Tag Archives: H.R. 5652

The Unflyable,The Unfloatable, and the Unnecessary

Before we get too involved in the latest bubbling brouhaha from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) about yet another deficit standoff, there are still some elements of the GOP scuttling of last summer’s debt deal which deserve more attention.  On May 10, 2012 Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) voted “aye” on H.R. 5652, [roll call 247] which in the simplest possible terms protected Defense Department spending from any cuts while doing violence to Department of Agriculture, Health Care, Medicaid, Financial Regulation implementation, and Social Services Block Grants including Meals on Wheels and other programs for the elderly and disabled.

This opens the opportunity to discuss what cuts to Pentagon spending might have been rationally considered?

The Unflyable F-22:  Last Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stepped in to announce new flight restrictions on this troubled aircraft, “…Panetta endorsed Air Force efforts to figure out why some F-22 pilots have experienced dizziness and other symptoms of an oxygen shortage while flying…” And, there’s more: “Panetta was briefed on the problem Friday, just days after a CBS “60 Minutes” report featured Capt. Josh Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon, two F-22 pilots from Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton. Each said that during some flights, they and other pilots have experienced oxygen deprivation, disorientation and other problems. They cited safety concerns and the potential for long-term personal health problems.” [VAPlt]

“The stealth F-22 Raptor, at an estimated $420 million each, is America’s most expensive fighter jet. Despite going combat ready in late 2005, the plane has yet to take off for a single combat mission. The whole fleet, estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers up to $79 billion, was grounded for nearly five months last year as the Air Force investigated the mystery problem, but a solution was never found and the Air Force has cautiously allowed the planes to fly since.” [ABC]

The cost of the entire Social Services Block Grant Program is $1.7 billion annually.  [CBPP pdf] It would take 47 1/2 years for the Social Services Block Grant program to run up $79 billion in expenses.   But, apparently Representatives Amodei and Heck believe it’s a “better investment” to continue spending taxpayer dollars on an unflyable aircraft than Meals on Wheels?

An Unfloatable Boat:   What on earth could make us leery of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program?

“From the time the Navy accepted LCS-1 from Lockheed Martin on September 18, 2008, until the ship went into dry dock in the summer of 2011—not even 1,000 days later—there were 640 chargeable equipment failures on the ship.  On average then, something on the ship failed on two out of every three days. From the time the Navy accepted LCS-1 from Lockheed Martin on September 18, 2008, until the ship went into dry dock in the summer of 2011—not even 1,000 days later—there were 640 chargeable equipment failures on the ship. On average then, something on the ship failed on two out of every three days.”  [POGO]

But wait, it gets worse:

“These failures during deployment were not the last time LCS-1 would face significant operational challenges. Before and during the ship’s second set of rough water trials in February 2011, 17 cracks were found on the ship, according to the Navy’s Crack Monitoring Survey During Rough Water Trials Period #2 (enclosed).[13] For example, a crack over 18 inches long was found at the corner of the deckhouse near a bi-metallic strip that binds the ships aluminum deckhouse and steel hull together.”  [POGO]

What every ship needs — an 18 inch crack in the part that binds the deck and the hull together….  Think things couldn’t get worse?

“The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom is plagued by extensive corrosion and manufacturing issues more recent and serious than anything the Pentagon or prime contractor Lockheed Martin has publicly acknowledged thus far.

This is based on a guided tour of the ship in dry dock, as well as sources intimately familiar with Freedom’s design, repairs and operations, U.S. Navy documents and defense analysts.

The vessel is rusting and blistered by corrosion in many areas, marred by crack repairs throughout the deckhouse and hampered by what appear to be flaws in vital piping systems.

Corrosion is particularly evident throughout the ship’s waterborne mission area, located at the Freedom’s stern, because of a large gap between the stern doors and the vessel’s deck floor, which allows water to pour in when the doors are closed. They are supposed to form a watertight seal (see photo.)” [Aviation Week]

Yes, the magazine has a picture.  And, how much as this LCS mess already cost U.S. taxpayers?  Answer:  $7.6 Billion. [Speier] How much did the Department of Agriculture spend on the SNAP (food stamp program) in 2011?  Answer: $75,669,320.  [SNAP annual report]  Now, divide $7.6 billion by $75.7 million — How long could we run the SNAP program?

The Dubious Double Engine:  The Bush Administration tried to kill it, the Pentagon doesn’t want it, the Senate voted it down, the House voted it down — but It’s Baacckkk!  That would be the duplicate engine for the F-35.

If we apply just a bit of imagination we can almost see this mechanical Banquo’s Ghost appear before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who cries out: “What man dare, I dare: Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, The arm’d rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger; Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never tremble: or be alive again, And dare me to the desert with thy sword; If trembling I inhabit then, protest me The baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence!” (MacBeth3:2)

However, no matter how many times the Pentagon, the Administration, or the Congress may shout out “Unreal mockery, hence!” members of the GOP in the House will resurrect it.

“Condemned as a $450 million-a-year boondoggle earmark from House leaders who represent General Electric jet engine workers, supporters on the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee yesterday included a provision in the fiscal 2012 Pentagon spending bill that would force the department to continue the dueling engine programs for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Section 215 of the markup from the tactical air and land forces committee, however, does not include any funding. Instead, it limits spending for improvements to the F-35 Lightning II propulsion system, now focused only on Pratt & Whitney engines, unless the secretary of defense continues with the General Electric engine project.”  [USNews May 4, 2012]

Yes, that is $450 million per year, for duplicate engines NO ONE wants.

It is all too easy to find waste and dubious transactions in the Pentagon Budget, but for all the $3,000 toilet seats and $500 hammers, there are some portions of the budget which might use more attention.

If the Pentagon could free itself from the expensive and evidently troubled programs such as those described above, could some funds be restored for military construction and family housing?  “The $4.9 billion sought for military construction and family housing is down from the $5.8 billion requested in fiscal 2011. Military construction carries that cut, as housing would see a $100 million increase over last year’s request.” [AT]

If the Defense Department didn’t have to fund duplicate engines at $450 million annually, then could we raise the pay for a new enlistee above $1,491 per month.  How many of us would put ourselves in harm’s way for $17,892 per year?  God Bless those kids, and most of them are our youngest and best, they’re barely starting out above the minimum wage, while willing to give us their maximum effort.

There are about 1,468,364 reasons to support Defense Department funding, those would be the young men and women serving this country, and they do need the best equipment we can provide. They need housing, medical services, and educational opportunities. They need better pay — what they don’t need are aircraft that can’t fly, boats that crack, and duplicate engines.   However, the Republican controlled  House of Representatives seems determined to sustain funding for DoD programs of highly dubious benefit at the expense of both our vulnerable military and civilian families.

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Filed under Amodei, Defense spending, Heck

The Great Bamboozle: Plutocracy or Democracy?

Return with us now to the Great Deficit Debate, the one which resulted in the Budget Control Act of 2011. (PDF)  S. 365 passed the House of Representatives on a 269-161 vote, August 1, 2011,  [roll call 690] with Nevada Representatives Heck and Berkley both voting in the affirmative.  The “promise” at the time was that Democrats would agree to shaving funds from social programs while Republicans would agree to cuts for the Defense Department.   Thus much for promises.

On May 10, 2012 the House Republicans pulled the plug on the agreement in H.R. 5652 which restored the funds for the Department of Defense and kept or increased cuts in economic automatic stabilization programs and social services.  Representatives Amodei (R-NV2) and Heck (R-NV3) were pleased to vote in favor of the bill, Representative Berkley (D-NV1) held to the initial bargain and voted against it. [roll call 247]

The Congressional Budget Office reported that H.R. 5642 would, “Assuming enactment by July 1, 2012, CBO and JCT estimate that the legislation would yield net deficit reduction of $242.8 billion over the 2012-2022 period. That figure reflects gross reconciliation savings ($315.0 billion through 2022), partially offset by the cost of sequester replacement ($72.2 billion through 2022). ”  That $242.8 billion over a ten year period looks good IF you don’t look at what it contains.

Generally speaking, “The Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act would cut $7.7 billion in federal food stamp spending in the first year, require federal workers to contribute more to retirement plans, end grants for health insurance exchanges, put limits on Medicaid payments and impose various reforms aimed at trimming federal spending.”  [The Hill]

Now, let’s get down to specifics.  The Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act would:

End help to states that do the best job of finding uninsured low-income children and getting them into health care programs.

Wipe out a new Prevention Fund, created by the Affordable Care Act, that helps women get mammograms and helps children get screened for diabetes.

Repeal rules ensuring that states don’t cut people off of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid as families continue to struggle economically while our economy recovers.

Halt funding to states to set up new, more consumer-friendly marketplaces for health insurance.

Strip protections for families receiving tax credits used to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Slash benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) that ensure low-income families are able put food on the table.

Eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, which funds child care, Meals on Wheels, and other important community services for low-income and disabled Americans.

What would cuts to some of these programs look like in Nevada?

Medicaid: At last count there were 5,080 Nevadans with cancer who were being served by the Medicaid program, 150 of these were children, 2,290 were elderly.   178,240 Nevadans have diabetes, and 17,380 are relying on Medicaid for their medical needs. Of the 17,380 relying on Medicaid 930 are children under the age of 18, and 6,490 were seniors.   243,570 Nevadans have chronic lung disease, and 32,280 rely on Medicaid for assistance.  Of the 32,280 reliant on Medicaid 15,880 are children under 18 years of age. 4,250 are elders.   An estimated 42,000 Nevadans rely on Medicaid for treatment of heart disease or strokes, of these 2,590 are children, and another 15,960 are senior citizens. [FamUSA pdf]

To be eligible for Medicaid in Nevada a person must meet low income criteria, and the categories for eligibility include families with dependent children, children, pregnant women, disabled adults, and the elderly.  [NDH pdf]  Eligibility is one thing, coverage is another.  The AAP reports: “An estimated 134,000  Nevada children — 18.6 percent of Nevada children — are uninsured.  Sixty-four percent of these uninsured children are eligible, but not enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”  The bottom line here is that under the current levels of funding we’re  not meeting the health care needs of Nevada children living in poverty — and the House Republicans want to cut funding even further.   Under the House Republican proposal if Nevada did, in fact, do a better job of locating and providing health care for poor children, the state would get no reward for doing so.

Nevada Check Up:  “The Mission of the Nevada Check Up program (Children’s Health Insurance Program) is to provide low-cost, comprehensive health care coverage to low income, uninsured children (birth through 18) who are not covered by private insurance or Medicaid; while (1) promoting health care coverage for children; (2) encouraging individual responsibility; and (3) working with public and private health care providers and community advocates for children.”  [NVHHS]   Rules insuring that children are not cut from the SCHIP programs (and Medicaid) while Nevada families are still facing economic issues would be eliminated by the House Republicans.  Youngsters in Nevada are now eligible if they have not had health insurance for the past six months, if the family has lost insurance for reasons beyond their control, are under 19 years of age, and in the case of a family of four the annual income is between $22,350 and $44,700.   The good news about kids is that most of them are easy to insure because sprains, strains, abrasions, and breaks are their specialties.  However, a child with a serious illness or medical condition can deplete family resources very quickly.  One of the major benefits of the Check-Up or SCHIP program is that it is designed to prevent working families from falling into medical bankruptcy.  This, however, doesn’t appear to be a House GOP priority.

Nevada Prevention Fund:  This is the funding discussed previously which the Speaker of the House dismissed as a “slush fund.”  There’s nothing terribly slushy about it.  Nevada has received funding for some very specific programs.  Projects for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer prevention are funded via this program, as are tobacco use cessation programs and immunizations.  Projects to reduce childhood obesity are funded from this category.  There’s even a category which should appeal to Nevadans in the wake of the Hepatitis C scare in Clark County not so long ago — funds are available for “new resources to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks, including those caused by influenza and foodborne pathogens. It also funds programs that prevent healthcare-associated infections.” [HHS] Grandma was right, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but the House GOP doesn’t appear to have been listening.

SNAP:  Formerly known as Food Stamps.  Nothing so enrages those with empathy deficits as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.   The usual complaint is that 50% of the really true American Hard Workers are paying for food for the 50% really unpatriotic Slackers.  The statistics are rather different.  Of those are eligible for SNAP assistance 48% are children, and another 8% were elderly.  The national program participation rate is about 67%, meaning that only about 2/3rd of those who are eligible actually avail themselves of the program.

Those who are working, but eligible because of low incomes, participate at a 54% rate, meaning that just a bit over half of the working people who could use SNAP really do.  [USDA pdf] And, contrary to popular rumors, most SNAP recipients are not receiving TANF assistance.  In fact, less than 10% of SNAP recipients were also receiving TANF benefits.  The typical SNAP family has about $711 in monthly income or about $8,500 in  annual income.   A minimum wage job ($7.25/hr)  should yield $1,160 monthly, so our typical SNAP family isn’t earning enough to make the bare-bones $13,920 annual earnings level, but 90% of the SNAP recipients are indeed working.

Nor, should we imagine, as some do, that the SNAP benefits are “enough to live on.”  The maximum benefit for a family of four averages about $638.  This figure comes close to the USDA estimates for a “thrifty” household budget for a family in which there are children between the ages of 6 to 12 ($624.60) but is well under the amount needed to fit in the “low cost” grocery plan ($816.70). [USDA pdf] The maximum benefit number isn’t even close to the ideal food budget figure ($1,235.00) for a family of four.  I wouldn’t even care to guess what it really costs to feed just one adolescent male, and I don’t particularly want to find out what eating on the Nevada average SNAP benefit of  $4.06 per day would be like. [LVCityLife]

However, facts-be-damned, the House Republicans, Heck and Amodei included, voted to scuttle the Budget Control Act, and cut approximately $36 billion from the SNAP program.  This should be of some interest to the following Nevadans: “329,105 people received benefits through the program (in March 2011.) The 21 percent jump follows a 47 percent increase in 2009 and a 27 percent increase in 2010.” [LVSun]

Have I mentioned — almost to redundancy — that the SNAP program is an economic automatic stabilizer?  These are programs which kick in when the economy takes a tumble and help to soften the landing on local economies.  It’s certainly helped in Clark County, Nevada:

The USDA published a report on SNAP’s impact on local economies. For every $1 spent in SNAP benefits, $1.80 is generated through local economic activity. This activity creates and sustains jobs through the purchase of goods and services. In FY2010, SNAP recipients in Nevada received $414,596,369 in benefits which stimulated the economy by $746,273,464.  [SNAPexp]

It’s no secret that the best economic stimulus programs are those which put money into the national, state, and local economies as quickly as possible, and which are likely to be spent.  SNAP benefits fill the bill.  Although the $1.80 per dollar spent may be a bit high, the usual economic return for every $1 spent on SNAP is calculated at $1.73, the message is the same.  Food expenditures flow out into groceries, transportation services, farming, and farm support suppliers.  [CNN]

So, while the Nevada unemployment rate is still an unacceptable 12.0% statewide, and it would be nice if more grocery clerks, truck drivers, and farm workers could be employed … the House GOP has decided to “solve” the deficit problem by cutting back on the best economic stimulus program we have.

And, What Do We Get For Our “Savings?”

The House Republicans are essentially offering us Austerity on Steroids, but some people appear to be More Equal Than Others.

“In offsetting the costs of cancelling the scheduled sequestration of discretionary programs, the new House legislation does not close or narrow any tax expenditures, and does not secure any savings from much-criticized programs like farm price supports.” [CBPP]

So the local grocer isn’t getting any immediate benefit, but large industrial farms are doing well.  Thank you very much.  The rest of the economic ideology is just so much ethereal pie-in-the-sky theoretical posturing with precious little tangible data in support.  The Financialists on Wall Street have decided that “the Debt” is really really really the most important problem we have.  Ergo, we must address their problem before we can discuss anything other economic issue, like housing, or hunger, or employment, or energy.

Evidently, it’s also essential that we resolve the Financialists’ issues, and military-industrial complex’s desires, prior to addressing any topic of immediate interest to the average American worker or small business owner.  To suggest that employment comes from little businesses that sustain our means of manufacturing, transportation, and exchange is “socialism.”  To suggest that small retail business owners and local contractors would be better served by investing in infrastructure is to ask for the creation of “unreal” jobs — apparently the only “real” ones are on Wall Street.

To assert, as the original Republican President once did, that ours is a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people,”  is now called  “class warfare.”

Meanwhile, the Plutocrats and their Financialist brethren are content to serve themselves first — abetted by their loyal followers in the Republican controlled House of Representatives who cheer them on as “Job Creators” while they ship American jobs overseas, and encourage them to greater recklessness by supporting de-regulation under the guise of “freedom.”

Perhaps it is time to focus more of our attention on the 3rd and 4th freedoms listed by Franklin D. Roosevelt: Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. What, after all, is there to fear if the top 0.5% of U.S. income earners should be asked to contribute to the reduction of the debt, while we protect 15,960 elderly Nevadans who need Medicaid to get treatment for heart disease or strokes.? What is there to fear if the top 0.5% of U.S. income earners help pay down the debt while we allay the fears of working parents who are uncertain if Nevada Check-Up can help them with their child’s medical expenses?  What is there to fear if the top 0.5% of American income earners pay a tad more towards the deficit their Mortgage Meltdown helped create, while we do what we can to enable families to have at the very least $4.06 for the days’ groceries?

What we should fear is the cavalier rejection of responsibility for maintaining agreements so evident in our House Republican leadership.  What we should dread is a nation so callous that the accretions of Credit Card Conservativism should be borne by the weakest among us.  What should precipitate cold sweat is a nation so beholden to the Plutocracy that we are ready to forsake our Democracy.
——————

References and Resources:  Department of Health and Human Services, “Nevada: ACA Prevention Fund in Your State.” Families USA, “House Budget Bill Is A Great Leap Backward.” American Cancer Society, et. al. “Medicaid in Nevada.” (pdf) USDA: Fact Sheet on SNAP. (pdf) USDA: Cost of Food, March 2012. (pdf) USDA: Food and Nutrition Program. “Living on $4 a day,” Las Vegas City Life, Feb. 2, 2012.   Nevada, Department of Employment and Training, Research & Analysis.   CBPP, “House Budget Bills Would Target Programs for Lower Income Families,” May 10, 2012.

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Filed under 2012 election, Amodei, Berkley, Heck, Medicaid, SCHIP