Friday, August 12, 2011

The Real Battle Begins

Living through the dog days of August 2011 entails more than enduring heat and humidity. This is the period of congressional recess where advocates have a full month to lobby Members of Congress on issues of importance to them.

With the focus on the Super Committee’s mandate to tackle entitlements and tax reform per the debt ceiling agreement, local community groups will need to bring their “A” game to preserve funding for their priority programs. It will not be easy. Now that the committee has been named, the focus will be on the individuals appointed to the panel. There will be tremendous pressure for them to reach consensus on a deal.

Because of what is at stake, they will ultimately reach a deal. Neither side wants to trigger the across the board cuts which will occur if an agreement isn’t reached. At the end of this process neither side is going to be completely happy with the results.

To help maximize your lobbying efforts, here are suggestions to consider:

• A new, more personal message has to be crafted to resonate with voters. The decision by Republicans to propose cuts to Medicare backfired because it affected people, both Republicans and Democrats, personally. In these tough economic times, your message has to resonate with the self-interest of the voter.

• Go outside of the box to deliver your message. The use of Twitter, Facebook, and the other social media outlets are important; however, programs like Ellen, The View, etc., have audiences that respond to emotional messages. Their producers look for stories for their principals to discuss and occasionally invite a guest to appear on a show. For example, seek stories which highlight individuals in various communities are being helped by programs which are in jeopardy of being eliminated by Congress.

• Be realistic in your expectations. Know what you want, but be realistic about what you can get. Cuts are unavoidable. It is ridiculous to think otherwise.

• Use the House budget numbers as the baseline in determining potential cuts. The House numbers are driving the debate. The administration and Senate Democrats have failed to coalesce around an alternative to the House budget proposal. Consequently, use these numbers in calculating potential cuts to your program to help with your advocacy efforts. It will also help prepare you for the programmatic and administrative changes you may face in the near future.

• Accurately assess the current political environment. The anti-Washington, DC sentiment throughout the United States is very intense across the political spectrum but that does not necessarily mean widespread dissatisfaction with specific programs. The uproar over potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security reminded everyone how sensitive the voting public can be when faced with specific options. However, budget changes will drive how Washington functions in the future. There will be changes in the way Washington funds and administers programs.

• Think of ways to be proactive with the coming changes. Be proactive in embracing the change to the benefit of the programs you support. Is this an opportunity to pursue programmatic, administrative or regulatory changes? This is always an opportunity in the midst of a challenge.

• Embrace tax reform. This is a bipartisan initiative which can raise revenue and create a more equitable tax structure for all income groups. It may also protect some programs from deep cuts or elimination.

Interesting Read

Whole Foods versus Cracker Barrel: How Americans Are Self-Sorting
By Charlie Cook
The Cook Report

Republicans Set Sights on Balanced Budget Amendment
By Jennifer Steinhauer
The New York Times

Panetta Warns Against ‘Doomsday’ Cuts of $600 Billion in Defense Spending
By Jason Ukman
The Washington Post

Debt-limit Deal Triggers Lobbying Campaign from Health-Care and Defense Industries
By Dan Eggen
The Washington Post

Two Parties Pray to the Same God, But Different Economists
By Michael Gerson
The Washington Post

End Political Gridlock: Put a Millennial in Charge
By Laura Sessions Stepp
Special to CNN

Are Millennials Cut Out for this Job Market?
By Ruben Navarrette, Jr.
CNN Contributor

Origins of the Debt Showdown
By Brady Dennis, Alec MacGillis and Lori Montgomery
The Washington Post

Fewer Dinners Mean Meaner Politics
By Lea Berman
The Washington Post

In Economic Turmoil, U.S. Needs a Leader Like Churchill
By David Gergen
CNN Senior Political Analyst

The American Dream hangs in the balance
By Joe Scarborough

We Can't Even Cut Programs That Don't Work
By Steven Malanga
Real Clear Politics

Postal Service proposes cutting 120,000 jobs, pulling out of health-care plan
By Joe Davidson
The Washington Post

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Navigating the Presidential Politics of 2012 Begins Now!

The race for the presidency has begun. The debt ceiling agreement and its plan to reduce federal spending was the first salvo in the battle to claim the White House. Presidential politics is the order of the day between now and next November.

While many media outlets have identified winners and losers in the debt ceiling debate, it is more important to understand the lessons learned from the last few months. In this post, we will look at lessons we should have learned from this debate (or debacle depending on your perspective):

The nation’s fiscal situation has changed the nation’s political dynamics and community groups must adjust to this new reality. The new reality is more complicated than simply choosing between a more conservative Republican versus liberal Democratic approach to governance. The unwillingness to compromise at all costs by factions in both parties will make it difficult to find solutions to the pressing issues facing the nation.

The country needs to get its financial house in order, the international consequences are enormous. We simply cannot continue to carry the debt we currently hold and must reach some consensus on the escalating costs for entitlements, domestic and defense spending. Throughout the deficit reduction discussion the members of the president’s deficit commission were the only individuals made an honest, non-partisan, non-judgmental attempt to address those concerns. Their deliberations should be the model used for future discussions.

Balancing our nation’s budget is more complicated than solving a family’s finances. Comparing how our nation handles its finances to a family’s attempt to balance its budget is a good sound bite but that’s all. It is apples and oranges. Republicans discovered this immediately when they attempted to reform Medicare. The public, including Republican supporters, expressed opposition to entitlement reform. Republicans paid a political price and backed away.

Ideology, not practical governance, is driving politics. It is refreshing to see elected officials, the so-called Tea Party group, who are unconcerned with winning their next election. However, their desire to complete their mission at all cost could have crippled the world. That is frightening; however, their success and frustration during this debate will drive the debates between now and next November. What is obvious to one is a revelation to others. The ideological quandary afflicts both parties. Republicans placed theirs on full display in this debate.

Washington is now more about ideology and politics than governance. Governance issues get addressed as a byproduct of politics and ideology. There was a time when ideological differences did not prevent political leaders from bridging differences to reach a compromise on major issues facing the country. Even when the scion of conservatives, Ronald Reagan, was in office politics and ideology met in the middle. Those days are over in the foreseeable future.

Of all of the political leaders involved in the negotiations Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) emerged stronger politically while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) saw their credibility weaken. Cantor brazenly took every opportunity to undermine Boehner at different times during negotiations displaying an ugly rift within the party. It helped to create the impression that Republicans are unfit to govern.

President Obama is still learning how to use the bully pulpit of the presidency. He appeared weak at times during these negotiations. The contempt and disrespect some Republicans have for him were on full display during these negotiations. He seems more comfortable as the candidate than as the president which will serve him well going into next year. He will have to reassert himself next year. It is hard to view the president favorably during these discussions. He did not use his bully pulpit as effectively as he could have. He capitulated to Republican demands that an increase in the debt limit must include corresponding cuts to the federal budget and no new taxes. This made him appear weak at times but the Republicans – in the House in particular – helped him appear to be more reasonable than they appeared. There are some report that the scheduled expiration of the Bush era tax cuts in 2012 will give him the leverage needed to extract revenue increases and was one consideration for agreeing to this deal.

Local advocates relying on public funds need to understand things are going to get worse before they get better. There will probably be no further extensions for unemployment insurance, some changes in Medicare and Medicaid payments, cuts to defense, housing, education, etc. Simply taxing the rich will not get us out of this financial mess.

We need tax reform. Simply opposing tax increases or insisting on taxing the wealthy is a simplistic approach to addressing a fundamental problem: we live in a country which tends to punish individuals and families for the income they earn. A more reasonable tax code which closes some loopholes and balances out the tax rates – along the lines of the deficit commission – will help tremendously.

Poll after poll has indicated the American public was disgusted with the actions of its elected officials in Washington. The focus of blame was slanted based on the respondent’s ideology. However, the public must accept it share of blame for the gridlock in Washington. For the most part, Members of Congress’s actions reflected the desires of the people who elected them to office. It is far too easy to point fingers at Congress or the President and forget who put them there.

Interesting Read

Spending Cuts: Here Comes the Hard Part
By Charles Riley
CNN Money

In Debt Deal, The Triumph of the Old Washington
By David A. Fahrenthold, Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane
The Washington Post

Eric Cantor: Obama 'in over his head'
By Jennifer Epstein

GOP Ponders a Rick Perry 2012 Candidacy
By Alexander Burns & Maggie Haberman

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Obama Should Leave the Table

President Barack Obama needs to end negotiations immediately. The time for talk is over. It is time to get a deal done and it is clear these individuals can’t get agree on anything. We are at a point where saving face is as important as getting a credible deal done. It is time to move on.

When everyone convenes Thursday, the president should tell all in attendance that he appreciates their effort, but there is not enough time to put together a deal that addresses the deficit and inflicts the least amount of pain on Americans. He should say he will only accept an unconditional increase in the debt ceiling.

He should say after he receives this authority, he will submit the findings of his deficit commission to Congress in legislative form. The recommendations provide for a balanced approach to the deficit everyone seeks. The recommendations enjoyed bipartisan support and will then be the starting point for new negotiations

He should then publicly announce his decision and instruct his staff to prepare for the United States to default if Republicans reject him.

It is not the perfect solution but everybody wins in the end.

Interesting Read

Top Republicans Clash over Debt-Limit Plan
By Paul Kane and Lori Montgomery
The Washington Post

With no Debt Deal, Obama Would Face Tough Choices Aug. 3 About What Bills to Pay
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
The Washington Post

Warning to Washington: Don’t Mess with the Debt Ceiling
By Bill Gross
The Washington Post

Debt talks blow up: The August debt ceiling showdown breaks along two fronts: the political forces of 2010 vs. 2012.
By: David Rogers

GOP lacks a lead Messenger : Republicans are searching for a national figure who can go toe to toe with Barack Obama.
By: Jake Sherman

Cantor risks overplaying hand: He faces consequences both if debt negotiations fail or if he cuts a soft deal with the president.
By: Jonathan Allen

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Danger Lurking as Deficit Drama Continues

The drama surrounding the deficit reduction talks is not a good sign for domestic programs. With Republicans dug against tax increases the underlying question in the current stalemate is: who will blink first?

For supporters of domestic spending it doesn’t matter. In the end, domestic programs, including housing, will take it on the chin. How serious a blow these programs will receive won’t be resolved until the deficit discussion is completed. Until an agreement is reached, all discussions on a FY 2012 budget are in hold.

Therefore, it is not a surprise that the House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee cancelled this week’s mark-up of a FY 2012 appropriations bill. After the deficit reduction numbers are agreed to, the real budget will be determined. While the devil is in the details, the parameters of deficit deal are unlikely to favor domestic programs.

By standing firm in their commitment to no new taxes Republicans have put themselves in a no-win situation. They seem to believe they have the leverage and that President Barack Obama is going to blink and accede to their demands before the deadline arrives.

The substance of a potential deal and its political subplot will one day make a writer rich! House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is clearly not in charge of the House Republicans. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has positioned himself as the real power in the House. His actions are reminding the Speaker his hold on the speaker’s chair is a tenuous one. Cantor is a fiscal hawk who is championing efforts to reduce federal spending.

The president has looked weak at times appearing to bow to Republican demands. He has made extraordinary concessions by offering to reduce federal domestic spending and making significant cuts and changes to Medicare and Social Security. While these concessions are fiscally necessary, they seem to have strengthened the resolve of Republicans. He has become more assertive with Republicans accept some tax increases; however, it may be too little too late.

For housing providers, regulatory relief provides the only reasonable course of action to weather this fiscal storm. However, if it occurs, it will happen too late to have a reasonable impact on day-to-day operations. Public housing organizations are seeking both regulatory relief from Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations and increased flexibility in the structure and use of housing vouchers. While there is some support in Congress for these measures, the pace is not happening quickly enough.

Additionally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is using it administrative authority to reduce the reserve accounts of PHAs. PHAs use these reserve funds for operating expenses and, in some cases, to offset debt on capital expenditure. As much as agencies and their representative may disagree with HUD’s action, as long as they are dependent on the Federal government for funding, they have little recourse available to them.

These tough fiscal times should force all federally dependent groups to reevaluate what they are doing and how they are funded. Innovation will be the key in determining who survives in the future.

Chamber of Commerce Releases Survey Results

The United States Chamber of Commerce released the results of its second quarterly Small Business Survey which found that small business owners rank economic uncertainty as their number one concern.

Over 1,400 business owners were asked to identify their most pressing challenges and economic uncertainty topped the list followed by debt and deficit reduction, the health care law which was passed and over-regulation. A copy of the report can be found here.

Survey Points to Some Good/Bad Signs in Local Communities

The National League of Cities released a survey which shows progress in some sectors of local communities during the recession although residential property values continue to fall.

NLC recently released the responses to the Local Economic Conditions survey which tracks the impact of the recession on local communities. The survey is the first in a multi-year tracking effort on how the recession has affected local communities and to identify areas which mirror national indicators. The purpose of the survey series is to provide a parallel track to NLC’s 25-year survey on City Fiscal Conditions.

Among the findings:

• 45 percent of the respondents report the retail sector improving.
• 28 percent report that business permits and licenses are improving.
• 35 percent report increased investments in infrastructure and capital projects in the last six months.
• 51 percent report that residential property values have worsened.
• 44 percent report commercial property values have fallen.
• 41 percent report demand for survival services such as food banks and shelters has worsened.

The following areas were identified as most important to generate economic growth:

• small business development (54 percent);
• transportation infrastructure (49 percent);
• education/workforce training (31 percent); and,
• Housing and neighborhood development (25 percent).

A copy of the report can be found here.

HUD Releases Study of Fair Housing Initiative

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the findings of a study of its Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP). The study, the first of its kind in the 15 years of the program, found that the program is successful in reducing the burden of governments at all levels in investigating complaints and that complaints filtered through the program are more likely to result in a binding legal resolution, conciliation or cause finding. The study can be found here.

Interesting Read

House GOP Not Ready to Blink on Debt
Quite Simply There is No Deficit-Reduction Proposal on the Table That Will Satisfy House Republicans.

By: Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen

Obama Exploits Boehner-Cantor Rift
The President Has Managed to Exploit the Fragile Relationship that Exists Between the Two GOPers.

By: Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman

In Senate, politics trump substance
By: Manu Raju

Why Obama's pushing for a mega-deal
By David Gergen

As Easy as ABC
Moving on from Mitch McConnell.

By William Kristol
The Weekly Standard

Debt-Limit Harakiri
Mitch McConnell isn't selling out Republicans

The Wall Street Journal

The President's Jobs Plan (Not)
By Robert Reich
The Huffington Post

Waiting for the Enemy to Blink on the Debt Limit
By Wesley Pruden
The Washington Times

Small Business Needs Big Boost
By Scott Brown
The Boston Herald

How Kevin McCarthy Wrangles the Tea Party in Washington
By Robert Draper
The New York Times

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pressure Heating Up on Deficit Talks

Now that President Barack Obama is more directly involved in the discussions to negotiate an agreement on deficit reduction, the pressure is building on all sides to bend before the nation’s debt ceiling needs to be lifted more than a month from now.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) decision to abruptly pull out of the talks in objection to potential tax increases does more to absolve him of any responsibility for an agreement he and his conservative allies oppose than it does to bring both parties closer together. Cantor can read the writing on the wall. House and Senate Republicans have expressed a willingness to explore the elimination of corporate tax loopholes and cuts to defense spending in order to reach a compromise with the president and Democrats.

Cantor fancies himself as a leader of the House conservative movement. As the point person for the House in these talks, he cannot be perceived as compromising on the no tax increase pledge. By agreeing, or even the perception he has agreed to, anything which looks like a tax increase could damage his credibility among conservatives. Cantor certainly has aspirations to become Speaker of the House one day and would prefer to have the current Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH), take the fall.

While there are many Republicans who would be happy to allow the federal government to default, they cannot afford to be seen as the cause for the failure to reach an agreement. Republicans are more concerned about scoring political points than reaching a reasonable compromise. Such a position is selfish and irresponsible. A reasonable deficit reduction plan cannot be achieved by simply reducing domestic programs and making adjustments to Medicare and Social Security. A balanced approach is required.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) must also be careful. He can ill afford to lose any Republican votes in the Senate. Reasonable minds will eventually prevail. It is hard to believe anyone will actually allow the government to default on its obligations.

Those seeking to preserve domestic spending should be encouraged by the inclusion of defense cuts in the mix. Cuts to the defense budget may limit the depth of reductions to domestic programs and could pave the way for an agreement. However, it doesn’t lessen the impact cuts will have on domestic programs. It does, however, illustrate how serious both sides of the aisle are in finding ways to reduce the federal deficit.

States Seek Ways to Respond to Stagnant Economy and Reduce Federal Aid

The United State Chamber of Commerce released its second study looking at ways in which states are seeking to create policies and practices which help businesses, stimulates job growth and increase state revenue.

Enterprising States 2011 Recovery and Renewal for the 21st Century, looks at ways in which states are responding to the new economic environment. While the specific actions vary from state-to-state, the report finds that states are redesigning themselves, reducing spending, and revising their tax codes and policies. The report also pointed out that have fared best have fostered a “business-friendly” environment. These states also invested in new infrastructure and in education and training.

Mayors Release Report on U.S. Metro Economies

The United States Conference of Mayors and the Council for the New American City released a report during their recently completed conference in Baltimore, MD which highlighted the bleak economic forecast within the nation’s urban settings. The report, U.S. Metro Economies Report: 2011, was completed by Global Insight. The key findings to mayor's report covers a range of issues. The mayors are hoping the reduction in military operations in Afghanistan will translate into increased spending for local economies.

Interesting Read

Obama enters debt talks
By Paul Kane and and Rosalind S. Helderman
The Washington Post

The Politics of the Debt Ceiling Are Too Tempting
By Stuart Rothenberg
Roll Call Contributing Writer

Debt ceiling talks turn to taxes - higher taxes!
By Charles Riley

Revenue vs. cuts in debt debate
By: David Rogers

GOP compromise on debt: Cut military spending?
By Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane,
The Washington Post

Debt ceiling deal's ticking clock creates pessimism
By David Rogers

GOP boosts push for balanced-budget amendment
By Sean Lengell
The Washington Times

House GOP living up to 'Pledge to America'
By Jake Sherman


Obama’s 2012 Game Plan
How can the president rev up and mobilize his demoralized liberal base?

by Michael Tomasky
Newsweek Magazine

Hispanics' Ascent Drives Early Moves in 2012 Race
The Wall Street Journal

Why Michele Bachmann is no Sarah Palin
By Chris Cillizza
The Washington Post

Michele Bachmann, evangelical feminist?
By Dan Gilgoff Religion Editor

Housing and Community Development

In Many Cities, Jobs Recovery Could be a Decade Away
By Stephen Gandel

If baby boomers stay in suburbia, analysts predict cultural shift
By Carol Morello
The Washington Post

In California's Rich Farm Country, How the Poor May Get Poorer
By Jens Erik Gould
Time Magazine

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