Greece Reaches Deal With EU

After months of wrangling, Greece finally worked out a bailout agreement with its European creditors on Monday that will, if implemented, secure the country’s place in the euro and avoid financial collapse, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The terms of the deal, however, will be difficult both for Greeks and their radical left-led government, which since its election in January had vowed to stand up to the creditors and reject the budget cuts they have been demanding.

Before it can get 85 billion euros ($95.07 billion) in bailout cash and support for its banks to reopen, the Greek government will have to pass a raft of “austerity” measures (budget cuts / tax increases). These include sales tax increases, reforms to pensions, and labor market reforms.

Under the deal struck with creditors during an all-night meeting in Brussels, the Greek parliament must approve by Wednesday key reforms,” writes the Associated Press.

They include VAT tax increases and pension cuts, and protecting the independence of Greece’s statistics service, which at the start of the crisis in 2009 was found to have greatly miscalculated the country’s finances for years.

The Greek leader – Alexis Tsipras – and his left-wing government were elected in January to stand up to budget demands.

For them, the payoff of the negotiations in Brussels was clear: about 85 billion euros ($95.07 billion) in loans and financial support over three years, preserving Greek membership in the euro, and helping their country stave off financial collapse.

“We managed to avoid the most extreme measures,” Tsipras said after the summit, and he said he successfully got creditors to drop a demand that Greek assets be transferred abroad as a form of collateral, according to U.S. News and World Report.

http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/07/13/greece-talks-drag-beyond-deadline-amid-warnings-of-euro-exit

Greek Police, Military On High Alert Due To ‘Austerity’ Talks, Referendum

Riot police stand guard during a bailout protest in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Police leave has been cancelled and the army put on standby as the Greek authorities take steps to preserve order, writes The Times of London.

Security was increased at key locations including foreign embassies, utilities, and warehouses stocking goods that are in danger of running out, notably pharmaceuticals, Yiannis Panousis, the public order minister, said.

The country is approaching one of the most important votes in its modern history on Sunday — one that could redefine its place in Europe — yet many people acknowledge they barely have a clue as to what, exactly, they are voting on.

Erika Papamichalopoulou, 27, a resident of Athens, said “No one is saying what will happen to us if we say yes, or what will happen to us if we say no,” writes The New York Times.

Greece missed a debt payment to the International Monetary Fund, and without new financial aid it is likely to default on other debts this month. Most European nations are in no rush to help, and in fact seem content to watch the Greeks dangle for a bit.  Greek banks have shut down, according to The New York Times.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who called for the referendum, has vacillated from bitter confrontation with the country’s creditors and conciliatory outreach. Even as he signaled on Wednesday that he would accept many of the demands made by the creditors, he pressed ahead with the referendum urging Greeks to reject the proposal containing those demands.

The proposal that Greeks are voting on is no longer on the table, writes The New York Times, and was made around the framework of a bailout package that expired at midnight on Tuesday.

Mr. Tsipras’s unexpected decision to call the referendum was the equivalent of a frustrated chess player trying to break open a stalemated match with a daring last-minute move that his opponent considered to be against the rules.

The Greeks and their creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the other 18 eurozone countries — had spent months making moves and countermoves in largely fruitless negotiations over a deal that would unlock frozen funds for Greece in exchange for pension cuts, fiscal reforms and other measures demanded by creditors.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Tsipras then appeared on television early Saturday morning and announced that he would hold a national referendum five days after the Tuesday deadline for the debt payment to the I.M.F. and the extension of its existing bailout.

He said creditors were demanding more of the same austerity policies he and his party blame for wrecking the Greek economy since 2010. He said that his government had no mandate to approve such a deal but that he would let voters decide.

Analysts agree that a “yes” vote would mean the end for Mr. Tsipras. His government would likely step down next week, and the Greek president – a largely ceremonial figure, though not in moments of collapsing government – would need to assemble a “unity” government from different parties.

According to The Times of London, there is currently a movement towards a “yes” vote in Greece.

(Updated photo)

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4484196.ece

‘Bloodbath?’ Huge Layoffs At Chicago Public Schools

The mayor of Chicago and the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced 1,400 layoffs and $200 million in cuts to meet a teachers’ pension deadline.   WLS writes that teachers and parents plan to protest at City Hall.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel delayed a $634 million pension payment until the eleventh-hour on Tuesday, waiting to see any relief would come from state lawmakers. It never came, writes ABC7 News in Chicago.

The mayor and Interim CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz outlined on Wednesday who would be laid off and where cuts would be made.

Ruiz said most of the 1,400 jobs cut were in administration and special education programs.

Supposedly very few teachers were laid off.

Funding for elementary sports teams was cut, and the facility maintenance budget was reduced 25 percent. Highs schools are starting 45 minutes later, writes ABC7. The mayor said schools will open on time in the fall and class sizes will not be affected.

“These cuts will hurt the most vulnerable students in the city of Chicago, who are the most vulnerable students in the state,” the Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union Jesse Sharkey said, according to ABC7 News.

(Updated report)

http://abc7chicago.com/politics/cps-teachers-parents-to-protest-1400-layoffs-$200m-in-cuts/823307/

GOP Budget Increases Military Spending, Cuts Domestic Funding

Secular Talk

The L.A. Times states, “House Republicans released a 2016 spending blueprint Tuesday that seeks to fulfill the GOP goal of balancing the budget in 10 years, but does so by slashing Medicare and other safety net programs while dramatically boosting military spending.”

The budget re-visits old right-wing proposals a “signature proposal for overhauling Medicare with a voucher-like private insurance option,” states the L.A. Times.

U.S. News and World Report wrote that there was a potential stalemate between conservatives who are “deficit hawks” vs. conservatives who are “defense hawks.” The vote in the House was 228 to 199.

“Leadership managed to convince enough members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to support a proposal that met dual goals of balancing the budget and increasing military spending, giving them enough support to pass a budget without the help of Democrats or Republicans insisting against any increase in spending,” states U.S. News and World Report.

Republicans see the budget rules as the best way to tackle a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, since only a simple majority of votes in the Senate are required under a special budget process called reconciliation.  So they see “de-funding” Obamacare as the best way to “repeal” it.

The budget “purports to cut $5.6 trillion off the deficit and balance the budget within a decade, repeals the Affordable Care Act and slashes nondefense discretionary spending,” states U.S. News and World Report.

In February, the House of Representatives voted to repeal The ACA (“Obamacare”) for the 56th time, states the New York Times.  It didn’t work out. The law is already up and running and insuring people.

The Senate passed a Republican-authored budget plan early on Friday that “is similar to one passed by House Republicans on Wednesday,” states Reuters. It seeks $5.1 trillion in domestic spending cuts over 10 years while boosting military funding.

Reuters:

“The 52-46 vote on the non-binding budget resolution put Congress on a path to complete its first full budget in six years. It came at the end of a marathon 18-hour session that saw approval of dozens of amendments ranging from Iran sanctions to carbon emissions and immigration policies.”

“…both documents seek to ease the path for a repeal or replacement of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law.”

Does this sound like a budget that the President will sign into law?

(Updated post)

Obama Proposes $3.99 trillion Budget, Sets Up Budget Battle

Obama1President Barack Obama today proposed a $3.99 trillion budget for fiscal year 2016 that sets up a battle with Republicans over programs to boost the middle class that are funded by higher taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans.

The budget foresees a $474 billion deficit, which is 2.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. It projects deficits stabilizing at that rate over a 10-year period, senior administration officials said.

Obama’s budget brings up proposals from his State of the Union address and helps highlight Democratic priorities for the last two years of his presidency.

But it is also a fiscal road map and would require approval from the Republican-controlled Congress to go into effect.

Republicans have said they see room for compromise in areas such as tax reform and infrastructure, but many of Obama’s programs, which were rolled out in the weeks before the budget’s release, have landed with a thud.

Obama’s Budget-Boost For Military Spending Points To Brewing National Security Debate: WaPo

According to the Washington Post, the battle over the budget that President Obama will submit Monday is emerging as a proxy for the 2016 presidential election debate on national security.

The president will ask Congress to break through its own spending caps — commonly referred to as “sequestration” — and allocate about $561 billion for Pentagon expenditures, about $38 billion more than is currently allowed under the law.

There’s broad consensus in both parties that the military needs more money to modernize its forces and meet its responsibilities.  For now, though, it’s unclear how Congress and the White House can come to an agreement on where to find the additional funds.

The situation could provide an opening for Republicans to make an argument that they are the party best positioned to keep the country safe.

“A lot of Republicans see opportunity in an election that’s a referendum on Obama’s foreign policy,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Maddow: Waste In The Military? Why Is So Much Budget Information Classified?


MSNBC

Senator Claire McCaskill talks with Rachel Maddow about a new U.S. policy to classify information about how (and how much) money is spent in support of the Afghan security force.

They also talk about the new nominee for Secretary of Defense.

Republicans Look At A ‘Budget Reconciliation’ To Repeal ObamaCare

Obama1According to The Hill, Republicans on and off Capitol Hill are rallying behind using a rare budget tool next year to dismantle ObamaCare.

The issue is called “budget reconciliation,” and it has divided Republicans, with some asking for it to be implemented to overhaul the tax code or to push through major energy reforms.

“Budget reconciliation” is useful and it could allow newly empowered Senate Republicans to pass legislation with a 51-vote simple majority rather than the usual 60, greatly increasing the chances of moving legislation to President Obama’s desk.

While Obama is certain to veto anything that tries to roll back his landmark healthcare law, Republicans see reconciliation as an important way to “send a message” about The Affordable Care Act or other laws.

There supposedly already appears to be strong bipartisan support to undo smaller pieces of ObamaCare — things like restoring the 40-hour workweek and repealing the medical device tax — so those provisions wouldn’t require the filibuster-proof budget tool.

Democrats will certainly have more leverage if they retain the ability to use the Senate’s filibuster, but Republicans think they can work across the aisle to enact legislation on taxes and energy.

If Republicans are serious about enacting tax reform next year, they should aim for 60 Senate votes, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who leads the conservative think tank American Action Forum.

Republicans will hold 54 seats come January, so they would need at least six Democratic votes.

“That’s better for tax reform because it means it’s more durable,” Holtz-Eakin said. “When you’ve done the work of getting the minority to sign on, it makes it much more likely the White House signs it.”

However, if reconciliation is used on tax reform or energy, Democrats may refuse to cooperate.

But a senior Senate Republican aide called it “unrealistic” to turn to budget reconciliation to pass tax or energy reform.

A spokesman for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said discussions about reconciliation are ongoing and nothing’s been decided yet.

However, Ryan, who will lead the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee next month, has signaled he’s open to using “budget reconciliation” to enact tax reform.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who will replace Ryan as Budget chairman, threw out a number of possibilities for which Republicans could use the reconciliation process, including reforms to the tax code, entitlements like Medicare, or energy programs.

Republicans are aware that they’ll have to navigate a series of hurdles before they can deploy reconciliation.

The House and Senate would have to agree on a budget resolution, no easy feat given that the Budget chairmen, Price and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), will both be new to the job.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion that all Republicans will walk in lockstep together on what comes out of the Budget committees.”

Congress is also extremely limited in how it can use the procedural maneuver — typically it’s reserved for just one issue per budget.

Even then, Senate rules say the reconciliation measure must not hike the federal deficit beyond a 10-year period and do not change spending and revenue.

Republicans will engage in back-and-forth negotiations with the Senate parliamentarian and chief referee, Elizabeth MacDonough, who must decide whether their legislation passes the test, a process known as the “Byrd Bath,” named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

“It is a tough hurdle to overcome,” said Hoagland, who had been through a few baths of his own during his Senate tenure.

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/227795-gop-eyes-obscure-budget-tool-to-repeal-obamacare

Vox: Obama Is Unpopular. He’s Also Accomplished An Incredible Amount.

According to Vox, since November 26, the Obama administration put forward new anti-smog regulations that should prevent thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks every year.   Also, Obama’s appointees at the Federal Reserve implemented new rules curbing reckless borrowing by giant banks that will reduce profits and shareholder earnings but increase the safety of the financial system.   He also normalized relations with Cuba after decades and created a plan to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation.  Also, on Saturday, Democrats broke a congressional logjam and got many nominees confirmed.

Vox:  “It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama’s party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm.

“Democrats’ overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a ‘realigning’ election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won’t be.”

Vox continues:  “It’s old hat at this point, but given the mixture of conservative rage and liberal disappointment that Obama generally inspires, it’s worth emphasizing that his first term offered legislation on a truly historic scale. The Affordable Care Act and related measures an expansion of the welfare state rivaled by only the New Deal and the Great Society.

“The tendency of today’s slow-as-molasses Congress to work via megabills means that consequential measures like new rules mandating calorie labeling at chain restaurants stand as mere provisions of Obamacare rather than counting as substantial measures on their own.”

Elizabeth Warren Slams Citigroup | msnbc

With Congress set to pass a government spending bill that weakens a provision of Dodd-Frank, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) took the floor of the Senate on Friday evening to lash out at her colleagues. In her remarks, she took specific aim at mega-bank Citigroup, saying it wields unusual power in government and must be reigned in.

MSNBC video.