America’s Dilemma: Teachers or Food

Remember that important NYT story from early this year describing the growing number of Americans whose sole income consists of food stamps?

About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times. In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid — no welfare, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.

Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card.

Well, months after that report came out, some genius in the Obama Administration, according to a very shrill David Obey, proposed offsetting funds to keep teachers in the schools by cutting food stamps. Said genius wanted to cut these people’s only safety net so Arne Duncan could go on privatizing our schools.

The secretary of Education is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted .… So, when we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal.

So as far as I’m concerned, the secretary of Education should have been happy as hell. He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He’s got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together.

It blows my mind that the White House would even notice the fight [over Race to the Top]. I would have expected the president to say to the secretary, “look, you’re getting a good deal, for God’s sake, what this really does is guarantee that the rest of the money isn’t going to be touched.”

We gave [Duncan] $4.3 billion in the stimulus package, no questions asked. He could spend it any way he wants. … I trusted the secretary, so I gave him a hell of a lot more money than I should have.

My point is that I have been working for school reform long before I ever heard of the secretary of education, and long before I ever heard of Obama. And I’m happy to welcome them on the reform road, but I’ll be damned if I think the only road to reform lies in the head of the Secretary of Education.

We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. … Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change. [emphasis original]

As a reminder, here’s David Dayen’s summary of the squabble between Obey and Duncan.

One of [the amendments in the war spending resolution] included this social spending money, comprised of:

$10 billion for an Education Jobs Fund, $4.95 billion for Pell Grants, $701 million for border security, $180 million for innovative technology energy loans, $163 million for schools on military installations, $142 million in additional Gulf Coast oil spill funding, $50 million in emergency food assistance, and $16.5 million to build a new soldier processing center at Fort Hood.

You can read the full summary from David Obey of the Appropriations Committee here. There were some underlying provisions from the Senate war supplemental that appropriated funds to disaster relief, victims of Agent Orange, mine safety, the oil spill, and other areas.

This money in this amendment is entirely paid for through rescissions in various programs, and actually reduces the deficit by $439 million. But in order to pay for the education jobs fund and save 140,000 teachers, House appropriators dipped into $500 million of the Race to the Top fund. Arne Duncan has been sitting on $4 billion dollars in stimulus money for over a year so he can bribe states into changing their education policies. In the meantime, state budgets are in absolute crisis and hundreds of thousands of teachers could lose their jobs. Read more

Torture Appropriations

Greg Sargent suggests the error revealed today in the CIA briefing list–that the CIA claims an appropriations staffer attended but he didn’t–is no big deal.

This, obviously, is not the biggest foul-up in the world.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. We don’t know.

Remember what Nancy Pelosi said about the way the Bush Administration used the appropriations committees to bypass the intelligence committees in Congress.

And that is why when people are talking about – whether they are talking about torture, or whether they are talking about wiretapping, or whatever you are talking about, we really have to have a change now in how Congress can do its oversight, because we expect and demand the truth.


It used to be the Intelligence Committee – you couldn’t appropriate unless the Intelligence Committee authorized. It was almost effectively an appropriation. Over time the Intelligence in the Bush years became part of supplementals so there was absolutely no sharing of information. They would just stick the request in the supplementals. We said, "Okay, if they are going right to appropriations, we will have members of the Intelligence Committee serve in this hybrid committee, part Intelligence, part Appropriations." [my emphasis]

According to Pelosi, with both the illegal wiretap program and the torture program, the Bush Administration would work through appropriations subcommittees, thereby gaining the only kind of Congressional approval they gave a damn about–purse string approval–while avoiding any intelligence oversight.

And the briefing in question was, after all, an appropriations briefing. As I’ve discussed, there are three, total, appropriations briefings listed in the CIA briefing list. 

October 18, 2005: Interrogation techniques briefed. Ted Stevens, Thad Cochran

September 19, 2006: Briefing on full detainee program, including the 13 EITs. Bill Young, John Murtha (John Murtha did not stay for EIT portion of briefing)

October 11, 2007: The Director discussed the number of detainees subjected to EITs and discussed EITs. John Murtha

The October 2005 briefing appears to have been, among other things, an attempt to coordinate with two Republicans who voted against the McCain amendment and who had already been named to the conference committee on the overall funding bill. Sure, they may have snuck something else through Toobz and Cochran, but there is a reasonably transparent explanation for what the Administration was doing, in October 2005, talking to the appropriators about torture rather than the intelligence committees. They were watering down the McCain Amendment.

Read more

David Obey: Yet More Proof the CIA Briefing List Is Totally Wrong

According to House Appropriations Chair David Obey, the CIA interrogation list records a Democratic Appropriations staffer attending a September 19, 2006 torture briefing, when all the staffer did was walk John Murtha and Bill Young to the briefing, but was turned away at the briefing.

In light of current controversy about CIA briefing practices, I was surprised to learn that the agency erroneously listed an appropriations staffer as being in a key briefing on September 19, 2006, when in fact he was not.  The list the agency released entitled “Member Briefings on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs)”, shows that House Appropriations Committee defense appropriations staffer Paul Juola was in that briefing on that date.  In fact, Mr. Juola recollects that he walked members to the briefing room, met General Hayden and  Mr.Walker, who were the briefers, and was told that he could not attend the briefing.   We request that you immediately correct this record.  

This is particularly significant given that Murtha, according to the CIA list, did not stay for the part of the briefing on torture. Obey’s complaint is also interesting given that this is one of a number of briefings for which CIA claimed details on the briefing–such as who attended–were "not available."

But don’t worry. I’m sure Pete Hoekstra will be out today claiming that it’s John Murtha’s fault that Dick Cheney ordered CIA to torture. 

But What about Congressional Oversight?

In addition to showing how the Iran hawks have evaded oversight over their Special Forces war plan against Iran, Sy Hersh seems intent on generating pressure on Democrats to withhold funding now being used to start a covert war with Iran.

Hersh notes that the Gang of Eight has been briefed on the CIA–but not the Special Forces, assassination of high value targets–part of the plan.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

I love how Hersh feels the need to remind Democrats they are in the majority.

Then, after recalling all the opposition to Administration plans from within the military, Hersh returns to Democrats’ failure to prevent policies they oppose.

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Now, the problems with oversight seem to focus on two things. First, the Democrats once again got punked by Administration lies when, three years ago, David Obey backed off an attempt to withhold funding for such operations.

On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. Read more