Tuesday, December 17, 2013
New Priorities Network update, December 17, 2013: The
Oct 3 Coordinating Committee
Tuesday, December 17, 2013 7:46 AM
New Priorities Network update, December 17, 2013: The
Last week the House passed a two-year budget bill. The Senate is expected to pass it this week. What’s in the deal? And what does it mean for our work?
A. What’s in the deal
1. Win one, lose one. The “defense” budget, which was going to lose about $20 billion under this year’s sequestration cuts, will go up a couple billion dollars instead. It will get another $9 billion in 2015, then stay at the same level – without allowing for inflation – in 2016. In real dollars, that means cuts.
But domestic programs also got $22.4 billion. This means the Administration can start reversing cuts to Head Start, senior meals, and many other needed services.
2. Federal workers and the long-term unemployed take big hits. The budget deal did not extend unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed. On December 28, 1.3 million people will lose their unemployment.
Democrats will try to restore that funding when Congress reconvenes in January, but if they fail, more than 4 million people will lose unemployment benefits by the end of 2014.
The budget deal also cuts pension benefits to federal government employees who have already lost billions of dollars in benefit cuts and unpaid furloughs over the last couple of years.
For more details see the National Priorities Project’s analysis http://nationalpriorities.org/whats-new/2013/12/11/budget-committee-releases-budget-deal/, the New Priorities Network website http://newprioritiesnetwork.org/, and Register NOW at https://chn.peachnewmedia.com/store/seminar/seminar.php?seminar=23644 for the Coalition on Human Needs’s webinar this Thursday at 4 pm eastern time, What's in the New Budget Deal…and What's Not. The webinar will explain the new budget deal and offer action steps to renew unemployment insurance ASAP. Presenters are Rep. Keith Ellison, Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Debbie Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs; and Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project.
B. What does this mean for our work?
1. Is sequestration dead? This budget deal extends “sequestration” budget caps another two years, into 2023, to reach the Budget Control Act’s deficit reduction targets. But last week’s deal softens sequestration. In place of across-the-board cuts, federal departments now have the power to decide which programs will be cut and which increased.
And the excuse for sequestration is evaporating because the deficit is shrinking. By 2015, says the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit will fall from 10.1% of Gross Domestic Product to 2.1%. Deficit hawks will continue to squawk. (Expect them to keep going after Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, whose costs will continue to rise.) But Congress could keep undoing sequestration and pushing money into the Pentagon if either party decides the deficit isn’t a useful re-election tool.
2. Power shift. For the last three years, the budget has been the center of a national political war. Now there’s a truce. The old Republican majority apparently recognizes that it can’t win elections by destroying government – they’ll destroy Obamacare instead.
The rise and fall of the Tea Party is a big factor in this shift. This year Tea Partiers were the tail that wagged the Republican dog. They embraced sequestration: it’s dumb, but it’s actually shrinking government! For a moment it looked as if Republicans were going to run as the party of sequestration in 2014.
All this created some opportunities for us.
• It split the Republican party on defense. Tea Partiers were happy to cut Pentagon spending as part of their shrink-government agenda.
• It weakened the center – the force that has protected bloated Pentagon budgets for 60 years.
• It created some interesting left-right alliances.
Now the old Republicans are pushing back. The pushback will wax and wane. The right and the far right will work together issues where they agree, like Obamacare, and avoid issues where they don’t, like military spending. The budget will move offstage for we don’t know how long.
3. Return to normalcy? In 2014 we’re back to semi-normal budget processes. There will be a Defense Authorization Act, a Defense Appropriations Act, and we can come together behind a few bills to shrink nukes, cut a weapons system, expose Pentagon waste, outlaw drones, or pull all our troops out of Afghanistan.
We still need vehicles for broader budget challenges that link military budgets, domestic spending, and tax justice. The Congressional Progressive Caucus’s alternative budget is one such vehicle if we can get the CPC to make it an ongoing campaign with grassroots legs.
Another promising work area is economic transition. Pentagon contracts are under pressure, and though the new budget deal is a reprieve, military-dependent communities still need a Plan B. Local organizing to plan for layoffs and even closings will build broad coalitions on the ground, while campaigns to pass state “plan-for-transition” bills can create statewide alliances.
Whatever the vehicle, our organizing needs to be big tent, grassroots, and long-term. We are in this for the long haul.
Mike Prokosch, coordinator
New Priorities Network
Sources include the Coalition on Human Needs and Gordon Adams in Foreign Affairs.