Archive for November 16, 2011

Seven Days Makes One Strong Committee Week

Com­mit­tee cochairs Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jeb Hen­sar­ling (R-​​Dallas, TX) and Sen­a­tor Patty Mur­ray (D-​​WA). Source: MSNBC.

There are seven days until the Novem­ber 23 dead­line for the Joint Select Com­mit­tee on Deficit Reduc­tion, the so-​​called “super­com­mit­tee” of Con­gress that is meet­ing pur­suant to the agree­ment nego­ti­ated between the House lead­er­ship, Sen­ate lead­er­ship, and Pres­i­dent Obama as a result of the August, 2011, show­down over the debt ceiling.

Recall that on August 2, the House (by a vote of 269–161) and Sen­ate (74–26) passed a bill, signed into law by Pres­i­dent Obama, that autho­rized an increase in the debt ceil­ing, con­tin­gent on the cre­ation of a joint select com­mit­tee that would iden­tify $1.5 tril­lion in deficit reduc­tion over 10 years and which also man­dated a largely sym­bolic vote on a bal­anced bud­get amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion. (It’s largely sym­bolic because it’s unlikely to get a 23 major­ity in both houses.)

On Sep­tem­ber 19, Pres­i­dent Obama sug­gested a deficit reduc­tion plan with $3.1 tril­lion in cuts but the Obama plan was sum­mar­ily rejected by Repub­li­cans because it raises taxes. Yes­ter­day, Repub­li­cans threw their sup­port behind a plan authored by Sen­a­tor Pat Toomey (R-​​PA), but Democ­rats claim it’s far too weak on rais­ing revenue.

While the mem­bers of the com­mit­tee are under a sort of loose “gag order” from com­mit­tee chairs Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jeb Hen­sar­ling (R-​​Dallas, TX) and Sen­a­tor Patty Mur­ray (D-​​WA), mur­murs are that the two sides (each with six votes) are far apart and nowhere near an agree­ment.

If the super­com­mit­tee does not reach an agree­ment by Novem­ber 23, then auto­matic cuts will kick in start­ing Jan­u­ary 2013. Over 10 years, auto­matic cuts would include:

  • $492 bil­lion (9%) cuts in Defense
  • $322 bil­lion (7%) cuts in non-​​defense dis­cre­tionary spending
  • $47 bil­lion (4%) cuts in nonex­empt manda­tory spend­ing, mostly agri­cul­ture programs
  • $123 bil­lion (2%) cuts in Medicare

The auto­matic trig­ger includes no cuts in Social Secu­rity, Med­ic­aid, vet­er­ans’ ben­e­fits, Fed­eral retire­ment, and food stamp and other low-​​income pro­grams. Together these make up $17 tril­lion esti­mated spend­ing over the next 10 years, or about half of esti­mated Fed­eral spending.

Even if the super­com­mit­tee mirac­u­lously fin­ishes its work, the result­ing plan must be passed by both houses of Con­gress with no amend­ments or mod­i­fi­ca­tions by Decem­ber 23.

So, with one week to go:

  • Will the super com­mit­tee pro­duce legislation?
  • If yes, then will Con­gress pass it?
  • If no, then will auto­matic cuts kick in, or will Con­gress try to cir­cum­vent the process they nego­ti­ated with the President?
  • How will this affect the 2012 elections?

Disclosure v. Due Diligence

As you may recall, I recently served on a jury. Now that the case is over, I’m free to talk about it, and since it involved a topic we had cov­ered in the past here, I thought it worth­while to share it with you.

Before I go into the details, though…

I was amazed at how much time I spent wait­ing around while the lawyers argued over the minu­tiae of what could and could not be pre­sented to the jurors, and how it could be pre­sented. I fig­ure we spent about half of our time wait­ing for the lawyers to make pro­ce­dural argu­ments, for which we could not be present, of course. It’s the one part of the whole expe­ri­ence that was down­right unpleasant.

And now, I’ll present you with the most rel­e­vant pre­sented evi­dence, as a sort of Cliff’s Notes ver­sion of the case. I’d like to know what you think. (more…)

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