Discussing his education plan, President Obama expressed support for linking teachers' pay with performance, noting that "too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom." Teachers' unions have strongly opposed merit pay.
The Obama White House is considering a major break with the previous administration's Iran policy and could drop demands that Iran cease enriching uranium as a precondition to talks, according to the New York Times. Proposals for the policy shift are still in the early phases and remain confidential, but European officials said "Iran would not accept the kind of immediate shutdown of its facilities that the Bush administration had demanded."
Obama spoke at a gala hosted by the Human Rights Campaign the day before an equality protest arrived on the National Mall, and used the speech to reiterate a number of his campaign promises, including his pledge to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
“We’re pushing hard to pass an inclusive employee nondiscrimination bill. For the first time ever, an administration official testified in Congress in favor of this law,” he said. “Nobody in America should be fired because they’re gay despite doing a great job and meeting their responsibilities. It's not fair. It's not right. And we're going to put a stop to it.”
Obama was referring to testimony by Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez before the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “We cannot in good conscience stand by and watch unjustifiable discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals occur in the workplace without redress," Perez told the committee in November during a hearing about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Obama reaffirmed his commitment to reducing oil consumption in his inaugural speech, saying that "each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."
The findings portion of Section 1501 of the health care law states that half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are caused, in part, by medical expenses. The bill asserts that the minimum essential coverage requirement will improve financial security for families.
By ZACK HALE
As lawmakers agitate over a mounting federal budget deficit, PAYGO is making headlines again. But the version recently introduced in Congress at the behest of the Obama administration contains gaping loopholes that would allow the federal government to continue to spend freely.
In fact, some analysts say the proposed PAYGO rules will actually deepen the deficit.
The bill, which was written mostly by the White House, has been touted by Democrats as a return to fiscal responsibility after eight years of profligate deficit spending by the Bush administration.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said of the pending legislation: “We will have a PAYGO that will work, that will reduce the deficit and will take us down in terms of the national debt and, therefore, the interest on the federal debt.” Florida Rep. Allen Boyd, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, said, “Congress does not have the self discipline to be fiscally responsible if there are not tools in place to make it do so.”
However, the bill bears little resemblance to the PAYGO rules Obama promised on the campaign trail, which he said would ensure that “new spending or tax cuts are paid for by spending cuts or new revenue elsewhere.”
For starters, congressional discretionary spending would remain unfettered; that amounts to about 40 percent of the federal budget. The spending constraints would apply only to expansion of entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The bill would also afford the government enough leeway to extend the Bush tax cuts, stanch the growth of the alternative minimum tax and stave off scheduled Medicare cuts.
This has led fiscal responsibility advocates like Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, to sound off.
“Talking about extending the tax cuts, fixing the [alternative minimum tax], dropping the Medicare patch -- all without paying for them -- really just leaves you with PAYGO around the margins,” MacGuineas said.
An economic outlook by William Gale and Alan Auerbach for the more left-leaning Brookings Institution said, “Reinstatement of PAYGO rules, as proposed by the administration, would exempt most of the major causes of fiscal deterioration over the next decade.”
Brian Riedl, a government spending expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has written extensively about PAYGO, is even more dubious of the bill, which he says is nothing more than political posturing.
PAYGO “is merely a talking point that allows lawmakers to pretend they’re being fiscally responsible without actually lifting a finger to be fiscally responsible,” Riedl said. “The idea that PAYGO will make a dent in the federal budget is ridiculous.”
Overall, it is estimated that these PAYGO exemptions would tack $3.5 trillion onto the deficit over the next decade. This will raise interest rates, create massive debt interest costs and ultimately worsen the economy, Riedl said.
And for budget hawks, that’s the real problem with sidestepping PAYGO.
“It is nothing short of completely negligent to add to the debt without a plan for bringing it back down,” MacGuineas said.