Wednesday, October 30, 2013 8:14 PM
BY JOHN CRABTREE
Center for Rural Affairs
With the Farm Bill finally moving forward, the Center for Rural Affairs urges the House-Senate Conference Committee to ensure that the bill address the needs of family farmers, ranchers and small towns while also protecting our natural resources.
The Committee must reform the farm safety net, including farm program payments and federally subsidized crop insurance. There are important provisions included in one or both bills that will provide needed reforms to these programs. These reforms should move forward into the final bill. We urge the conferees to: adopt the historic payment limits and “actively engaged in farming” reforms adopted in both bills with substantial bipartisan support; accept the Senate’s modest reduction in crop insurance premium subsidies for millionaires; include the Senate’s Sodsaver provision that protects against destruction of prime grasslands and native prairie nationwide; and reject the House provision to obliterate the farmer and rancher protections provided by the Packers and Stockyards Act.
Real federal investment in helping small towns and rural entrepreneurs has fallen by half over the last decade. The Conference Committee should reverse this trend with direct funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant program at its historic level of $20 million annually and increase direct spending for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which provides loans and technical assistance to rural small businesses, to $10 million annually.
These reforms and investments have broad support in Congress and perhaps more importantly, throughout rural and small town America. They should be included in the final Farm Bill.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.
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.
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.
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).