A few weeks ago, the White House unveiled its budget with the fanfare and media blitz fit for a coronation. While the big proposals on climate change and health care took center stage in the dog-and-pony show, the budget also included an outline of funding for every veterans' hospital and clinic nationwide.
So what did team IAVA think of Obama's plan for veterans?
Overall, the President seems to have put his money where his mouth is. The top line number for veterans' discretionary funding is about $1.2 billion higher than the amount recommended by leading veterans' organizations, including IAVA. The budget plans increase VA funding by $25 billion over five years. That's a real victory.
Of course, the entire annual veterans' budget is still less than we've given AIG since September - but I'll put that aside for a moment, and get to the real policy. Despite his skills on the basketball court, Obama's budget is still not a slam dunk for veterans.
First, Obama hasn't opened up VA health care coverage to every veteran. This is a major misstep. In this economy, as veterans across the country lose their jobs and with it their health insurance, they should be able to turn to the VA for care. But the Administration only plans to bring about 500,000 moderate-income veterans into VA health care by 2013. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the roughly 1.8 million veterans who lack health insurance, and it doesn't even include all of the 565,000 veterans who have been denied VA care since 2003. Every single veteran signed the dotted line to serve their country, and each and every one of them should be eligible for VA health care.
Just as important, new veterans are disappointed that the President has not opted to include advance appropriations for the VA in his budget proposal. Advance appropriations doesn't cost any additional money, it just gives VA hospitals and clinics advance notice of the funding they will receive the following year. Right now, VA hospitals have no way of knowing what their budget will be next year. When the budget is passed late (and it usually is), hospitals have to make hard choices about their funding - and that means rationed care for veterans. Advance appropriations is a common-sense solution that Obama supported as a candidate, and he should have been out in front on this issue. This campaign promise got pushed to the side, and nobody in America seemed to notice.
Luckily for veterans, we've got some great allies in Congress - led by Senator Akaka and Representative Filner -- who are moving advance appropriations forward. And while we may not see Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh sitting down to tea anytime soon, we have seen great support from both sides of the aisle for advance appropriations. IAVA joined these lawmakers and others at a press conference a few weeks ago to mark the introduction of advance appropriations legislation, and we'll be fighting every step of the way to get that bill passed this year.
To help get advance appropriations moving forward, I'm going to be testifying today before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. And I'm going to tell them just what I told you - Obama's budget is a good start, but it's up to Congress to close the deal for veterans. Interested in hearing how Congress responds? You can watch video of the testimony here.
When it comes to how the politicians spend our money, the devil is always in the details. It'll be months before we see the finished product on this budget. There have been rumors of new fees and premiums veterans will have to pay to get health care. That's not only bad policy, it's bad politics, because every veterans group in the country will oppose it vigorously. I can't believe the Obama Administration would make that kind of rookie mistake when it comes to supporting our veterans. But I can tell you one thing now - if Congress or the Administration think they can write billion dollar checks for Wall Street but nickel-and-dime our veterans, they've got another thing coming.
Crossposted at IAVA.org.
Republicans got used to having a president who could only do one thing at a time -- and was incompetent. Now, we have an intelligent president who is determined to fix the mess left by his predecessor. Republicans on the Hill have been looking for some way, any way, to criticize Obama.
Eric Cantor, who is the second ranking GOP member in the House, thinks he found it: Obama is doing too much. Seriously, that's the best he can do. Cantor obviously has no idea how stupid he looks with this argument. And, it's scary that Cantor doesn't know the role energy and health care play in the economy. But, we shouldn't expect too much from Cantor, who did help Bush get us into the crisis:
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) seized on the opportunity to criticize the president Tuesday for over-reaching in his first 50 days on the job.My goodness, we do have an emergency, but, Cantor and his GOP colleagues all voted NO to the economic recovery act, which will create millions of jobs. My goodness, we do have an emergency, but Cantor is taking orders from Rush Limbaugh, who wants Obama to fail.
Following the GOP's weekly conference meeting, the second-ranking House Republican told reporters that President Obama should be focusing on the "economic crisis," as opposed to holding four-hour meetings on healthcare, as the president did last week. The efforts may be laudable, Cantor said, but the White House should be devoting all resources to fixing the economy and not to "impose these cap-and-trade schemes."
"At the end of the day, we are in an economic emergency. Economists are saying that there's a 30 percent likelihood that we're going to be in a depression," Cantor said. "My goodness, we do have an emergency, and we oughta say, look, priority No. 1 is to create jobs."
I know there's some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time. And they forget that Lincoln helped lay down the transcontinental railroad and passed the Homestead Act and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of civil war. Likewise, President Roosevelt didn't have the luxury of choosing between ending a depression and fighting a war; he had to do both. President Kennedy didn't have the luxury of choosing between civil rights and sending us to the moon. And we don't have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term.Pretty much sums it up.
OPEC May Cut Output Again; McClatchy Cans 1,600; Malaysia May Quadruple Stimulus; Public Transportation Ridership at 52-Year High; AIG Warned Feds of “Catastrophic” Collapse; Wells Fargo Shares Rise on Buffett Comments; Capital One Cuts Dividend 87%
Speaking to reporters in Harrisburg, PA, yesterday, Sen. Arlen Specter (R) issued this dire economic warning:
Our economic problems are enormously serious, more serious than is publicly disclosed. And I think we’re on the brink of a depression.
ABC News suggests, ?Sen. Specter is fully aware of the vulnerability on his right flank which may be why he painted such a dire and mysterious economic outlook when speaking with reporters.? Watch it:
Delaying bank restructuring is costly, in terms of both the eventual bailout costs and the damage to the overall economy in the interim.
Governments do not like to admit the full costs of the problem, so they give the banking system just enough to survive, but not enough to return it to health.
Confidence is important, but it must rest on sound fundamentals. Policies must not be based on the fiction that good loans were made, and that the business acumen of financial market leaders and regulators will be validated once confidence is restored.
[More . . .]
Bankers can be expected to act in their self-interest on the basis of incentives. Perverse incentives fuelled excessive risk-taking, and banks that are near collapse but are too big to fail will engage in even more of it. Knowing that the government will pick up the pieces if necessary, they will postpone resolving mortgages and pay out billions in bonuses and dividends.
Socialising losses while privatising gains is more worrisome than the consequences of nationalising banks. American taxpayers are getting an increasingly bad deal. In the first round of cash infusions, they got about $0.67 in assets for every dollar they gave (though the assets were almost surely overvalued, and quickly fell in value). But in the recent cash infusions, it is estimated that Americans are getting $0.25, or less, for every dollar. Bad terms mean a large national debt in the future. One reason we may be getting bad terms is that if we got fair value for our money, we would by now be the dominant shareholder in at least one of the major banks.
Don't confuse saving bankers and shareholders with saving banks. America could have saved its banks, but let the shareholders go, for far less than it has spent.
[. . . ] Lack of transparency got the US financial system into this trouble. Lack of transparency will not get it out. The Obama administration is promising to pick up losses to persuade hedge funds and other private investors to buy out banks' bad assets. But this will not establish "market prices," as the administration claims. With the government bearing losses, these are distorted prices. Bank losses have already occurred, and their gains must now come at taxpayers' expense. Bringing in hedge funds as third parties will simply increase the cost.
. . . The era of believing that something can be created out of nothing should be over. Short-sighted responses by politicians who hope to get by with a deal that is small enough to please taxpayers and large enough to please the banks will only prolong the problem. An impasse is looming. More money will be needed, but Americans are in no mood to provide it certainly not on the terms that have been seen so far. The well of money may be running dry, and so, too, may be America's legendary optimism and hope.
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The Texas Senate will decide today whether voters should be required to present photo identification at the polls. Texas Republicans argue that this is a necessary step to protect against voter fraud, but have produced little evidence that such fraud is a significant problem. Democrats criticize the measure, which will have an undue impact on minorities and the elderly, both key Democratic constituencies. Laws requiring photo identification at the polls have been approved in seven states, but State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) said that its only an effort by Republicans to scare off "enough eligible elderly, disabled, blacks and Hispanics to stay in power four more years, plain and simple." (Chron.com)
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a letter Monday that he would continue to seek information on bonuses that Merrill Lynch paid to its employees. In a recent interview, Bank of America's CEO Ken Lewis refused to reveal information about these bonuses. But Cuomo maintains that as a recipient of bailout funds, B of A is obligated to disclose how they spent taxpayer money. Refusal to do so, he said, "fuels distrust and cynicism at a most sensitive time." (New York Times)
Documents released by a group of California Democrats indicate that they received thousands of dollars worth of gifts from lobbyists the day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared California's fiscal emergency last December. Lobbyists for lawyers, firefighters and carpenters hosted a two-day retreat to influence lawmakers on California's budget passed in February. The lobbyists also paid for international travel, tickets to sporting events, and tens of thousands of dollars in restaurant tabs. The L.A. Times reports that each of the lobbyists' goals was represented in the budget. (L.A. Times)
Irving Picard, the trustee charged with liquidating Bernard Madoff's assets, has approved payments of $500,000 to 12 Madoff investors. Picard will use funds advanced by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, a nonprofit government agency to refund investors of failed financial institutions. Under the provisions of the SIPC, each investor can receive a maximum of $500,000. (Reuters)
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will continue investigating corruption allegations against Rod Blagojevich, a federal judge ruled Monday. The scandal-plagued former Illinois Governor petitioned to have Fitzgerald removed for saying in a press conference that Blagojevich's conduct would make Abraham Lincoln "roll over in his grave" among other inflammatory remarks. The judge found no legal precedent for removing Fitzgerald from the case. (Associated Press)