Economy & Budget

Reaffirming our commitment to national service

On December 5, 2007, just a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses launched him to the front of the race in the Democratic primary, then-Candidate Barack Obama issued a pledge to expand national service in America.  To a thousand Iowans at Cornell College he called national service not just an idea, but a central cause of his presidency. 

On that day four years ago, he outlined a sweeping expansion of America’s service programs to harness the idealism and ingenuity of citizens in building a more perfect union.  In his first address to Congress, President Obama asked for speedy progress in passing legislation to define such a new era of service.

A bipartisan group of Members of Congress worked together to craft and enact legislation embodying this bold new vision for national and community service.  At its passing (with co-sponsorship by Senators Hatch, Kennedy, McCain, Mikulski and others) they named it the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, and sent it to the President for signature less than 100 days into his presidency.  Leaders on both sides of the aisle hailed the bipartisan recognition of the value of engaging citizens in new and effective ways to help meet the challenges of our time.


GOP effort to freeze federal pay for five years unfair

Some Republicans in the Senate are pushing a proposal to extend the current pay freeze for federal employees another three years, for a total of five consecutive years, to offset the cost of extending the payroll tax credit.  While we agree that continuing this middle class tax cut is an absolute necessity, it is unthinkable that federal workers would be singled out again to pay for it.

Federal workers have already made significant sacrifices to help ease the burden of our national debt.  We swallowed hard and accepted the two-year pay freeze which has been a great burden to federal workers and their families that are struggling just like everyone else. This sacrifice alone has saved American taxpayers $60 billion.

Federal workers are also deeply impacted by major cuts being made to the federal budget. Between $900 billion in budget cuts across federal agencies that was agreed to as part of the initial debt ceiling compromise and an additional $1.2 trillion coming in sequesters, federal agencies and their employees are getting seriously squeezed.


Two pieces of legislation threaten public protections: the 
REINS Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act

The grand bargain of advanced capitalism is that businesses are encouraged to prosper in pursuit of profits while, at the same time, government, through safeguards and regulations, is empowered to protect people from the excesses of the market.

Many of the great public policy advances of the past century can be understood in these terms.  Child labor laws, building codes, anti-trust laws, many public health measures, workplace safety and wage laws, labor rights, environmental and consumer protections, food and drug safety, and many others are properly understood as public actions that limit business behavior in order to strike a fairer balance between the needs of business and the needs of people and the environment.  Business typically opposes reform; yet the public interest can ultimately prevail.

Last year about this time the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began a focused campaign to challenge the ability of the U.S. government to maintain that balance.  Despite the fact that financial deregulation was a major factor in the worldwide economic collapse, the Chamber, emboldened by Republican control of the House of Representatives, spun a narrative that the dismal employment rate was attributable to excessive regulation.  


Congress needs to fund the FAA

Perhaps one of the few things that most Republicans and Democrats in Washington can agree upon these days is the reality that our economic recovery does not solely depend on taxing and spending, but on the vitality of innovative small businesses.  As the debate rages about the best way to reduce our debt, it seems that a fundamental principal of business and sports has been forgotten.  To win, sometimes you just need to hit singles and doubles.

A clear example of this disconnect can be found in Congress’ repeated failure to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has been in a holding pattern for over three years.  The bill, which would fund the day-to-day operations of the nation’s aviation system, would also transform the nation’s antiquated 1950’s style ground-based air traffic control system to a “Next Generation” satellite-based system.  

The benefits of making our air traffic system both safer and more efficient are both obvious and manifold.  However, another key benefit to passing this legislation is that it would allow airports and businesses to make long-term plans regarding infrastructure projects.  


Project and program management can strengthen disaster relief efforts

The devastating tornados that flattened entire cities throughout the southern states earlier this year claimed hundreds of lives and caused up to $5 billion in damages.  A number of lessons can be learned from this disaster and subsequent relief efforts, but among the most important are ensuring that future disaster recovery efforts happen as efficiently and effectively as possible. Research and experience show that these goals can be accomplished through strategic planning and project and program management.

Recently, I testified on behalf of the Project Management Institute (PMI) before the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs on the benefits of effective program management and our extensive research in program management and disaster recovery. 

Disaster relief efforts, with all their inherent risks and urgency, benefit immensely from PMI’s project management standards. Training project and program managers to facilitate and streamline responses allows a disaster recovery team to stay organized and focused, and to implement solutions a community needs after being struck by a disaster as quickly and efficiently as possible.


Message of student occupiers lost in commotion of police violence

On Wednesday, November 9, members of the UC Berkeley Police Department beat non-violent Occupy Cal protestors with billy clubs. A former poet laureate of the United States ended up with bruised ribs in the unprovoked melee.

The next morning, I skimmed through the comments forum following a Bay Area newspaper’s account of the skirmish: Hiding behind the veil of anonymity, the posters had recurring words for the students involved: “Entitled.” “Pampered.” “Babies.”

The following Friday, the UC Davis Police Department felt compelled to pepper spray non-violent protestors, who had the nerve to sit cross-legged in the middle of the school’s quad. Again, the online comments: “Entitled.” “Pampered.” “Babies.”


Eating fruits and vegetables is not a job killer

Major food manufacturers are readying their next attack on nutrition by calling proposed food marketing guidelines "job killers" that will devastate the American economy.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission, along with three other Federal agencies, proposed voluntary guidelines for marketing food to children to reduce sugars, fats and salts and increase fruits, whole grains and vegetables in the diets of American kids. In 2008, led by Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Congress asked for the recommendations to address the nations’ growing obesity crisis.

Studies show that one third of all children aged 10 to 17 are overweight or obese. In the past three decades rates have more than doubled among kids aged 2 to 5 and more than tripled among those ages 6 through 11.

A coalition of major manufacturers of processed foods, fast-food chains, and the media industry that depends on their advertising dollars are spending millions to derail the proposed guidelines. The FTC has already started to trim the proposal in response to the lobbying blitzkrieg but industry wants to go ever further. They want to use an industry-designed scheme that would declare Chocolate Lucky Charms, Marshmallow Pebbles and Cookie Crisp cereals as healthy.

Despite industry claims, these guidelines aren’t mandatory; they are voluntary guidelines developed by an independent committee of nutrition experts about how we can improve children’s health.  They are sensible, science-based recommendations.


Financial services: Coming to the aid of small business

When Sen. Maria Cantwell recently wondered aloud to the New York Times, "Why aren't the banks lending? Where's the money for small business?" she echoed a misconception that has crept into our national economic discussion. The fact is financial institutions are lending, and have pledged to lend enormous sums to small businesses for years to come.

As America continues its economic recovery, small businesses must be an integral part of fueling job creation.  A vibrant small-business community drives our economy, job creation and, quite simply, our nation's vitality. Our 27 million small businesses generate nearly two of every three new jobs.

America's financial services industry understands this - it serves small businesses in communities all across the nation. Our financial institutions are dedicated to helping these companies and their owners succeed, and offering the tools to do so. They also are taking historic steps to improve small businesses' credit, deliver other key services and provide huge pools of funds for borrowing.


THERE ARE NO CUTS! – The fallacy of baseline budgeting

I almost have to laugh at the old car commercials with the loud salesmen and the blinking graphics, “Come in today and save $5,000!!”  You have to know that this type of advertising works because it is still being used.  Ergo, there must still be idiots out there that think they are really saving $5,000 by spending $25,000 on a car that has a $30,000 price tag on it.  So it is with baseline budgeting and “Washington” speak.
The ignorant on both side of the aisle are decrying the failure of the “Stuper-Committee” (NO, I didn’t spell that wrong) as the next man-caused disaster.  With weeping and gnashing of teeth, they rent their garments and wail at the moon, giving a performance that only Chicken Little could appreciate.  Now, because 12 of the most partisan people on the hill couldn’t come to an agreement as to what to order for lunch, let alone the deficit, the debt ceiling legislation passed in August will kick in “draconian” cuts to both domestic and defense spending.  Only, there’s one little problem….


For DoD, worry less about cuts, find creative use of existing resources

With the Super Committee and appropriators looking to make cuts in many places, including some critical defense programs, too little attention is being spent on how to make the dollars the federal government spends mean more for the American people.
In the last Administration we made great use of authorities which provided the room to be creative and generate just a bit more for America out of the same tax dollar. The Embrey Dam Removal in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which used a combination of Congressionally directed appropriations in conjunction with resources and expertise from the active duty Army and Air Force Reserves to bring down a derelict dam on the Rapahannock River, was a great example of how creative use of existing resources can be a win-win for both the military and the civilian community.