Monday, February 27, 2017

Trump’s preliminary budget makes devastating cuts to most of the government

Bryce Covert
Economic Editor at ThinkProgress. Contact me:
1 hr ago

By increasing money for defense, everything else will have to be cut drastically.

President Trump is expected to release his outline for federal government spending on Monday, and according to multiple news outlets, he will increase defense funding by $54 billion while leaving Social Security and Medicare as is.

Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, confirmed to Fox on Sunday that entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare won’t be addressed in the budget document. “We are not touching those now,” he said.

But by increasing costs on one side of the ledger?—?defense spending?—?and not addressing some of the biggest drivers of government spending—Social Security and Medicare—Trump’s budget will almost certainly involve enormous and debilitating cuts to everything else if it doesn’t want to drive up the deficit. Indeed, the administration said on Monday morning that most so-called non-defense discretionary programs?—?everything other than entitlements and defense?—?will be cut substantially to pay for the rest.

According to the New York Times and Bloomberg, one big target will be the Environmental Protection Agency, whose workforce could be cut to a third of its current size. The administration also pointed to foreign aid as another place for cuts.

Previous reports have named a number of other programs that could be on the chopping block—defunded to the point of wholesale elimination. AmeriCorps; the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Department of Justice’s Legal Services Corporation and Violence Against Women Grants; the Office of National Drug Control Policy; funding for the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the Export-Import Bank; and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Electricity, and Office of Fossil Energy, among others, could all be zeroed out.

Even so, these cuts wouldn’t get very far toward helping cover Trump’s other priorities, given that most of those programs cost less than $500 million a year out of a government that spends $3.9 trillion. All told, the savings would only come to about $2.5 billion.

By contrast, an earlier report said that Trump’s budget would cut $10.5 trillion in federal spending over a decade. That represents a far deeper reduction than any past Republican plans; the budget proposal put forward by Republicans on the House Budget Committee last year called for a $5.5 trillion cut in spending over the same timeframe, which was already higher than any previous version.
On Monday, the president characterized his plan as one of rerouting resources. “We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump said. “We can do so much more with the money we spend.”

But if all of that pain has to be born by non-defense, non-entitlement programs while also making up for an increase for the Defense Department, the results will be devastating for an untold number of government functions.

Non-defense discretionary spending encompasses a huge range of government services, from law enforcement to the environment to low-income assistance. “It includes a lot of things that are important for promoting economic growth in the longer term like research, but also promoting opportunity for those who may be left out of the economy,” Sharon Parrott, vice president for budget policy and economic opportunity at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), told ThinkProgress. “It’s where job training is, it’s where education funding is.”

The CBPP’s analysis of a blueprint written by the Heritage Foundation, reportedly being used by the Trump administration as a guide, found that any programs other than Social Security and Medicare would be reduced by $3.8 trillion over a decade. For example, Supplemental Security Income that assists low-income children with disabilities would be eliminated and food stamps would be drastically reduced. But even those cuts wouldn’t go far enough, as the Heritage outline also cut back on Social Security and Medicare.

No matter what Trump puts in his budget outline, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll become law. Government agencies targeted for cuts will push back. Spending bills also have to originate with Congress and pass a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Congress would also have to lift current restrictions that cap increases on defense and non-defense spending that became law thanks to what became known as sequestration in the 2011 Budget Control Act. The full effect of the spending caps has yet to go into effect thanks to a number of bipartisan Congressional deals, but they are scheduled to hit in 2018 and will already seriously hamper these programs.

“Just living at sequestration levels would be very damaging,” Parrott said. “That by itself would be extraordinarily damaging and be counter to the idea of investing in key public services that help everyday Americans.”

Trump’s budget document will reportedly assume the economy will grow at 2.4 percent this year, higher than the 2.1 percent forecast made by the Congressional Budget Office. It was also previously reported that the Trump administration had asked its economic advisers to start with a GDP growth target of between 3 and 3.5 percent for the next decade and then fill in budget numbers to get there, even though budget making is typically done the other way around.

Mnuchin has said that the administration thinks it can get 3 percent annual GDP growth through tax cuts and regulatory relief, although there’s scant evidence that tax cuts fuel the economy.


Trump's Navy secretary pick withdraws, citing an inability to separate himself from his businesses (hunter) · Sunday, February 26, 2017, 8:35 pm

Another Trump pick is out. This time it's his nominee for Navy secretary, Philip Bilden, who is withdrawing because he couldn’t meet the requirements of federal ethics laws.

Sources in the White House and the Navy told USNI News that Bilden’s extensive financial holdings would likely not meet the Office of Government Ethics standards to serve in the position. In order to serve he would have to divest much of his foreign holdings, USNI News understands.

According to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Bilden's decision was "driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests."

Trump's pick for secretary of the Army, billionaire Vincent Viola, withdraw a few weeks ago citing a similar inability to disentangle himself from his businesses. It turns out giving up most or all of your business holdings in order to go work for Donald Trump, who has not divested from his own, is not as appetizing a deal as the White House may have made it out to be in the pep talks.

Especially considering, you know, the whole "this administration has been in power for a month and has already decayed into a smoke-belching dumpster fire" thing.

As an aside: It was just eight days ago that Press Secretary Sean Spicer condemned reports that Bilden would withdraw, tweeting that he was “100% committed” to the job.


Sean Spicer searching his staff's personal phones in attempt to find White House leakers

By Hunter  
Sunday Feb 26, 2017 · 3:00 PM EST

The White House is in full meltdown mode over the leaks of unflattering information about Donald Trump coming from inside their own building. Now we learn White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is searching his staff's personal phones in an attempt to find the leakers.

Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with about a dozen of his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration over the number of private conversations and meetings that were showing up in unflattering news stories, according to sources in the room.
Upon entering Spicer’s second floor office, staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check," to prove they had nothing to hide.
What a nice work environment that sounds like. You don't just have to spend your days constantly fluffing Donald Trump. You don't just have to work for Sean Spicer, a man who would lie about whether or not he was standing right there in front of you if lying about it would make your Pumpkinfuhrer feel better about himself, but you get summoned to Spicertown to prove that you aren't his personal enemy. Outstanding.

Hey, guess what happened next:

Spicer also warned the group of more problems if news of the phone checks and the meeting about leaks was leaked to the media.
Oh well. I guess even your own team just doesn’t respect you, Sean. Can’t imagine why.

Imagine if the Republican Party was a tenth as eager to investigate the connections between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, or any dozen of the worst Trump conflicts of interest caused by his eager mix of business and government interests, or whether Trump's taxes really do show collusion between himself and Russian-tied organized crime, as the Trump White House is to root out anyone who says mildly bad things about them. Wouldn't that be a hoot.

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Report Warns Of State Funding Fallout From Healthcare Law Repeal

Ben Nuckols And Ricardo Alonzo-zaldivar · Sunday, February 26, 2017, 12:29 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sobering report to governors about the potential consequences of repealing the Obama-era health care law warns that federal spending cuts probably would create funding gaps for states and threaten many people with the loss of insurance coverage.

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Deported With A Valid U.S. Visa, Jordanian Says Message Is 'You're Not Welcome'

February 24, 20176:28 PM ET

Yahya Abu Romman, a 22-year-old languages major, had just graduated from university. To celebrate, he planned a six-week trip to the U.S., where his brother, uncles and aunts and more than a dozen cousins have lived for years.

With good grades, an engaging personality and fluency in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish — he had worked as a nature conservation ranger while studying, and had his pick of jobs with tour companies in Jordan, a strong U.S. ally.

In 2015, Abu Romman was issued a tourist visa at the U.S. embassy in Amman, good for five years. With money from a graduation present, he bought a round-trip ticket and landed at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport a few days after the start of President Trump's travel ban on the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

That's where the positive impression of the U.S. he'd inherited from his father came to a screeching halt.

"My dad is a graduate from the University of Illinois," says Abu Romman. "He always told me America is the land of justice, land of opportunities, of generosity. That there are very kind people. And there are. But I think things have changed."

Abu Romman is a Jordanian citizen, but born in Syria. He's been to Syria only once since birth — and being born in an Arab country doesn't automatically confer citizenship there. Instead, citizenship is generally based your father's nationality. Still, Abu Romman couldn't persuade the border officer at O'Hare that he wasn't Syrian.

"He said, 'Sir, if you were born in Syria, you should have a Syrian passport,' " says Abu Romman at his family's home off a winding street in the Jordanian capital. "I said, 'Why should I have a Syrian passport? My father is Jordanian. My mother is Jordanian. We all are Jordanian, but it happened to be in Syria where I was born.' He knocked on the glass next to him, to his colleague. He said, 'We might have a problem with this."

The questions moved on to the case of Abu Romman's brother, who had lived illegally in the U.S. and overstayed a visa before becoming a citizen. Then border guards went through Abu Romman's phone and found emails he'd sent to flight schools in the U.S. and other countries.

Abu Romman says his dream was to learn to fly, and he was simply asking about scholarships. But the officer wasn't convinced that he wasn't planning to stay in the U.S.

"He said, 'Sir, we're going to be cancelling your visa,'" says Abu Romman.

He shows me his U.S. visa with the words "Revoked – cancelled by CBP" – Customs and Border Protection — written across it with a red marker.

Zina Khabbas (left), a Jordanian engineering graduate who says she wants to leave the country but has no interest in going to the United States. Khabbas was at a demonstration Friday protesting rising prices of fuel and government services.

Abu Romman says the officer told him he would not be allowed to call his embassy before he signed papers agreeing to be deported. He says he wasn't allowed to phone a lawyer or a family member.

"He said, 'If you refuse to sign the papers ... I will ban you from entering the United States for the rest of your life,'" Abu Romman says.

He was told he would be deported the following morning.

CBP officers took his jacket, his belt, his phone and his shoelaces, he says, and put him in a cold cell with a steel door and open toilet, along with five other people.

"I sat there and introduced myself to my cellmates. Most of them were engineers or something," Abu Romman says.

There were five mattresses on the floor for six people. Abu Romman says everyone crammed into the cell had advanced degrees, including an Indian engineer working for an American company.

Refugee and immigrants' rights organizations have gone to court over the issue of other travelers who were earlier denied entry to the U.S. after the ban. The case argues that the travelers were coerced by border officials into agreeing to be deported. This is similar to Abu Romman's account of his experience at O'Hare, though he is not represented in the case.

As of Friday afternoon, CBP had yet to comment in response to NPR requests about Abu Romman's experience.

Abu Romman had visited the United States once before, when he was in the sixth grade, and has wonderful memories of that trip.

"They were so welcoming – 'Come to us. See our beautiful land,'" he says. "Now they're telling you not to come, please. 'You're not welcome.'"

He's been told by the U.S. embassy in Jordan he can apply again for a visa, but probably shouldn't do it right way. Abu Romman says he probably will, but it's been a painful lesson. He seems genuinely puzzled by the assumption by border officers that he might try to stay in the U.S.

"I'm a lot safer in Jordan," he says. "You hear about people being robbed and killed [in the U.S.] all the time. My relatives say sometimes even in gas stations, there are bullet-proof windows between people working there and the customer. You never have to worry about that here."

Most Jordanians say their biggest problems are economic. At a demonstration Friday in downtown Amman to protest price increases in fuel and public services, another recent graduate, Zina Khabbas, said she was thinking of moving to the Gulf.

Khabbas, wearing designer sunglasses and an elegant head scarf woven with gold threads, is an engineer. She says it's tough to make ends meet in Jordan, but neither she nor her friends are considering the U.S.

"America was an opportunity for people here before," says the 22-year-old. "But now, no one is actually thinking about the United States for a future place to live."


This week in the war on workers: Republicans take aim at retirement savings program (laura Clawson) · Saturday, February 25, 2017, 7:29 pm

The United States is heading for a major retirement crisis, with the shift from pensions to 401(k)s leaving at least half of households in danger of running short of money in retirement. There are a lot of possible solutions to that, and one of them doesn’t even involve employers paying their workers more:

What if people who wait tables, wash cars, take care of children, or perform other low-wage jobs for small businesses—which often don’t offer 401(k) savings plans—could have money taken out of every paycheck and deposited into a low-cost retirement savings account operated through the state government? Five states have enacted plans that are making this possible, and 28 states are at various stages of considering such plans. If all of these states did enact these laws, 63 million people could have access to retirement savings options.

This was the goal of the Obama administration, which put in place regulations to help states that wanted to provide retirement savings options. Though some states had set out on this path before, this new policy that made it easier and safer for states to offer these plans, paved the way for this positive development in the states. This was great news for millions of workers! Make it easy for people whose employers don’t offer retirement savings option to do the responsible thing: put away money every month toward their retirement in a way that limits the amount of their savings that is lost to fees and commissions. It helps people prepare for their old age. It chips away at a looming retirement crisis. What’s not to like?

You know where this is going, right? Of course you do. Republicans don’t like it because of this part: “in a way that limits the amount of their savings that is lost to fees and commissions.” Those fees and commissions don’t vanish into thin air, they go into the bank accounts of rich people. Plus, letting workers save their own money toward retirement creates a little extra work for employers, and there are a lot of crappy bosses out there who’d rather not bother, even if it means their workers will suffer in retirement. So the regulation helping states offer this retirement option is one more regulation being slashed by congressional Republicans.

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Pruitt lied to senators in saying he did not use a private email server for official state business (meteor Blades) · Saturday, February 25, 2017, 1:58 pm

Two years before Scott Pruitt was chosen to lead the Environmental Protection Agency that he wants to wreck, Fox 25, the Oklahoma City Fox affiliate, began seeking documents through the Freedom of Information Act relating to his term as Oklahoma attorney general. In the process, the station learned that Pruitt had used a private server for some emails he sent and received relating to official government business. Now the state attorney general’s office has confirmed that Pruitt did, in fact, do this.

Although it is illegal under federal law to use private email accounts for official government business, under Oklahoma law, using private email to conduct state business is not illegal as long as those records are included in searches for public documents. However, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, testified that he had never used private email for state business:

Senator Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, asked Pruitt directly, “Have you ever conducted business using your personal email accounts, nonofficial Oklahoma Attorney General email accounts, text messages, instant messenger, voicemails, or any other medium?”

“I use only my official OAG [Office of the Attorney General] email address and government issued phone to conduct official business,” Pruitt replied.

A flat-out lie. Or rather, another flat-out lie.

What’s the penalty for Republican officials who cover up their actions by lying under oath? Taking back the keys to an agency that Pruitt has made clear he wants to wreck? No? Too harsh? How about a subpoena to come back, admit he lied and at least get a wrist-slap from the EPW committee? No? Still too tough on the poor guy?

How about an attaboy! champagne toast?

Given the average of four unpunished lies a day coming from Pr*sident Trump, it’s pretty clear that Pruitt’s perjury will scarcely raise an eyebrow.


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