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Huge Cuts to Food Stamps Part of Trump’s Budget Proposal

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump’s budget would drive millions of people off of food stamps, part of a new wave of spending cut proposals that already are getting panned by lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill.

Trump’s blueprint for the 2018 budget year comes out Tuesday. It includes a wave of cuts to benefit programs such as Medicaid, federal employee pensions, welfare benefits and farm subsidies.

All told, according to people familiar with the plan, Trump’s budget includes $1.7 trillion over 10 years in cuts from such so-called mandatory programs. That includes cuts to pensions for federal workers and higher contributions toward those pension benefits, as well as cuts to refundable tax credits paid to the working poor. People familiar with the plan were not authorized to discuss it by name and requested anonymity.

Cuts include a whopping $193 billion from food stamps over the coming decade — a cut of more than 25 percent — implemented by cutting back eligibility and imposing additional work requirements, according to talking points circulated by the White House. The program presently serves about 42 million people.

The food stamp cuts are several times larger than those attempted by House Republicans a few years back and comprise the bulk of a 10-year, $274 billion proposal that’s labeled as welfare reform.

The fleshed-out proposal follows up on an unpopular partial release in March that targeted the budgets of domestic agencies and foreign aid for cuts averaging 10 percent — and made lawmakers in both parties recoil.

The new cuts are unpopular as well.

“We think it’s wrongheaded,“ said Representaive Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, when asked about looming cuts to farm programs. “Production agriculture is in the worst slump since the depression — 50 percent drop in the net income for producers. They need this safety net,“ said Conaway, R-Texas.

Trump’s budget plan promises to balance the federal ledger by the end of a 10-year window, even while exempting Social Security and Medicare retirement benefits from cuts. To achieve balance, the plan by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney relies on optimistic estimates of economic growth, and the surge in revenues that would result, while abandoning Trump’s promise of a “massive tax cut.“

Instead, the Trump tax plan promises an overhaul that would cut tax rates but rely on erasing tax breaks and economic growth to end up as “revenue neutral.“ It would create three tax brackets — 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — instead of the current seven.

Trump is also targeting the Medicaid health program that provides care to the poor and disabled, and nursing home care to millions of older people who could not otherwise afford it.

The House had a bitter debate on health care before a razor-thin 217-213 passage in early May of a GOP health bill that included more than $800 billion in Medicaid cuts over the coming decade. Key Republicans are not interested in another round of cuts to the program.

“I would think that the health care bill is our best policy statement on Medicaid going forward,“ said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the program.

Details on Trump’s budget will not be publicly released until Tuesday, but Mulvaney has briefed Republicans about what’s coming and his staff has provided targeted leaks to the media.

A full budget submission by the administration to Congress is months overdue and follows the release two months ago of an outline for the discretionary portion of the budget, covering defense, education, foreign aid, housing and environmental programs, among others. Their budgets pass each year through annual appropriations bills.

An earlier blueprint from Trump proposed a $54 billion, 10 percent increase for the military above an existing cap on Pentagon spending, financed by an equal cut to nondefense programs. Those cuts rang alarm bells for many Republicans, who were particularly upset about proposals to eliminate community development block grants, slash medical research and eviscerate foreign aid.

Trump’s GOP allies rejected such cuts when wrapping up long-overdue legislation for the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30. There’s little sign they will have a change of heart now, especially with Trump’s administration in turmoil and his poll ratings at historic lows.

“The budget’s a starting point. We’ll go to work from there,“ said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Republicans controlling Congress have delayed action on their companion budget measure, waiting for Trump to go first. This year’s budget debate, Republicans hope, would grease the way for a major overhaul of the loophole-cluttered tax system. But House conservatives also want to embark on a round of cuts to benefit programs and are open to Trump’s suggestions for cuts to mandatory programs such as federal employee pensions.

Presidential budgets are mere suggestions, and the White House has discretion to assume higher economic growth rates of up to 3 percent or so under Trump’s agenda of tax changes, loosened regulations and infrastructure spending.

Tuesday’s budget will also include proposals such as paid leave for parents after the birth or adoption of a child, a $200 billion infrastructure plan that Trump officials claim could leverage, along with private investment, up to $1 trillion in construction projects, and funding for Trump’s oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The budget contains $1.6 billion for wall construction, along with $300 million for additional border patrol and immigration agents as part of a $2.6 billion hike for border security programs.

Former Oil Industry Exec Weighs In on Methane-Waste Rule

Just hours are left for the U.S. Senate to invoke the Congressional Review Act and overturn a Bureau of Land Management rule preventing oil and gas developers on public land from venting and flaring methane gas into the atmosphere.

The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers 60 days to overturn newly adopted agency rules, and for the BLM methane-waste rules, that deadline is Thursday. The Senate vote could come as early as today.

Wayne Warmack, a former director at ConocoPhillips, worked in the oil and gas industry for nearly three decades and contended that the rule will ensure a cleaner environment and bring in money for local communities.

The Free Press WV
The Bureau of Land Management estimates that energy companies wasted enough natural gas to power more than 5 million homes between 2009 and 2014.


The result, he said, could be “millions and millions of dollars every year that would come in the form of taxes and royalties to the states and federal government, and the public. There are job benefits, in the fact that there will be more jobs created to help capture this methane.“

The BLM has estimated that companies wasted enough gas to power more than 5 million homes between 2009 and 2014. Supporters have said royalty dollars could go to support public schools or updated infrastructure. Those who are opposed have said capturing the gas is too costly for energy companies and impractical for older well sites.

Warmack said regulations must move forward in line with the public’s continually rising expectations. However, he noted, industry always rises to the challenge. One example, he said, was the mandate that vapor-control systems be installed at gas pumps.

“There was a huge cry about how much it was going to increase the price of gas and how it would put gas stations out of business and cost a lot of jobs,“ he said, “but the truth is that industry responds to those challenges by finding better technology and better ways to accomplish those tasks.“

A poll conducted earlier this year found an overwhelming majority of voters on both sides of the political aisle support keeping the BLM methane rule in place, and 60 percent said they oppose eliminating federal requirements on energy companies.

A fact sheet on the BLM methane-waste rule is online at doi.gov.

What’s At Stake When We Talk About Healthcare

All across the country, citizens at town hall meetings are asking hard questions to the 217 Republicans like New York’s John Faso and Elise Stefanik who voted in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid.

On May 04, Congress passed a health care repeal that will push 24 million people off health care and make health care more expensive for many millions more. The Senate will soon start writing its own legislation to take our health care away.

We’ve beat this repeal back before. Let’s do it again. Help keep our firestorm going by talking with family, friends, and neighbors about how health care repeal will hurt us and our hometowns.


Talk About Our Values

Most of us believe the only decent thing is for everyone to get the health care they need. We believe our government should make sure we all can get health care – not take health care away. We don’t think people should die or suffer because they don’t have a lot of money.

But members of Congress who voted for this health repeal don’t share these values. If they’re like Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, they think we’re to blame for our illnesses. Some, like Rep. Raul Labrador, refuse to understand that, yes, people do die if they can’t afford health care. They really don’t think our government should protect and promote access to health care. We do.


Stick to the Real Fundamentals of What the Health Repeal Does

Some members of Congress are plain lying about what their health care repeal bill does. So, let’s make sure people in our hometowns know the fundamentals:


Talk About How Health Repeal Hurts Everyone

No matter where we live, people will be kicked off coverage – here are estimates by congressional district. Some people may see premiums go up because of health conditions: here are estimates of pre-existing condition surcharges and the number of people affected, also by congressional district.

This means more people cutting treatment short or not getting it at all, skipping medications, going without exams that catch cancer early, or being sent to collections. It means families having to take care of aging relatives instead of getting professional care (most people receiving long-term care are covered by Medicaid). It means stress and worry.

And lots of people will die.

Some people – mainly those who are younger and have higher incomes – may get more money for premiums. But their deductibles will spike, going up by about $1,550. And we all may be hit with those dollar caps on care – including people with employer plans.

But the bigger point is this: you just can’t take health care away from this many people without dire consequences for entire communities. Hospitals and clinics may shutter, especially in rural areas. People will lose jobs in health care and related industries.

And small businesses – part of the fabric of our communities – will be hit by a double-whammy: no coverage for their employees (or themselves), and a customer base that’s struggling under the weight of higher health care prices.


Say What You’ll Do to Protect Healthcare in Your Hometown, and Invite People to Help!

Tell friends and family you’re not going to let your member of Congress of the hook for their disastrous, reprehensible vote. You’re going to call and let that congressperson know how outraged you are and your plans for holding them responsible. They should do the same.

Invite people to events in your hometown – rallies, town hall meetings, and other events where people are gathering to call for health care for everyone.

Now more than ever, we need to take democracy into our own hands. That means spreading the word and letting politicians know we’re organized and committed – and we’re not going away!

~~  Julie Chinitz ~~


05.12.2017
NewsUnited StatesOpinions | Commentary | G-LtE™ | G-Comm™ | G-OpEd™Politics | Government | ElectionUSA(2) Comments

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

Obamacare is failing.  It is going to crash and burn whether or not it is repealed & replaced. 

Liberal/progressive leftists can get on board with conservatives and help find health care policy that works, or they can obstruct progress, but nothing they can do will save Obamacare.

Sincerely

Pat McGroyne

By Pat McGroyne  on  05.12.2017

Enough talk about hypotheticals and blame game of previous administrations. If it were bad, is it fixed yet? You guys need to talk about what you got to deliver and the joke and chaos our country has been put in. Are you proud of it? Or are you trying to change the subject?

By I am ashamed  on  05.12.2017

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Obamacare Repeal No Panacea for Republicans

The Free Press WV

The four Republicans in West Virginia’s Congressional delegation (Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Congressmen David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins) have all pushed for repealing Obamacare.

House Republicans fulfilled that campaign promise last week by narrowly passing (217-213) The American Health Care Act. However, for some Republicans, the action feels like the barking dog has finally caught the car it was chasing.

For example, 3rd District Representative Jenkins clearly has reservations.  “This was a tough call,” he told me on Talkline last week.  “Is it a perfect solution? No,” he said.  “It goes to the Senate. Work will continue.  Doing nothing wasn’t an option.”

It sounds like Jenkins and a number of his fellow Republicans can scratch “Repeal Obamacare” off their To Do lists, but they are also hoping the Senate will save them from themselves. The issues are particularly sensitive in West Virginia, where the population is older, sicker and poorer.

The Medicaid Expansion program has over 170,000 West Virginians enrolled, with the federal government picking up a larger share of the cost than the typical reimbursement. However, under the Republican plan the federal government will reduce funding for expanded coverage after 2019, leading to an expected decline in coverage.

When supporters of the replacement say no one on Medicaid will lose their coverage they are technically correct.  However, the system has a certain amount of churn, so as the Washington Post Fact Checker reported, “If they try to get back into the system, however, the planned reductions in funding may mean they no longer find themselves eligible for the program, or that their benefits have been scaled back.”

Also, the Kaiser Family Foundation says the AHCA allows for higher out-of-pocket costs for older people. “Generally, people who are older, lower-income, or live in high-premium areas (like Alaska and Arizona) receive less financial assistance under the AHCA,” Kaiser reports.  “Additionally, older people would have higher starting premiums.”

Congressman Jenkins is correct that doing nothing was not an option because the exchanges are flawed. There simply are not enough young healthy people willing to pay skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket expenses to subsidize the sickest people or those with pre-existing conditions.

The alternative high-risk pool makes sense, as long as it’s fully funded.  As columnist Holman Jenkins wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “By giving new options to the states, the House bill would make subsidizing pre-existing conditions a general obligation of the taxpayer as it always should have been.”

Republicans banked for years on “Repeal and replace Obamacare” as an instant applause line, but West Virginia has quickly become dependent on Obamacare to provide coverage for a large chunk of the population, and many providers prefer the known of existing law to the unknown of the legislative process.

Controlling Medicaid costs and making premiums more actuarially sound make fiscal sense, but they are going to be a hard sell in West Virginia and elsewhere.  Government benefits build constituencies and expand government power. Those trends are not easily reversed.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

What You Need to Know About School Vouchers

Have school vouchers been shown to have a positive impact on student success?

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump has proposed cutting after-school programs for young children, as well as grants and federal work-study programs for college students. But his most significant attack on public education may be his pledge to spend $20 billion on market-based school choice, including charter schools and vouchers.

Conventional voucher policies now exist in 16 states. Taxpayers in those states help pay private-school tuition for about 175,000 students each year. Education savings accounts that let states circumnavigate constitutional language against public funding for private and religious organizations are used in 17 states and generate another 250,000 vouchers annually.

Before the public embraces Trump’s plans to create even more vouchers, there are important things it should know about the voucher concept’s origination.

Milton Friedman, a University of Chicago economist and apostle of free-market fundamentalism, believed corporations should be able to profit from education. In 1997, he wrote an article arguing that vouchers were “a means to make a transition from a government to a market system,” to enable “a private, for-profit industry to develop” and ultimately abolish public schools.

In 1955, Friedman also wrote that he didn’t believe in government-sponsored integration of schools. Southern politicians agreed and used vouchers to create what were called “segregation academies” for whites only.

Proponents of school vouchers overlook this history and frame vouchers as a “limited” approach meant to help poor children in cities–even claiming they are a civil right.

The political argument that market-based school choice is the answer for longstanding inequalities in the American education system is at odds with the positions of most national civil rights organizations. The NAACP and Urban League agree that vouchers, in the words of a civil rights leadership conference report, “siphon away all-too-limited public education funds and fail to provide protection from discrimination and segregation.”

In fact, there is little evidence that vouchers have a positive effect on student performance. Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University professor of economics and education, concluded in a recent Economic Policy Institute report that the predominance of peer-reviewed research over 25 years shows vouchers don’t improve student success.

Yet vouchers are supported by well-heeled conservative philanthropists and conservatives including the Koch brothers, American Legislative Executive Council, Walton Foundation, and Heritage Foundation. That’s because vouchers purposefully transfer the responsibility for educating students, and the funding that comes with it, away from the traditional democratically controlled public school system.

And vouchers give private schools greater control over the student population through such practices as “creaming” and “cropping.” Creaming occurs when private schools choose to enroll only the best and least costly students. Cropping is when they deny more costly students who are disabled, poor or language learners. Private “choice schools” can legally prevent them from enrolling.

Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos remain committed to privately managed school choice funded by public tax dollars, despite a sordid racial history, opposition from the civil rights community, state constitutional problems, and the proven failure of the approach to help students.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is a professor at California State University Sacramento.

DeVos Undoes Obama Student Loan Protections

New actions withdraw protections due to “inconsistencies and shortcomings”

The Free Press WV

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rolled back an Obama administration attempt to reform how student loan servicers collect debt.

President Barack Obama issued a pair of memorandums last year requiring that the government’s Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt. But in a memorandum to the department’s student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the Obama memos.

The previous administration’s approach, DeVos said, was inconsistent and full of shortcomings. She didn’t detail how the moves fell short, and her spokesmen, Jim Bradshaw and Matthew Frendewey, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

DeVos’ move comes a week after one of the student loan industry’s main lobbies asked for Congress’ help in delaying or substantially changing the Education Department’s loan servicing plans. In a pair of April 4 letters to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees, the National Council of Higher Education Resources said there were too many unanswered questions, including whether the Obama administration’s approach would be unnecessarily expensive.

A recent epidemic of student loan defaults and what authorities describe as systematic mistreatment of borrowers prompted the Obama administration, in its waning days, to force the FSA office to emphasize how debtors are treated, rather than maximize the amount of cash they can stump up to meet their obligations.

Obama’s team also sought to reduce the possibility that new contracts would be given to companies that mislead or otherwise harm debtors. The current round of contracts will terminate in 2019, and among three finalists for a new contract is Navient Corp. In January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.

The withdrawal of the Obama administration guidelines could make Navient a more likely contender for that contract, government officials said. Navient shares moved higher after the government released DeVos’ decision around 11:30 a.m. New York time. Navient stock ended up almost 2 percent.

The Obama administration vision for how federal loans would be serviced almost certainly meant the feds would have to increase how much they pay loan contractors to collect monthly payments from borrowers and counsel them on repayment options. Already, the government annually spends around $800 million to collect on almost $1.1 trillion of debt. DeVos, however, made clear that her department would focus on curbing costs.

“We must create a student loan servicing environment that provides the highest quality customer service and increases accountability and transparency for all borrowers, while also limiting the cost to taxpayers,” DeVos said.

With her memo, DeVos has taken control of the complex and widely derided system in which the federal government collects monthly payments from tens of millions of Americans with government-owned student loans. The CFPB said in 2015 that the manner in which student loans are collected has been marred by “widespread failures.”

DeVos’ move “will certainly increase the likelihood of default,” said David Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to Democrats. Bergeron worked under Democratic and Republican administrations over more than 30 years at the Education Department. He retired as the head of postsecondary education.

During Obama’s eight years in office, some 8.7 million Americans defaulted on their student loans, for a rate of one default roughly every 29 seconds.

Former Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin worked on student loan policy during the latter years of the Obama administration, in part over concern that borrowers’ struggles were affecting the management of U.S. debt. DeVos’ decision to reverse some of her work “with no coherent explanation or substitute” effectively means that the Trump administration is placing the welfare of loan contractors above those of student debtors, she said.

In a statement, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is suing Navient, agreed: “The Department of Education has decided it does not need to protect student loan borrowers.”

~~  Shahien Nasiripour, Bloomberg News ~~

Could the Education Department’s Days Be Numbered?

If this congresswoman gets her way, the days of federal education regulations are over.
The Free Press WV

U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx wants the federal Department of Education to disappear. She wants Washington to stop passing down rules and regulations schools have to follow.

As the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, the seven-term North Carolina congresswoman has a powerful forum to talk about all that.

Trouble is, she probably doesn’t have the votes to do much of what she wants. It takes 60 to get most legislation through the Senate, where Republicans control only 52 seats, and she’s up against a powerful education lobby that resists sweeping change in federal policy.

She’s trying. Foxx, who helped lead the writing of the 2016 Republican Party platform and served in House leadership, figures she’ll have to dilute Education Department power bit by bit. Already, she’s championing the use of a rare legislative tactic in Congress to eliminate some Obama administration regulations.

And Foxx is putting pressure on her colleagues in Congress to write the sort of legislation she wants, contending that some past laws were written sloppily and left too much leeway for federal departments to fill in gaps with rules and regulations.

Any federal educational policies, she told McClatchy in an interview, should come from lawmakers–not bureaucrats.

“We’ve got some good laws in place–let Congress do its oversight,” she said. “Sometimes doing nothing from the federal level is good.”

Foxx and her Republican congressional allies have a new favored tool for walking back regulations: the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn specific federal rules and regulations and prevent them from coming back up.

This year was the first time a Congressional Review Act was used to override an education regulation, and Congress has already overturned two of them.

One imposed a template on states under a requirement to submit detailed school-accountability plans to the federal Education Department. The other required states to build a rating system for local teacher education programs, including judging teacher preparation based on student performance.

Sure enough, Foxx stood beside President Donald Trump in March as he signed those Congressional Review Acts into law, repealing both regulations.

Democrats dislike tearing up Obama-era education regulations.

“The federal government needs to require certain things. … If you don’t have some (regulations), the law won’t get implemented,” said Representative Alma Adams, D-N.C., who sits on the House education committee.

Specifically, Adams says the Congressional Review Act rolling back regulations associated with the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act inhibits the Education Department’s ability to make sure states help low-performing schools–something the state accountability plans would address.

Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, the top Democrat on the House education committee, has also criticized the swift repeal of the accountability rule, saying it creates confusion for local education officials, who had been working on their state plans since last year.

But Foxx, who served on Watauga County’s school board for 12 years before joining Congress in 2005, wants decision-making left to states and local school districts.

“The closer you are to what’s happening, the more likely there is to be self-correction,” she said. “I want to devolve as much as possible to the localities and to the states.”

The National Governors Association–which has 33 Republican governors on its membership roll this year–supported Republicans in Congress using Congressional Review Acts to roll back education rules, saying the federal regulations attempt to usurp local power.

Others, like U.S. Representative David Price, D-N.C., worry that Congressional Review Acts move too quickly through Congress without much debate.

“It’s a scattershot process that so far, anyway, has not been accompanied by very much in the way of hearings or getting input from stakeholders,” he said.

Democrats in Congress will have limited power as Foxx and other conservatives look for a reset at the Education Department. Foxx said she’d found an ally in Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As things unfold, Foxx’s simple advice to DeVos has been: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

Rules, regulations and “dear colleague” letters from the department in the past incensed Foxx. Too often, she said, federal departments use regulations or executive power to distort legislative intent.

“We’re gonna stop this foolishness of letters and then people saying, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Where is the authority for that? There’s no authority, but the school systems are scared,” she said.

With DeVos, it’s unlikely the Education Department needs Foxx’s urging to lay off the rules and regulations. Before DeVos was confirmed, Trump invoked a government-wide regulatory freeze and DeVos herself has said she plans to run a limited-government department.

Still, Foxx promises she’ll scrutinize executive actions and department-level authority in Trump’s administration.

“I want to show our Democrat colleagues we’re just as concerned about that in a Republican administration as in a Democrat administration,” she said.

Chances are, though, Foxx won’t reach her most cherished goal: to abolish the Education Department.

The conservative drumbeat to get rid of the department or strip its power has been around for decades, starting with President Ronald Reagan, who campaigned on eliminating the department just a year after it was created.

This spring, Congress will consider Trump’s pitch to cut the Education Department’s funding by $3 billion, or 13.5 percent. The decision on spending, though, is not up to Foxx’s committee, but to the House and Senate Appropriations panels.

“It seems unlikely there will be cuts at the magnitude he proposed,” said Ed Lorenzen, a senior adviser at the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget who’s a former Capitol Hill staffer for two House Democrats.

Any shift of money away from traditional public schools will be met with resistance from powerful groups like the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union for educators and school employees that supports Democratic campaigns and candidates.

Federation President Randi Weingarten said Trump’s 2018 budget proposal “eviscerates public education.” Trump looks to cut money for after-school programs, professional development for teachers and college-prep programs for low-income students.

“This is taking a meat cleaver to the investments that are done to level the playing field for Americans who are not rich. This is not about giving locals more control,” Weingarten said.

Conservatives in North Carolina say there’s an appetite for reducing the federal role in the classroom.

“The primacy of federal influence and authority seems out of proportion, especially when you consider only 11 percent of all public school funds in North Carolina are provided by the federal government,” said Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst with Civitas, a N.C.-based conservative think tank.

Foxx’s big idea? Which is highly unlikely to happen: Stop collecting federal taxes for education.

“I’d get rid of the Department of Education if I could,” she said. “But we cannot just devolve things without allowing (states) to have the money. … If we’re still hauling that money in up here, we haven’t solved the problem.”

~~  Anna Douglas,  McClatchy ~~

Trump’s Five Worst Tax Secrets, Revealed

The Free Press WV

Thousands of demonstrators marched on Saturday to demand that Donald Trump release his tax returns. But, barring an unexpected surprise – a W2 form issued by Vladimir Putin, or a 1099 from mafia boss Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno – we already know Trump’s ugliest tax secrets. We will reveal those secrets…

… right after this break.

Many readers will recognize this reference to Rachel Maddow’s televised release of Trump’s 2005 tax return, The MSNBC host kept her viewers in suspense for a total of 84 minutes before learning that Trump paid an effective federal tax rate of 24 percent that year. That was considered an anticlimax. It even led some observers that Trump might have leaked the return himself, since many people had assumed that Trump hadn’t paid any federal taxes at all for years.

That gets us to Trump’s first terrible tax secret: his tax return for that year was not unusual. Few wealthy individuals pay the official rate, which is currently 39.5 percent, even though the rich have never been richer at any point in this country’s history. Mitt Romney, for instance, released a tax return during his presidential run, which showed he paid just over 14 percent in 2011, and that year may have been chosen because others were even more embarrassing.

Over the years, lobbyists have worked to fill the tax code with giveaways for wealthy individuals and corporations. The resulting loopholes make it very rare for any individual or corporation, no matter how prosperous, to pay anything close to the top rate.

Given the eagerness of the rich to avoid paying their official rate, you might think that rate is excessive. But the top marginal tax rate in this country is much lower than it’s been for most of the last century, despite today’s extreme concentration of wealth at the top:

The Free Press WV
Source: IRS.GOV

Although the official rate is only slightly more than one-third of its highest levels, an entire industry has been formed to help the wealthy avoid paying it. (This story shines a light on one small corner of that industry.)  As James Kwak points out, Warren Buffett – who uses his vast wealth for philanthropic purposes, unlike Trump – takes advantage of today’s tax code on a much larger scale than Trump does.

Trump’s second terrible tax secret is one he shares with the entire Republican Party: Instead of being grateful toward the country that has allowed them to accumulate such wealth, Trump and the GOP are willing to let people die for an additional tax cut.  They were willing to deprive millions of people of health insurance in order to repeal a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a tax of less than one percent on high wages.

Trump’s third tax secret? The attack on the Affordable Care Act is just the start of tax clawbacks. His tax plan represents a massive tax giveaway to his billionaire friends and associates, and to corporations that are also paying far less than their official tax rate. Americans for Tax Fairness examine the injustice behind Trump’s tax plan, including the fact that it would raise taxes on roughly 9 million families while lowering the top tax rate even more.

The Trump/GOP assault on the estate tax, for instance, is a giveaway to America’s aristocracy>. Trump’s even trying to eliminate the biggest tax he pays personally – the alternative minimum tax.

The fourth secret is this: Trump and his party don’t believe in progressive taxation at all. As I wrote recently, Trump Budget Director Mick Mulvaney recently suggested that he preferred to let the ultra-wealthy “keep their money” – an extremist and inaccurate framing that is well outside the mainstream of both Republican and Democratic thought over the last century. They especially dislike the idea of taxing billionaires to help people in need.

That’s pretty terrible.

The fifth and final secret is this: Trump and his billionaire friends get away with paying low or no taxes because the rich have far too much influence over our political system. In fact, as political scientists Martin Gilens and Lawrence Page found in a 2014 study, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In other words, the wealthy in our country almost always get the policies they want.

In a response to their critics, Gilens and Page wrote, “The affluent are, not surprisingly, (even) better at blocking policies they dislike than achieving policy change they desire. When a policy is strongly opposed by the affluent… that policy is adopted only 4 percent of the time.”

That’s why today’s tax code is so excessively favorable to the wealthy and corporations. It’s very difficult to make changes they dislike, and tax increases for the wealthy are certainly among the changes they dislike the most.

But that’s no reason to quit. Americans have overthrown oligarchies before, most notably at the end of the era Mark Twain described as “the Gilded Age.” We are, by any reasonable definition, going through a second Gilded Age today.

You don’t need Donald Trump’s tax returns to know that we need a more just tax system, one that calls upon the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. What’s more, the fight for fair taxation is inseparable from the fight against oligarchical wealth. That’s more reason to keep fighting.

Donald Trump tweeted that “someone should look into who paid for” the “small” rallies demanding that he release his tax returns.

The real question is, who pays for all the tax breaks that are given to people like Donald Trump?

The answer is, we all do.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

Our Fight for Health Care During Recess and Beyond

The Free Press WV

It’s time to ramp up our resistance to the Trump-Ryan agenda on health care. We scored our biggest legislative victory so far on March 24, when Speaker Paul Ryan called off his bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), because he didn’t have the votes. This was an inspiring, hard-fought win for everyone who believes health care is for all.

But Republican leaders in Congress are still gunning for our health care; their radical plans for our economy leave them no choice. Without gutting healthcare and other essential economic benefits, how else will they pay for the massive tax giveaway for corporations and billionaires that they’ve set their sights on?

During Resistance Recess, now until April 23, as lawmakers visit their home districts, we will let them know we’re still fighting to make sure everyone in the country gets the care they need.

Twenty thousand members of People’s Action, MoveOn.org, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Working Families Party and others gathered on a conference call April 9 to strategize with Reps. Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and other progressive leaders. Is there strength in numbers? You bet.

Why is this urgent? Last week, the Trump administration and House GOP leaders were scrambling to revive the health care repeal legislation by trading away protections for people with preexisting conditions to appease the far right. They didn’t get a vote on the bill before heading home for congressional recess, but we can be sure that gutting health care is still on their minds, and still a top priority.

Proposals like block-granting Medicaid or privatizing Medicare aren’t just about pushing people off good, government-guaranteed health care into an uncertain market – though that’s certainly bad enough. These proposals are also designed to take resources from working and poor families in order to hand ever more wealth to corporations and the rich.

The stalled Trump-Ryan health care repeal would have forced 24 million people off health care to make way for $600 billion in tax giveaways largely for corporations and the rich. If that tax break is huge, the tax reform giveaways that Donald Trump has proposed come in at a jaw-dropping $6 trillion – ten times the amount of the health repeal tax giveaway.

So they’ll be looking for more places to cut, which is why health care will loom large in the upcoming showdowns over the federal budget and taxes, where food, housing, and the other essentials for survival will also be at stake.

This will all play out in the upcoming tax and budget battles that will extend through the summer and beyond. The first round will come on April 28, when the continuing resolution that’s keeping the government funded in 2017 expires. Then Congress will turn to the fiscal year 2018 budget and hammering out the tax plan.

And, to complicate matters, while the tax and budget fight is underway we need to stay alert for any attempts to pump life back into health repeal. There’s also the possibility that Congress and the administration will try to make their misinformation about ACA implosion come true by sabotaging the underpinnings of the system. One avenue would involve stopping payments to insurers that lower deductibles and other cost-sharing for 58 percent of those enrolled in ACA coverage. Refusing these payments would be a big blow to the 7.1 million people who receive the support, and it also could prompt insurers to withdraw from ACA markets.

These details aside, the fight is clear. We can start guaranteeing an essential quality of life for all, or we can drive further inequality and corporate power. While your members of Congress are home for recess, tell them to stand on the right side of this choice.

Here are some ways they can start doing just that:

Protect our public health insurance programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, from any cuts or changes that would mean less care or more expensive care. Instead of cutting these programs, we should expand them to begin to serve the real need.

Reject any legislation that would penalize people for having a preexisting condition, cut essential health benefits such as prescription drugs, or let insurance corporations put caps on our care.

Open public options for coverage in every state so insurance corporations like Anthem can’t hold us hostage, especially in rural and less-populated counties.

Make our health care stronger by making it more affordable and less profit-driven. We can start by negotiating lower prices with drug corporations.

Oppose any tax plan that would result in corporations, hedge funds, and the rich contributing less in taxes than they do now. Our economy is already too unequal.

Support a budget that protects and expands the basic rights of people, families, and communities to thrive. This means ensuring that all people get the health care, food, housing, and other essentials that form the basis of just and democratic society.

What can you do? Join our fight. Visit the Resistance Recess website to find an event in your area, or organize one of your own. We can win!

~~  Sarah Warner ~~

Join The Resistance: Resistance Recess Starts This Weekend

The Free Press WV

After hearing from We the People, the Republican Congress didn’t take away our health care after all! Lesson learned: keep it up.

So many people have been calling their representative and senators, showing up at their offices and especially at their town hall meetings, and it is having an effect. It tells Republicans not to follow through on the destructive Trump agenda, and it tells Democrats they have support when they resist Trump and fight for We the People.


Resistance Recess April 07 to 23

Members of Congress are leaving Washington and heading home for their “spring break” recess from April 7 to 23. Many of them will be holding town halls, where you and others can ask questions, express your views and otherwise do your job of holding your representative and senators accountable face-to-face. Elected officials too chicken to hold town halls still have offices you can visit – you and maybe a few hundred of your best friends, that is.

On top of that, people are organizing their own “constituent town halls” in places where their representative and senators are hiding or only meeting with big-money donors and lobbyists. This lets the local news media and pubic know that their elected officials are hiding from them.

MoveOn.org, People’s Action and other organizations are calling this recess period, when members of Congress come home from April 07 to 23, the Resistance Recess. This is an opportunity to be seen and to make your voice be heard.

Attending local events makes a big, national difference and this is your chance to get involved.

Click here to find a Resistance Recess event near you. You can also organize an event if there isn’t one already planned in your area.

The Indivisible Guide Town Hall Project also has an event list, click here. Take a look at the Indivisible Guide, which goes into detail on town hall best practices and other ways to hold your elected representatives accountable.


Tax March April 15

Right in the middle of the Resistance Recess, on April 15, there will be a big “Tax March” in Washington, DC. And there will also be lots of April 15 Tax March events around the country.

We the People will be demanding that “President” Trump release his tax returns and come clean about his business dealings. He is the first president in four decades to refuse to release his taxes. What is he hiding? How is he making money off of his job as “president?” Is he violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by receiving foreign payments? What is he hiding behind layers of “shell” companies?

Don’t let him get away with this grift and graft. Go to TaxMarch.org to learn about the big Washington, DC march, or scroll down to see local Tax March activities you can join.


Organizing Call

This Sunday, MoveOn, Indivisible, The Working Families Party, People’s Action, and The Center for Popular Democracy will host a Ready to Resist Emergency Conference Call to get ready for these recess actions. Click here to RSVP for this call.


We Can Make A Difference

We the People can still make a difference — if we show up. We must #resist the takeover of our government by the corporatists, oligarchs and far-right, racist weirdos who have illegitimately seized power. We can win this, we can restore democracy, we can regain control of the levers of power — but only if we get involved, get organized and show up.

~~  Dave Johnson ~~

ED Programs Set To Lose Another $3 Billion

A plan to fund defense spending would eliminate billions more from the federal education budget for the rest of this fiscal year
The Free Press WV

Donald Trump is asking Congress to cut almost $3 billion from the federal education budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to a document obtained by Politico.

The memo offers an in-depth look at some of the proposed cuts and program eliminations.

These latest cuts are in addition to next year’s proposed budget, which would see $9 million slashed from the U.S. Department of Education.

The cuts are intended to increase military spending and finance the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Congress must pass a plan to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year to avoid a partial government shut-down. As Bloomberg News reports, Congress is likely to reject the White House’s additional proposed budget cuts, which total nearly $18 million in all, making the prospect of a shutdown all the more real.

The proposed additional cuts would cut $1.3 billion from this year’s Pell grant surplus–this is on top of the cuts proposed for next year.

Title II, Part A funding, which helps ensure teacher and principal quality and preparedness through PD programs, would be cut in half this year. As previously reported, Trump’s FY 2018 budget would eliminate the program entirely.

“This program provides formula grants to States to improve instruction and reduce class sizes,” the document states. “Funding is poorly targeted and supports practices that are not evidence-based. Other funding at ED can be used to support improved instruction.”

The Striving Readers program, which helps fund literacy instruction in low-income schools, also faces elimination. “A recent study found that more than half of the reading interventions used by grantees had no effects on student achievement. Also, other funding at ED (e.g. Title I grants) can be used to support literacy instruction,” according to the document.

Under President Trump’s proposed FY 2018 education budget, school choice would receive a massive $1.4 billion while the Education Department undergoes a $9 billion, or 13 percent, cut.

Overall, the proposed education budget cuts the Education Department’s budget from $68 million to $59 billion.

Title I funds would receive a $1 billion increase, but the funds would follow individual students should they decide to change schools.

IDEA funding for programs that support students with special needs and disabilities would remain stable at $13 billion.

In a statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten said the proposed education budget “takes a meat cleaver to public education.”

~~  Laura Ascione ~~

WV Senate Bill Makes Secret Election Money Problem Even Worse

U.S. SUPREME COURT GAVE PERSON HOOD TO AMERICAN CORPORATIONS TO DONATE ENDLESS MONEY TO U.S. CAMPAIGNS
The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Senate passed a major campaign finance overhaul bill (SB 539) that would allow even more big money in our elections, and create new loopholes to make it harder for West Virginians to know who is trying to influence our votes. This secret money bill, SB539, weakens our disclosure laws while allowing more money into an already out of balance system that favors the wealthy and special interests. For example, the bill would require less disclosure for spending on independent expenditures by raising the spending thresholds that require groups to report and disclose their contributors, making it easier for front groups running dirty attack ads can keep their big-money donors secret.

Even worse, the bill also creates new loopholes and worsens existing ones that make it possible for groups that spend money on political ads to hide the identity of their donors.

At the same time, the bill increases the amount of money that can be contributed to candidates by nearly three times, the amount of money that can be contributed to PACs by five times, and the amount the can be contributed to party committees by 10 times.

That means state and local elections that suddenly look more like the worst big-money congressional elections. The bill also allows transfers of money between certain entities that aren’t allowed under current law, making the job of average West Virginians trying to figure out who their candidates are accountable to even harder.

This bill completely fails to address the flood of secret money in our elections. After spending $5.6 million during the previous presidential election year, outside groups reported spending nearly $20 million to influence West Virginia elections in 2016.

Although the spending itself was disclosed, its origin most often was hidden behind the very loopholes and money transfers that SB 539 makes even worse. In fact, many groups spending money on our elections listed no other contributors on their financial disclosures other than the sponsoring organization, while others filled our mailboxes and airwaves without filing a single report with either the Secretary of State or the Federal Election Commission.

Although SB 539 increases disclosure in some small ways, like requiring PACs and entities making independent expenditures to file reports electronically, the overall effect of the bill would be disastrous for ordinary working West Virginians who can’t afford to compete with wealthy special interests.

Unfortunately, both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate rejected opportunities to support an equal voice in our elections for everyday — amendments offered by Senators Mike Romano, D-Harrison, and Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, that would have required disclosure of “dark money” by closing the “covered transfers” loophole, which currently allows wealthy donors and special interests to funnel money through multiple PACs and organizations in order to obscure its origin.

We need more disclosure in our elections, NOT more money. If the West Virginia Legislature wants to discourage negative attack ads, give candidates the ability to respond, and inform voters about who’s trying to influence their votes, the best thing they can do is support transparency and require those who are spending money on our elections to disclose the source of the money. We deserve to know who’s trying to influence our votes and persuade our public officials, not be kept in the dark.

Secret money has no place in West Virginia elections. West Virginians stand up for what they believe in. The House of Delegates should reject the secret money bill, SB 539.

Julie Archer and Natalie Thompson are co-coordinators of WV Citizens for Clean Elections

Some Retired Military Oppose Rolling Back Climate-Change Regs

Retired military such as West Point graduate Jon Gensler say national security planners are strongly opposed to Trump plans to roll back climate-change limits.
The Free Press WV

Many in the military community are opposing the Trump administration’s plans to roll back regulations to slow climate change.

Trump has said he wants to roll back the Clean Power Plan carbon limits to help industries such as coal mining. But uniformed officers with an eye on national security often will acknowledge that climate change is a real, immediate and growing threat.

West Point graduate and former tank captain Jon Gensler, a native of West Virginia, said people from his home state have to face reality the way their ancestors did.

“They had to make hard decisions. They had to put in long hours. We honor and revere them for their hard work,” Gensler said. “Why then now are we so gun shy of making the same hard decisions for our own future?“

Now a fellow with the Truman National Security Project, Gensler said Trump’s position is more than a little frustrating. He called it politically motivated and “extremely shortsighted.“

“Now we have a commander-in-chief who’s in direct disagreement with the generals who he claims to support and trust,” he said. “I think you would be hard pressed to find senior leadership at the Pentagon that doesn’t take the threat of climate change seriously, all the way up to and including his own Secretary of Defense.“

Gensler said Defense and State departments planners believe climate change is an extremely serious threat - one that puts the lives of American troops directly at risk. He called it a “conflict multiplier” that contributes to instability in areas such as Iraq and Syria.

“The roots of the Syrian civil war itself are tied to a decade-long drought that caused massive crop failures and pushed rural farmers into the cities, crowding the cities and breaking down the ability of the cities to provide services,” he said.

He said the U.S. military now finds itself responding to climate change-driven disasters such as a recent typhoon in the Philippines that killed 8,000 people. He said the U.S. lost more than 1,000 Marines and soldiers escorting fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan - deaths that could be avoided in the future by using more renewable fuels.

More information is available at AmericanSecurityProject.org.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

Did You Vote For Unfair Pay and Unsafe Workplaces?

The Free Press WV

Who could be against fair pay and safe workplaces? Give you one guess.

President Trump just signed a bill, passed by the Republicans in the House and Senate, that repealed President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order.

“Fair pay and safe workplaces” says it all. The rule stated that our government should contract with companies that have “a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.”

It required companies to report if the had violations of workplace laws covering wage theft, discrimination and safety, when applying for new government contracts of $500,000 to $1 million. The federal procurement officers would take that into consideration, and work with the companies to remedy the problems.

That is what President Trump and the Republicans repealed. This Trump/Republican government does not care if companies that have “a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.” In fact, repealing this rule signals to companies that it is OK to “save money” by stealing pay from employees, violating their civil rights and threatening their safety.

This rule was a big deal, because companies that get federal contracts employ one in five American workers.

This is the Republicans, not just Trump. This is who they are.

But, of course, the “working class” voters who helped elect Trump and the Republicans all voted for this, right? They all clearly understood that electing Republicans meant that their pay and civil rights and job-safety were going to be rolled back so that the giant corporations could pass ever-higher profits to their “investors.” Right?

Of course they did. And they understood that the things our government does to make our lives better would be rolled back so that investor class could get huge tax cuts. Right? Of course they did.

But wait, there’s more.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) “recordkeeping rule” is also under the gun. This rule requires employers with more than 10 workers to keep records of safety incidents for five years. The Republicans in the Senate voted last week to gut that rule, too.

UAW President Dennis Williams called it “a slap to the face of American workers” and urged Trump to veto it. Williams said if employers can legally dispose of incident records after six months, “it will be extremely difficult to identify and fix hazards and incident patterns that cause illnesses, severe injuries, or even deaths on the job.”

“It will now cross the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.”

But this is only right, because this is clearly what the country voted for. Right?

~~  Dave Johnson ~~

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