Congress raises debt ceiling, avoids default

But agreement on spending cuts without more revenue splits Dems, worries LGBT and AIDS groups

Rep. Tammy Baldwin
Rep. Tammy Baldwin

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

lisakeen@mac.com

The U.S. Senate gave final Congressional approval Tuesday, Aug. 2, to a bill raising the nation’s current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by $2 trillion. But the bill also calls for $2 trillion in federal spending cuts, that worries LGBT and AIDS organizations concerned about the survival of safety nets and programs of specific interest to the LGBT community.

“When I hear these numbers, I worry what it will mean for the social services safety net all over the nation, including LGBT organizations that are serving the most needy in our community,” said Lorri Jean, executive director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the largest LGBT community center in the country.

“And when I hear talk of striking a deal that includes no new taxes, at a time when taxes are already at their lowest, it seems clear that poor and vulnerable Americans of all sexual orientations and gender identities are being sacrificed,” Jean said.

That has been the reaction of many to the debt ceiling agreement this week, including two of the four openly gay members of Congress.

The final agreement, called the Budget Control Act of 2011, raises the nation’s debt ceiling enough to enable the government to borrow the money it needs to pay its obligations through 2012. But it also requires the government to cut its deficit by that same amount — $2.1 trillion — over the next 10 years.

The legislation also places caps on discretionary spending and allows “adjustments” to those caps only for “emergency appropriations, appropriations for the global war on terrorism and appropriations for major disasters.”

Funding to fight bullying in schools, to prosecute hate-motivated crimes or to increase research to fight breast cancer or AIDS would not seem to fall in the categories allowing for adjustments.

The legislation does not specify where the cuts are to occur but rather sets up a special 12-member bipartisan joint Congressional committee to propose them. If that committee fails to identify cuts of at least $1.2 trillion by Nov. 23, then a “trigger” kicks in and across-the-board cuts are made in all programs to the tune of $1.5 trillion.

Various political analysts say the legislation is addressing the immediate, urgent need to fund the government. The debt ceiling issue has been an urgent focus of Congress and the White House for the past several weeks, with a looming threat that the government might not be able to send out checks to Social Security recipients, military personnel and creditors.

“Our country was literally on the verge of a disaster,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Tuesday, just before the Senate voted 74 to 26 on the measure.

The president signed the measure into law within hours.

But many political analysts this week were also saying the agreement’s proposed cuts in spending could stall economic recovery from the three-year-old recession. Among other things, the cuts will likely mean no efforts to relieve the 9.2 percent unemployment rate and it will mean reduced federal funding to already-strapped state and local budgets.

Although treated as a routine procedure by previous administrations — including that of Republican President George W. Bush — raising the ceiling on how much the nation can borrow to pay for its expenses became a volatile political struggle for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Republicans have largely pushed for cuts in spending, while Democrats have largely pushed for increasing revenues. Most analysts say the agreement — which identifies no increased revenues — is largely a political victory for Tea Party Republicans whose mantra is “Taxed Enough Already.”

Sen. Reid criticized Tea Party members, saying their insistence on no new taxes — also referred to as revenues — was “disconcerting.”

“The richest of the rich have contributed nothing to this,” said Reid. “The burden of what has taken place is on the middle class and the poor.”

Even the four openly gay members of the House were split on the agreement this week. Veteran Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., voted no, and newcomer Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and David Cicilline, D-R.I., voted yes.

Baldwin issued a statement saying the bill amounts to playing “political games” that “threaten to set back our fragile economic recovery.” While the bill needs to lower the deficit, said Baldwin, it also needs to create jobs and protect the middle class “through shared sacrifice.”

Frank said he opposed the bill primarily because it did not include cuts in war spending. As for harm to funding for LGBT-related concerns, Frank said funding to enforce hate crimes and bullying programs is relatively small and unlikely to be affected, but he said cuts would hurt funding for bigger expenditures, such as research to fight breast cancer.

Cicilline issued a statement following his vote for the agreement, saying he did so “to prevent a first-ever default on our nation’s obligations, and to avoid the very real potential of an economic catastrophe.”
“To be clear,” added Cicilline, “there’s a lot about this bill I don’t like, but my prerequisite for voting in favor of this bill was that we avoid a default and we protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, which this bill does.

“There’s no question that the single biggest job killer for our country would have been a default,” said Cicilline. “In the coming months Congress must build off of this compromise legislation to pursue a balanced approach to reduce our nation’s debt and redouble our focus on putting people back to work.”

AIDS United, a coalition of hundreds of local groups working to help people with HIV and AIDS, says the agreement is not a balanced approach and does “little to remove the cloud of potential, devastating funding cuts to non-defense domestic programs, including HIV-related programs, funding to implement health care reform, and low-income safety net programs.”

AIDS United said it fears programs for people with HIV “could be affected adversely by the harsh spending caps in FY 2012 and following years.”

And groups serving LGBT youth are worried, too.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLESN), said she thinks it’s too early to know the specific impact.

But “there is no doubt,” she said, “that the hard spending caps created by the agreement will have a serious impact on K-12 education and youth services, effecting all LGBT youth in this country.

“Advocates for youth, LGBT and otherwise, will need to be extremely vigilant about the emerging details of the initial cuts and the further reductions to spending to be recommended by the Congressional panel,” said Byard. “As a member of the National Collaboration for Youth, the America’s Promise Alliance, and the Whole Child Initiative of ASCD, GLSEN will continue to advocate for LGBT youth in the context of protecting the interests of all children in on-going budget debates.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national gay Republican group Log Cabin Republicans, credited Republican leaders with setting “a clear goal” and refusing to give President Obama “a blank check” for spending.

But he added, “Nobody should believe that this is more than a stopgap measure.”

“The culture of spending in Washington must fundamentally change going forward,” said Cooper. “This is only the first step in a course that will dramatically alter how our government approaches the budget and will provide fiscal stability for Wall Street and Main Street.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force warned last year that deficit reduction measures would almost certainly mean “key safety-net programs [would] be caught in the political crossfire….”

The Human Rights Campaign had no comment on the debt ceiling bill by deadline.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Hope for the future: Another youngster speaks up for LGBT equality

Malcolm and his letter

Back in November, 2009, then 10-year-old Will Phillips of West Fork, Ark., made headlines around the country when he refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of his classmates because the pledge includes the phrase “with liberty and justice for all,” and Will knew that LGBT Americans aren’t really guaranteed that liberty and justice.

Now, a 7-year-old named Malcolm is speaking out for LGBT equality, and putting his money where his mouth is.

Recently, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center received an envelope containing a $70 donation and a hand-written note that read: “I am sending you this money because I don’t think it’s fair that gay people are not treated equally.” It was signed, “Malcolm.”

There was another note with the donation, this one from Malcolm’s mom. She explained that in an effort to help Malcolm learn the importance of helping improve the world around him, he had been given $140 to donate to the charity of his choice. And when Malcolm heard a story on the radio about LGBT people being mistreated, he got so upset that he decided he would donate his money to LGBT causes.

Malcolm chose to split his his $140, giving half to the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and the other half to the Human Rights Campaign.

We all know that nonprofits of all stripes always need money. But they — and all of us, in fact — also always need hope. Malcolm gave the Gay and Lesbian Center and the HRC both. And he gave hope to all of us.

—  admin

Starvoice • 02.04.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAYtn-500_img_1303

Judith Light turns 62 on Wednesday. We couldn’t get enough of her as Claire Meade in Ugly Betty, but really, how can we not cherish Light’s extensive work as a gay rights and AIDS activist? The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center named their library after her. Last spring, she joined Cyndi Lauper’s Give a Damn campaign joining the likes of Elton, Whoopi and Anna Paquin.

………………………….

THIS WEEK

Sun and Mars are in a long dance together through Aquarius. Dissonance from Venus and Pluto, both in Capricorn, can turn that into a war dance. It’s too easy to build up resentments over nothing. Strive for clarity and self-awareness. If you feel wronged, own your part of it and move on.

………………………….

AQUARIUS Jan 20-Feb 18
Some bee in your bonnet has you agitated and touchy. What’s at the bottom of this? Who are you really angry at? Yourself? Talk with someone who knows your BS better than to fall for it.

PISCES Feb 19-Mar 19
One of your friends is out to double-cross you. Keep your radar up. Standing with one foot in the future and one in the past blinds you to the present. Focus on what matters at the moment.
ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Consider social demands before agreeing to any. Focus on challenges at work. Reexamine your goals and your strategies. Are they realistic? Even the best plans need an occasional tweak.

TAURUS Apr 20-May 20
You prefer safer paths, but are now easily goaded to big gambles. Some risk-taking is good and necessary; exercise foresight, good sense and moderation. If it looks good, go for it.

GEMINI May 21-Jun 20
New sexual adventures take you to places you’d never dreamed of. Be careful. Bragging about your new erotic adventures is also fine, but be careful about “the time and place for everything.”

CANCER Jun 21-Jul 22
You and your partner need some spice in your love life. Take turns granting each other’s desires. You’ll be surprised. Be careful where to discuss. If it gets out that could also be a surprise.

LEO Jul 23-Aug 22
Your efforts on teamwork are admirable, but remember that teamwork is not necessarily what you say it is. Work at taking orders and suggestions, then show how you can carry those out.

VIRGO Aug 23-Sep 22
Sports injuries and accidents are out to get you. Whatever you do to relax, stay focused on developing technique and keep your eyes open to usual risks. But you’ll look sexy in a cast.

LIBRA Sep 23-Oct 22
Fun and games at home start more fights than they prevent. The best application for rough competitive energy could be wrestling to see who gets on top.

SCORPIO Oct 23-Nov 21
Family fights break out too easily. Discussing those problems with a friend is more helpful than putting it in the face of your folks. Work helps relieve tension gets you some perspective.

SAGITTARIUS Nov 22-Dec 20
In your heart, you know compulsive spending is counterproductive. Sit down and analyze your finances. Learning a new game or creative outlet is helpful, if it doesn’t get expensive.

CAPRICORN Dec 21-Jan 19
Trying a new look either gets expensive or challenges your resourcefulness. Go for something radical and dramatic, even if it’s just for those special occasions.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Laura McFerrin screens ‘March On’ in NYC with Dan Choi; Dallas premiere set for February

Local filmmaker (and new mom) Laura McFerrin screened her documentary March On on Saturday in New York City, and she sent pictures. The documentary about 2009′s National Equality March screened Saturday at the Gay & Lesbian Center with approximately 150 people in attendance, including Dan Choi, and the event benefited Marriage Equality New York.

Dallas audiences get their first chance to see the film in just a few weeks. March On will screen at the Studio Movie Grill Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. The event will benefit GetEQUAL, and although the screening is free, donations will definitely be accepted.

—  Rich Lopez