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The Download: Budget bluster

Posted in: Municipal government   Current Affairs   Elections
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Just how broken is the budget process in Washington, where President Obama today releases his proposed 2012 spending plan? The White House budget director has pretty much conceded that the proposal avoids tackling the deficit with the full degree of seriousness needed because such a move would simply open up Obama to withering partisan attack.

In a plan that the administration says will reduce the deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years, Obama takes a whack at lots of domestic spending accounts, angering mayors and advocates for the poor in the process. (Many nonprofits are bracing for the worst-case scenario, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.) But his proposed cuts in community development block grants and heating oil assistance to low-income households won't come anywhere near achieving the kind of budget discipline that a bipartisan panel recommended last year. The commission, headed by former Republican senator Alan Simpson and Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, recommended a raft of prudent, but politically unpopular measures, including raising the retirement age for Social Security, adding a means-test for higher-income beneficiaries, and deep defense cuts. Those are the areas the White House budget director, Jacob Lew, has more or less declared off-limits because he says such proposals would only become fodder for partisan attack on the president, not serve as the basis for serious deliberations with Congressional Republicans.

For their part, Republicans plan to propose even deeper cuts in domestic spending, but leave defense spending untouched, make permanent the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire in 2012, and repeal some of the cost-saving provisions of the federal health care reform law. Many nonprofits are bracing for the worst-case scenario when the budget is unveiled, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

There is an argument that bolder moves to tackle the deficit may become politically more feasible in coming years, once some of the Tea Party fervor cools that now has Republicans on edge, but seeing will be believing.  Meanwhile, former New Hampshire GOP senator John Sununu, now a regular Globe op-ed contributor, offers an insider's take on what goes on within the Senate Budget Committee. It's not a pretty picture.

                                                                                                                                                                          --MICHAEL JONAS

ELECTION 2012

In his regular Herald column, Doug Rubin says that Tea Party politics has ruined Republicans' messaging, and warns an unelectable presidential nominee might not be too far away.

Mitt Romney gets upstaged by television personalityvitamin pitchman and occasional real estate investor Donald Trump.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post 's Fact Checker gives Romney's speech this weekend ripping President Obama's jobs record a “one Pinnochio” on its rating scale.  That means it involved some “shading of the facts” but “no outright falsehoods.”

Ron Paul tops the field at the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll. Again. The American Spectator has a right eye round-up of the conference, including an analysis of how Sen. Rand Paul of Tennessee, son of US Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, can help his father turn the CPAC straw poll victory into the 2012 GOP nomination.

The Atlantic thinks former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson could be destined to be the next Ron Paul, but for Johnson's stubborn refusal to stop sharing his opinions about marijuana, immigration, and abortion rights. 

CIVIL LIBERTIES

Chalk it up, we guess, to great liberal minds thinking alike. The lead editorial in Sunday's New York Times lauds a group of 26 Republicans, including some Tea Party-backed freshmen, who joined with 122 Democrats to block extension of three provisions of the Partriot Act that critics say are particularly egregious assaults on civil liberties and privacy. Today's lead Globe editorial does exactly the same thing. 

BEACON HILL

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray continues to raise his profile in anticipation of his run for the corner office. He sat down with Jon Keller to talk about budget and politics.

Treasurer Steve Grossman tells the AP that he doesn’t think the lottery is tapped out. He says he wants to use social-networking tools to boost sales and sell more tickets in immigrant communities. NECN carries the story.

Rep. Harriett Stanley, stripped of a committee chairmanship, is moved from a second-floor office to the basement, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A Globe analysis says a 2005 law has helped fuel the big increase in state spending on legal defense for indigent clients and that the state has failed to follow some recommendations outlined at that time to control the spending.

Former state reps Lida Harkins and Bill Bowles land new jobs with a pair of constitutional officers. 

Devens residents are asking the Legislature to make their community - currently made up of portions of AyerShirley and Harvard - the state's 352d municipality. 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Fall River officials received just two qualified bids for two of the five vacant schools they planned to auction to raise some money for the city’s cash-strapped coffers.

A former Greenfield assistant assessor accused Chief Assessor Audrey Murphy of accepting Red Sox tickets from a company hired to do the work of the displaced employee.

Even though the New Bedford City Council approved the budget, its members are now questioning the mandated furloughs for city workers, especially those in departments with self-sufficient enterprise funds.

The state’s Civil Service Commission upheld the firing of a Methuen water treatment worker who tested positive for cocaine, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

State officials tranquilized a deer that entered a Newburyport home and transport it to a wooded area, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

An ex-cop from Wenham, who is accused of engaging in EMT training fraud, is claiming state investigators set a trap for him, the Salem News reports.

The Cape Cod Times comes to the defense of Hyannis, which, the paper argues, is being unjustly bad-mouthed by the rest of the region as a hotbed of crime, drugs, homelessness, and other ills.

Social service providers in Metro West communities explain how they provided services to clients despite the severe weather this winter.

ECONOMY/DEVELOPMENT

Robert Campbell, the Globe’s architecture critic, uses Don Chiofaro’s quest to build a tall tower on the site of the Harbor Garage to illustrate his point that Boston’s deal-making development approach makes for bad architecture.

HEALTH CARE

Officials at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro are blasting Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts for putting the provider on a tiered network's list of high-cost hospitals.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A state agency awarded $85,000 to Gloucester to conduct a feasibility study for installing a wind turbine on city-owned land, the Gloucester Times reports.

Two environmental experts tell a Williamstown audience that in order to judge whether biomass emissions are harmful, more data on those emissions is needed before new plants are built. Two new biomass plants are planned for sites just over the border in Vermont.

EDUCATION

The Springfield Republican celebrates record-setting amounts of grant money going to UMass Amherst.

CLERGY SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

After the conviction of a New York priest for abusing two boys on day trips to the Berkshires, the Berkshire Eagle argues that little will change until the Vatican decides to fully confront the issue.

STATE OF THE STATES

Governors across the country, beset by skyrocketing health care costs for retirees, are moving to sharply restrict benefits for future retirees. 

WASHINGTON

It's been five years since Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question during a Supreme Court argument. 

HEARTWARMING

Town clerks tell The MetroWest Daily News about the joys of performing weddings on Valentine's Day.

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