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

Dallas FrontRunners comes out of hiatus

LGBT joggers, runners and walkers may have been dismayed when Dallas FrontRunners fizzled out. But a transplant to Texas took on the task of restarting the group and is now looking to get members to (re)join. And you can start by heading to the new website or searching “Dallas Frontrunners” on Facebook.

Lin Wang sent us the below email about his intentions in restarting the group and the call for people to join:

—  Rich Lopez

Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Ramos refuses to resign, hurls new epithets

Dan Ramos

Daniel Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, reports that Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Ramos refused to apologize or resign during a press conference earlier today.

Instead, Ramos hurled new epithets and against referred to gay Democrats as “termites,” said Graney, who lives in San Antonio.

Graney said Ramos is holding a fundraiser tonight for the Democratic Party in downtown San Antonio, and members of Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio plan to protest outside.

From the Bexar County Democrats website, directly above a photo of Ramos:

Who We Are

Before all other things, we are a family of many different kinds of people. We come from all walks of life. We are home-makers, business people, factory workers, public servants, educators, soldiers, preachers, you name it – we’ve got it. We come from all skin colors, religions, cultures, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities. We don’t exclude. That is who we are!

UPDATE: Sam Sanchez of QSanAntonio.com was at the press conference and reports that rather than resigning, Ramos said gays are like “white termites who have infiltrated the party much like termites infiltrate your house.”

Ramos called Choco Meza, the woman who opposed him in last year’s election, a lesbian, and he said gays have infiltrated the party. Sanchez reports that Ramos called Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie a racist bastard and an idiot who is advised by gay people.

CORRECTION: As indicated in the comment below, Ramos did not hold the fundraiser. The event was sponsored by Proud Democrats of San Antonio, a group that has not yet condemned Ramos’ statements. The top of their website indicates that they promote equality, diversity and tolerance. I guess that would include Nazi termites.

—  David Taffet

Court allows military to continue enforcing DADT pending appeal

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Monday, Nov. 1 indefinitely extended its freeze on a judge’s order halting enforcement of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, heightening pressure on the Obama administration to persuade the U.S. Senate to repeal the law before a new Congress is sworn in.

A divided three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the U.S. government’s request for a stay while it challenges the trial court’s ruling that the ban on openly gay service members is unconstitutional.

The same panel, composed of two judges appointed by President Ronald Reagan and one appointed by President Bill Clinton, on Oct. 20 imposed a temporary hold keeping “don’t ask, don’t tell” in place.

Monday’s decision means gay Americans who disclose their sexual orientations still can’t enlist in the armed forces and can be investigated and ultimately discharged if they already are serving.

“We continue to warn service members that it is unsafe to come out as long as this law remains on the books,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

In an eight-page order, two judges said they were persuaded by the Department of Justice’s argument that U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips’ worldwide injunction against the policy “will seriously disrupt ongoing and determined efforts by the Administration to devise an orderly change.”

“The public interest in enduring orderly change of this magnitude in the military — if that is what is to happen — strongly militates in favor of a stay,” Judges Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain and Stephen S. Trott wrote in their majority order. “Furthermore, if the administration is successful in persuading Congress to eliminate (the policy), this case and controversy will become moot.”

Another reason they gave for imposing the freeze was decisions by four other federal appeals courts that cast doubt on whether Phillips exceeded her authority and ignored existing legal precedents when she concluded gays could not serve in the military without having their First Amendment rights breached.

Judge William Fletcher entered a partial dissent, saying he would have preferred the panel had heard oral arguments before granting the stay. Fletcher said he thinks “don’t tell, don’t tell” should not be used to discharge any existing service members while the case was on appeal.

“Defendants would not be required during the pendency of the appeal to change their recruiting practices, to change their personnel manuals, or, subject only to the requirement that they not actually discharge anyone, otherwise to change their practices,” Fletcher said.

President Barack Obama repeatedly has said he opposes “don’t ask, don’t tell” but favors ending it legislatively instead of through the courts. Over the summer, he worked with Democrats to write a bill that would have lifted the ban, pending completion of a Defense Department review due Dec. 1. The legislation passed the House but was blocked in the Senate.

The president has pledged to push for another vote during Congress’ lame duck session after Tuesday’s elections.

“The president claims to want to see ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ ended. It is time that he stop talking and start working to make a real difference for gay and lesbian Americans by pushing for repeal when Congress returns,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights group that sued to overturn “don’t ask, don’t tell” in Phillips’ court,

The court ordered the government to submit its brief in its broader appeal by Jan. 24 and gave Log Cabin Republicans until Feb. 22 to reply. It did not schedule oral arguments in the case.

“For the reasons stated in the government’s submission to the appellate court, we believe the stay is appropriate,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

—  John Wright

Ladies first

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas proves just why the city needs them

M.M. Adjarian  | Contributing Writer MMAdjarian@GMail.com

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas
LADIES FOR CHOIR | The Women’s Chorus of Dallas plans to go above and beyond on their next season.

GALA CHORUS CONCERT
With the Turtle Creek Chorale. Cathedral of Hope,
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Sept. 5 at 4 p.m. GalaChoruses.org or TWCD.org.

For more than 20 years, the Women’s Chorus of Dallas thrived, happily performing with  SMU’s Caruth Auditorium as its base of operation. But when the chance came last March to become one of the companies based in the new AT&T Performing Arts Center, the group leapt at the opportunity.

“It was pretty powerful when we first moved in there and had our first rehearsal,” recalls Melinda Imthurn, TWCD’s artistic director. “It felt like a different chorus. The women — I could just see it in their faces and hear it in their voices — felt [like] they were home.”

The chorus had arrived — in more ways than one. The move sent a clear message about TWCD’s importance as a Dallas arts organization, and “[as a specifically] women’s arts organization in the Arts District,” says Imthurn. The group does their part to let Dallas shine as part of this weekend’s Gala Choruses Annual

Leadership Conference and plays host, with the Turtle Creek Chorale, as the resident vocal groups of this area.

Like most music groups of its kind, the chorus —originally founded in 1989 as a lesbian community arts organization — started small. The Women’s Chorus has matured into a group with a diverse membership and a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic face reflective of the city’s denizens. Choral performers come from all walks of life and sexual orientations and bring with them a wide range of musical talents, abilities and skills.

That diversity doesn’t stop at the kinds of women who perform with the chorus. The group incorporates costumes, dancing and the spoken word into its concerts, enhancing the overall vocal vibrancy. As Imthurn explains, these performance extras, combined with concerts that are scripted to more resemble theatrical presentations, “make the music more accessible to people, especially those who might not have experience with choral music.”

And then there’s the superbly eclectic repertoire. Much of what TWCD performs at any given concert is choral music from the venerable European tradition. But there are the musical surprises that include everything from Billboard hits to Broadway show tunes to African folk songs … all presented without missing a stylistic beat. TWCD prides itself on being appropriate to each genre. “[It’s] something the chorus works hard at,” says Imthurn.

In keeping with its mission to promote the “strength, diversity and joy of women,” much of the material that the chorus presents is, one way or another, woman-centered. And it is one of the few organizations that gives voice, both literally and figuratively, to lesbian themes onstage. One of the upcoming projects that Imthurn is especially excited about for the 2010–11 season is a performance at the Texas Discovery Garden for Mother’s Day.

“What we’ll be doing for that particular performance is first [to] sing songs that honor mothers, grandmothers, parental-type figures, mentors, teachers and secondly [to sing songs] about nature,” Imthurn says. TWCD members will then encircle the garden’s butterfly sanctuary and 100 butterflies will be released.

TWCD also maintains a keen sense of social mission. It has actively raised awareness of issues pertaining to AIDS and domestic violence prevention; it also participates in fundraising for such organizations as AIDS LifeWalk, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

According to Imthurn, in everything it does, the chorus is clearly a group that takes the “art” in “heart” and brings it to a new level … which is what drew Imthurn — who started as a performer with TWCD in 2004 — to the group in the first place.

“What made me fall in love with the chorus was the heart of the chorus and the heart you can hear in the music,” she says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas