Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Taking on the 2011 Federal Budget Negotiations and Agreements: implication for the Nation's Health Care and Environment?

Keywords or Terms: Environment Issues; Health Care Issues; Budget Negotiations and Agreements; Republicans; Democrats; White House; Media report; Calibrated Negotiations; 2011 Budget; and 2012 Budget

Even as the Congressional lawmakers grapple with passing a bill on budget for the outgoing accounting year, the next big challenge on fashioning out a 2012 budget has already descended on them. A perusal of negotiated agreement on 2011 budget has shown that policy riders on health care and environmental issues received disproportionately cuts, when compared with other areas, like the military, fine arts, election reforms, unused funds for federal highway and other programs. To the chagrin of some Americans, there are discrepancies between what the White House is reporting as the intended cuts to programs and what the media is reporting, with respected to what transpired between Republican and Democratic Lawmakers over last week. To a large extent, this makes it rather difficult to argue for or against the level of cuts to any one program. However, the blog tonight will build on assumptions and work its way through to drawing implication of cuts to healthcare and environmental programs in the 2011 Budget.

As reported by Whitehouse.gov, here are the cuts and reductions to the 2011 Fiscal Year U.S. Federal government budget: 1) $18 billion in cuts deemed unnecessary by the Pentagon; 2) $13 billion from funding for programs at the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services; 3) $8 billion in cuts for State and Foreign Operations; 4) $2.5 billion in transportation funding; 5) Over $1 billion in a cut across non-defense agencies; 6) $630 million in earmarked transportation projects; 7) $35 million by ending the Crop Insurance Good Performance Rebate for subsidized insurance premiums; 8) $30 million for a job training for specific certain student loan processors; 9) Reductions to housing assistance programs; and 10) Reductions to some health care programs. Contrast this information with what the media is reporting as the intended cuts and reductions: 1) $2.5 billion in unused money from federal highway programs; 2) $5 billion in fudged savings from capping payments from a Justice Department trust fund for crime victims; 3) $1 billion in unspent money from the 2002 Help America Vote Act election reform program; 4) Commission of Fine Arts; 5) Military projects like the Navy’s CGX Cruiser; 6) $390 million cut to low-income heating assistance; 7) A $3 billion cut to agriculture programs, the biggest portion of which comes from the Women Infants and Children fund (WIC), which loses $504 million; 8) $45 million pulled from nuclear nonproliferation funds; 9) $1 billion cut to HIV and disease-prevention funds; 10) $786 million cut in first responder grants to state and local governments; 11) $600 million in cuts to community health centers; 12) $414 million in cuts to grants for state and local police departments; 13)$1.6 billion cut in the Environmental Protection Agency‘s budget, of which nearly $1 billion comes from grants for clean water and other projects by local governments and Indian tribes; and 14) $7 million cut to the Bureau of Public Debt, which accounts for and provides reports on the debt (Source: Motorgasm.com).

It is an open question whether the information provided by the Whitehouse is at variance with what the media is reporting. Since the Whitehouse information appears to be official and one that can be referenced from an official Presidential release, we will assume the information as a working paper to derive implications. Further, since the media information appears to be conveying some mixed messages, with some media outlets reporting that the following programs are being cut, programs administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, one or two provisions on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, FBI's fleets of sedan, Interior Department's Travel costs; Commodity Payments to wealthy farmers; and moving around of funds in NASA’s Constellation Program, while the following are not, Federal pay raises, IRS, Pell grants, health research, raise to the top initiative, foreign aid and planned parenthood. This confusion makes it difficult to evaluate the agreed negotiations between lawmakers from both parties for concrete inferences.

Republican lawmakers have continued to define their acclaimed cuts to programs strictly on the basis of ideology and have mostly resorted to belligerent methods to broadcast their achievements in the negotiations with Democrats. In the known categories or line items of government budgets, health care, welfare, defense, pension and other categories (research, infrastructure programs, transportation, education, police and law courts),there were some known cuts that seem to be rather heavy handed. Some of the cuts to the programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and the health care reform law funding may be broadly affecting other important initiative associated with these agency and program. This is why we are having the additional debate tonight: Have Republicans sought direct attack on health care and environmental programs in the recent cuts, or have they chosen to comb through all categories of the budget equally? Although Democratic leaders in Senate appear to have remained optimistic and attempted to save majority of the provisions of the health care reform law, were they able to fend off convincingly all the parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that will allow the remaining provisions of the act to be phased in as scheduled?

If Democratic leaders have calibrated their efforts in negotiation over what ratio of spending on programs to cut without having a disproportionate impact on the poor and middle class, then maybe a convincing argument may be made that the negotiations with Republicans were fair and still in the interest of most if not all Americans. Contrarily, if Democrats were more concerned with the consequence of a shutdown of the federal government and bent over too much in their negotiations with the Republicans, maybe justice was not served in the agreements entered into with those lawmakers. The hard part of this whole shenanigan is that Republicans appear to have made progress in their desire to cut down on government spending and have literally done it at the back of the poor and needy members of our society. Whether this is right or wrong, will be a subject for another day.

There is reason to believe that Democrats meant no harm in reaching accord on some cuts to some programs, which they themselves have problems with the size of funding going into them. Democratic leadership maintains a remarkable unity and a sense of purpose as they negotiated with Republicans. At one spectrum, one is apt to believe that the cuts agreed on with Republicans were the best to make given the strenuous negotiations and time limitations. At the opposite end, one is also tempted to believe that in the drive to be more pragmatic, Democratic leadership may have wavered too much on the size of cuts that was conceded to the Republicans. In between what was given away and what was accepted in terms of cuts, is the real ideal cut that would hardly have hurt the course of some programs and probably; and would have probably positioned Democrats to win better concessions from Republicans come 2012 budget negotiations.

The current split of being better-off than worse off that is being paraded by leaderships of both parties may look very admissible to the public who have sought a quicker resolution to the 2011 Budget issues. Both party leaders, Democrats and Republicans, are probably looking ahead at driving a harder bargain come 2012 federal budget negotiations. This aspect of it all would probably create another gridlock in negotiations over the 2012 budget. Only if Republicans recognize that cutting the social programs alone will not resolve the federal budget deficit issues and that there must be a way for government to bring in more revenue for there to be mutual agreements on many line items of the 2012 budgets with the Democrats. Further, only If Democrats recognize that some clouts and pragmatism will be essential to win over some triumphs for the poor and middle class among us with the Republicans on the 2012 budget negotiations. The differences between the two party’s positions on the current budget negotiation, shows the stark truth about how, when parties drive policy issues and budget debates on the basis of ideology, it is often difficult to reach faster settlements and probably, difficult to come to terms with the sacrifices being made by other parties in the negotiations.

Republican Party of today is about or has probably lost to a faction among them who are basically full of contradictions. Tea party members are willing to cut social programs to the poor and middle class, yet they are so much in love with giving tax breaks to the rich. Tea party members consider themselves as the actual fiscal conservatives when compared with other Republicans, yet they are willing to spend more on defense or cut less funding to defense. If the members of tea party continue to antagonize the Republican leadership, it will be difficult to find a partner to negotiate with; and, rely upon with the type of negotiations that goes into budget formations. In addition, if these group of Republicans believe strictly on the notion of my way or the highway, it will be difficult to have a less stressful budget negotiations in congress when the 2012 budget negotiations come up. No one is condemning the Tea party member's position on the outgoing budget cuts of 2011 for now; however, if they stretch their luck too hard on the coming 2012 budget, then it will be necessary to tell them that affirmation of discontent is not one quality of political leadership in American Democracy.

For now, here are the probable impacts of the negotiated cuts to health care and environmental programs: 1) The Environmental Protection Agency may not be able to meet all its mandates as required by law; 2) crucial support for health insurance products consumption under the Patient’s Protection Affordable Care Act maybe in jeopardy; 3) advocacy for women and children programs nationally may take a turn for confrontations as these group have suffered somewhat disproportionately in the 2011 cuts; 4) the goal of achieving a green economy or developing technologies to help reduce carbon-based energy consumption is about to suffer a set back – the going green motto may end up being just a motto for the nation; and 5) deterioration of our habitats and failure to enforce environmental regulatory laws on books, may be much more difficult.

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