the Bush-era tax cuts were made permanent for all annual incomes below $400,000 (the best approach would have been extending them for annual incomes below $250,000).

That projected $700 billion in new revenue was narrowly achieved.

Rachel Maddow, host of the MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” first characterized the sequester as part of a storm in a larger, more turbulent political climate on her show Friday.

She described the current stormy political season as the “Crap Storm Calendar,” a timeline that began when Tea Party Republicans took over the House in January 2011.

She chronicled the mess: In 2011 alone, the House threatened to shut the government down twice and its aversion to raising the noncontroversial, self-imposed debt ceiling until the last second resulted in a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating.

In December, there was the fiscal-cliff fiasco. Now it’s the sequester. In March, we’re up for another debt ceiling fight. Hooray.

The Republican National Committee called the cuts “devastating.” Yes, the same party that has called for across-the-board cuts, measuring in the trillions of dollars, is now calling the cuts “devastating” after the president signed the sequester into law.

Never mind the fact that, according to a New York Times report, the House is happy with how things turned out.

The good of the country be damned – the GOP has leverage against the president! This is exactly what the House wanted. Let us all hope that the House is shaken up in 2014. This stormy season is wreaking havoc on America.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner – leader of the Tea Party pack…

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My Two Cents on the 2010 California Ballot Propositions

I am not a fan of the ballot proposition but since I’m a voter I will take positions on them.

Prop 19 – “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010” – NO

I oppose this but not for the obvious reason; it would create a regulatory fiasco with city governments able to set their own taxes and regulations. Marijuana needs to be decriminalized, not only because it’s a victimless crime with less adverse effects than alcohol and smoking but also because it would reduce the amount of time, energy and money that goes into prosecuting people with marijuana. Legalize it…but not this way.

Prop 20 – “California Congressional Redistricting Initiative” – NO

Back in 2008, Prop 11 established an independent commission (made up of people of different parties and loyalties) that would be responsible for carving out districts for the California Assembly and Senate. Now, supporters of Prop 20 want that commission to be responsible for carving out congressional districts as well. It sounds fair but I have major problems with it:

First: How much money will this commission cost? There is no set price tag.

Second: The commission would be selected by the legislature. So much for an “independent” commission.

Third: The commission would be unaccountable to the public. We would not be able to appeal or challenge newly drawn districts.

*This proposition also conflicts with Prop 27 (see Prop 27)

Prop 21 – “Vehicle License Fee for Parks Act” – YES

This would place an $18 license fee on most vehicle registrations (excludes vehicles registered under the Commercial Vehicle Registration Act). 85% of the money raised by this surcharge would go toward maintaining California’s public parks and beaches, saving the state $130 million a year. Saving the state’s public recreational areas is worth the fee.

Prop 22 – “The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety, and Transportation Protection Act” – NO

This proposition would prevent the state from tapping into the funds of local governments in California. It sounds great: Keep the state from robbing local government. However, even if the state is in a fiscal crisis (like the one we’re in now) and some cities have surpluses, Prop 22 would prevent the state from taking funds. This ties down the hands of a legislature that can only work with a fraction of the budget as it is.

Prop 23  – “Suspend AB 32, the Global Warming Act of 2006” – NO

As the title says, AB 32 (Global Warming Act of 2006) would be suspended under Prop 23. This is a mistake. We need to continue cutting down carbon emissions to lessen the effects of global warming on our planet and to help make our air cleaner. The time for action is now. Our future depends on decisions like these.

Prop 24 – “Repeal of Corporate Tax Breaks” – YES

This would prevent recent, governor-approved tax breaks from benefiting the top 2% of corporations in California, saving the state roughly $1.3 billion annually. This is simply another way for big business to evade taxes.

Prop 25 – “Majority Vote for the Legislature to Pass the Budget Act” – YES

Currently, California is one of a few states that requires the approval of 2/3 of the legislature to pass a budget. As we’ve seen, this has been disastrous and cost the state billions of dollars (California has not passed a budget on time for 23 years). Prop 25 brings approval down to a simple majority (at least 51%).

Prop 26 – “Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act” – NO

If you think that the budget is terrible now, wait until Prop 26 in implemented. This would reduce tax revenues for the state, reeking havoc on public services and programs.

Prop 27 – “Elimination of the Citizen Redistricting Commission” – YES

This initiative would eliminate the voter-approved Citizen Redistricting Commission (Prop 11 2008 – “Voters First Act”) and return redistricting power to the California Legislature.

What advantage does the legislature have over this commission? The Legislature answers to us; the Citizen Redistricting Commission (CRC) does not. If we disagree with the way a district is constructed, we can appeal and challenge it or vote our representatives out of office. We lose this with the CRC. We have no control over who is chosen for the commission; we do over the Legislature.

*If both Prop 20 and 27 pass, which ever has more votes becomes law.

Even though I’ll be voting on these initiatives, I’m still against propositions. One of the many reasons why California is in such a horrible condition is because the voters have become the law makers. California voters restrict the powers of the Legislature and then wonder why they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to.

The beauty of a representative democracy (republic) is that it produces effective and just government. We elect professionals to govern in place of us. If our representatives are doing poorly, we have the power to vote them out or demand their resignations…or impeachments.

Pure democracy produces chaos, ignorance and inequality. Whether driven by fear, anger or prejudice, the general public can enact disastrous policies that destroy budgets or deny a minority population their rights. Plato was onto something…

Hopefully, California will lead the nation by abolishing the initiative process.

Until then, vote intelligently.