For most of this year, the brutal cuts to federal spending known as the sequester have wreaked havoc on important programs, cutting off hundreds of thousands from Head Start and low-income housing assistance, setting back scientific research and environmental protection, and costing more than a million jobs. Getting rid of the sequester for domestic programs was a high priority for Congressional Democrats, and they achieved much of what they wanted in a budget deal reached on Tuesday that in other important respects was disappointing.[...]And Paul Krugman adds his take:
the details of the agreement show that Republican loathing of taxes and domestic spending continue to dominate the budget debate. The full domestic and military sequester should have been eliminated, not just part of it. Even more important, a balanced and fair agreement would have compensated for the new domestic spending with tax increases on the wealthiest Americans by closing unnecessary loopholes.
The pundit consensus seems to be that Republicans lost in the just-concluded budget deal. Overall spending will be a bit higher than the level mandated by the sequester, the straitjacket imposed back in 2011. Meanwhile, Democrats avoided making any concessions on Social Security or Medicare. Call this one for Team D, I guess.More on the day's top stories below the fold.
But if Republicans arguably lost this round, the unemployed lost even more: Extended benefits weren’t renewed, so 1.3 million workers will be cut off at the end of this month, and many more will see their benefits run out in the months that follow. And if you take a longer perspective — if you look at what has happened since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010 — what you see is a triumph of anti-government ideology that has had enormously destructive effects on American workers.
The Los Angeles Times makes the case for extending unemployment benefits:
In what has become an annual threat, federal unemployment benefits are set to run out shortly after Christmas, cutting off aid to 1.3 million laid-off workers who've been sidelined for more than six months. The improving economy has helped reduce the rolls of the long-term unemployed significantly, as well as the cost of providing a few extra months of benefits to job-seekers. But the number of applicants still dwarfs the number of jobs available, a harsh reality that can be improved only by economic growth, not by giving less help to those struggling to find work.[...]Meanwhile, USA Today points to the huge increase in Affordable Health Care Act signups to show that the law is working and is "worthy":
The point of the program is to provide a safety net for laid-off Americans and keep money flowing into the economy when payrolls are unusually low. But some critics argue that federal benefits exacerbate unemployment by reducing an idled worker's incentive to take whatever job is available. Although it's a popular theory among conservatives, researchers disagree on whether the benefits provided much of a disincentive during the current downturn. Nor is it a good thing for the economy when people give up their skills, training and experience to take a job flipping burgers or operating a cash register just because those are the only ones available. Such moves waste a lot of investment in human capital.[...]
Rather than cutting off benefits to those Americans now, Congress should let the program phase out naturally as unemployment drops to more reasonable levels. With Democrats proposing a way to renew the extended benefits without increasing the deficit — by cracking down on tax evaders— there's no good reason for Republicans to say no. There's only a questionable theory that ignores how few jobs are available.
The latest enrollment numbers are a reminder that the health care law has the potential to help millions of people and is worth salvaging. As the HealthCare.gov website and state exchanges began to function better, more than four times as many people signed up in November as in October, the administration said Wednesday. Nearly 1.2 million people are getting insurance, either through private policies or Medicaid.On the eve of the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, The Los Angeles Times says progress has been made at the state level but more needs to be done:
Until now, the law's benefits have been mostly theoretical. But as more and more people select plans, the reasons Obamacare is necessary are becoming real [...]
The killing last December of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was expected to finally change this country's apathy toward gun control. It seemed impossible, after so many 6- and 7-year-olds cowering in their classrooms were methodically shot and killed by a young man armed with a military-style semiautomatic weapon, that the nation's leaders would not begin to limit access to tools of mass murder.From The Hartford Courant:
But it didn't happen. A year later, on the first anniversary of the Newtown massacre, reasonable gun control legislation has been blocked in Congress and it's still far too easy to acquire a weapon that can kill a dozen people in seconds.
What happened to the urgency? The obligation to prevent another atrocity? Apparently, the moral imperative is fleeting, while subservience to the National Rifle Assn. endures.
No one was more affected by the Dec. 14 massacre than the families that lost 20 first-graders and six female educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The impulse to help them, to soothe their pain, to let them know their losses are felt, is so strong that the families and the town have been at times overwhelmed with gifts, tributes and memorials.
They have made a touching request. They're asking everyone to honor the memories of their lost loved ones by channeling sympathy not to them, but to a neighbor in need. Help someone in your own town. Be kind. Volunteer for a local charity.
What generous spirit the families are showing their time of grief, and what a template they're creating for other communities that might be stricken by tragedy.