Spending and the deficit

There is a lot of information floating around out there, but I just got these charts from my Congressman, Mike Capuano, and I wanted to share them.

The Bottom Line
The statistics and chart below will prove two points despite any rhetoric to the contrary:
  1. Federal spending is headed towards the lowest share of GDP in memory;
  2. The federal government is making great progress towards reducing our annual deficit.
A Note about Federal Spending
If you listen only to a few talking heads you might think that the federal government is engaged in a spending frenzy.  That is actually not the case.  In fact, our government is currently spending LESS than it did in 1974 on discretionary spending programs, the year that detailed economic records were first compiled.
We all know that a dollar doesn’t go as far as it once did – so measuring any spending over a 40 year period demands adjustment.  One way to do this is to look at government spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The chart below with data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) illustrates that in 1974, federal government spending under the Nixon Administration equaled 9.3% of ALL spending in the country (the GDP).  Discretionary spending peaked in 1983 under the Reagan Administration at 10% of GDP.  The most recent figures show that federal spending last year under President Obama fell to just 7.2% of GDP and is estimated to decline even further over the next several years.
Historically, the lowest level of discretionary government spending in the last 40 years occurred in 1999 under the Clinton Administration, and it rose steadily from 6.1% to 7.7% during the George W. Bush Administration.
The point I am trying to make is that it is important to keep federal spending in perspective.  Your federal government today is spending a much smaller share than President Reagan ever did and more spending cuts are coming.  Many of us think it is long past time to face reality and truly consider the future of our country. Do we want good roads? Do we want good schools?  If the answer is yes, then it’s time to start paying for them.
At this point in our nation’s history, we should be investing again in our future. Our economy is improving and the federal budget has stabilized. The notion that federal spending is out of control just isn’t accurate. Take a look at the chart (or click here for a larger version) and table below, which illustrate my argument:
Discretionary Outlays Since 1974
as % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

FY

Defense

Nondefense

Total

Nixon 1974

5.4

3.9

9.3

Ford 1975

5.4

4.4

9.8

Ford 1976

5.0

4.8

9.8

Carter 1977

4.8

4.9

9.7

Carter 1978

4.6

5.0

9.6

Carter 1979

4.5

4.8

9.3

Carter 1980

4.8

5.1

9.9

Reagan 1981

5.0

4.8

9.8

Reagan 1982

5.6

4.2

9.8

Reagan 1983

5.9

4.1

10.0

Reagan 1984

5.8

3.8

9.6

Reagan 1985

5.9

3.8

9.7

Reagan 1986

6.0

3.6

9.7

Reagan 1987

5.9

3.4

9.3

Reagan 1988

5.6

3.4

9.0

Bush 1989

5.5

3.3

8.8

Bush 1990

5.1

3.4

8.5

Bush 1991

5.2

3.5

8.7

Bush 1992

4.7

3.6

8.3

Clinton 1993

4.3

3.6

7.9

Clinton 1994

3.9

3.6

7.5

Clinton 1995

3.6

3.6

7.2

Clinton 1996

3.3

3.3

6.7

Clinton 1997

3.2

3.2

6.4

Clinton 1998

3.0

3.1

6.2

Clinton 1999

2.9

3.1

6.0

Clinton 2000

2.9

3.1

6.1

GW Bush 2001

2.9

3.2

6.1

GW Bush 2002

3.2

3.5

6.7

GW Bush 2003

3.6

3.7

7.3

GW Bush 2004

3.8

3.6

7.4

GW Bush 2005

3.8

3.7

7.5

GW Bush 2006

3.8

3.6

7.4

GW Bush 2007

3.8

3.4

7.3

GW Bush 2008

4.2

3.5

7.7

Obama 2009

4.6

4.0

8.6

Obama 2010

4.7

4.5

9.1

Obama 2011

4.5

4.2

8.8

Obama 2012

4.2

3.8

8.0

Obama 2013

3.8

3.5

7.2

Obama 2014 EST

3.5

3.4

6.9

Obama 2015 EST

3.3

3.2

6.6

Obama 2016 EST

3.2

3.0

6.2

2017 EST

3.1

2.9

6.0

2018 EST

3.0

2.8

5.8

2019 EST

2.9

2.7

5.7

2020 EST

2.9

2.7

5.6

2021 EST

2.8

2.6

5.4

2022 EST

2.8

2.6

5.4

2023 EST

2.7

2.5

5.3

2024 EST

2.7

2.5

5.2

Sources: Cong Budget Office; Office of Management and Budget

The Federal Deficit
We have heard a lot of talk about the federal deficit. The chart belowshows the amount of the annual deficit, or in some cases, surplus,generated by the federal government.  There are many ways to interpret these statistics and I would like to offer a few comments.
You can see there have been only four years since 1974 wherea surplus was generated– the last three years under PresidentClinton and the first year under PresidentGW Bush.  One could argue that the 2001 surplus should be credited to Clinton policies – butI will leave that aside.  However, it is clear that the federal governmentstarted regenerating deficits under Bush policies – most notably his first tax cut in 2001 (before the 9/11 attack).  Certainly, the terrorist attacks on September 11th and the country’s decision to engage in Afghanistan impacted the economy. However,the federal government made a conscious decision to turn away from fiscal discipline BEFORE September 11th.
One can quickly notice the impact of the 2008 economic crisis and our reaction to it.  Regardless of how you might feel about the stimulus and the bailouts – at least it was clearwhat the short term effect would be on the federal deficit.  I happen to think BOTH those actions were necessary and appropriate to save our economy from an even worse fate. Certainly the bailout should have had more teeth. Remember though it was passed under the Bush Administration so those of us calling for more teeth were drowned out.The only choice we faced was action or inaction, and we chose action. I also believe that the stimulus should have been more targeted on creating jobs.  Unfortunately, Congress never has a choice between perfect options – it is always a choice between imperfect plans.  I understand thatmost people have formed pretty strongopinionsabout the actions that the government took and I will let history decide whether those actions were appropriate.
Since the economic crisis in 2008, the federal government has been making significant and steady progress towards reducing our annual deficit.  The average deficit over the 43 years covered by this table equals 3.1% of the GDP. This chart doesn’t show it, but by the end of the Obama Administration it will be below that historic average. Remember, absolute numbers like these only tell a portion of the story.
My final note on this is historic.  This chart shows the deficits and surpluses under 20 years of Democratic Presidents and 22 years of Republican Presidents … good times and bad … war and peace.  I think the most important measure is the change from one year to the next. Maybe we cannot achieve our goals in one year, but are we making progress?  Based on this chart you can calculate that under Democratic Presidents, the deficit was REDUCED by an average of $22.3 billion each year … under Republican Presidents that Deficit has been INCREASED by an average of $44.5 billion each year.  I’ll let you decide which course is the better one.

Revenues

Revenues Change %

Outlays

Outlays Change %

Total Deficit / Surplus

Change $

Nixon 1974

263.2

269.4

-6.1

Ford 1975

279.1

6%

332.3

23%

-53.2

-47.1

Ford 1976

298.1

7%

371.8

12%

-73.7

-20.5

Carter 1977

355.6

19%

409.2

10%

-53.7

20.1

Carter 1978

399.6

12%

458.7

12%

-59.2

-5.5

Carter 1979

463.3

16%

504.0

10%

-40.7

18.5

Carter 1980

517.1

12%

590.9

17%

-73.8

-33.1

Reagan 1981

599.3

16%

678.2

15%

-79.0

-5.1

Reagan 1982

617.8

3%

745.7

10%

-128.0

-49.0

Reagan 1983

600.6

-3%

808.4

8%

-207.8

-79.8

Reagan 1984

666.4

11%

851.8

5%

-185.4

22.4

Reagan 1985

734.0

10%

946.3

11%

-212.3

-26.9

Reagan 1986

769.2

5%

990.4

5%

-221.2

-8.9

Reagan 1987

854.3

11%

1,004.0

1%

-149.7

71.5

Reagan 1988

909.2

6%

1,064.4

6%

-155.2

-5.4

Bush 1989

991.1

9%

1,143.7

7%

-152.6

2.5

Bush 1990

1,032.0

4%

1,253.0

10%

-221.0

-68.4

Bush 1991

1,055.0

2%

1,324.2

6%

-269.2

-48.2

Bush 1992

1,091.2

3%

1,381.5

4%

-290.3

-21.1

Clinton 1993

1,154.3

6%

1,409.4

2%

-255.1

35.3

Clinton 1994

1,258.6

9%

1,461.8

4%

-203.2

51.9

Clinton 1995

1,351.8

7%

1,515.7

4%

-164.0

39.2

Clinton 1996

1,453.1

7%

1,560.5

3%

-107.4

56.5

Clinton 1997

1,579.2

9%

1,601.1

3%

-21.9

85.5

Clinton 1998

1,721.7

9%

1,652.5

3%

69.3

91.2

Clinton 1999

1,827.5

6%

1,701.8

3%

125.6

56.3

Clinton 2000

2,025.2

11%

1,789.0

5%

236.2

110.6

GW Bush 2001

1,991.1

-2%

1,862.8

4%

128.2

-108.0

GW Bush 2002

1,853.1

-7%

2,010.9

8%

-157.8

-286.0

GW Bush 2003

1,782.3

-4%

2,159.9

7%

-377.6

-219.8

GW Bush 2004

1,880.1

5%

2,292.8

6%

-412.7

-35.1

GW Bush 2005

2,153.6

15%

2,472.0

8%

-318.3

94.4

GW Bush 2006

2,406.9

12%

2,655.1

7%

-248.2

70.2

GW Bush 2007

2,568.0

7%

2,728.7

3%

-160.7

87.5

GW Bush 2008

2,524.0

-2%

2,982.5

9%

-458.6

-297.9

Obama 2009

2,105.0

-17%

3,517.7

18%

-1,412.7

-954.1

Obama 2010

2,162.7

3%

3,457.1

-2%

-1,294.4

118.3

Obama 2011

2,303.5

7%

3,603.1

4%

-1,299.6

-5.2

Obama 2012

2,450.2

6%

3,537.1

-2%

-1,087.0

212.6

Obama 2013

2,774.0

13%

3,454.3

-2%

-680.3

406.7

Obama 2014 EST

-514.0

166.3

Obama 2015 EST

-478.0

36.0

Obama 2016 EST

-539.0

-61.0

 

 My bottom line? Let’s spend some money and create some jobs.

Post is cut and pasted from an email update from Congressman Michael Capuano. 7th CD, Massachusetts.

The more things change…

the more they stay the same.  I’m reading “The Mansion of Happiness” by Jill Lepore, a collection of essays arranged so they comprise a history of life and death which is the book’s subtitle.  Lepore is an historian and essayist.  (We heard her lecture on her newest book about Jane Franklin and my husband came home and ordered all of his books.)  One chapter is titled Mr. Marriage.  In it, Lepore recounts a number of things including the history of marriage counseling and the history of eugenics.  I bet you didn’t know they were connected; I certainly didn’t.

Cover of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"

Cover of Can This Marriage Be Saved?

When I was a kid, my mother used to subscribe to the Ladies Home Journal and I would read “Can this Marriage Be Saved?”.  I wonder how many of my generation got some of their ideas about marriage from reading this feature.  In any case, Paul Popenoe who wrote the column was the father of marriage counseling.  He was also a leader in the movement to sterilize the “unfit” to prevent them from having children.  Lepore writes, ” He considered marriage counseling the flip side of compulsory vasectomy and tubal ligation:  sterilize the unfit; urge the fit to marry.”  The early eugenicists  were influenced by Darwin and the theory of evolution.  If one could breed better plants and livestock, why not better people?

Lepore writes

…In the United States, what come to be called social Darwinism provided conservatives with an arsenal of arguments in favor of laissez-faire economic policies, against social welfare programs, and in support of Jim Crow. “The Negro”, it was argued, was “nearer to the anthropoid or pre-human ancestry of men” than any other race, a living missing link; only slavery had prevented the extinction of the black American; if not for the peculiar institution, natural selection would have led to the death of the entire race.

I guess they ignored the fact that many, likely most, African-Americans had a white ancestor in the family tree.  No matter, Paul Popenoe thought about 10% of the population should be sterilized.  This would have been determined in part by the IQ test that was relatively new at the time and, of course, by race. In 1918, Popenoe wrote a book with Rosewell Hill Johnson titled “Applied Eugenics”.

Popenoe and Johnson deemed miscegenation “biologically wrong” because “the Negro lacks in his germ-plasm excellence of some qualities which the white races possess. For poverty, Popenoe and Johnson blamed the poor, citing a study reporting that 55 percent of  retarded children belonged to the laboring class.  The solution to want was to sterilize the needy.  Following Terman [Lewis M.], Popenoe and Johnson opposed old-age pensions, minimum-wage legislation, and child-labor laws: by helping the biologically and mentally unfit, these programs perpetuated a poor gene pool, just as slavery had protected blacks from extinction.

Echoes of the eugenicists can be heard in the current efforts of certain members of the Republican party who only wanted to fund programs they liked during the recent government shutdown.  And the intense dislike, maybe hatred isn’t too strong a word, of President Obama perhaps isn’t just because he is black, but because he is the product of a an African father and white mother.  You hear it in the effort to defund the Affordable Heath Care Act.  As my husband pointed out when I was reading Lepore and ranting, Ron Paul stated during a Republican Presidential debate the if someone couldn’t afford care or didn’t have a policy that would be their own responsibility.  (Going back to the transcript, Paul didn’t actually say that person should be left to die, but that nonprofits like churches would help after the hospital provided medical care, that having health insurance should be a private decision, and provision of health care should not be a governmental responsibility.  Actually, given the current state of the economy and the finances of nonprofits these day, it is the equivalent of letting someone die.)

I will listen to the arguments in the upcoming budget fight with great interest and I bet I will hear more echoes of Paul Popenoe.  The more things change…

Moving toward the cliff

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a federal employee, who is not working because of the shutdown.  She can’t check her work email or phone messages and fears the backlog of problems that awaits her when she does get back to work.  She said the only way she was fortunate was that she was not one of the essential employees who had to work anyway.  We speculated on how people will get to work if October moves to November and people’s monthly transit passes run out.  Will they be expected to shell out money they don’t have to get to a job they aren’t paid for?  All her friends can do is to buy her lunch.  Fast forward 24 hours and we still have no deal.  Even if the Senate comes up with a solution it is not clear if 1) the House will even vote on it and 2) if they do, if this is just another short term postponement.  All my friend hopes is that the next deadline is past the holidays and that there is back pay.

I was trying to find some humor in the whole situation, but find that I actually feel very sorry for John Boehner.  John Cassidy posted this for the New Yorker.

Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.

What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.

From the point of view of the country, that’s good news. Overnight, officials representing McConnell and Reid were rushing to complete their negotiations, which were called off on Tuesday after Boehner’s unwise intervention. As it stands now, the Senate agreement would reportedly fund the government until January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th, with the only concession from the Democrats being an agreement to toughen up the policing of eligibility requirements for obtaining federal subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner is in a box.  He can’t control his own party caucus and can’t turn to Democratic votes because then he would lose his Speakership.  If the country goes into default, he will likely lose it anyway.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, the Speaker will face the unenviable choice of allowing it to pass with Democratic support or exercising the nuclear option of forcing a default. Having already ruled out this second option in public comments, there were reports on Tuesday night that Boehner was prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor, which would probably insure its passage. That wouldn’t end the budget crisis—it’s never-ending—but it would put off the next showdown until the new year, whilst ensuring that the Republican ultras had gained almost precisely nothing for their willingness to shut down the government and raise the prospect of a debt default. (In another development on Tuesday, Fitch, one of the big ratings agencies, placed U.S. government debt on watch for a potential downgrade, saying that “the prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011), risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.”)

From the point of view of the Republican Party, things have been going from bad to worse. With the party divided, its poll ratings tanking fast, and its leadership unwilling to risk an actual default, it has been clear for some time that it was in a losing position. The discussions in the past few days have been about the terms of surrender, with the White House and Reid pressing for something close to an unconditional capitulation.

So here are a few cartoons to weep at as we proceed at a Senate’s slow pace, to the edge.

From Tony Auth

From Tony Auth

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

Signe Wilkerson

Signe Wilkerson

And Wilkerson, again.

Wilkinson2

Can we hope that there are still some adults who won’t drive us over the edge?

Can we send David Ortiz to the budget negotiations?

It has been a discouraging last few days with the only real bright spot being Friday (and then we went back Saturday) at Symphony Hall with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We wanted to hear Thomas Ades, Polaris a second time and Friday night the BSO did not do Franck’s Symphony in D Minor which my husband loves.   But we came home Saturday night to no budget/debt ceiling deal and the Red Sox striking out, also.  I often tune in to some of the Sunday news shows, but couldn’t stand to hear any more Republican Congresspersons who have no clue about what the debt ceiling is much less understand any thing about the economy.  One of my friends posted this on Facebook the other day

Despite their lofty status in managing American affairs, it appears to me that few Congresspersons have any meaningful understanding of how their chronic politicization of economic policies substantially degrades, perhaps permanently, the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency. Evidence of the dollar’s decline to a commodity status is increasingly apparent. In time, every American will feel a crippling pain that no amount of political negotiating can cure.

Given this state of things, I retreated to a game of Civilization V where I could control, more or less, my own universe until after Sunday dinner when the Red Sox could take over.  But, after watching strike out after strike out with Clay Buchholz pitching sooo very slowly while getting slammed around in the sixth, I retreated.  I woke up just before 6 am this morning having just had a dream that I woke up and the Sox had come back.  I turned on the radio, I found that is was true!

Peter Abraham explains

In what has been a season full of memorable late-inning victories at Fenway Park, the Red Sox saved the best for when they needed it the most in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Sunday night.

Trailing by four runs against the Detroit Tigers, the Sox tied the game on a grand slam by David Ortiz in the eighth inning then won it, 6-5, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to drive in Jonny Gomes in the ninth.

The remarkable victory had the players chasing Saltalamacchia across the outfield and the sellout crowd of 38,029 chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” as they left Fenway.

“When you back us into a wall, you either do two things: cave or fight. We’re gonna fight,” Dustin Pedroia said.

That wall was hard to get over. The Sox had scored one run through the 16 innings in the series, going 3 for 51 at the plate with 30 strikeouts. Detroit starter Max Scherzer allowed one run on two hits over seven innings and struck out 13.

And then.

Will Middlebrooks doubled to left field off Jose Veras to start the rally. Then Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk off Drew Smyly.

Al Albuquerque was next out of the Detroit bullpen. He struck out Shane Victorino for the second out, but Pedroia singled to right. Third base coach Brian Butterfield held Middlebrooks, wanting to make sure Ortiz got his chance.

Ortiz swung at the first pitch, a changeup away, and was strong enough to pull it into the Red Sox bullpen in right field for his first career postseason grand slam and the fourth in Red Sox history.

Right fielder Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall trying to make a catch as Boston police officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in joy. Bullpen catcher Mani Martinez, who was warming up Koji Uehara, casually turned and caught the ball.

It was bedlam at Fenway and the crowd kept cheering until Ortiz emerged from the dugout and tipped his helmet to them.

“My idea wasn’t to go out and hit a grand slam,” Ortiz said. “If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I’d be lying to you now.”

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

Gotta love David.

There was still a game to win. After Uehara retired the Tigers in order, Gomes was again the catalyst.

He reached on an infield single off Rick Porcello and took second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, the former Sox player known for his defensive skills.

“No is not an option for this team,” Gomes said. “Once I got on second, I was going to do anything I could to score.”

Gomes advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Saltalamacchia singled to left field.

“I felt good,” Saltalamacchia said. “Trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance.”

It was the 12th walkoff win of the season for the Red Sox.

So now we have something to watch on the highlight reels other than strike out after strike out.  There is joy in Mudville after all.  The Red Sox head for Detroit to face Justin Verlander, still another one of the Tigers’ great pitchers.  Let’s end this with something to ponder.  My husband heard Verlander ask this question:  If a pitch grazes a Red Sox’s beard, did he get hit by the pitch?

Now if only someone would hit a grand slam on the budget and knock out Ted Cruz and his friends.

Photograph:  Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The myth of small businesses and healthcare

One of the favorite talking points of the Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is that it will kill job growth and hurt small businesses.  Quite honestly, I think that their government shutdown which they admit is largely about defunding/delaying/repealing the ACA is doing a fine job of doing both.  Forget what they think “Obamacare” will do.  But in the current issue of the New Yorker, James Surowiecki takes on the myth, at that, according to him, is what it is, that the ACA will do horrible, terrible, no good things to the economy.

The G.O.P.’s case hinges on the employer mandate, which requires companies with fifty or more full-time employees to provide health insurance. It also regulates the kind of insurance that companies can offer: insurance has to cover at least sixty per cent of costs, and premiums can’t be more than 9.5 per cent of employees’ income. Companies that don’t offer insurance will pay a penalty. Republicans argue that this will hurt companies’ profits, forcing them to stop hiring and to cut workers’ hours, in order to stay below the fifty-employee threshold.

How much of this is true?

The story is guaranteed to feed the fears of small-business owners. But the overwhelming majority of American businesses—ninety-six per cent—have fewer than fifty employees. The employer mandate doesn’t touch them. And more than ninety per cent of the companies above that threshold already offer health insurance. Only three per cent are in the zone (between forty and seventy-five employees) where the threshold will be an issue. Even if these firms get more cautious about hiring—and there’s little evidence that they will—the impact on the economy would be small.

Meanwhile, the likely benefits of Obamacare for small businesses are enormous. To begin with, it’ll make it easier for people to start their own companies—which has always been a risky proposition in the U.S., because you couldn’t be sure of finding affordable health insurance. As John Arensmeyer, who heads the advocacy group Small Business Majority, and is himself a former small-business owner, told me, “In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial spirit, but we’ve had this bizarre disincentive in the system that’s kept people from starting new businesses.” Purely for the sake of health insurance, people stay in jobs they aren’t suited to—a phenomenon that economists call “job lock.” “With the new law, job lock goes away,” Arensmeyer said. “Anyone who wants to start a business can do so independent of the health-care costs.” Studies show that people who are freed from job lock (for instance, when they start qualifying for Medicare) are more likely to undertake something entrepreneurial, and one recent study projects that Obamacare could enable 1.5 million people to become self-employed.

English: This is a diagram depicting the perce...

English: This is a diagram depicting the percentage in US who have no health insurance by age. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember that large employers get tax incentives to provide health insurance.  The ACA will actually do the same for small businesses.

Obamacare changes all this. It provides tax credits to smaller businesses that want to insure their employees. And it requires “community rating” for small businesses, just as it does for individuals, sharply restricting insurers’ ability to charge a company more because it has employees with higher health costs. And small-business exchanges will in effect allow companies to pool their risks to get better rates. “You’re really taking the benefits that big companies enjoy, and letting small businesses tap into that,” Arensmeyer said. This may lower costs, and it will insure that small businesses can hire the best person for a job rather than worry about health issues.

Surowiecki ends his short piece with this kicker.

The U.S. likes to think of itself as friendly to small businesses. But, as a 2009 study by the economists John Schmitt and Nathan Lane documented, our small-business sector is among the smallest in the developed world, and has one of the lowest rates of self-employment. One reason is that we’ve never had anything like national health insurance. In a saner world, changing this would be a reform that the “party of small business” would celebrate.

So it seems that implementation of the ACA with small business health insurance exchanges will actually help lead to more job growth.

The Senate Chaplain Speaks

Maybe you didn’t realize that the Senate and the House each have a chaplain.  If you are a C-SPAN junky you might have seen them open each daily session.  The Senate website has a brief description of the office and history.

Throughout the years, the United States Senate has honored the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State. The first Senate, meeting in New York City on April 25, 1789, elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provost, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first Chaplain. During the past two hundred and seven years, all sessions of the Senate have been opened with prayer, strongly affirming the Senate’s faith in God as Sovereign Lord of our Nation. The role of the Chaplain as spiritual advisor and counselor has expanded over the years from a part-time position to a full-time job as one of the Officers of the Senate.  The Office of the Chaplain is nonpartisan, nonpolitical, and nonsectarian.

But the current Senate Chaplain, Barry C. Black, has begun to make news with what the New York Times called “our daily Senate scolding.”

The disapproval comes from angry constituents, baffled party elders and colleagues on the other side of the Capitol. But nowhere have senators found criticism more personal or immediate than right inside their own chamber every morning when the chaplain delivers the opening prayer.

“Save us from the madness,” the chaplain, a Seventh-day Adventist, former Navy rear admiral and collector of brightly colored bow ties named Barry C. Black, said one day late last week as he warmed up into what became an epic ministerial scolding.

“We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride,” he went on, his baritone voice filling the room. “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

In case you were wondering, Chaplain Black was selected in 2003 by then Majority Leader, Republican Bill Frist.  He says of his politics

“I use a biblical perspective to decide my beliefs about various issues,” Mr. Black said in an interview in his office suite on the third floor of the Capitol. “Let’s just say I’m liberal on some and conservative on others. But it’s obvious the Bible condemns some things in a very forceful and overt way, and I would go along with that condemnation.”

But back to some of his recent prayers.

During his prayer on Friday, the day after officers from the United States Capitol Police shot and killed a woman who had used her car as a battering ram, Mr. Black noted that the officers were not being paid because of the government shutdown.

Then he turned his attention back to the senators. “Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism,” he said. “Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”

Senator Harry Reid, the pugnacious majority leader who has called his Republican adversaries anarchists, rumps and hostage takers, took note. As Mr. Black spoke, Mr. Reid, whose head was bowed low in prayer, broke his concentration and looked straight up at the chaplain.

“Following the suggestion in the prayer of Admiral Black,” the majority leader said after the invocation, seeming genuinely contrite, “I think we’ve all here in the Senate kind of lost the aura of Robert Byrd,” one of the historical giants of the Senate, who prized gentility and compromise.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black

Senate Chaplain Barry Black

Chaplain Black is a federal employee who is not being paid during the shutdown.  He is also one of the few adults in the Senate chamber.

Mr. Black, who is the first black Senate chaplain as well as its first Seventh-day Adventist, grew up in public housing in Baltimore, an experience he draws on in his sermons and writings, including a 2006 autobiography, “From the Hood to the Hill.”

In his role as chaplain, a position that has existed since 1789, he acts as a sounding board, spiritual adviser and ethical counselor to members of the Senate. When he prays each day, he said, he recites the names of all 100 senators and their spouses, reading them from a laminated index card.

It is not uncommon for him to have 125 people at his Bible study gatherings or 20 to 30 senators at his weekly prayer breakfast. He officiates weddings for Senate staff members. He performs hospital visitations. And he has been at the side of senators when they have died, most recently Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii in December.

The Senate is lucky to have him and maybe they need to pay more attention to what he is saying.

“I remember once talking about self-inflicted wounds — that captured the imagination of some of our lawmakers,” he said. “Remember, my prayer is the first thing they hear every day. I have the opportunity, really, to frame the day in a special way.”

His words lately may be pointed, but his tone is always steady and calm.

“May they remember that all that is necessary for unintended catastrophic consequences is for good people to do nothing,” he said the day of the shutdown deadline.

“Unless you empower our lawmakers,” he prayed another day, “they can comprehend their duty but not perform it.”

Senators, hear Chaplain Black.  Be adults.

Photograph:  Drew Angerer for The New York Times

The government shutdown: a letter from Congressman Capuano

I am posting the entire weekly email newsletter I just got from my Congressman, Mike Capuano.    I am proud to say that he was my boss for several years when he was the Mayor of Somerville.

Dear Friends,

The government shutdown is in its fourth day. Speaker Boehner still refuses to bring up a clean Continuing Resolution (CR), even though it would pass Congress and be signed by the President, reopening the government.

The House has spent most of this week considering bills to partially fund the government. This process is more about appearances than responsible legislating. That’s why you’ve seen attempts to fund the National Park Service so tourist attractions can reopen but not the Transportation Department. The Senate and President have both rejected this path. I’m not sure where or when this all ends. It’s certainly true that this battle is about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the obsession many Republicans have with sabotaging it. I think there’s more to it though.

This is also about one of the fundamental principles of our government, the idea of majority rule. The importance of that principle is vividly on display here and it’s one worth protecting.

The ACA was signed into law in 2010 after months and months of substantive and at times contentious debate. Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, there have been 42 attempts to repeal, defund or gut the law. Each time the effort has accomplished essentially nothing. As I noted earlier this week, Mitt Romney ran on a promise to repeal “Obamacare”. He lost the election. House Democrats got more votes than House Republicans and Democrats retained control of the Senate. The ACA was even declared constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Despite all of that, a small percentage of the House Republican Caucus refuses to accept the will of the majority, democratically expressed. They shut the government down because they can’t accept it. The ACA is the law of the land, affirmed by the results of a national election and a Supreme Court ruling. More and more moderate Republicans are speaking out on the need for a clean CR. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of those moderate voices and the extremists in the House continue to drown them out.

Imagine what our government would look like if more Members refused to respect the principle of majority rule and insisted on getting their way without regard for the consequences. It wouldn’t be 17 years between government shutdowns, that’s for sure.

I believe that this battle is also about the role that government should play in our lives. Do we want to provide some help to those less fortunate in the form of nutrition assistance or home heating aid? Do we want to help our states build world class roads, bridges and subway systems? Do we want to attract cutting edge research that results in medical advances? All of that takes an investment of federal dollars.

What has been happening over the past couple years is a steady and steep reduction in federal spending. That often gets lost in the din but numbers don’t lie. In two years, a total deficit reduction of almost $2.4 trillion has been achieved. In 2011, the Budget Control Act placed a cap on discretionary spending at $1.066 trillion for fiscal year 2014. That cap has been ignored by the House, with much deeper cuts going into effect as a result of sequestration.

Here are just a couple examples of how those cuts have impacted some important programs. In the past year, funding for the National Institutes of Health has been cut by $1.6 billion. Funding for Head Start has been cut by $400 million.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a budget that proposed spending $1.058 trillion for fiscal year 2014. Under the clean CR proposed in the Senate in order to reopen the government, that spending is cut to $986 billion. This is much closer to the Republican proposal than the Senate’s.

In terms of cutting spending, Republicans don’t seem to recognize that they are gaining significant ground. The CR that many of them say they won’t support includes deep cuts to discretionary programming.

More votes are expected in the House tomorrow and the schedule for next week is unclear. Thanks for your calls and emails of support. I appreciate all of them.

Best,

Mike

English: Official Congressional portrait for C...

English: Official Congressional portrait for Congressman Mike Capuano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)