This morning, President Obama unveiled a $3.8 trillion budget plan that eschews any dramatic reforms to entitlement programs but would still produce $360 billion in savings from Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care programs over 10 years. Obama Paul Ryan’s approach “to turn Medicare into a voucher or Medicaid into a block grant,” but does adopt several Republican-backed ideas that would increase means testing for higher-income seniors and discourage overuse of care by penalizing beneficiaries.
Under Obama’s approach, for instance, higher-income seniors would pay more for doctors visits and prescription coverage beginning in 2017 and all new enrollees will pay a $25 deductible as part of their Part B premiums. But for the most part, the budget is similar to the administration’s September 2011 deficit reduction plan and recoups the greatest savings from drug rebates and modernizing provider payments to achieve greater efficiency. Here is a chart showing where all the savings come from:
Given that Ryan’s Medicare savings don’t kick in until 2022, it’s hard to make a direct comparison with Obama’s proposal. But suffice it to say, Ryan would cut about 1.4 trillion from Medicaid alone and another $30 billion in net Medicare savings using last year’s 10-year budget window.
House Republicans will offer an extension of the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012 without spending offsets, according to a statement released by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) this afternoon. The two parties have attempted to negotiate an agreement on how to pay for the extension over the past few weeks, with the most recent talks failing this weekend. In the statement, GOP leadership accused the Democrats of not negotiating in good faith before saying they would “introduce a backup plan that would simply extend the payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year while the conference negotiations continue regarding offsets, unemployment insurance, and the ?doc fix.?”
Buried on page 15 of the administration’s proposed 2013 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency is a plea to reduce greenhouse pollution “before it is too late.” (HT Amy Harder)
Over the last year, environmental groups have relied on old fashioned boots-on-the-ground protests to halt the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Now they’re turning to the web for a last-minute attempt to prevent Congress from resurrecting the project.
Starting today at noon, a coalition of environmental organizations including 350.org, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and CREDO Action, have rolled out a “signature bomb” in an attempt to get 500,000 citizens to tell Senators to stop trying to force a decision on Keystone XL.
No environmental organization has ever been able to raise that many signatures so quickly. But groups leading the effort are hoping they can use the momentum from last year’s protests to drum up the needed support.
“The environmental community is coming together in a way that it hasn’t in a long time,” said 350.org Founder Bill McKibben in a conference call today. “We’ve never tried anything like this before. But the environmental movement is well wired and well connected, so we’re going to see how this plays out.”
Keystone XL is a proposed 1,700 mile pipeline that would bring energy and water-intensive crude from Canada’s tar sands to refineries in Texas for sale in the global market. Sometimes called the “scar sands,” Alberta’s tar sands have been dubbed the “the most destructive project on earth” due to the immense amount of water, land, and fossil fuels needed to strip oil out of bituminous sand.
Last summer, most “insiders” in Washington believed the project would be easily approved. But after a series of successful demonstrations in front of the White House ? combined with an arbitrary deadline for approval placed on the White House by Congress at the end of the year ? the president rejected the permit last month.
But Congress won’t let it die. House Majority Leader John Boehner continues to tell reporters that supporters will “do everything we can” to make sure Keystone is approved. One way is to add an amendment in the transportation bill currently being considered in the House and Senate that would allow Congress to approve the pipeline.
That’s exactly what Republican leaders in the Senate plan to do this week. Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN), John Hoeven (R-ND), and David Vitter (R-LA) may add an amendment any day now that gives Congressional lawmakers authority to circumvent executive authority and green-light the controversial pipeline. Any legislation would still need to be signed by President Obama, however.
“This is the zombie pipeline that keeps coming back to life,” said 350.org Founder Bill McKibbnen on a conference call today. “We need the Senate to back up the President. These emails will be flooding into the Senate over the next 24 hours and hopefully they’ll make an impression.”
The environmental community already made an impression far bigger than expected a year ago. Will it be able to maintain its strength?
In the first two hours, 350.org reports that over 100,000 people have already added their signatures.
As of 3 pm, 350.org is reporting it has over 200,000 signatures. Also, Bill McKibben is scheduled to go on the Colbert Report at 11:30 pm tonight and discuss Keystone XL, tar sands and climate change.
Regardless of the reason, I can't be the only person who's tired of how our troops are used up and tossed away like used tissues:
For most of his 26 years in the military, Maj. Jeff Hackett was a standout Marine. Two tours in Iraq destroyed him.
Home from combat, he drank too much, suffered public breakdowns and was hospitalized for panic attacks. In June 2010, he killed himself.
Hackett?s suicide deeply troubled Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps. Hackett had been plucked from the enlisted ranks to lead Marines as an officer. He left behind a widow, four sons and more than $460,000 in debts. To Amos, Hackett was a casualty of war ? surely the family deserved some compensation from the federal government.
Amos asked John Dowd, a prominent Washington lawyer who had represented Sen. John McCain, for help. ?There is absolutely no doubt that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress,? Amos wrote to Dowd. ?NONE WHAT SO EVER!?
?We will raise as much hell as we can,? Dowd, a former Marine, wrote back to Amos.
Almost two years later, the high-level intercession by the Marine commandant and the Washington lawyer has produced little from the federal government for Hackett?s widow. The inability of Dowd to wrest any money from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows the limits of what the federal government can do for families of service members who kill themselves as a result of mental trauma caused by war.
Dowd and a team of nine lawyers have fought unsuccessfully for the last 18 months to convince the VA and Prudential Financial Inc., which administers a life insurance program for veterans, to pay a $400,000 claim to Danelle Hackett. The life insurance premiums were automatically deducted from Hackett?s paycheck for 26 years when he was on active duty.
If Hackett had been killed in battle or committed suicide before he retired in 2008, his wife would have received the $400,000 from the policy. But Hackett left the military and, amid mounting personal crises, let the policy lapse.
A provision in the current law allows troops who suffer from mental or physical wounds that render them incapable of ?substantially gainful employment? to receive exemptions from paying the premium for as long as three years after leaving the military. That three-word phrase ? ?substantially gainful employment? ? is the linchpin of Hackett?s case and potentially hundreds of others.
The VA, which failed to diagnose Hackett?s mental illness when he was alive, concedes that the Marine died of ?severe and chronic? post-traumatic stress disorder connected to his service in Iraq. The agency, however, rejected the insurance claim.
House GOP leaders announced Monday they were putting forward a “backup plan” that would extend the payroll tax cut for ten months, while cleaving it from a similar extension of unemployment insurance benefits and what’s known as the[...]
Read The Full Article:
Mitt Romney's independent support keeps on shriveling (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
New data from Pew confirms the finding from last month's NBC/WSJ poll: Mitt Romney's support from independents is indeed shrinking. By a lot:
DemFromCT has more on the Pew poll, including Santorum's surge with social conservatives. But even if Republicans don't ultimately nominate Rick Santorum, the end result will be that Mitt Romney was forced to suck up to the GOP's nutty base. And if that happens, he'll be even more toxic to independent moderates, backed into a corner by the very same lunatics who thought nominating Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Christine O'Donnell and Ken Buck were good ideas.
The residents of Detroit may get to vote this summer on a city ballot initiative that would remove all city-based criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people over 21. Voters had been denied the chance to vote on this in[...]
Read The Full Article:
(AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
In this Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009, file photo, Artist Whitney Houston performs onstage at the 37th Annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Houston died Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, she was 48.
I hadn?t thought of Whitney Houston in years but, about a month ago, her name actually came up in conversation. My boyfriend and I were talking about the lyrics to ?Whatta Man,? the Salt-n-Pepa/En Vogue song, and he singled out ?And he knows that my name is not Susan? as a particularly clunky line in an otherwise smooth pop song. ?Oh, it?s a reference to a Whitney Houston song called ?My Name Is Not Susan,?? I reminded him. That?s how famous Houston was in the early 1990s?rappers could drop a reference to one of her lesser-known songs, which only ever peaked at number 20, and still count on audiences knowing it.
The ?My Name Is Not Susan? name-check captures Houston?s place in the pop pantheon: Ubiquitous for a time, but unable to extend her moment of glory. The news of her death caused more sadness than I usually feel when a celebrity dies, even one whose work means a lot to me. She struck me as a tragic figure on the level of Marilyn Monroe. As with Monroe, audiences fell in love with Houston because she presented an image of uncomplicated sweetness. In the years since Monroe?s death, the pile-up of tragedy kitsch, documentaries, and movies like My Week With Marilyn have complicated that image, but watching her movies is a reminder that her popularity depended on a bubbly charm that lifted her above her stereotyped role as the bimbo. The gap between the image she shared with the world and the vast sadness we assume was her private lot in life is why the image of Marilyn remains indelible.
The tragedy of Whitney Houston feels the same. It?s nearly impossible to match the drug-addled, deeply sad woman we know her to be with the convincing carefree image that helped drive her record sales to stratospheric heights. Houston of the late '80s and early '90s managed to make a good clean time seem fun. In the realm of pop stars, she was the one your parents wanted you to like. Just as Monroe could somehow make lasciviousness seem wholesome, Houston could bop around to a frisky song like ?I Want To Dance With Somebody? (which has lines like, ?I need a man who'll take a chance on a love that burns hot enough to last?) and somehow make you think of nothing more than a friendly pool party.
Being a huge celebrity exaggerates the compromise all human beings make to get along in society. Most of us have a messy inner life that we roll up and leave at home so we can present a pulled-together version of ourselves to the outside world. Despite overwrought claims that social networking and blogging have turned us into a TMI culture, we still control what we show and don?t show the world about ourselves. We don?t like being the target of nasty gossip or having our weaknesses exposed for the outside world to judge. Social networking has become another tool for us to protect and monitor our reputations.
Celebrities have to play the same game, but on steroids. Their triumphs get more attention, but so do their humiliations. Monroe?s drunken singing of ?Happy Birthday? to President Kennedy may be more famous than any of her screen roles. Houston?s deranged line ?crack is wack? became a national joke. Her descent was like watching someone else?s nightmare of being caught naked in front of a crowd, except Houston?s humiliation had an audience of millions. Even at the end, Houston?s life had echoes of Monroe?s. Both women died alone, naked, apparently from prescription drugs that they took to manage anxiety. The tabloid culture that was just beginning in Monroe?s day has become so mainstream that most of us rarely consider what it must feel like to be on the receiving end of that kind of attention. We forget the human being under the lighting, the costumes, make-up, and fame.
Many of us dream of being famous, imagining it to be a rush of parties and friends, a life where you constantly feel valued and important. For a lot of celebrities, life may be like that. But Houston?s death reminds us of the other side, that being the center of attention can be profoundly alienating. Even standing on a stage in front of an adoring crowd, you can still be all alone.