President Bush is giving a major Social Security speech in Detroit on Tuesday, February 8 at 12:20PM. Log on to ThinkProgress.org for real-time research-intensive rapid response.
The Pentagon is planning to offer $150,000 bonuses in an expensive attempt to keep members of its elite Special Forces — Navy Seals, Green Berets and specially trained Air Force squads — from jumping ship to take more lucrative civilian jobs with U.S. contractors. The number of Special Forces soldiers, pivotal to “hunt the insurgent leadership, train Iraqi forces and guard senior members of the emerging government in Baghdad,” has greatly fallen off since May 2003.
It’s all part of a vicious circle of inefficiency that ultimately leaves Uncle Sam broke, the military facing a shortage of trained personnel and contractors laughing all the way to the bank.
Here’s how it works. First, the military uses taxpayer money — and it’s not cheap — to train these special forces. With their special skills, these troops are currently in high demand in places like Kabul and Baghdad.
At the same time, the U.S. government also spends billions of dollars every year to hire big, for-profit companies like Halliburton’s KBR or CACI to take over a lot of the duties traditionally performed by the military.
These companies promptly hire the elite soldiers away from the military for much higher salaries. The average senior special ops officer, for example, makes about $50,000 a year from the U.S. government; contractors quadruple that salary to about $200,000. The corporations charge the U.S. government for the salary and expenses (and tack on a nice profit for themselves on top of that.)
In effect, the United States is paying corporations to cannibalize the best and brightest from America’s military.
For years, conservatives have tried to ram their Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling plans through Congress using budget resolutions, which can’t be filibustered, by simply “assuming” ANWR drilling revenues in the federal budget (more about the process here). For years, this underhanded, back-door approach has been flatly rejected. And according to Reuters, this year seems no different:
Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling would raise an initial $2.4 billion in leasing fees, half of which would be shared with the state of Alaska, the Bush administration said in proposed fiscal 2006 budget documents released on Monday.
The White House approach is riddled with problems.
For one, if last year’s ANWR budget item is any indication, the administration’s numbers are thoroughly misleading. Assuming 600,000 acres of ANWR land is leased (the high-end estimate from last year), the lease rate according to the White House budget would be $4,000/acre ($4,000 per acre = $2.4 billion/600,000 acres). Where does that number come from? Good question. Of the 28 lease sales on the North Slope and in near-shore waters in the past 13 years, the average lease per acre is roughly $60 — more than a tad shy of $4,000. It’s also presumptuous for the White House to assume the federal government would receive half of the leasing fee revenues — under current law, Alaska receives 90 percent of all such royalties.
Another more fundamental problem: if conservatives think the American people support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they should offer a bill sanctioning oil drilling on its own, and not try to sneak it through under the radar.
Unfortunately, this year’s ANWR budget battle is different from past years’ in one critical respect — conservatives may actually have enough votes to pull it off.
On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace had an exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. For a moment it looked like he might not squander it. Wallace challenged Cheney:
A number of statements that you made in the run-up to the war in Iraq turned out not to be accurate, the administration argues, because of a worldwide intelligence failure. But I just want to ask you something about them.
You said, in the run-up to the war, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. You said we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons, and then clarified that to be “nuclear weapons capability.” You said U.S. forces will be greeted as liberators.
But then Wallace’s Fox News instincts kicked in:
I’m less interested, because I think it’s somewhat plowed ground, what you said and what you knew and all of that. I’m more interested in what you took away from the experience.
In other words, Wallace is saying: I’m not interested in whether you knowingly misled the American people. I’m interested in how you grew as a person from the experience.
Probably not a surprise, but for the third straight year, President Bush’s proposed budget would eliminate HOPE VI (Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere), a public housing program developed in 1992 for the purpose of eradicating “severely distressed public housing.” The program replaces severely distressed public housing projects, occupied exclusively by poor families, with redesigned mixed-income housing and provides housing vouchers to enable some of the original residents to rent apartments in the private market. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) own web site, HOPE VI “serves a vital role in…efforts to transform Public Housing.”
In its FY 2004 and FY 2005 budget submissions, the White House proposed eliminating HOPE VI, but in both years Congress maintained the program, with substantial funding cuts.
Knowing the program was on the chopping block, the non-partisan Urban Institute sponsored an extended study of Hope VI in 2004, examining the program’s results over its decade-long existence. President Bush likes to say his budget focuses on programs that get results — here’s what the Urban Institute had to say about the program’s results:
“Launched in 1992, the $5 billion HOPE VI program represents a dramatic turnaround in public housing policy and one of the most ambitious urban redevelopment efforts in the nation’s history….Since 1992, HUD has awarded 446 HOPE VI grants in 166 cities. To date, 63,100 severely distressed units have been demolished and another 20,300 units are slated for redevelopment (Holin et al. 2003). As of the end of 2002, 15 of 165 funded HOPE VI programs were fully complete (U.S. GAO 2003b). The billions of federal dollars allocated for HOPE VI have leveraged billions more in other public, private, and philanthropic investments.”
The Urban Institute stresses that, despite some administrative shortcomings, HOPE VI remains “the only major source of redevelopment funding” in HUD’s budget. “In our view,” the study concluded, “evidence strongly supports continuation of the HOPE VI approach as a way to improve outcomes for distressed developments, residents, and neighborhoods.”
In 2005, the program was funded at an estimated $143 million, significantly less than the U.S. is currently spending each day in Iraq. President Bush is proposing zeroing out the program. In other words, we will soon have spent $200 billion on reconstruction in the Middle East, but can spare precisely zero dollars to rebuild at home.
When President Bush used his State of the Union address as a bully pulpit to declare the fiscal and social responsibility of his fiscal year 2006 budget, he announced substantial reductions or eliminations of “more than 150 government programs” that were “not getting results” or “not fulfilling essential priorities.” With his decision to cut the GEAR UP education program, one must wonder how this president defines results and what he sees as our nation’s priorities.
Since its introduction in 1998 by Congressman Chaka Fatah (D-PA), Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) “has provided 1.3 million [low-income] children the opportunity to go to college.” The program works by targeting children in middle school and sticking by their side until college, developing them academically, professionally and socially. By bringing a multitude of resources together — “parents, educators, business, labor, and community organizations” — the GEAR UP program weaves a tightly knit safety net for disadvantaged students across the nation who often slip through the cracks of our slipshod educational system. The success stories from the GEAR UP program’s website epitomize the goal of bringing hope to those whom many considered to be hopeless. It makes college a reality for those who had not previously even dared to dream of it.
By gutting the GEAR UP program in his 2006 budget, President Bush has unsurprisingly fallen short in delivering on the promise that taxpayers’ dollars would “be spent wisely or not at all.” Worse still, he has once again failed our nation’s future generations.
UPDATE: This article on a recent survey that found “public high schools are failing to prepare at least 40 percent of graduates for higher education or an entry-level job” provides even more evidence that GEAR UP is as important now as ever.
One of the President Bush’s low moments in the third presidential debate came when he was asked about his opposition to raising the minimum wage. Here was his answer:
“…let me talk about what’s really important for the worker you’re referring to. And that’s to make sure the education system works. It’s to make sure we raise standards. Listen, the No Child Left Behind Act is really a jobs act when you think about it.”
Bush was panned for this response and others during the debate, in which he repeatedly referred to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as if it were a job training program. It’s not of course (especially “when you think about it”). It’s an underfunded education initiative which involves a lot of tests for kids in grade school. NCLB’s merits for grade school kids can be debated, but there is no evidence whatsoever it has helped anybody get a job. It would be one thing if Bush talked about NCLB in connection with other efforts to improve job training, but he doesn’t. He means it as a substitution for those efforts.
He won the election so he must think this is an appropriate substitution. Here Bush is at the State of the Union:
“To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we’re closing the achievement gap for minority students.”
Regardless of whether NCLB actually has had these effects, these two sentences are only tangentially related. “We must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century” should have been followed by, “so I’m going to improve job training by…” Today we learn why that option was closed to the president – his budget really doesn’t care about filling the jobs of the 21st century, (from a generous description of the president’s job cutting proposals in the Wall Street Journal):
“In the budget for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, the White House will propose combining four Labor Department jobs programs and reduce spending to $3.9 billion from the $4.1 billion appropriated for the current fiscal year. The programs cover adults, youth and dislocated workers, as well as employment-service centers.
The White House also will propose allowing governors to combine federal-funding streams that go to five other programs that serve many of the same groups through the Labor, Education and Agriculture departments. For these programs, Mr. Bush proposes to spend $3.6 billion in 2006, down from $3.9 billion in 2005.”
No word on how these moves will affect eighth grade reading scores.
The conservative ideological agenda on the economy has it full stride: aggressively slash taxes on the wealthy; run up huge budget deficits; then push for massive cuts in critical domestic spending under the guise of fiscal responsibility. President Bush will introduce a budget today that is so callous Vice President Cheney felt compelled yesterday to assure viewers of Fox News that “it’s not something we’ve done with a meat ax.” Just as with its push for privatizing Social Security, the White House plans “an elaborate marketing strategy to sell the cuts to voters and lawmakers.” The message: we aren’t cutting government programs for the needy, we are “centralizing government services and saving tax payer money.” America doesn’t need to be sold another product. America needs a responsible budget that allocates resources where they are most needed.