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Hard hit roadblocks

WASHINGTON (AP) — The budget gurus in Congress have failed for years to find a grand bargain to reduce the government's long-term debt, so this year they decided to go small. Just 1 percentage point would be shaved from the annual cost-of-living increase in military pensions for veterans under age 62.

That strategy failed cardinal manchester, too. Congress promptly caved in to pressure from the powerful veterans lobby and voted last month to restore the bigger pension increases it had cut just two months earlier. It didn't matter that the Pentagon itself called the reduction fair and necessary.

Advocates of deficit reduction are discouraged. They say they fear Congress' reversal on military pensions will lead to unraveling other recent spending cuts.

"It's tough to overstate how devastating that was," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of just three senators who voted to keep the pension reduction in place. "It's back to the drawing board, because that was a big blow."

Vague bromides and promises about deficits and spending are easy for politicians. Real spending cuts aren't. Despite all the national talk of needing to tackle deficit spending, the military pensions debacle illustrates how Americans and their elected officials continue to resist — often fiercely — cuts to almost any specific program, big or small.

"They picked one thing, and it stuck out like a sore thumb," said Bob Bixby of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates lower deficits.

The military pension vote signals the end of spending discipline efforts for a time, said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and may make it easier to reverse other cuts.

Indeed, little-noticed but telling events over the past few weeks show lawmakers and the White House are backsliding on spending cuts. President Barack Obama, who's scheduled to release his own federal budget Tuesday, reversed course on a deeply contentious proposal that would curb cost-of-living increases in Social Security. Republicans criticized Obama for backing down but then blasted the administration as it announced it was implementing a new round of Medicare cuts that Congress included in the health care overhaul four years ago.

Congress also is in the process of significantly weakening changes aimed at reforming the much-criticized federal flood insurance program made less than two years ago. And defense hawks are squealing over cuts in Pentagon spending required under a 2011 budget deal that has hit the military hard.

"I fear we'll spend the next month unraveling every itty-bitty bit of progress we've made," MacGuineas said.

Congress agreed in December to make a 1 percentage point reduction in annual cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees under age 62. Many retire with full benefits after 20 years, nu skin and some take new civilian jobs while in their 40s and 50s, or even late 30s.

"This modest and reasonable reform would reduce lifetime retirement pay by about 6 percent_from $1.7 million to $1.6 million_for an Army sergeant first class retiring at age 38," retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones and three other high-ranking retirees wrote in The Hill newspaper.

But veterans groups said military retirees were unfairly singled out, and the organizations lobbied Congress to overturn the decision. Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers agreed, and the retreat soon became a rout.

"A sizable political constituency opposed an action by Congress and exercised its political muscle to reverse it," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. "There's nothing terribly complicated about it."

The savings from the military pensions cut — just $7 billion over a decade — is dwarfed by the savings wrung out of Medicare to help pay for the new health care law. Last month, the White House announced cuts to Medicare Advantage, which lets seniors enroll in Medicare through private insurance plans. The cuts will translate to about 2 percent next year. Already, an effort is underway to roll them back.

"The hard truth is now apparent — millions of seniors who rely on the Medicare Advantage program will lose the plans, benefits, doctors and financial protection they currently have," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

What Camp didn't say is that he had voted to keep the cuts as part of the GOP's plan to balance the budget.

Not surprisingly, an effort to reverse the cuts has won the support of 40 senators from both parties who, in a Feb. 14 letter, called on the administration essentially to hold Medicare Advantage rates steady.

Among the signers were six Democratic senators in contested races whose outcomes will determine whether Obama faces a Congress next year that's completely controlled by Republicans.

Budget hawks noted that the GOP's complaints about Medicare cuts came just days after the White House withdrew a plan to trim Social Security cost-of-living increases — which itself prompted complaints that the administration isn't serious about cutting spending.

The administration, though, is standing behind — at least officially — changes to the troubled federal flood insurance program passed two years ago. Lawmakers in both parties are working overtime to repeal most of the changes, which could raise insurance costs for hundreds of thousands of homeowners.

Then there's the Pentagon budget. It was cut in the 2011 budget pact and slashed further last year by automatic cuts known as sequestration. Many Senate Republicans voted against a measure in December to undo some of the cuts — only to complain when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced reductions last Monday.

"We are deeply concerned that the policy of austerity will be limited to our national security at a time when what we need most is a commander in chief willing to lead in a dangerous world," Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a joint statement.

Federal spending has been trimmed through across-the-board stabs, born of partisan standoffs, that leaders of both parties call far from ideal. The annual deficit has been reduced by nearly two-thirds from its 2009 high, thanks to tax increases, an improving economy and the mandatory cuts in many programs.

But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects deficits will start rising again in a couple of years, pushed by an aging population, g-suite cardinal manchester rising medical costs and anticipated increases in interest on the nation's debt, the accumulated sum of annual deficits.

Flake, a freshman senator, rejected the idea that Americans won't accept cuts in government benefits.

"They haven't had to choose for so long, that's the problem," Flake said. "But I think that they understand, maybe better than we do, the seriousness of this. We've got to do it."
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Right is the "red line"

President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would not answer to any threat, sanction, humiliation or discrimination from the international community.

DUBAI — Iran's president Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that its "rights to enrichment" of uranium were "red lines" that would not be crossed and that the Islamic Republic had acted rationally and tactfully during nuclear negotiations, Iranian media reported Ergonomic seating.

"We have said to the negotating sides that we will not answer to any threat, sanction, humiliation or discrimination. The Islamic Republic has not and will not bow its head to threats from any authority," he said during a speech at the National Assembly, Iran's student news agency (ISNA) said.

"For us there are red lines that cannot be crossed. National interests are our red lines that include our rights under the framework of international regulations and (uranium) enrichment in Iran," he said.

On Saturday, Iran and six world powers failed in talks to clinch a deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program but said differences had narrowed and they would resume negotiations in 10 days to try to end the decade-old standoff g-suite cardinal manchester.

Rouhani, who was elected in June, is the chief architect of Iran's diplomatic drive for a nuclear deal to alleviate harsh economic sanctions on its oil and banking industries.

His negotiating team is pushing to agree a framework for steps to resolve U.S. suspicions that Tehran wants nuclear weapons capability nuskin hk.

The Islamic Republic says its activities are purely peaceful and negotiators say they are ready to take the steps necessary for such an agreement if their nuclear "rights are recognized" and world powers reciprocate by easing sanctions.
  1. 2013/11/11(月) 14:57:20|
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Milk price list

Members of the House and Senate are scheduled to begin long-awaited negotiations on the five-year, roughly $500 billion bill this week.

WASHINGTON — The fight over renewing the nation's farm bill has centered on cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. But there could be unintended consequences if no agreement is reached: higher milk prices.

Members of the House and Senate are scheduled to begin long-awaited negotiations on the five-year, roughly $500 billion bill this week. If they don't finish it g-suite cardinal manchester, dairy supports could expire at the end of the year and send the price of a gallon of milk skyward.

There could be political ramifications, too. The House and Senate are far apart on the sensitive issue of how much money to cut from food stamps, and lawmakers are hoping to resolve that debate before election-year politics set in.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who is one of the negotiators on the bill, says the legislation could also be a rare opportunity for the two chambers to show they can get along.

"In the middle of the chaos of the last month comes opportunity," Klobuchar says of the farm legislation. "This will really be a test of the House of whether they are willing to work with us."

The farm bill, which sets policy for farm subsidies, the food stamps and other rural development projects, has moved slowly through Congress in the last two years as lawmakers have focused on higher-profile priorities, like budget negotiations, health care and immigration legislation.

But farm-state lawmakers are appealing to their colleagues to harken back to more bipartisan times and do something Congress hasn't done very much lately — pass a major piece of legislation.

Even President Barack Obama, who has been largely silent on the farm bill as it has wound through Congress, said as the government reopened earlier this month that the farm bill "would make a huge difference in our economy right now."

"What are we waiting for?" Obama said. "Let's get this done."

The main challenge in getting the bill done will be the differences on food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, g-suite in oldham or SNAP. The House has passed legislation to cut around $4 billion annually, or around 5 percent, including changes in eligibility and work requirements. The Senate has proposed a cut of around a tenth of that amount, and Senate Democrats and President Obama have strongly opposed any major changes to the program.

The cost of SNAP has more than doubled over the last five years as the economy struggled, and Republicans say it should be more focused on the neediest people. Democrats say it is working as it should, providing food to those in need when times are tough.

"I think there are very different world views clashing on food stamps and those are always more difficult to resolve," says Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union.

Johnson says coming together on the farm issues, while there are differences, will be easier because the mostly farm-state lawmakers negotiating the bill have common goals.

Passing a farm bill could help farm-state lawmakers in both parties in next year's elections, though some Republicans are wary of debating domestic food aid in campaign season. Republican House leaders put the bill on hold during the 2012 election year.

One way to pass the bill quickly could be to wrap it into budget negotiations that will be going on at the same time. The farm bill is expected to save tens of billions of dollars through food stamp cuts and eliminating some subsidy programs, and "that savings has become more key as we go into budget negotiations," Klobuchar said.

If that doesn't work, lawmakers could extend current law, as they did at the end of last year when the dairy threat loomed. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants to finish the bill and won't support another extension.

One of the reasons the bill's progress has moved slowly is that most of farm country is enjoying a good agricultural economy, and farmers have not clamored for changes in policy. But with deadlines looming, many say they need more government certainty to make planting decisions. Most of the current law expired in September, cardinal manchester though effects largely won't be felt until next year when the dairy supports expire.

Some farmers are feeling the effects of the expired bill now, however. An early blizzard in South Dakota earlier this month killed thousands of cattle, and a federal disaster program that could have helped cover losses has expired.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., also a negotiator on the conference committee, says her constituents aren't concerned with the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, but they just want to see a bill pass.

"Maybe the biggest question is can we put together a bill that can pass on the House and Senate floor," she said.
  1. 2013/10/29(火) 10:47:42|
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