In a last-minute deal on the 2011 federal budget, Planned Parenthood funding is safe, overall spending is drastically reduced -- and the government is still running.
At literally the 11th hour, Democrats and Republicans reached a tentative deal on this year’s budget, averting a government shutdown. The agreement came despite a day largely marked by Republicans’ refusal to drop their demands to ban funding for Planned Parenthood (which represents less than 1 percent of federal spending, none of which goes to abortion services) and Democrats’ refusal to give in.
Ultimately, Democrats were able to strip the Republican riders and keep federal funding for Planned Parenthood in the final compromise. Republicans got far deeper spending cuts out of Dems—$39 billion for the rest of the fiscal year, and a 7-day continuing resolution to put the substance of the deal in legislative form.
In a speech from the White House Blue Room, despite the drastic spending cuts, President Obama put a positive spin on the budget deal. Here’s the transcript:
"Good evening. Behind me, through the window, you can see the Washington Monument, visited each year by hundreds of thousands from around the world. The people who travel here come to learn about our history and to be inspired by the example of our democracy -- a place where citizens of different backgrounds and beliefs can still come together as one nation.
Tomorrow, I’m pleased to announce that the Washington Monument, as well as the entire federal government, will be open for business. And that's because today Americans of different beliefs came together again.
In the final hours before our government would have been forced to shut down, leaders in both parties reached an agreement that will allow our small businesses to get the loans they need, our families to get the mortgages they applied for, and hundreds of thousands of Americans to show up at work and take home their paychecks on time, including our brave men and women in uniform.
This agreement between Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of all Americans, is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that.
Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.
But beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect those investments that will help America compete for new jobs -- investments in our kids’ education and student loans; in clean energy and life-saving medical research. We protected the investments we need to win the future.
At the same time, we also made sure that at the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues like women’s health and the protection of our air and water. These are important issues that deserve discussion, just not during a debate about our budget.
I want to thank Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid for their leadership and their dedication during this process. A few months ago, I was able to sign a tax cut for American families because both parties worked through their differences and found common ground. Now the same cooperation will make possible the biggest annual spending cut in history, and it’s my sincere hope that we can continue to come together as we face the many difficult challenges that lie ahead, from creating jobs and growing our economy to educating our children and reducing our deficit. That's what the American people expect us to do. That's why they sent us here.
A few days ago, I received a letter from a mother in Longmont, Colorado. Over the year, her son’s eighth grade class saved up money and worked on projects so that next week they could take a class trip to Washington, D.C. They even have an appointment to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The mother wrote that for the last few days the kids in her son’s class had been worried and upset that they might have to cancel their trip because of a shutdown. She asked those of us in Washington to get past our petty grievances and make things right. And she said, “Remember, the future of this country is not for us. It’s for our children.”
Today we acted on behalf of our children’s future. And next week, when 50 eighth graders from Colorado arrive in our nation’s capital, I hope they get a chance to look up at the Washington Monument and feel the sense of pride and possibility that defines America -- a land of many that has always found a way to move forward as one."
A new government plan says that racial health problems involve more than access to doctors' offices -- the solutions start with us.
I recently wrote a piece on what the Affordable Care Act does about racial and ethnic health disparities, a long-standing problem that had never been addressed by federal legislation before the law's passage. The law takes important steps to improve health care access and quality for low-income communities of color, but its efforts to confront unequal neighborhood conditions that drive poor health in the first place (such as environmental pollution and lack of supermarkets) aren’t up to snuff.
What a difference a few days makes. Almost as if on cue, on Friday the Department of Health and Human Services released two strategic plans with the specific goal of reducing health disparities. The HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities largely focuses on implementing portions of the Affordable Care Act—such as improving data collection on health inequities, establishing cultural competency educations for health workers and expanding community health centers. The National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity, however, targets what’s going on in local communities.
“A lot of health and health care is not just about the doctor,” Garth N. Graham, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, told The Root about the Stakeholder Strategy. The plan was created with input from grassroots organizations, local businesses and academic institutions across the country – all which stressed that it does little good to preach about proper diet and exercise without understanding the neighborhood context. “It’s also about how people interact with other components of daily life,” he said.
With that premise in mind, the hefty, 228-page Stakeholder Strategy provides a roadmap for how local communities can partner with local businesses and local government to create community solutions, buoyed by investment from various federal agencies. Whether the challenge involves food deserts, water pollution, mold-infested housing, or lack of parks and other recreational facilities, the document offers ideas to solve them.
“We don’t want to make this seem like eliminating health disparities is entirely a federal effort,” said Graham. “What you need is strong federal commitment and investment; then other things can occur from there on the community level.”
Both the HHS Action Plan and the National Stakeholder Strategy go into effect immediately, using existing department funds for now. Despite a Republican-controlled House of Representatives which is likely to oppose the initiatives in the next fiscal year, HHS remains optimistic about the leadership from various supporters in Congress, such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), both of whom spoke at a Washington press conference announcing the plans.
Brian Smedley, vice president for the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, who also spoke at the presser, noted the economic impact associated with health disparities. According to a Joint Center study (pdf), between 2003 and 2006 health care inequities cost Americans $1.24 trillion.
On a local level, however, I wondered if the political will to take this on was really there. It’s not like this is a new problem – low-income community health challenges have persisted since…forever. Graham is considerably more optimistic.
“You can’t assume that because a situation is bad, it will always be bad,” he said. “These ideas came from people at the local level, so this is about giving them a forum. People can now display to their local legislatures, state health departments and other organizations, what a concrete strategy looks like. We’re connecting that with a national effort, so communities know they’re also part of something even bigger.”
By midnight on Friday we'll know whether lawmakers strike a deal on the 2011 budget or shut down the government. The outlook's not good.
We’re now hours, not days, away from finding out if Democrat and Republican lawmakers can cut a deal on the 2011 budget and, thus, whether the government will keep running. A worst-case-scenario government shutdown would have broad consequences — 800,000 federal workers could be furloughed, bringing a screeching halt to home and small business loans, paper-filed tax refunds, and Saturday’s National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade here in Washington D.C. The nation’s military forces would continue working, but without pay.
“I remain confident that if we're serious about getting something done we should be able to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown,” President Obama said Wednesday night, after a meeting with Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner to try and find a resolution. “We're going to keep on pounding away at this thing because I'm absolutely convinced that we can get this done.”
Can they? Reid doesn’t share the president’s hopeful outlook. “The numbers are basically there, but I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was 11 hours ago,” he said on the Senate floor Thursday morning, explaining the deadlock between Senate and House Republicans over funding for Planned Parenthood and the regulation authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. “The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology.”
There’s been much finger-pointing at Republicans for hinging a shutdown on policy demands over things like Planned Parenthood and NPR, which contribute a miniscule amount to the budget, but let’s not forget that if Democrats had actually passed a budget last year, when they had a majority in both houses, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. Meanwhile, Obama’s moderate, non-confrontational leadership style hasn’t inspired a sense of urgency all this time.
In the latest move, House Republicans voted to keep the government open for another week, along with another $12 million in cuts, but Obama promised to veto the measure.
My sense is that a lot of this is a political kabuki dance and, behind closed doors they’ll reach a deal shortly before midnight on Friday. At worst, predicts Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University, there may be a symbolic shutdown for a couple of days where both sides get to claim some measure of victory.
“The Republicans will get to claim that they forced the president to agree to their cuts, while the Democrats will be able to say that they protected Planned Parenthood and stood up for the issues they felt most strongly about,” Fauntroy told The Root. Whatever the deal looks like in the end, though, nobody’s going to love it.
“The Republicans are going to have a particularly difficult problem because Speaker Boehner has a significant portion of his party that is unwilling to compromise,” said Fauntroy, chalking it up to the inexperience of some of Congress’ new Tea Party-supported members. “A lot of these House Republican freshmen are very inexperienced in the legislative process. Speaker Boehner’s going to be forced, if he wants to get a deal done, to do something that’s going to anger many of them, even though he probably knows it’s the right thing to do.”
The budget compromise stands to anger Democratic voters too, especially if Obama and Democratic leadership capitulate on Planned Parenthood funding and EPA authority. “If they do that, they’re going to have real problems,” said Fauntroy, alluding to a lefty base that's already disappointed by Obama’s tendency to cave. “The president’s re-election could be hanging on this. There are just so many times that you can diss your base and get away with it.”
Well, if a deal is struck we’ll see the verdict very soon. What’s your prediction?
This article has been updated to reflect that the government shutdown could take place on Friday, April 8.
One moment during the video launching President Obama's new campaign gave us pause about his message to black voters.
President Obama officially launched his re-election campaign on Monday, filing papers with the Federal Election Commission and releasing “It Begins With Us,” a video pitching his 2012 bid as a grassroots effort powered by the people. It worked once before, so why not try it again?
The president himself is absent during the two-minute spot, which instead focuses on supporters who make up his target demographics. Gladys, a Hispanic mother from Nevada, stresses that many issues must still be addressed in the country, and that she wants President Obama to be the one to handle them. Mike, a white college student, is eager to volunteer. Ed, a white man from North Carolina, says, “I don’t agree with Obama on everything, but I respect him and trust him.” Katherine, a white woman from Colorado, explains that re-election will be determined by individuals at the grassroots level.
Then there's Alice, a black woman from Michigan with only this to say: “President Obama is one person—plus, he (sic) got a job. We’re paying him to do a job, so we can’t say, ‘Could you take some time off and get us all energized?’ So we better figure it out.”
As the only African American featured in the video, and compared to the optimistic voices from everybody else, Alice’s argumentative tone struck an odd note. The message that comes across, whether intended or not, is that black folks better motivate themselves to vote for Obama again because he’s too busy to ask for our support. It’s not the most inspiring selling point. Moving forward, a better tactic might be to acknowledge the jobs and housing crisis disproportionately facing African Americans and illuminate what he’s actually doing about those issues.
On the other hand, the campaign is just getting started.
“This was just an announcement. It’s not indicative of what will happen over the course of the next 18 months,” David Bositis, senior research associate for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, told The Root.
Bositis also says, however, that despite dismal jobs numbers and more recent disappointment over his decision to hold military tribunals for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, most of Obama’s base will likely return to the polls for him. “All evidence shows that there is strong support by African Americans for President Obama, and I think his campaign is going to be counting on that,” he said. “In certain respects, he’s also blessed by his opposition. It’s pretty clear that the potential Republican candidates will pursue policies that are outright hostile to the interests of African Americans.”
Obama’s re-election problem lies, then, with appealing beyond his base. He’ll have to reach white men like Ed, and residents of the cornfield-lined small towns and middle class row houses featured in the video’s opening montage. “To win a presidential election, you have to put together the right mix of supporters, and in many states that’s going to involve getting a significant amount of the white independent vote,” said Bositis.
It will be a hard slog to win those voters. Over the past two years we’ve seen rampant fear and resentment toward Obama, from never-ending questioning about his citizenship to charges that he’s shoving the country toward socialism. It may be less a matter of guys like Ed who disagree with but trust the president -- and more of a question of what to do with birther conspiracy theorists.
But Obama has experience in successfully running an unlikely campaign. As we move into his new "It Begins With Us" chapter, we’ll see whether he can do it again.
With the release of the National Urban League's annual report, President Marc Morial says that lawmakers must focus on job creation instead of misplaced priorities.
Historically known as the analytical arm of the civil rights movement, the National Urban League has long advocated for racial equality through the spectrum of research and data. The organization continued that tradition on Thursday with the release of its annual The State of Black America report, this year under the theme "Jobs Rebuild America: Putting Urban America Back to Work." According to their research, the state of black America is, well, a little bit worse than it was last year.
Identifying the economy as the leading area of disparity between black and white Americans, the National Urban League used its scientific "Equality Index" formula to determine that economic equality declined a percentage point, down to 56.9 percent from 57.9 percent in 2010. In more comprehensible terms: With black unemployment at 15.3 percent, still nearly double the national average of 8.9 percent, the jobs situation isn't getting any better.
"I think people in Washington are distracted and not paying attention to what people are facing across the nation," Urban League president Marc Morial told The Root, on the organization's mission to steer the policy conversation back toward jobs. "Even though there's Libya, Afghanistan and all these issues going on, let's keep the focus on jobs. It's the number one concern for Americans."
With that focus in mind, the Urban League report not only explores the problem; it also offers solutions, including a 12-point plan for putting urban America back to work. While many of the recommendations are familiar and align with priorities already listed by the Obama administration (investing in new energy, targeting black students for science and engineering education, expanding small-business lending, youth summer-jobs programs), the strategy also calls for a hefty dose of federal spending on direct job creation. The "Stimulus Act II"-sounding proposal involves the federal government giving money directly to cities and states for hiring additional public workers such as teachers, firefighters, police officers and housing counselors.
"I've said to members of Congress, 'We have to extend unemployment benefits, or we can take some of that money and put people to work.' It's just a basic choice," said Morial, careful to point out that extending unemployment benefits is still critical. "But the safety net programs are being distressed as long as there's high unemployment, so we have to make that choice."
Adding to the Urban League's arsenal is its recently conducted public-opinion poll, which showed that nine out of its 12 suggestions scored above a 65 percent approval rating. "Our ideas have support in the court of public opinion," Morial said. "It's one thing to say to elected officials, 'Do you hear us?' It's another to say, 'Do you hear the people?' "
On that note, Morial thinks that President Obama has indeed heard the Urban League, which meets regularly with White House officials. "Within the president's 2012 budget, he made a proposal for what he calls 'growth zones.' This would involve targeting investment in areas of high unemployment," said Morial. "So to some extent, he's heard our call. But we're going to continue to press all of the elected officials here in Washington, D.C., on the issue of jobs."
The Urban League's ideas sound rational, particularly since they don't fall under the never-gonna-happen "Black People Policy" plugged by many activists, focusing instead on areas of high unemployment wherever they may be. But with Congress pushing to cut tens of billions of dollars in federal spending this year, the political will to support these ideas isn't there. Morial remains optimistic.
"We feel that our recommendations are solid and strong," he said. "To anyone that criticizes our recommendations, my answer is, Well, where are yours?"
Cynthia Gordy is the Washington reporter for The Root.