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Editorial
Preventing the coming debt crisis PDF Print
Saturday, October 26, 2013 12:00 AM

BY US SENATOR ROB PORTMAN

 

Over the last thirty years, a debt limit debate has been a time for sober reflection for members of both parties. Raising the debt limit is, by definition, a sign of failure. It means that our government is spending more money than it brings in.

That’s where we are today. The federal government borrows roughly twenty cents for every dollar it spends. Hitting the debt limit is the equivalent of maxing out on our nation’s credit card, and without an extension, we aren’t able to pay our bills. It’s no secret how we got here—the greatest act of bipartisanship over the last few decades has been Republicans and Democrats alike overpromising and overspending.

To keep our nation from going into default, the Congress passed and the President signed a short-term debt limit increase this week that will allow our government to borrow enough money to pay our bills through early February. But how to deal with the debt limit in the long-term remains a thorny issue.

There are some who are calling for so-called “clean” debt ceiling increases. They want to raise the debt ceiling, put it on autopilot, and be done with it. Only in Washington would that make sense. A business in Cleveland that spends too much money can’t simply take out another loan. A Cincinnati family whose teenager maxes out the credit card doesn’t just ask the company for a higher limit. Instead, they sit down and take a hard look at the spending that got them in the situation, and they do something about it. Washington, D.C. could learn a lot from the people of Ohio.

What drives America’s deficits? Mandatory spending, the part of the budget that includes vital, but currently unsustainable programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Mandatory spending already makes up two-thirds of the federal budget, and it is rapidly growing. With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, Obamacare—a new entitlement—coming online now, and health care costs continuing to rise, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warns us that spending on health care entitlements will more than double over the next ten years. In fact, CBO projects entitlement programs will be responsible for 100% of growth in future deficits. If we are going to avoid a coming fiscal catastrophe for our children and grandchildren—with higher unemployment, higher taxes, and higher interest rates—we need to act now.

History shows us the way. Over the last 30 years, the debt ceiling has inspired Republican and Democratic presidents alike to engage in negotiations, working with Congress in order to come to a bipartisan consensus on how to allow the government to continue to borrow while addressing the underlying problem of overspending. In fact, in the past three decades it is the only thing that has worked: the debate over raising the debt limit has been the only time Congress and the president have reduced spending in any meaningful way—whether it was the Gramm-Rudman cuts in 1985, the Andrews Air Force Base Agreement in 1990, the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, PAYGO rules, or the Budget Control Act of only two years ago.

Those negotiations need to begin anew, and they need to begin now so we have plenty of time before the debt limit is hit again in February. It’s time to deal with the underlying problem of overspending. It’s this overspending that caused us to reach the debt limit in the first place. It’s overspending that will cause us to reach it again next year, and no amount of extraordinary measures or financial imagination at Treasury can stop that from happening.

Over the past two weeks, the President and Senate Democratic leadership have repeatedly promised that if we raised the debt ceiling, they would negotiate on spending. The ball is now in the President’s court. Now it’s time for the President to finally engage. It’s time for him to come to the table, to meet with us in good faith.

A good place to start would be the mandatory spending reforms President Obama has already agreed to in his budget, savings that add up to more than $600 billion over the next decade. We need to engage in pro-growth tax reform that gets this economy growing again and gets Americans back in a job.

The president says he doesn’t want to be held hostage over the debt limit. He’s not; he’s being given an opportunity to lead, using his own proposals.

Reaching consensus on these issues will take tough negotiations, and Republicans and Democrats won’t agree on everything. But the American people sent us here to get things done. Using President Obama’s own proposals, let’s take the first steps toward entitlement reform and onto some common ground to break the gridlock in DC and finally do something about our unsustainable spending.

 

 
Fixing the Obamacare mistake PDF Print
Saturday, October 19, 2013 12:26 AM

Congress is known to make mistakes. And when it does, it is the duty of those senators and members of Congress who come after to try and fix those mistakes. In the last decade, no mistake has been greater than the one that gave us Obamacare.

It was a mistake born of the same kind of blanket partisanship that the American people have come to deplore about Washington. This trillion-dollar program and 1,000-page bill was rammed through Congress without being read, analyzed or fully debated. It did not receive a single Republican vote in either the House or the Senate, a rare and remarkable thing even in today’s politically charged environment.

It should surprise no one that we are discovering new problems with the law, seemingly every day. As then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi infamously said: “ We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” And find out we have – what’s in it kills jobs, raises the cost of health care, and limits choice when it comes to what insurance Americans can buy and what doctors they can visit.

Obamacare was sold to our nation under false pretenses. We were told that Obamacare would bring down premiums. They are going up. We were told Americans would be able to keep their insurance and their doctors. Millions are losing them. We were told that Obamacare would help create jobs. Instead, millions of Americans have given up looking for work and many of the jobs that are available are part-time. And the implementation of this massive new law has become, in the words of one of my Democratic colleagues, “a train wreck.”

Because Obamacare imposes significant costs on businesses that hire full-time workers – defined as more than 30 hours a week – we are already seeing employers cut back substantially on the hours their staff can work. The University of Akron, for instance, recently announced it would be restricting faculty hours because of Obamacare. They followed in the footsteps of Youngstown State, Stark State College and others in Ohio are that being forced to choose between having fewer full-time employees or bearing the burden of massive new costs. It’s a story that is being repeated across the country, in businesses large and small.

And it’s not just unemployment that is expected to rise because of Obamacare. The cost of health care is likely to go up, as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that premiums could increase by as much as 436 percent in Columbus. And according to the Ohio Department of Insurance, Ohioans can generally expect to see health insurance premiums in the individual market increase at an average of 41 percent in our state next year.

Meanwhile, we are watching the implementation of Obamacare unravel before our very eyes. The health care exchanges that are at the heart of Obamacare are in trouble. In August, I sent a letter to the administration, warning that the technology simply wasn’t there to handle the overload of information the exchanges would need to process. I never received a response, but now we know that some of the exchanges, supposed to go online Oct. 1, are delayed because of unacceptably high failure rates. Recently, Health and Human Services announced that key components of the Small Business Health Options Program – or SHOP Exchange – will also be delayed until 2015. And another part of the legislation that was meant to insure long-term care – the CLASS Act – has been abandoned altogether because it was financially unsustainable.

If a commercial product had as many defects as Obamacare, it would have been yanked from the shelves long ago as dangerous to the public.

For some companies at least, the White House has taken steps to alleviate these problems. Earlier this year, the administration announced – in the face of dire warnings from the business community – that the employer mandate would be delayed for a year. Meanwhile, thousands of corporations and some labor unions have received exemptions altogether from the health care law.

And yet the individual mandate, the part of Obamacare that’s going to hit the average American, still looms over us all. There’s no relief for the American people.

Some people point out that Obamacare is the law and ask why I continue to fight to repeal and replace it with better reforms.

The answer is simple. The people of Ohio sent me to Washington to support policies that are good for Ohio and America and oppose those policies that hurt our state and our country. Obamacare is bad for Ohio’s economy and bad for Ohio family’s health care. This is why I support repealing the law and replacing it with a better way to lower health care costs, increase health care choices and improve the quality of care.

And that is a cause worth fighting for.

 

 
Who decides who's hungry PDF Print
Thursday, September 26, 2013 12:00 AM

By Abby J. Leibman

 

The Oct. 1 deadline is approaching for Congress to finish work on what is commonly called the “Farm Bill.” However, for millions of Americans, it’s actually the “Food Bill” — the difference between being able to put groceries on the table and going hungry.

And lawmakers seem content to let those folks go without enough food. The Senate has tentatively approved a $4-billion reduction in funding for food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This month, the House passed a bill that slashes 10 times as much. Both courses of action are unconscionable.

Rather than shredding the food stamp program, Congress must bolster its funding. That’s the only way to ensure that all Americans, including the 50 million who struggle to get enough to eat, can enjoy what should be a right in this country - freedom from hunger.

For 40 years, food stamps have been an integral part of the federal Farm Bill. SNAP’s inclusion represents a frank acknowledgment that too many Americans go hungry in spite of the huge bounty our farms produce.

But in July, for the first time, the House of Representatives turned its back on those in need and stripped food stamps entirely from the bill.

The chamber’s leaders promised to deal with SNAP separately. But they don’t mean to do any favors for the nearly 47 million Americans who receive critical assistance from SNAP.

The House’s recent approval of $40 billion in cuts to food stamps is double the $20 billion reduction it sought back in June.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed both proposals: $20 billion worth of cuts would kick nearly two million Americans out of SNAP; the newly approved cut of $40 billion will turn away as many as six million.

Defenders of the cuts claim that they are trying to preserve the program for “families who truly need help.”

But there are many more folks who “truly need help” than SNAP presently reaches. Indeed, we should be doing more to eliminate hunger in America — not less.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, nearly 50 million Americans live in “food-insecure households, “unable to afford sufficient food for themselves and their families. These households include more than 16 million children.

Worse, the food insecurity crisis is growing. From 2007 through 2011, the number of people unable to afford adequate food increased by more than 10 million. Those living in food insecurity now represent the highest share of the population since the agency began tracking in 1995.

In the wealthiest country in the world, such widespread hunger is unacceptable.

It was also unacceptable more than 70 years ago, when President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his historic “Four Freedoms” address to Congress, asserting that Americans had a right to “freedom from want.” He understood that a lack of access to basic nutrition undermines a person’s ability to enjoy other fundamental rights.

It’s a scandal that our lawmakers have done so little since then to make good on that promise of “freedom from want.”

The right to food was included in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was ratified in 1948. More than 140 countries have approved an international agreement directing states to enshrine this right into law. Many have amended their constitutions to acknowledge their citizens’ right to food, including India, the world’s largest democracy, and South Africa.

Yet U.S. leaders have gone the other way - stubbornly refusing to address growing hunger in the United States.

No country is better equipped to guarantee its citizens a right to food than the United States. What’s needed now is not the means but the political will to ensure that all Americans have enough to eat.

Unfortunately, the uncertain fate of food stamps on Capitol Hill casts grave doubt on whether our leaders possess that will.

Lawmakers must understand how much is at stake. More than one in seven Americans deals with hunger every day. Congress must spare SNAP from any cuts and protect the millions of low income Americans - children, seniors, military families, working poor, and unemployed - who are in desperate need of a just “Food Bill.”

 

Abby J. Leibman is the president and chief executive officer of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger (www.mazon.org).

 
Working toward American energy independence PDF Print
Saturday, September 21, 2013 12:23 AM

BY U.S. SENATOR

ROB PORTMAN

 

This week, the United States Senate began to debate a bill I introduced called the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act. This bill—the first major piece of energy legislation to come to the Senate floor in six years—is the next step in the all-of-the-above energy strategy we need to achieve energy independence.

We were reminded again over the past few weeks why that energy independence is so important. The Middle East, where much of our energy comes from, is often a volatile and unstable region. Since our economy depends on cheap, reliable sources of energy, disruptions in places like Syria have consequences far beyond their borders, often leading directly to an increase in the price of oil, with effects throughout markets of every kind.

We should not be held hostage to events happening a world away. Instead, we should find ways to produce more energy here at home, while practicing good stewardship of the resources we have. For instance, I have been a vocal proponent of domestic production. Technology has opened new areas to exploration, including the Marcellus and Utica Shale in Northeast and Eastern Ohio, which we should support. And I have advocated for common-sense, environmentally sound projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline. But I also believe there is room to improve in the area of energy efficiency.

That’s where the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESIC) comes in. By encouraging smart, common-sense techniques that will not increase federal spending, we can help manufacturers to cut costs and conserve energy while also forcing the largest energy user in the world—the United States federal government—to tighten its belt and save taxpayer dollars.

The proposals contained in this bill are common-sense reforms that we’ve needed for a long time. ESIC doesn’t contain any mandates on the private sector. In fact, many of its proposals come as a direct result of conversations with people in the private sector about how we can help them become more energy efficient while also saving money that they can then reinvest in their businesses and communities.

This legislation helps manufacturers. It reforms the Advanced Manufacturing Office by providing clear guidance on its responsibilities, one of which is to help manufactures develop energy saving technology for their businesses. It instructs the Department of Energy to assist with onsite efficiency assessments for manufacturers. It facilitates the already existing efforts of companies around the country to implement cost-saving energy efficiency policies by streamlining the way government agencies in this arena work together. And it increases partnerships with national laboratories and energy service and technology providers to leverage private sector expertise towards energy efficiency goals.

This legislation also establishes university-based Building Training and Assessment Centers, modeled after existing Industrial Assessment Centers located around the country, including one in Dayton, Ohio. These centers will train the next generation of workers in energy-efficient commercial building design and operation. Not only will these programs save resources, but they will help provide our students and unemployed workers with the skills they need to compete in the growing energy field.

This legislation will save taxpayers money. It makes the largest energy user in the world—the United States federal government—practice what it preaches by requiring it to adopt energy saving techniques that make its operations more efficient and less wasteful. This bill directs DOE to issue recommendations that employ energy efficiency on everything from computer hardware to operation and maintenance processes, energy efficiency software, and power management tools. It also takes the common-sense step of allowing the General Services Administration to update building designs to meet efficiency standards that have been developed since those designs were finalized. The government has been looking for places to tighten its belt; energy efficiency is a good place to start.

Energy legislation can sometimes be controversial, as it can include provisions that hurt employers and restrict economic growth. This energy bill is different. This is a bill that helps to create jobs, not destroy them. It is a bill that is supported by more than 260 businesses, associations and advocacy groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Sierra Club, the Alliance to Save Energy, and the United States Chamber of Commerce. According to a recent study of our legislation, by 2030, ESIC will save consumers $13.7 billion a year in reduced energy costs by 2030.

All this adds up to a piece of legislation that Americans across the spectrum can support. This bill makes good environmental sense. It makes good energy sense. And it makes good economic sense, too.

I look forward to seeing it become law.

 
Scant foreign support for US strikes on Syria PDF Print
Saturday, August 31, 2013 12:26 AM

By LARA JAKES

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is poised to become the first U.S. leader in three decades to attack a foreign nation without broad international support or in direct defense of Americans.

Not since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan ordered an invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada, has the U.S. been so alone in pursing major lethal military action beyond a few attacks responding to strikes or threats against its citizens.

It’s a policy turnabout for Obama, a Democrat who took office promising to limit U.S. military intervention and has cited the 2011 withdrawal of troops from Iraq as one of his administration’s top successes. But over the last year he has warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that his government’s use of chemical weapons in its two-year civil war would be a “red line” that would provoke a strong U.S. response.

So far, only France has indicated it would join a U.S. strike on Syria.

Without widespread backing from allies, “the nature of the threat to the American national security has to be very, very clear,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Charles Brower, an international studies professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

“It’s the urgency of that threat that would justify the exploitation of that power as commander in chief — you have to make a very, very strong case for the clear and gathering danger argument to be able to go so aggressively,” Brower said Friday. “He needs partners, and he needs to be able to make that clear to have the legal justification.”

Obama is expected to launch what officials have described as a limited strike — probably with Tomahawk cruise missiles — against Assad’s forces.

Two days after the suspected chemicals weapons attack in Damascus suburbs, Obama told CNN, “If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it; do we have the coalition to make it work?” He said: “Those are considerations that we have to take into account.”

But lawmakers briefed on the plans Thursday indicated an attack is all but certain and Obama advisers said the president was prepared to strike unilaterally, though France is prepared to join the effort.

The U.S. does not have United Nations support to strike Syria, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged restraint. “Diplomacy should be given a chance and peace given a chance,” he said Thursday.

Expected support from Britain, a key ally, evaporated as Parliament rejected a vote Thursday endorsing military action in Syria. And diplomats with the 22-nation Arab League said the organization does not support military action without U.N. consent, an action that Russia would almost certainly block. The diplomats spoke anonymously because of rules preventing them from being identified.

France has said it is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria because the use of chemical weapons cannot go unpunished.

“Presidents always need to be prepared to go at it alone,” said Rudy deLeon, who was a senior Defense Department official in the Clinton administration.

“The uninhibited use of the chemical weapons is out there, and that’s a real problem,” said deLeon, now senior vice president of security and international policy at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington. “It can’t be ignored, and it certainly creates a dilemma. I think (Obama) had to make the red-line comment, and so Syria has acted in a very irresponsible way.”

The nearly nine-year war in Iraq that began in 2003, which Obama termed “dumb” because it was based on false intelligence, has encouraged global skittishness about Western military intervention in the Mideast. “There’s no doubt that the intelligence on Iraq is still on everybody’s mind,” deLeon said.

Both Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton had U.N. approval for nearly all of their attacks on Iraq years earlier. Even in the 2003 invasion, which was ordered by Republican George W. Bush, 48 nations supported the military campaign as a so-called coalition of the willing. Four nations — the U.S., Britain, Australia and Poland — participated in the invasion.

The U.S. has relied on NATO at least three times to give it broad foreign support for military missions: in bombarding Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, attacking Kosovo with airstrikes in 1999 and invading Afghanistan in 2001.

Only a few times has the U.S. acted unilaterally — and only then to respond to attacks or direct threats against Americans, such as the 1993 missile strike that Clinton ordered in retaliation against an Iraqi plot to assassinate the elder Bush.

 
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