Thursday, April 7, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Full House vote likely next weekThe House Budget Committee passed the Republican's fiscal year 2012 budget Wednesday evening.
After a day long committee session that lasted into the evening, Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget was voted out of committee (22 – 16) along party lines without any major changes.
Democrats offered nearly two dozen amendments in an attempt to restore money for government programs ranging from food safety inspectors to Medicare. Their efforts fell short as Republicans, who outnumber Democrats, successfully blocked attempted changes.
Rep. Paul Ryan's budget cuts $5 trillion dollars - a figure tabulated by the Associated Press - over the next decade by bringing non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels, reforming Medicare by offering government-subsidized private insurance options and reforming Medicaid through state block grants.
Specifically, Rep. Ryan obtains most savings through four major programs. Over the next decade, his plan would cut Medicaid by $735 billion, Medicare by $389 billion, non-security discretionary spending by $923 billion and health care spending by $1.4 trillion by repealing health care reform.
He says his plan brings government spending to 20% GDP by 2015. (Last year, spending was 23.8% GDP.) Rep. Ryan's proposal also reduces revenue by $1.8 trillion over the next ten years by reforming the tax code and capping tax rates at 25%.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, ranking member of the committee, said a Democratic alternative would be available by the time the House votes on the Republican proposal, which is expected to be next week.
Updated: 5 hr., 8 min. ago
A commission appointed by the US Department of Energy is studying different options for dealing with spent fuel from nuclear power plants. New Scientist weighs the pros and cons of each.
Beds of salt up to 1 kilometre thick lie within 1 or 2 kilometres of the surface across much of the US. They were deposited hundreds of millions of years ago by evaporating seas.
Room-temperature radioactive waste from the production of nuclear weapons has already been stored in one salt deposit – in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, since 1999. Now the US and Germany are considering salt for future waste repositories.
Pros: Salt can flow like slow-moving Silly Putty - so any fissures seal themselves. Buried waste would relatively quickly become encapsulated by the salt, which would close in around it due to pressure from surrounding rock.
Cons: The still-hot waste could cause small amounts of water trapped in the salt around it to move, carrying with it radioactive materials.
(Image: New Scientist)
'Shale' refers to a wide range of clay-based sedimentary rocks, ranging from soft mudstones to harder, more compact rock types such as argillite. Different types of shale were deposited in different eras over the last 550 million years (pictured), when fine particles suspended in the waters of river deltas or off the continental shelf settled and cemented into rock.
France plans to open the first underground nuclear waste repository in shale in 2025.
Pros: Shale's properties mean it could trap radioactive material that passes through the rock. Soft shale is unlikely to fracture and is self-sealing, like salt. Shale deposits are found throughout much of the US, including areas of low seismic activity.
Cons: Hard, compacted shale is prone to fracturing and doesn't self-seal. Shale deposits in the US have not been studied in enough detail to determine their suitability for storing nuclear waste.
(Image: S Gonzales and KS Johnson, 1984, Shale and other argillaceous strata in the United States/Oak Ridge National Laboratory)
Granite is known as bedrock for reason. It's a hard, solid rock that is incredibly resistant to wear. Near-surface deposits of the rock formed hundreds of millions of years ago from cooling magma.
In the 1980s, the US temporarily stored spent nuclear fuel in an underground research laboratory surrounded by granite in Nevada. Finland and Sweden are pursuing nuclear waste repositories in granite, the first of which is scheduled to open in Finland in 2020. China, Japan, Switzerland, and the UK are also giving the hard rock a closer look.
Pros: Strong, stable rock that has a long history of being mined.
Cons: Granite is brittle and fractures easily, creating fissures through which nuclear waste could migrate into surrounding environments and possibly freshwater aquifers. Safe storage would require man-made barriers made of metals such as copper or stainless steel, but these could potentially fail while the waste was still radioactive.
(Image: JB Bush, 1976, Economic and Technical Feasibility Study of Compressed Air Storage, ERDA 76-76 report prepared by General Electric Company)
Deep borehole disposal
This concept calls for burying the waste deeper than the other proposals, in granite or other hard rocks. The approach relies on new drilling technology that makes it possible to bore a 0.5-metre-wide hole as far as 5 kilometres below the surface. Canisters of spent nuclear fuel would be lowered into the bottom 2 kilometres of each borehole and then covered with a 3-kilometre-thick seal of clay, asphalt and concrete.
Pros: Deep boreholes offer all the strengths of granite, plus they are far below any freshwater aquifers. If any radioactive material seeped into the surrounding environment, it would remain trapped in dense, highly saline water.
Cons: The concept is untested.
(Image: New Scientist)
Another option is to reprocess or recycle as much of the spent fuel as possible for further use. France, the UK, Russia, India and Japan currently do this. The US does not, but is considering the possibility as part of the current Department of Energy review.
Pros: Reprocessing recovers unused uranium and plutonium from spent fuel for reuse, thereby increasing the energy output from the original fuel by approximately 25 per cent. The process also reduces the volume of material to be disposed of as high-level waste to about 20 per cent of what it would otherwise be, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Cons:Plutonium that has been separated from used fuel can be used to make nuclear weapons, raising fears that it could be stolen.
(Image: Steve Allen/Brand X/Getty)
In the fight to provide a national energy policy that secures America's future, we need to maximize development of our resources to win. Yet many in Washington remain intent on a policy that closes off vast sources of domestic energy while increasing costs for families and businesses that are already tightening their belts.
By enforcing a regulatory blockade on domestic drilling for oil and gas, the Obama administration is imposing what amounts to an enormous tax on all Americans. But that higher sum of money we pay for gasoline, instead of staying at home, is sent to other countries in one of the greatest transfers of wealth in history. It amounts to playing roulette with our economic and national security, while sacrificing hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The timing couldn't be worse. Crawling out of the worst recession in generations, the U.S. economy is just beginning to show long-overdue signs of recovery. But any momentum that has been generated is suddenly endangered by the abrupt spike in gasoline costs. Over the past month, gasoline has surged to about $3.65 per gallon, contributing to a roughly 33 percent rise over the past year. The pain isn't just confined to the gas pumps. Higher transportation costs cripple small businesses and lead to higher costs for families and consumers on everything from groceries to consumer goods to airline tickets.
Several economists predict that our economy could slip back into recession should oil — now around $108 per barrel — come close to retracing its 2008 highs of $147. As millions of Americans remain out of work, the stakes couldn't be higher.
The most frustrating part about watching the violent price swings at gas stations is the fact that we have the power to stop the bleeding. Much of the recent run-up in oil prices is driven by political instability in the Middle East and the fear it has stoked of supply shortages. Meanwhile, a sea of oil reserves sits untapped in America and off our coasts, including off the coast of Virginia.
The prospect of millions of barrels of secure American oil coming online in the future would help to ease concerns about supply and lead to lower energy prices today. Yet the Obama administration has stifled new energy development throughout the country. In the Gulf of Mexico, it has slowed the flow of permits on shallow and deep-water drilling to a trickle. And it eliminated plans to tap Virginia's offshore energy reserves, which the Southeast Energy Alliance estimated could create nearly 2,000 jobs and produce enough oil and natural gas to fuel our cars and heat our homes in Virginia for years to come.
In the increasingly crowded global marketplace, America cannot compete without an affordable, secure and reliable supply of energy. The administration must answer why it is better for us to remain beholden to the whims of unstable dictatorships than it is for us to maximize our own domestic energy resources. Why is it better for us to export jobs and economic growth abroad rather than put people to work in America?
Safety and environmental concerns are legitimate and must be addressed. That much we can all agree on. We also must take advantage of every natural resource at our disposal, including cleaner alternatives such as natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind. Continued innovation will increase the amount of renewable energy we incorporate into our daily lives.
But any serious and candid conversation about our energy future must allow that oil will remain a critical component.
In America, we have some of the cleanest and most innovative drilling technology in the world. From a global environmental standpoint, it makes no sense to outsource oil production to often-corrupt countries with poor environmental track records. Who is likely to produce a barrel of oil in a more eco-friendly fashion, America or Nigeria?
Also detrimental to the goal of energy independence is the administration's regulatory assault on oil refineries. Hammering refiners with a barrage of new overreaching regulations under the Clean Air Act will serve as a burdensome new tax that will be passed on to consumers. If the goal is to chase American refining capacity and droves of jobs abroad, then the president's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might succeed. Either way, the result will be higher gasoline prices for families and businesses.
It's time for America to get serious about our energy future. House Republicans are taking the lead by proposing to reopen Virginia for offshore energy development and exploration, while setting firm timelines for the Interior Department to take up applications to drill in a safe, responsible and transparent manner using American technology, innovation and workers.
Overzealous regulatory policy is starving America of the affordable energy necessary for the economy to grow. By sending a clear signal that we are prepared to harness all of our natural resources, we can help break the back of rising gasoline prices and become more secure in our energy needs.
Eric Cantor, who represents Virginia's 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is the House majority leader. Contact his office at or call (804) 747-4073.
April 6, 2011
By Lauren Bloomberg or Askia Suruma, 202-225-8933
WASHINGTON, DC – Results from a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis released yesterday confirm that the House Republican budget would dismantle the Medicare program and wreak havoc on the health and retirement security of America’s seniors and future retirees. The Republican budget destroys Medicare for everyone under age 55, ending Medicare’s historic entitlement to benefits and converting the program into a defined contribution that would offer individuals an under-funded voucher to purchase coverage in a new undefined marketplace where there is no guarantee that insurance companies will even participate.
The end result is a dramatic increase in the financial burden of health costs, with future retirees paying up to nearly three times as much for their health care than they would if current law continued.
According to the non-partisan CBO: “A typical beneficiary would spend more for health care under the proposal than under CBO’s long-term scenarios for several reasons. First, private plans would cost more than traditional Medicare because of the net effect of differences in payment rates for providers, administrative costs, and utilization of health care services...Second, the government’s contribution would grow more slowly than health care costs, leaving more for beneficiaries to pay.” (p.23)
The Republican budget would…
Destroy Medicare for Future Retirees and Replace it with an Under-Funded Voucher:
“People who become eligible for Medicare in 2022 and subsequent years would receive a payment that was larger than $8,000 by an amount that reflected the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) and the age of the enrollee.” (p. 8)
CPI-U fails to take into account full inflation for medical costs and is well below average per capita growth in Medicare spending. It is unrealistic to expect the growth in health costs to slow that dramatically or for the need for medical care to change that much, which can only mean major cost shifts to beneficiaries. After all, this is a deficit-driven exercise, not an effort to reform the program or protect beneficiaries. The whole point of converting the program to a defined contribution and setting an arbitrarily low growth rate is to save money. It has to be deliberately under-funded or it won’t generate savings.
Increase Medicare Beneficiary Costs By Nearly Three-Fold:
“Under the proposal, most beneficiaries who receive premium support payments would pay more for their health care than if they participated in traditional Medicare under either of CBO’s long-term scenarios. CBO estimated that, in 2030, a typical 65-year-old would pay 68 percent of the benchmark under the proposal, compared with 25 percent under the extended-baseline scenario and 30 percent under the alternative fiscal scenario.” (p. 21)
This is not “reform,” but simply a massive middle-class cost-shift to individuals and their families. Thus, under the Republican budget proposal, beneficiaries would be forced to pay more than twice and up to nearly three times the amount than they would pay if current law were extended under two different scenarios (e.g., main difference in health world between “extended baseline” and “alternative fiscal scenario” is whether a Medicare Physician Payment Fix (doc fix) is assumed or not and what the doc fix is).
Move Medicare Beneficiaries Into Private Plans that Are Less Efficient and More Costly than Medicare:
“A private health insurance plan covering the standardized benefit would, CBO estimates, be more expensive currently than traditional Medicare. Both administrative costs (including profits) and payment rates to providers are higher for private plans than for Medicare...for a typical 65 year old in 2011, CBO estimate that average spending in traditional Medicare would be [11 percent lower] than the spending that would occur if the same package was purchased from a private insurer” (p. 21)
Historically, private plans have increased, not decreased, Medicare spending.
Drive Medicare Beneficiaries Out of Medicare by Increasing Beneficiary Costs and Discouraging Participation:
“Costs to individuals (beyond those covered by the premium support payment) would be higher under the proposal than under traditional Medicare, and some individuals would therefore choose not to purchase insurance.” (p. 12)
While CBO has not quantified how many people will opt out, CBO clearly states that the total effect of the Republican budget will be to force some people out of the program. Depending on who leaves, this could raise the number of uninsured, raise costs for those who remain behind (e.g., if a disproportionate share are healthy and wealthy), etc.
Shift Costs to Medicare Beneficiaries and Lead to Rationing of Care By Making it Unaffordable:
“Under the proposal, the gradually increasing number of Medicare beneficiaries participating in the new premium support program would bear a much larger share of their health care costs than they would under the traditional program…That greater burden would require them to reduce their use of health care services, spend less on other goods and services, or save more in advance of retirement than they would under current law. At the same time, the proposal analyzed by CBO would leave in place provisions restraining payments to many providers under the traditional Medicare program.” (p. 19)
While the Affordable Care Act included aggressive payment reforms that increased efficiency and quality while protecting and even improving Medicare benefits, many Republicans campaigned aggressively against these policies during the 2010 election. Ironically, the Republican budget now leaves in place all of the Medicare savings from the Affordable Care Act, eliminates a key improvement (filling the donut hole, which is addressed in another quote below), and goes much, much further by ending Medicare’s entitlement and turning it into a defined contribution plan. With the voucher, CBO says people will need to seek less care, spend less on food/shelter/heating and other services, or save more to pay for the new extra costs.
Increase the Rate of Growth in Medicare Beneficiary Costs:
“Moreover, CBO projects that total health care spending for a typical beneficiary covered by the standardized benefit under the proposal would grow faster than such spending for the same beneficiary in traditional Medicare under either of CBO’s long-term scenarios.” (p. 21)
Again, relying on private plans to deliver benefits increases the cost of care. So under-funding the voucher and forcing people to more purchase more expensive coverage in the private market results in a double-whammy for an older, sicker population.
Remove Medicaid Protections for Vulnerable Seniors Who are Dually Eligible for Medicare and Medicaid:
“Beginning in 2022, the federal government would establish a medical savings account (MSA) for certain beneficiaries with low income. (An MSA is an account that holds deposits that can be used for medical expenses.) Eligibility for MSA payments would be determined annually by the federal government on the basis of income relative to the federal poverty thresholds. The amount of the contribution in 2022 would be $7,800, and the annual amounts in subsequent years would grow with the CPI-U.” (p. 9)
A low-income senior can completely exhaust these funds with one episode of illness. For instance, a senior suffering a stroke who enters the hospital in January and then requires a skilled nursing stay of less than two months would face cost-sharing exceeding this amount. Under this scenario, their assistance would run out before the end of February. They would be on their own to cover any additional health costs incurred for the rest of the year.
Provide No Funding for a Medicare Physician Payment Fix:
“On the basis of the specifications provided by Chairman Ryan’s staff, CBO’s analysis included no change in the sustainable growth rate (SGR) mechanism for payments to physicians under Medicare.” (p. 7)
Republicans assert they want to fix the physician payment formula, but have never offered a solution and repeatedly voted against Democratic reform proposals in the last Congress. Once again, they have ignored the problem. Doing so not only raises questions about access in the future, but it jury-rigs the overall deficit and budget numbers by leaving hundreds of billions of dollars out of the equation.
Increase the Medicare Eligibility Age:
“Starting in 2022, the age of eligibility for Medicare would increase by two months per year until it reached 67 in 2033.” (p. 7)
While CBO states they have not estimated these effects yet, this policy will lead to an increase in the uninsured for people caught in the gap and/or an increase in employer costs as older people need to stay on employer coverage for additional years, as well as other potential adverse financial and health effects.
Eliminate Health Reform’s New Medicare Drug Coverage while Embracing Health Reform’s Medicare Savings:
“The proposal would repeal the provisions…that expanded subsidies for the “coverage gap” in Part D….Most of the other changes that PPACA and the Reconciliation Act made to the Medicare program would be retained.” (p. 10)
Republicans, including Chairman Ryan, created the Part D prescription drug program in 2003. This program, which was estimated to cost more than $400 billion at the time and is responsible for approximately $7 trillion of the so-called “unfunded mandate” talked about by Republicans, was not paid for. One gimmick employed at that time was to eliminate coverage as needs rose, creating the so-called “donut hole.” The Affordable Care Act filled this hole to guarantee senior citizens comprehensive drug coverage. The Republican budget repeals this critical benefit.
A copy of the CBO analysis can be found here: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/121xx/doc12128/04-05-Ryan_Letter.pdf
|I am not surprised by Mr Pence's comment 'Shut it Down'|
Washington, DC—U.S. Congressman Mike Pence delivered the following speech at the Americans for Prosperity rally on Capitol Hill today:"I'm Mike Pence. I'm from Indiana. To all Americans for fiscal responsibility and prosperity, welcome back to your nation's capitol.
"With a deficit this year of $1.65 trillion and a national debt of $14 trillion, and a defiant liberal majority in the United States Senate, it's time to pick a fight. It's time to cut spending, and cut spending now.
"In 2010, you sent a deafening message to both political parties in Washington, D.C. You voted to end the era of borrowing and spending and bailouts and you voted to end the majority of Nancy Pelosi once and for all.
"Since January 3rd House Republicans have gone to work, keeping our promise to the American people.
"We voted to cut our budgets.
"We voted to repeal ObamaCare lock, stock and barrel.
"We voted to cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, defunding ObamaCare and ending all public funding for Planned Parenthood of America.
"And this week House Republicans unveiled a plan to cut $6.2 trillion in government spending in the next 10 years.
"But House Republicans have run headlong into the liberal establishment here in Washington, D.C. Harry Reid actually took to the floor of the Senate and said that our modest down payment on fiscal discipline was 'mean-spirited, reckless, and irresponsible,' defending the Cowboy Poetry Institute in Nevada.
"Today on the Senate floor Harry Reid said that the biggest gap in negotiations isn't between Republicans and Democrats. He said it's between Republicans and Republicans. But let me assure you of this: the biggest gap in negotiations today is between liberal Democrats and the American people.
"The American people are demanding that we change the fiscal direction of our national government.
"The truth is Harry Reid and this administration just don't get it. They don't understand that the party's over for liberals in Washington, D.C.
"But let me tell you something I've learned here after 10 years on Capitol Hill: a lot of times things don't change here until they have to.
"It's time to take a stand. We need to say to liberals, 'This far and no further.'
"To borrow a line from another Harry, we've got to say, 'The debt stops here.'
'And if liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and force a government shutdown instead of accepting a modest down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, 'Shut it down.'
"This battle this week may just be a down payment on restoring fiscal discipline but it's a start. It's a first step. To win a lasting victory for taxpayers we do need to cut spending now. We need to win a victory for taxpayers this week in this year's budget. And that will set the stage for a victory on the debt ceiling vote. It will set the stage for a victory on the historic Ryan budget and it will set us on a pathway toward restoring limited Constitutional government for our children and our grandchildren.
"So the fight to cut spending is right here and right now.
"And with this I close: Republicans must show that we're worthy of this moment, that we're equal to this crisis, that we're willing to face this sea of red ink, to stop and turn and square down on behalf of the American people the liberal establishment in Washington, D.C.
"So let's put the political establishment on notice on this historic hill: Your days of dominance in our nation's capital are coming to an end.
"The American people are back in charge, and with their help and with God's help, we will face this fiscal crisis with courage and determination. We will take a small step toward fiscal responsibility and reform and we will cut spending now to preserve this last, best hope on earth for this and future generations.
"Thank you all very much and God bless you."
Yet another one week CR, why do we have a bunch of babies doing the People's business. Did any of you hear the booing and comments in the House this Morning. When I can get a video I will add it.......
|Washington, DC— At a meeting of the House Republican Conference, U.S. Congressman Mike Pence announced his intention to support a one-week Continuing Resolution that also would fully fund the Department of Defense for the remainder of the fiscal year:|
"While I am frustrated that liberals in the Senate continue to resist our efforts to include even modest cuts in this year's budget, I will support a one-week Continuing Resolution because the troops come first. H.R. 1363 will fully fund the Department of Defense for the rest of this fiscal year and will reduce spending by $12 billion.
"We cannot put fiscal battles ahead of support for those who are fighting America's real battles.
"We will not change the fiscal destiny of this nation without a fight. I am willing to keep fighting for one more week to ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to get the job done and come home safe.
"I urge my colleagues in the Senate to enact the significant budget cuts in this resolution, fund our troops and join with us in changing the fiscal direction of the national government."
to Prevent Members of Congress From Collecting Pensions Until They Reach Social Security Retirement Age
In Wake of New Budget Proposal Which Would Dismantle Medicare and Leave the Door Open for Raising the Social Security Retirement Age, Brown Announces Bill That Would Require Members of Congress to “Walk in the Same Shoes” as Working Americans by Tying Pension Collection to Social Security Retirement Age
April 6, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following yesterday’s release of a budget proposal that would dismantle Medicare and leave the door open for raising the retirement age on Social Security to age 69 or higher, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a news conference call today to outline new legislation he is introducing that would require Members of Congress to “walk in the same shoes” as working Americans.
Brown’s bill, the Shared Retirement Sacrifice Act of 2011, would amend the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) to directly tie the Social Security retirement age to current and future Members of Congress’ access to their federal retirement benefits. On the call, Brown released a county-by-county estimate showing the number of Ohio senior citizens that receive Social Security benefits.
“Raising the Social Security retirement age might sound fair to politicians who come to work every day in a suit and tie, but it’s a nonstarter for working Ohioans who stand on their feet all day long in a restaurant or on a factory floor,” Brown said. “Social Security is under attack by those who falsely think it adds to the federal deficit. These same politicians want to give extra tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent of Americans and tax breaks for big corporations and Big Oil while dismantling Medicare. It’s time for Washington politicians to make the same sacrifices that they’re proposing for millions of Americans.”
“That’s why I’m introducing legislation that would require Members of Congress to ‘walk in the same shoes’ as working Americans by tying their pension and retirement benefits to the Social Security retirement age. If these politicians want to ask Americans to continue working into their late 60s and early 70s before receiving critical retirement benefits, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have to make the same sacrifices as well,” Brown continued.
Currently, Members of Congress can begin collecting pensions as early as age 50, while working Americans cannot collect full Social Security benefits until age 66. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), retirement with an immediate, full pension is available to Members of Congress covered under FERS at age 62 or older with at least five years of federal service; at age 50 or older with at least 20 years of service; and at any age to Members with at least 25 years of service. For Members covered by CSRS, retirement with an immediate, full pension is available to Members age 60 or older with 10 years of service in Congress, or age 62 with five years of civilian federal service, including service in Congress.
Brown strongly opposes raising the retirement age for Social Security due to the high number of Ohioans who are engaged in physically demanding work—on a shop floor, production line, or farmland. Brown has long been active in efforts to protect Social Security from privatization, and has worked to ensure that seniors can continue to afford necessities like prescription drugs despite the lack of cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) that Social Security recipients have faced for the past two years.
Brown, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has introduced legislation that would require a supermajority (two-thirds) vote in Congress to make any significant changes to Social Security. Brown also strongly pushed for legislationto give a one-time, $250 check to Social Security recipients to help offset the rising cost of prescription drugs and other necessities.
As of 2009, the median retiree Social Security benefit is $14,000. Social Securitylifts more than half a million Ohio seniors out of poverty.