Morning Report 12/12/05
Old News

Soak the poor, reward the rich: Pausing for a senior moment during Human Rights Week

Harkavy

Lazy . . . contempt — that's how they roll: Lame duck George W. Bush and lame ducker Mike Brown, last seen together in this space on September 10, clearly weren't listening when they were briefed (sans the hats) during the 2004 hurricane season.

While you're wondering how big a piece of coal you're going find in your stocking later this month (and whether Tom Fox will even be able to check his), here's something else to put a lump in your throat:

One out of every 300 Americans may not even be able to take their bitter medicine this winter, thanks to another case of malign neglect in the Bush regime's disastrous Medicare program.

On the third day of Human Rights Week, my Los Angeles Times brought to me: one sad story about the plight of nearly a million Californians. Reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes:

    Nearly 1 million poor and frail California seniors who will be transferred automatically into the Medicare prescription program Jan. 1 can get transitional help from the state if private insurers under the new plan do not cover their particular medications.

    But no one has notified those eligible of the state's policy — which provides up to a 100-day supply of medicines they are currently taking, including expensive name brands — and they only have until Dec. 31 to request and receive the medication.

    "How can this be a safety net if the beneficiaries haven't been notified?" said Betty Dahlquist, executive director of the California Assn. of Social Rehabilitation Agencies, a Bay Area group involved in mental health issues. "If I was completely cynical, I'd think this was about budget-balancing," she said.

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Dahlquist couldn't be as cynical as the pols on Capitol Hill and in the White House. And in California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is reprising his role as Terminator.

Don't believe the current propaganda you're hearing about how social programs are bankrupting the budget. It's a canard spread by a regime that's wasting money on war.

Always on the job, the analysts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed that out last week. You won't see this part of the crucial budget fight in most coverage, because the mainstream U.S. media cover budget bills as narrow political battles that take place only on Capitol Hill.

Well, here's how the mainstream CBPP's Richard Kogan, Katharine Richards, and Robert Greenstein broke it down on December 8:

    As Congress seeks to complete action on appropriations bills for fiscal year 2006, many Members of Congress seem to be laboring under the impression that appropriations for domestic programs have exploded in recent years. This impression appears to stem, in part, from several releases issued by conservative groups charging that the federal government has been on a "spending spree."

    For example, a recent Heritage Foundation brief contends that expenditures for discretionary (i.e., appropriated) programs increased 48 percent between 2001 and 2005 and that domestic programs, rather than defense and anti-terrorism spending, have been the main culprit.

    A memorandum by G. William Hoagland, the respected senior budget staffer for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and a former Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, addressed the Heritage contentions. The Hoagland memorandum showed that federal spending as a share of the economy is below its average level for both the 1980s and 1990s and that most of the recent budget growth has occurred in defense and related security programs, rather than domestic programs.

Why has our surplus dissolved into red ink? It's the war. It's the tax cuts for rich. How many times do we have to say this? Well, here it is again, from that same December 8 CBPP report, which analyzes Congressional Budget Office (CBO) data:

    The CBO data show that the single largest factor (among factors that were caused by policymakers’ actions) in the slide from surpluses to deficits has been the tax cuts enacted in recent years. Increases in defense and security-related spending have been the second largest factor. Increases in domestic discretionary programs have played only a modest role.

That's not an opinion and it's not faith-based. It's fact-based:

    • CBO estimates show that legislation enacted since the start of 2001 increased the deficit by $542 billion in 2005 alone, far in excess of the $319 billion deficit the government ran in 2005. Without such legislation, the budget would still be in surplus.

    • The CBO data also show that 48 percent of this $542 billion in costs — or $260 billion — came from tax cuts. Some 37 percent of the cost came from legislated increases in defense and security costs.

    • Increases in costs for domestic discretionary programs accounted for only 8 percent of the $542 billion in increased costs. (The remaining 7 percent of the increased costs is due to expansion of entitlement programs.)

And even those "discretionary" programs are often skewed to helping those who least need it. On the other side of the continent, Floridians are outraged by a FEMA scandal — one that can be laid at the two left feet of excommunicated toxic clown Mike Brown and too-right feats of George W. Bush.

The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale reported yesterday:

    A FEMA program to reimburse applicants for generators and storm cleanup items has benefited middle- and upper-income Floridians the most and so far cost taxpayers more than $332 million for the past two hurricane seasons, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found in a continuing investigation of disaster aid.

    For Wilma alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had spent $84 million as of last Monday on generators for 101,028 people in 13 Florida counties, including Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade. Another $6 million paid for chain saws for 27,394 applicants.

    "I see people making $200,000 a year putting in for a rebate for a generator," Davie Fire Chief Don DiPetrillo said last month, as the town scrambled to open a shelter for people left homeless by Wilma. "This is just not a good use of public resources."

This is so wasteful that even the beneficiaries are outraged, as reporters Sally Kestin, Megan O'Matz and John Maines found:

    "It's absolutely disgusting," said David Bronstein, an insurance fraud lawyer in Plantation.

    Bronstein put in a claim for a generator he bought when his Davie home lost electricity from Wilma. He said he "makes six figures" and could "certainly afford my own."

    "My thought was, `Well, if I'm eligible, I'll take it because I certainly pay enough in taxes,'" he said.

    Bronstein was surprised that he qualified but even more surprised when his government check arrived for $836, the maximum amount. He paid $562, including tax.

    "I profited from the hurricane," he said. "It's crazy."

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