Tag Archives: Congress

Republican tax plan unveiled

As expected, the Republican leadership has unveiled a new tax proposal that would consolidate the number of tax brackets while increasing the rate of the lowest bracket and increasing the standard deduction.

I admit that I have grown very cynical about these proposals. They never end up simplifying anything. Instead, each time Congress has done this in the past three decades they have only made the tax code more complicated. I see no evidence so far that this Congress and this Republican leadership will do anything different.

Moreover, Congress and Trump continue to make little effort to rein in spending, so I expect the result here will also be a significant increase in the crushing federal debt.

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Republican leaders to introduce tax increase

Failure theater: The Republican leadership in Congress is about to introduce tax increase, increasing the tax rate for the lowest bracket from 10% to 12%, while making believe that it really is a tax cut.

The plan will also increase the tax deduction, which they will then claim means that the tax increase really doesn’t matter.

They really have an utter contempt for the people who voted for them, not unlike the utter contempt being shown right now by the NFL to its customer base. Well, if you spit on your supporters don’t expect them to support you much longer.

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“I am just in shock how no one actually cares about the policy any more.”

The quote above, from this article. is from a Republican lobbyist, and is in reference to the new so-called Obamacare replacement bill being pushed right now in the Senate, not because it will repeal Obamacare but because it will provide Senators a fake vote where they can make believe they repealed Obamacare..

The bottom line: The repeal-and-replace bill sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy is gaining steam because it has the appearance of gaining steam — not because of the changes it would make. “If there was an oral exam on the contents of the proposal, graded on a generous curve, only two Republicans could pass it. And one of them isn’t Lindsey Graham,” a senior GOP aide told Caitlin.

I could condemn the Republican leadership here, but the fault actually lies with the press, which is allows them to do this. The number of fake insane bills with “feel good” names in the past two decades that the press has accepted with little analysis is legion. This is only another in that long list.

If you want to find out some real details about this new fake bill, read the whole article. It provides enough information to sicken your stomach about any bill our bankrupt Congress writes.

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Orbital ATK begins assembly of first orbital repair satellite

Capitalism in space: Orbital ATK has begun the assembly of Mission Extension Vehicle 1, (MEV-1), designed to attach itself to commercial satellites and extend their life.

Controlled by the company’s satellite operations team, the MEV 1 uses a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite. The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the orbit maintenance and attitude control functions of the client’s spacecraft. The vehicle has a 15 year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.

They hope to launch before the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the legal battle between Orbital ATK’s effort to build this satellite repair mission and DARPA’s effort to subsidize SSL’s own satellite repair mission continues in Congress with the introduction of two amendments favoring Orbital ATK.

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Federal debt tops $20 trillion

The coming dark age: Because of the Democratic/Trump deal raising the debt limit, the federal government’s debt officially topped $20 trillion last week.

From March 16 through Sept. 7, every Daily Treasury Statement showed the total federal debt subject to the legal limit opening and closing each day at $19,808,747,000,000. That was because the previous suspension of the debt limit had expired on March 15 and the debt limit had been reset at the level the debt reached at the close of business that day–which was $19,808,772,381,624.74. The Treasury then started using what it calls “extraordinary measures” to keep the debt subject to the limit about $25 milion below the limit.

This is all a fraud. Not only do they cook the numbers to make the debt ceiling appear legal for as long as possible, the debt is actually far larger, as this doesn’t include the raids to the Social Security trust fund that Congress has routinely been making for the past few decades, and never paying back.

But hey, who cares? What is really important is that we call looters “heroes” and any cops who try to arrest them “racists!”

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Trump teams up with Democrats on debt limit deal

Trump today backed a Democratic proposal to only extend the debt limit by three months, instead of the Republican plan to extend that ceiling first 18 months, than six.

While it is clear the Democrats want more debt ceiling negotiations in order to force the Republicans to make repeated concessions each time, I find it disgusting that the Republican leadership is more interested in kicking the can down the road than to address the problem now. In a sense, this might be why Trump is siding with the Democrats, as it keeps the debt ceiling on the table as a political issue, and might eventually force these brainless cowards to eventually do something to gain some control over the budget.

Then again, it might not. It could also be that none of these politicians, including Trump, has any interest in controlling the budget, and are merely playing petty politics with the nation’s future.

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Action in House to limit use of civil forfeiture by Sessions

Several congressmen have submitted amendments to the appropriations bill that funds the Justice Department that would nullify the effort by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to increase the use of civil forfeiture.

[F]our amendments have been submitted to the House Rules Committee for consideration that would defund Sessions’ directive. It’s not clear which amendment if any will be considered when the consolidated appropriations bill, H.R. 3354, reaches the House floor likely late next week.

Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) have submitted separate amendments that would prohibit the Department of Justice from using funds for adoptive seizures. Two bipartisan amendments, one submitted by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and another by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), would prevent funding from being used to implement Sessions’ directive.

The Amash and Davidson amendments are more comprehensive and are not limited to Sessions’ directive. In fact, these amendments would leave the minor safeguards provided under Sessions’ changes in place. The bipartisan amendments aren’t as comprehensive, although they’re still better than the status quo. [emphasis mine]

As is typical of this Republican Congress, there appears to be no strong support by the party’s leadership for these amendments, as indicated by the highlighted words. This lack of support is further indicated by this quote:

Legislation has been introduced to increase the standard at the federal level to clear and convincing evidence and provide more protections for property owners who contest a seizure in federal court. Unfortunately, these bills — Rep. Walberg and Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act and Rep. Sensenbrenner’s DUE PROCESS Act — are awaiting action in their respective committees, and there’s no guarantee of action. [emphasis mine]

What I find encouraging is that the weak Republican leadership is increasingly under pressure from its rank and file to move rightward. They might not want to, or they might be afraid to (being political cowards), but the trend continues in the right direction. And I believe that this conservative trend will accelerate, after there are more Republican victories in the 2018 elections.

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Republican Senate committee restores all cuts to NASA climate budget

Failure theater: The Senate Appropriations Committee today marked up NASA’s budget, restoring almost all of the proposed cuts, including cuts to the agency’s climate programs that both the Trump administration and the House had proposed.

The only program it appears the Senate cut was NASA’s planetary program, which they trimmed by almost 25%.

This only provides more evidence that the large number of the Republicans in the Senate are not really Republicans. They certainly aren’t conservative. And it sure appears that they aren’t very smart either, considering that NASA’s planetary program is one of its most successful endeavors.

We shall see how this budget shakes out in the coming months. Overall I am not hopeful. It appears to me that this Republican Congress wants to spend big bucks, and is hell bent on doing it.

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FBI arrest former IT staffer for many Democrats in Congress

A real Washington scandal: The FBI on Tuesday arrested a former Congressional IT staffer as he was trying to flee the country.

The man, Imran Aran, had run the computer systems for many Democrats in Congress, including former DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And while most Democrats fired Aran when he came under investigation months ago, Wasserman Schultz had kept in on her payroll until his arrest this week.

Several details that give some important political context to this story, and are not mentioned in the CNN article above:

The last story above includes other details about how Aran also threatened the renter of his home for cooperating with police. As the renter (a Marine and apparently a Democrat) noted, “He’s dangerous. This is a crime syndicate that has successfully infiltrated Congress,” he said. “If Donald Trump and the Republicans had hired foreign nationals to be their top IT guys and somehow their congressional files had been compromised, this would have been all over the news.”

Update: The correction above is because the news article linked to had mistakenly said that the hard drives were taken from Wasserman Schultz’s home. There were instead recovered from the Marine above when he found them in Aran’s former home, which he was now renting.

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Republican health tweak of Obamacare dead, Senate to vote for straight repeal

This is a victory: The Republican leadership in the Senate, lacking the votes to pass their own version of Obamacare, have decided to instead go for full repeal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bowed to pressure tonight from conservatives — and President Trump — to bring up a straight repeal of most of the Affordable Care Act as the next step now that the Senate health care bill appears to be dead. It will be based on the repeal bill Congress passed in 2015, which then-President Barack Obama vetoed.

His statement: “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful. So, in the coming days, the Senate will vote to take up … a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system that gives Americans access to quality, affordable health care.”

McConnell’s hand was forced when two conservative senators, Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) announced earlier today that they would not vote for the bill.

This is what they should have done from the beginning. Granted, it is likely to fail because of Democratic opposition, but then it will be clear going into the next election who is standing in the way of fixing the problem. Had they passed any version of their turkey of a bill, the health insurance business would have continued to fail, but they would no longer have had clean hands. It would have become their problem, and it would have cost them votes in 2018.

Now, things will be clean, and we will get to see who really is on our side, from both parties. Expect several Republican senators especially to suddenly “evolve” and decide that they can’t go along with the very repeal they’ve voted for repeatedly in the past, because it might “hurt people.”

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House appropriations approves NASA and NOAA budgets

The squealing of pigs: The House appropriations committee yesterday approved the budgets for both NASA and NOAA, essentially accepting the budget numbers approved by its subcommittee.

Overall, the House increased spending over the Trump administration’s proposed cuts. Only in the area of climate did the legislators appear to support those cuts, and even here they pumped more money in.

The Trump Administration proposed a deep cut to [NOAA’s Polar Follow-On mission] saying it will re-plan the program ($180 million instead of the $586 million NOAA said last year it would need for FY2018). The committee went even further, approving only $50 million, but added it would reconsider if NOAA provides a better explanation of how it is restructuring the program. NOAA’s plans for new space weather satellites also fell far short of what the agency planned last year, although the committee provided more ($8.5 million) than the Trump Administration requested ($500,000).

In general, do not expect this Republican Congress to gain any control over the federal deficit. They are as spendthrift as Democrats. The only difference is their choice of programs.

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House Republicans push for big spending in Defense and NIH budgets

Failure theater: Two different House committees have chosen to ignore the budget cutting recommendations of the Trump administration and add billions to the budget of the National Institute of Health while approving — against the objections of the administration — the creation of a military “space corps.”

The first story is especially galling. Instead of cutting NIH’s budget to $25.9 billion, which is about what the agency got in the early 2000s, the increase to NIH would raise its budget from $31.8 billion to $35.2 billion. Worse, the House proposal would continue the policy where NIH pays the overhead for any research grants, which has been an amazing cash cow for American universities, most of which are leftwing partisan operations whose focus these days is often nothing more than defeating Republicans and pushing agenda-driven science.

Trump was right to push for those cuts. The Republicans are fools to eliminate them.

As for the second story, as I noted yesterday, the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty are almost certainly what is pushing Congress now to create a separate military space division. That and a greedy desire to establish another bureaucracy where they can take credit for any additional pork barrel funding. While such a force will certainly be necessary should the Outer Space Treaty not be revised to allow sovereignty and the establishment of internationally recognized borders, it is simply too early to do so now. The result will be a bureaucratic mess that will only act to waste money and possibly hinder private development in space.

But then, that’s what too many Republicans, like Democrats, want. They aren’t really interested in the needs of the country. They are interested in pork and power, for themselves.

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Republican Senate restores spending in NASA budget

The Senate subcommittee marking up the proposed NASA budget has followed the House lead and restored most of the cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

The bill provides nearly $780 million more for NASA than the administration’s request, including an increase of more than $615 million for exploration programs, such as the Space Launch System and Orion. “We made sure the Space Launch System is fully funded, and that astronauts will have the ability to go beyond low Earth orbit in the Orion crew vehicle,” Culberson said.

The bill restores funding for NASA’s Office of Education, which was slated to be closed in the budget proposal. The bill provides $90 million for the office, including funds for two programs in that office, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, that would have been shut down.

More here.

It appears that Republicans, like Democrats, have no interest in gaining any control over its out-of-control spending. The Trump budget was a very reasonable document, and would have done no harm to NASA’s overall mission, and in many ways would have helped focus it. Congress however can’t stop spending, no matter who the voters put in power.

The only area where Republicans seem willing to fight for cuts is in NASA’s climate budget. With both the House and the Senate bills, the Republicans supported most of these cuts, though not all.

Overall, this whole process, and the contempt Congress and Washington has for the American people, was best demonstrated by this quote from Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia):

“I’m not sure the private sector is going to step in with so much left undone.”

In other words, private enterprise can’t do it! We need big government, routinely over budget and behind schedule, to make it happen!

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Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine still leads race with Aerojet Rocketdyne

Capitalism in space: An independent assessment of the development work being done by Blue Origin and Aeroject Rocketdyne on their competing rocket engines says that Blue Origin is still in the lead by two years, despite a testing incident in May.

The article also outlines how the present Air Force budget includes language that would prevent the Air Force from financing any part of ULA’s Vulcan rocket, other than the money presently being spent to subsidize Aeroject Rocketdyne’s AR-4 engine.

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House lawmakers push Air Force to use reusable rockets

Capitalism in space: House lawmakers today added an amendment to the Air Force budget that would require the military to “move rapidly to evaluate the potential use of reusable space launch vehicles such as those being flown by SpaceX.”

The amendment was approved by a voice vote in committee.

As noted by Eric Berger at the link, this marks an amazing shift by Congress in a very short time. A few years ago, SpaceX had to sue the government for the right to bid on Air Force launch contracts. At that time Congress was exceedingly skeptical of allowing military satellites to launch on new Falcon 9 rockets, no less ones using used first stages. Moreover, Congress was then eager to protect its big buddy ULA, which then had a monopoly on military launches and was making gobs of money per launch. Now, Congress is all for re-usability and saving money and competition.

This change demonstrates the importance of success. SpaceX has been successful, and with that success the nay-sayers have suddenly vanished. Now, everyone loves them, when only a few years ago they were considered risky and unreliable.

When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy succeeds and flies several times prior to the first launch of SLS, watch for this same process to occur there as well. SLS will no longer be sacrosanct, and Congress will suddenly discover how much a waste of money it is.

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Senate introduces its version of Trumpcare

Failure theater: The Senate today introduced its version of an Obamacare replacement, and proved once again that the Republican leadership in Congress has no interest in repealing Obamacare and the parts of that law that make it economically unsustainable.

The most popular provisions of Obamacare are kept in place in the bill, including language allowing children to stay on a parent’s health insurance plan until age 26 and preserving coverage for people with pre-existing illnesses.

The bill does repeal some of Obamacare, but without freeing the insurance company from the requirement to accept anyone, whether they are sick or not, makes it impossible for the entire health insurance business to make any profit. It also does not appear that this bill frees insurance companies to offer any kind of insurance they wish, including the popular and less expensive catastrophic insurance plans that Obamacare banned.

The problem here is that the Republican leadership is timid. They fear the squealing of pigs, and thus attempt to come up with plans that will please those pigs. The result? A mish-mosh that no one likes and that solves nothing.

Update: The Senate’s own freedom caucus speaks: Senators Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul reject Senate bill, as written.

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A congressman acts to limit competition in solid rocket motor production

We’re here to help you! Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-California) in March introduced a new bill that requires U.S. companies building solid rocket motors to purchase the oxidizer from within the U.S.

That oxidizer, ammonium perchlorate, is only available from one Utah company, a company that also happens to belong to a member of the Washington establishment.

Some in industry are arguing the legislation is an earmark to help a now struggling business — American Pacific, owned by the Huntsmans of Utah — with political ties to the Trump administration. Jon Huntsman, former two-time Republican presidential candidate, is tapped to be the next ambassador to Russia.

And if the legislation passes as part of the fiscal year National Defense Authorization Act, the business would be propped up, but potentially at the expense of a larger solid rocket motor industry and the U.S. government, sources interviewed by Defense News argued.

Essentially, this bill would give Jon Huntsman’s company a monopoly and would likely increase the cost of making solid rocket motors.

The article is very detailed. While on the surface it sure looks like a case of crony capitalism, it is a bit more complicated. Demand for ammonium perchlorate has dropped since the shuttle was retired, causing Huntsman’s company to struggle. While it could be argued that this bill is an effort to save this company as well as encourage new American companies to form, there are many factors described in the article that suggest this isn’t going to happen, including this tidbit:

The other factor is the price for [ammonium perchlorate] will improve naturally when the government has more demand in roughly six years when NASA’s Space Launch System kicks off in full and the nuclear missile fleet is refreshed, so a solution that is more temporary could be in order, several sources suggest.

Since it is doubtful SLS will ever “kick off in full,” it is unlikely that demand for solid rocket motor oxidizer will ever rise as predicted. A better solution would be for Congress to mind its own business and let the market function normally. There are other companies in Europe providing this oxidizer, and the competition would force Huntsman’s company (as well as other new American companies) to innovate to stay competitive.

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Senate to hold third hearing on commercial space

The Senate next week will hold the third in a series of hearings, organized by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), to examine the state of the present partnership between the government and the private sector.

Like the previous hearings, the witnesses cover a wide range, though most this time represent companies in the private sector (including Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX). It appears that what Cruz is doing is using these hearings to get as much feedback from as many private companies as possible, so that their preferences will dominate any decisions Congress eventually makes.

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House committee passes new commercial space bill

Last week the House Science committee passed a new commercial space bill designed to streamline the licensing system that presently exists for getting private space missions certified as required under the Outer Space Treaty.

The bill reforms the existing licensing system for commercial remote sensing satellites, streamlining a process that many companies in that sector said results in lengthy delays. It also establishes a “certification” process for commercial spaceflight not otherwise licensed today in order to eliminate any regulatory uncertainty and ensure compliance with the Outer Space Treaty.

“The goal of this bill is not to regulate space broadly,” [Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas)] said in a statement at the markup. “Instead, the bill takes a commonsense approach by establishing a legal foundation upon which U.S. industry can flourish.”

I am in the process of reviewing the proposed law, and hope to write something detailed about it in the next few days. I should say here that in general this law seems to be trying to address the same issues relating to the Outer Space Treaty that have been discussed during the Senate hearings organized recently by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). And while to me the resulting bill seems generally good, it still leaves hanging the Outer Space Treaty’s fundamental problems relating to property rights.

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Using math to protect the Washington power structure

What could possible go wrong? A group of mathematicians have written software designed to prevent the gerrymandering of congressional districts, and are offering that software as a weapon for the courts to force states to revise the districts, even though those districts were created by fairly elected state legislatures.

Leaning back in his chair, Jonathan Mattingly swings his legs up onto his desk, presses a key on his laptop and changes the results of the 2012 elections in North Carolina. On the screen, flickering lines and dots outline a map of the state’s 13 congressional districts, each of which chooses one person to send to the US House of Representatives. By tweaking the borders of those election districts, but not changing a single vote, Mattingly’s maps show candidates from the Democratic Party winning six, seven or even eight seats in the race. In reality, they won only four — despite earning a majority of votes overall.

Mattingly’s election simulations can’t rewrite history, but he hopes they will help to support democracy in the future — in his state and the nation as a whole. The mathematician, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has designed an algorithm that pumps out random alternative versions of the state’s election maps — he’s created more than 24,000 so far — as part of an attempt to quantify the extent and impact of gerrymandering: when voting districts are drawn to favour or disfavour certain candidates or political parties.

There are numerous problems here, all of which center on my basic disbelief in the non-partisan objectivity of these scientists and their work.

First, note the first example used. Mattingly proudly shows how his software demonstrates that Democrats could have won more districts in North Carolina. In fact, if you read the article, he claims that the district revisions produced by his software (producing more victorious Democrats) creates fairer districts than the districts created by the state’s fairly elected Republican legislature. Moreover, it was the Republican redistricting that prompted this mathematician to write the software.

Funny how he never felt compelled to do this when it was Democrats controlling the legislatures and gerrymandering the congressional districts to their benefit.

Second, he has offered this software to the courts as evidence to overrule the redistricting done by fairly elected legislatures. In other words, this software will be used to justify letting unelected experts decide how congressional districts should be shaped, not elected officials picked by voters.

Third, note who has expressed interest in using this mathematician as a witness to win its lawsuits:
» Read more

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Connecticut: sinking in debt with a fleeing population

Running out of other people’s money: Connecticut, run for years by Democrats, is sinking in debt with a population that is shrinking as people flee.

The administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat who has been in office since 2011, projects a budget deficit of more than $5 billion over the next two years, thanks to generous pension benefits and the burden of servicing its big debt, plus falling tax revenue due to the exodus of large employers and residents reaching retirement age.

Its budget woes, as well as concerns that they will be repeated year after year, helped lead General Electric in 2015 to consider moving its headquarters out of the state. Last year, it did exactly that.

The state’s population is falling: Its net domestic out-migration was nearly 30,000 from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, it lost slightly more than 8,000 people, leaving its population at 3.6 million. Indeed, recent national moving company surveys underscore the trend, showing more people leaving Connecticut than moving in. In 2016, the state also saw a population decline for the third consecutive year, according to Census Bureau estimates.

One of the companies, United Van Lines, reported that of all their Connecticut customers, 60 percent were leaving compared to 40 percent who were moving there. Only three other states had higher rates of people moving out – New York, New Jersey and Illinois. One out of five of those leaving said they were retiring. [emphasis mine]

Isn’t it interesting that the four states with the most people leaving are four states that have been largely run by Democrats for decades. And in those cases where Republicans have been in charge, they have taken the moderate go-along-to-get-along approach, essentially rubber-stamping the high spending and high tax agenda of the Democrats that dominate the political region.

Unfortunately, it is this agenda that dominates Washington and the federal government, and the Republican leadership there seems quite willing to do the same as the moderate Republicans in this states. Worse, we don’t have another country we can escape to.

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Sixty-six programs slated for elimination in Trump budget

The Trump budget followed through in one area very clearly: It proposes to completely eliminate sixty-six government programs.

The programs eliminated would only save $26.7 billion, which in terms of the deficit is chicken-feed. Still it would be a step in the right direction.

The pigs are squealing however, including one recent failed presidential candidate:
Clinton: Trump Budget Shows ‘Unimaginable Level of Cruelty’

Based on past experience, expect the Republican leadership in Congress to gut most of these cuts. The budget will grow. The deficit will grow. The federal debt will grow. The power of the people in Washington will grow. And we will be one step closer to bankruptcy and collapse.

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Trump budget released only to be immediately trashed

Today the Trump administration released its proposed 2018 budget for the federal government. Here is a good article on what that budget proposed for NASA.

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request includes $19.1 billion for NASA, a $561 million decrease over previously enacted levels that would reduce the number of Earth science missions, eliminate the agency’s education office and do away with the Obama administration’s plans to robotically retrieve a piece of an asteroid as a precursor to eventual flights to Mars.

The budget closely reflects the administration’s blueprint, released in March, and overall, NASA’s acting administrator said America’s space program remains healthy and suffered relatively modest cuts compared to other federal agencies.

Though the NASA budget did include the cancellation of a handful of Earth Science projects as well as a cut in the Earth science budget, those cuts were nowhere near what had been hinted at previously.

The Trump administration has made no secret of its skepticism about global warming and its presumed causes and impacts and as expected, the budget eliminates funding for five Earth science missions and instruments. Earth science would receive $1.8 billion overall, reflecting a reduction of nearly $170 million. “The hard choices are still there, and we can’t do everything,” Lightfoot said. But the budget “still includes significant Earth science efforts, including 18 Earth observing missions in space as well as airborne missions.”

That’s a reduction of less than 10% in the total Earth science budget, hardly a catastrophe. The overall budget proposal was a little more daring, calling for a 30% cut at the EPA, and a 16% cut at Commerce, mostly in NOAA.

What does this all mean? Nothing. A president’s budget proposal is generally only a statement of desires. It has no force of law. Congress decides how to spend money, and the Republicans controlling this Congress are not really interested in cutting anything. In fact, the pigs have already begun to squeal, including a complete rejection of the budget by many Republican leaders in Congress.

‘President Trump’s $603 billion defense budget request is inadequate to the challenges we face, illegal under current law, and part of an overall budget proposal that is dead on arrival in Congress,’ said Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The administration didn’t seem to signal its own vote of confidence by releasing the document during President Trump’s first overseas trip.

Longtime GOP Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, a longtime appropriator, declared proposed cuts to safety net and environmental proposals ‘draconian.’

‘I don’t think the president’s budget is going anywhere,’ said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, asked if he’s concerned about the message sent by slashing the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

That’s only a sampling. Essentially, these Republicans have no interest in gaining control of the out-of-control federal budget. They like having that budget out-of-control, as it feeds money to their friends and partners whom then line their pockets with campaign contributions.

I should note that I fully expect Trump to bow to their demands, and back off. When it has come to budget matters, he has so far shown no stomach for the fight.

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Republican Trumpcare bill might require another vote

Failure theater: The House Republican leadership has not yet officially sent their Obamacare revision bill to the Senate because they have discovered they may have to vote on it again.

According to several aides and other procedural experts, if Republicans send the bill to the Senate now and the CBO later concludes it doesn’t save at least $2 billion, it would doom the bill and Republicans would have to start their repeal effort all over with a new budget resolution. Congressional rules would likely prevent Republicans from fixing the bill after it’s in the Senate, the aides said…

If Republican leaders hold onto the bill until the CBO report is released, then Ryan and his team could still redo it if necessary. That would require at least one more House vote of some sort…

The Republican leadership is a joke. If required to toss a rock into the ocean while standing at the end of a 500 foot long pier they’d still miss, and hit themselves in the face in the process.

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In 2016 federal government improperly paid out $144 billion

Our government in action! In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, the controller general revealed that the federal government improperly paid out $144 billion in 2016.

The problem is growing, he said, from $125 billion in 2014; to $137 billion in 2015; to the most recent estimate of $144 billion in 2016. “This includes estimates for 112 programs at 22 federal agencies, so it is a pervasive problem,” he added.

Since 2003 – when Congress required many executive departments and agencies to estimate the amount of improper payments annually – the cumulative total is estimated to be “in excess of $1.2 trillion,” Dodaro said. “So it’s a significant amount of money.” Dodaro said three big federal programs – Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit — account for most (75 percent) of the improper payments. “But there are a number of programs across government where this problem is an issue,” he said.

And the problem is worse than the numbers indicate, because 18 “risk-susceptible” programs – including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — do not report estimates at all. SNAP (food stamps) stopped reporting in 2015. And the $144 billion in 2016 does not include estimates from the Defense Department, which could be a sizeable number, Dodaro said.

Obviously, the solution is to hire more auditors and increase the budgets at these agencies so they can better track the improper payments. Simply cutting these budgets, well now, that’s a terrible idea.

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The press begins to turn against SLS

This report by Eric Berger of Ars Technica, describing the press teleconference today where NASA announced that they would not fly humans on the first SLS flight in 2019, reveals a significant political change.

In the past, most mainstream reporters would routinely accept NASA’s announcements about SLS. If the agency said it was great, their stories would wax poetic about how great it was. If NASA said its greatness was causing a delay, their stories would laud NASA had how well it was doing dealing with SLS’s greatness, even though that greatness was forcing another delay. Never, and I mean never, would NASA or these reporters ever talk about the project’s overall and ungodly cost.

This press conference was apparently quite different. The press had lots of questions about SLS and its endless delays. They had lots of questions about its costs. And most significant, they had lots of questions for NASA about why the agency is having so much trouble building this rocket, when two private companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin, are building something comparable for a tenth the money in about half the time.

During the teleconference, Ars asked Gerstenmaier to step back and take a big-picture look at the SLS rocket. Even with all of the funding—about $10 billion through next year—how was the agency likely to miss the original deadline by as much as three years, if not more?

“I don’t know,” Gerstenmaier replied. “I don’t know—I would just say it’s really kind of the complexity of what we’re trying to go do, and to build these systems. We weren’t pushing state-of-the-art technology, like main engines sitting underneath the rocket or new solid rocket boosters. But we were pushing a lot of new manufacturing, and I think that new manufacturing has caused some of the delays we’ve seen. No one welds the way that we’re welding material at the thicknesses we’re welding.”

…Later, the NASA officials were asked about private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, which are also building heavy-lift rockets but at a very limited cost to taxpayers. What would they have to say about just buying those vehicles off the shelf, at significantly lower cost than an SLS launch, and preserving NASA’s funds to execute in-space missions?

Gerstnmaier’s explanations for SLS’s delays and costs, that it is a very complex and advanced piece of rocket engineering, is total bunk. This was supposed to be an upgraded Saturn 5, but it will only be able to lift about 70% of the payload. It is using the actual shuttle engines, and upgraded shuttle solid rocket boosters. While new engineering was required to refit these for SLS, none of that should have been so hard or expensive.

The key here is that members of the press are finally aware of this, and are asking the right questions. With Falcon Heavy about to launched multiple times before SLS even launches once, the continuation of this boondoggle is becoming increasingly difficult to justify.

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Trump signs $1 trillion spending bill

Trump today signed the $1 trillion continuing resolution, keeping the government well funded, with no significant cuts, through September.

The article included a detail I had not noticed previously. When the bill passed in the House, the only ones who voted against it were 103 Republicans, while the entire Democratic caucus voted for it. In other words, the Republican leadership screwed their own party and allied themselves with the Democrats to pass this big spending bill that cuts nothing and breaks almost every promise the Republicans and Trump made about spending during the election campaign.

The article also has this very revealing quote from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney:

“I think it’s great that the Democrats like the bill. That’s fantastic.”

As I have said repeatedly, the election in November was nothing more than the Democratic primary, with a choice between a radical socialist (Clinton) and an old fashioned liberal Democrat (Trump). We get the government we deserve.

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Senate to ignore House Obamacare replacement, write its own bill

Failure theater: Senate Republicans today said in interviews that they plan to ignore the House Obamacare replacement bill, passed earlier today, and write their own bill from scratch.

A Senate proposal is now being developed by a 12-member working group. It will attempt to incorporate elements of the House bill, senators said, but will not take up the House bill as a starting point and change it through the amendment process. “The safest thing to say is there will be a Senate bill, but it will look at what the House has done and see how much of that we can incorporate in a product that works for us in reconciliation,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

“We are going to draft a Senate bill,” added Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “That is what I’ve been told.”

I have no faith in what we will get in the end, mainly because it is apparent these guys are not starting from the premise of eliminated the law and its unworkable regulations. Instead, they are proposing, as the House did, to install their own unworkable regulations.

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