Economy & Budget

Reform and reauthorize Flood Insurance Program now

The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program will expire at the end of this month. The next day, Hurricane season begins. As these two events draw near, it is critical that the NFIP be reauthorized for the sake of our economy, our communities and the program’s 5.6 million policyholders.
This vital program has had a rocky history in the past several years. It was extended for brief periods and actually lapsed four times in 2010. The consequences of allowing that to happen again could be dire.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said that if Congress fails to reauthorize the NFIP, the agency would not be allowed to issue new policies, renew existing policies or make policy modifications. This would create a great deal of uncertainty for the thousands of communities and millions of policyholders who rely on flood insurance provided by the NFIP as a source of protection against the property losses that result from flooding, the most common natural disaster in the United States.

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Taking us backwards on nuclear spending

America is in the midst of a major fiscal crisis. Spending will outpace revenue by more than a trillion dollars this year. Red ink hovers over all government decisions. At the same time, our country faces multiple security threats. Transnational challenges including terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and cyber attack loom.

Unfortunately, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 being marked-up by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) today misses the mark. Rather than comprehensively addressing these threats in a manner that deals clearly with both our security and fiscal challenges, the HASC bill takes a step backwards. Judging by the proposals in this bill, one would think that the Soviet Union hadn’t dissolved and that taxpayer funds were limitless.  Remarkably, this bill funds pet nuclear projects as if the Cold War were at its peak while busting the fiscally-prudent defense spending cap that Congress agreed to last year as part of the Budget Control Act (BCA).

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Robert Zoellick leaves lasting legacy at World Bank

Today’s global challenges demand global solutions. From poverty and hunger, to climate change and the financial crisis, the complexities of the 21st Century require not only American leadership, but also effective global institutions. While the world continues to change at a rapid pace, the World Bank—with its wealth of experts and resources for fighting poverty–is a critical multilateral instrument for addressing these global challenges.

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Memo to Congress: No budget is no way to run a country

Welcome back, Congress! During your recess, we marked the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. It was an anniversary well worth marking, and America is safer with the world’s most notorious terrorist out of commission.
 
9/11 occurred more than a decade ago. That’s a long time. But it has been even longer—sixteen years, to be precise—since Congress met the deadline for the appropriations bills needed to fund the government for the next fiscal year.
 
Instead, we’ve started each year with a series of stop-gap resolutions that prevent the government fromplanning ahead and operating efficiently.
 
While the world around us is changing rapidly, the nation’s capital is frozen in place, consumed with partisan finger-pointing and endless blame games.
 
The result of this dysfunction is exemplified by our towering national debt of more than $15.6trillion, and our projected annual budget deficit of $1.2 trillion for thisyear.
 
That’s no way to run a country.

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Democrats should follow Sen. Conrad's lead

When Congress last passed a budget resolution, over three years ago, President Obama pledged a new era of fiscal responsibility: “And by making hard choices and challenging the old ways of doing business, we will cut in half the budget deficit we inherited within four years,” he said. “With this vote comes an obligation to pursue our efforts to go through the budget line-by-line, searching for additional savings. Like the families we serve, we must cut the things we don't need to invest in those we do.”
 
If only it had worked out that way. The debt has only mushroomed to more than $15.6 trillion (with a budget deficit projected at $1.2 trillion this fiscal year by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office). Meanwhile, both political parties point fingers and attempt to deflect blame for our budget morass.
 
But the partisan blame game, though rooted in fact, offers only part of the picture as to why the federal budget process has broken down. Surely one key factor is that, since the passage of that April 2009 spending resolution, Congress has not passed a budget—although they are required by law to pass a budget each by April 15 of each year. That failure represents a complete abdication of one of the legislative body’s most important duties, to set spending priorities for the federal government.

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Senate postal reform falls short

Last week, our Senate failed this nation when it passed the “21st Century Postal Reform Act.” Demonstrating once again that it is incapable of making the decisions necessary to fulfill its Constitutional obligation of providing our nation with a sustainable, universal postal system, Congress has instead settled on short-term solutions for a problem that will only be made worse as time goes on.
 
Although no one realized it at the time, since the very first e-mail was transmitted, the United States Postal Service has been headed for trouble. The explosion of digital technology has only compounded the self-funding agency’s woes; e-mail, e-payments and e-billing have all participated in the rapidly declining rate of First Class Mail. And now, the United States Postal Service, which as recently as six years ago was a thriving and profitable government entity, is on the verge of collapse under staggering operational over-capacity and a rigid congressional structure that won’t allow for the radical change it so desperately needs.
 
The bill, which passed 62-37, will repay the USPS $11 billion in overpaid retirement funds, caps top executive salaries at $199,000 and keeps  thousands of post offices and processing plants open past May 15, the date when the USPS had planned to shut them down in an effort to contain costs.

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GSA official at center of scandal shouldn't collect pay

If Donald Trump’s reality show "The Apprentice" were based on a bureaucratic rather than free enterprise model, the Donald’s famous quip, “You’re fired,” would be replaced by, “You’ve been placed on paid administrative leave as per Section 5, Part 752 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.”
 
While that might make for lousy reality TV, it’s the sad reality of business as usual in Washington, where high-paid and high-ranking federal workers investigated for serious wrongdoing are able to collect pay while placed on leave from their government post.

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We must invest in SNAP

Poverty and unemployment have risen sharply in our community, and most strikingly, so has hunger. People may not always have an accurate picture of who goes hungry in this country. By and large, the face of hunger is that of thousands and thousands of women and children. What is perhaps most shocking is that children represent almost half of the beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

Without SNAP, these children would go to bed hungry each night, seriously jeopardizing their ability to develop and thrive. I want to bring this critical issue to the attention of my constituents and those in the surrounding areas, and I want them to know that combating hunger is the utmost priority for me. The state of hunger that exists in the Dallas area is far too critical to ignore.

In a recent Gallup poll, 19 percent of metropolitan households said that there were times when they did not have enough money to buy all the food they needed.  In my own district, that number was an overwhelming 29 percent. Many of these families received help from neighbors, local churches and charities like the North Texas Food Bank. Hunger is too great a problem for charity alone, which is why the federal government invests in SNAP.

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Social Security disability system is broken

Since the Social Security Trustees report was released last week, we’ve heard a lot about the year 2033. That’s the year when the Social Security trust funds as a whole will run out of money and will no longer be allowed to pay full benefits. The real year to pay attention to, though, is 2016, when the Social Security Disability Insurance fund runs out of money.
 
What does this mean? It means that within half a decade, during the next presidential term, the disability program will no longer have the legal resources to fully pay its 12 million beneficiaries. At that point, current law calls for an immediate 20 percent benefit reduction for all disabled individuals.
 
Most observers don’t worry much about this year. They assume that when 2016 comes around, politicians will simply reallocate money from the old age program into the Social Security program and viola, problem solved. I wouldn’t be so sure that transferring the money will be so easy – and I’m not sure it should be.

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Making government more efficient - the right way

According to a recent United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, barely one in 10 Americans believe that it is “very likely” Congress can reduce the federal budget deficit. This perception highlights the need for members of Congress to find ways for the Federal Government to do more with less. In fact, several members of Congress are now working together to renew the Federal Government’s focus on efficiency best practices, exactly the type of bi-partisan effort we need.
 
The organization I lead, the Project Management Institute (PMI), has been studying both government and private sector efficiency for over 40 years.  What we have found is not a lack of government efficiency but lack of sufficient government efficiency. The difference is important. For example, we have found that the Corps of Engineers achieved 20 to 30 percent in program cost reductions through program management efficiencies and through use of trained program managers. We have also found that in programs where effective program managers are utilized and strong program management standards are followed, the dollars that are at “risk” drop dramatically; high-performing organizations put only about $78,200 at risk for every $1 million spent on projects.

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