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Deficit

Deficit

What Is the Government Deficit?


A deficit is the difference between a reference amount and the actual sum of money. In the government, the deficit is difference during a fiscal year between receipts received and the outlays. Receipts can include money received from revenue such as taxes while outlays are things that the government spends money on, which can be on-budget or off budget.
When looking at a government’s deficit, there are two important elements: the structural element and the cyclical element. Together these two elements make up the total observed budget deficit.
Structural deficit: Any debt that is left over during a business cycle when the tax levels are much lower than the general spending level of the government. 
Cyclical deficit: The additional required borrowing during a point in a business cycle where levels of unemployment are high, meaning high expenditures and low revenue.
The government’s deficit can be discussed with or without interest. The total deficit or just the deficit often includes both the debt’s interest as well as the spending itself. Meanwhile, the primary deficient is just the difference between government spending and the total revenue of different taxes.

Solutions for the Deficit
There are different ways to modify the government’s deficit. The most common suggested solution is to either reduce any excess spending by the government or to raise taxes. Structural deficits occur when either the spending is too high or revenue from taxes is too low. Modifying either or both of these things can help reduce the deficit.
When tax raises are considered a possible solution, they can be raised evenly across the board, or with consideration of what groups can better handle a tax increase. For example, those with higher income, longer life expectancies, or those who have previously received larger tax cuts in the past may be targeted. Businesses or government agencies can also be targeted in a specific fashion as well.
Another solution is to make changes to the tax code. Changing the code can result in less tax cuts or increases in tax revenue. For example, allowing for fewer deductions of closing various tax loopholes are possible ways to effectively produce the same result as increasing taxes.
The government may also choose to refinance some of their debt. The government makes annual debt service payments based on their overall public debt, which can include both principle and interest. By refinancing, it allows the government to set us debt service payments that are lower than the original amount, which reduces expenditures by the federal government without actually cutting spending.

The “Fiscal Cliff” will Certainly Affect States’ Budgets

The “Fiscal Cliff” will Certainly Affect States’ Budgets


The fiscal cliff is the expiration of federal tax provisions and implementation of spending cuts scheduled for January 2013.  If the fiscal cliff occurs, states—especially those connected to the federal tax code and federal spending—will see fewer federal deductions.  A recent report by Pew Center on the States, titled The Impact of the Fiscal Cliff on the States, shows how scheduled federal tax changes will affect states.  


The scheduled tax changes include about $393 billion (or 80 percent) of the fiscal cliff’s total amount.  If federal taxes increase, states tied to the federal tax code will see increases in state revenue as well.


Here’s how the fiscal cliff affects states:


•    25 states and D.C. would see higher state tax revenues from lower federal deductions
•    30 states and D.C. would see increases in revenue from tax credits after federal tax credits are reduced
•    23 states would see deductible businesses expenses expire and result in higher taxable corporate income in the coming term
•    33 states can collect more estate tax revenue by 2013
•    6 states allow citizens to deduct federal income taxes from state taxes, which would reduce state tax revenue in the coming term


The scheduled spending cuts equal $98 billion of the fiscal cliff.  $49 billion of the spending cuts are required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.


If the fiscal cliff occurs, the federal deficit is reduced by $491 billion.  Yet, the Congressional Budget Office reports the fiscal cliff would cause significant economic digression in 2013.  


Anne Stauffer, the Pew project director, stated: “Given the uncertainty about whether any or all of the policies in the fiscal cliff will be addressed temporarily or permanently, it is important to understand that the effects of the different components will vary across states.”


Source: Pew Center on the States

Virgin Islands Senator Indicted for Multiple Types of Fraud

Virgin Islands Senator Indicted for Multiple Types of Fraud


On November 8, 2012, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of the Virgin Islands announced that Senator Alvin Williams, Jr. was indicted for working with others to engage in bribery, mail fraud, and wire fraud.  Two legislative members, Garry Sprauve and Kim Blackett, were indicted as well.  


The indictment claims the following:


Williams gave the commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works a bribe of $10,000 on September 5, 2009 to grant work by Ace Development Inc in the future.  Williams had interest in the company.  


Williams gave bribes to developers for the Raphune Vista housing project in St. Thomas from February 21, 2007 to November 8, 2011.  He also promoted legislation for the developers so Ace Development Inc could provide rented equipment to the developers.  


Williams received a bribe of $10,000 for supporting legislation for the Tutu Park wind turbine project from September 1, 2008 to September 31, 2008.  He is suspected of receiving $25,000 on September 22, 2008 as well.  


From 2006 to December 2011, Williams and other staff members were suspected of taking campaign contributions and using the funds for personal expenditures.  He accepted bribes from September 2010 to July 28, 2011 for increasing the salaries of staff members as well.  


Lastly, Williams and other staff members are suspected of engaging in wire fraud so Williams could pursue online degrees from the University of Phoenix.  The defendants reportedly defrauded the Virgin Islands government to use public funding for the non-legislative education.  


Williams faces up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.  The indictment is asking for $1,129,365.76 in restitution.  


U.S. Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe stated, “It is a breach of the public trust for public officials to use their office for personal gain.  I encourage anyone with direct knowledge of illegal acts or who has any information concerning corruption in the Virgin Island to call the Public Corruption Task Force at (340) 715-6516.”


Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation
 

Baylor University Medical Center to Pay over $900,000

Baylor University Medical Center to Pay over $900,000


On November 27, 2012, the Department of Justice announced that Baylor University Medical Center, Baylor Health Care System, and HealthTexas Provider Network agreed to pay the federal government $907,355 for submitting false claims to Medicare.


False claims were also submitted to the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (TRICARE) for radiation oncology services.  The radiation is highly sophisticated and uses tools for extreme precision to protect surrounding organs.  


The United States claimed that Baylor University filed the improper claims from 2006 to May 2010. During this time, they doubled their claims to Medicare for radiation treatment plans, billed more expensive services when a less expensive service was needed, billed services without providing documentation of the services or medical records, and more.  


Stuart F. Delery with the Justice Department’s Civil Division stated: “Physicians who participate in Medicare must bill for their services accurately and honestly.  The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that federal health care funds are spent appropriately.”  


Sarah R. Saldaña, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, stated: “This civil recovery is a testament to the efforts of the Department of Justice to hold all parties, regardless of position, accountable for the submission of improper claims to federal health care programs.”


The Civil Division for the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, the FBI, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Services helped during the settlement with Baylor.  


The settlement was possible because of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) that was created by the Justice Department and Department of Health and Human Services in May of 2009.  


Source: Department of Justice
 

Federalism

Federalism

A Look at Federalism in the United States


In the United States, government is recognized on both the state and national level. This relationship between the levels is known as federalism. While federalism in the United States responds to the political atmosphere, there still a balance between state and national government. 
The first American governments after the revolutionary war did not use federalism. Prior to the U.S. Constitution, America was made up of colonies that were under the rule of England. While these colonies did cooperate with each other, particularly during the Revolutionary war, they were essentially self-sustained bodies of government.
The idea of combining these smaller divisions to centralize government as is found in federalism was heavily criticized. These colonies had fought against the oppression of England, which had a central government, similar to the national government suggested in the U.S. Constitution. However, soon after declaring independence, it was clear that individual states would not be able to sustain themselves without creating some form of a central government 
Federalism helped unify the states without destroying all of their governing powers. For example, a centralized government allows the states to use the same currency. However, states would still be able to set their own laws as well, for example, whether a death penalty would be used in the state.
The U.S. Constitution was drafted, which carefully defined just how federalism would be and the relationship between the state and national government. It also worked to limit the national government’s power while protecting the rights of citizens.
While the type of federalism in the United States has varied throughout American history, there are still certain powers that will always remain so by the authority of the U.S. Constitution.
Reserved Powers: These are specifically for just the state, such as police powers, licensing, education, conducting elections, regulating intrastate commerce, and health regulations.
Granted Powers: These powers, sometimes called the enumerated or express powers are listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. These consist of the powers that the federal government have. Some examples include regulating commerce, coining money, declaring war, establishing post offices, collecting taxes and making legislation that enforces the Constitution.
Concurrent Powers: Powers that are held by both the state and federal government, for example taxation, setting up courts, creating and enforcing laws, constructing and maintaining roads, and certain spending.
While the powers of both the state and national governments are defined in the U.S. Constitution, there can be shifts to the balance in federalism.
For example, in the late 18th century, Americans were more concerned on strongly limiting the Federal government, but doing so made the Federal government effectively useless. It was necessary move away from the Federalist papers and to create a new government through the U.S. Constitution since states could not be expect to have objective and educated views on a national level.
The Federal government was given more power in the 19th century by Justice John Marshall who felt that the U.S. Constitution did not create defined layers of the government and portrayed this view in many of his rulings, such as how the Commerce Clause could be used by the Federal government as seen in Gibbons v. Ogden.
Justice Marshall’s attempt and strengthening the national government in federalism was slightly undone by Justice Taney, his successor who would felt that the national government was limited exclusively to the enumerated powers while the states would receive everything else.
Since the Regan administration up until the beginning of the 21st century, there was a push to return powers to the states from the Federal government, particularly through court decisions that evaluated the Federal government’s powers through gun possession, police powers, the Commerce clause, and agriculture.

Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against City of San Jacinto

Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against City of San Jacinto


On November 13, 2012, the Justice Department announced that it filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of San Jacinto in California for violating the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.  The lawsuit was filed for the city’s treatment of group homes for disabled persons.  


According to the complaint, the city has made it extremely difficult for group homes of people with disabilities to remain and operate in the city.  The zoning codes currently state groups homes that are not required licensing from the state—and even some licensed homes—are not allowed zoning in the city.  


The complaint also alleges that the city targeted housing for people with disabilities during a sweep in November of 2008.  During the sweep, armed officers and deputies in uniform showed up to multiple residences, interrogated the residents with disabilities, and made them fill out a questionnaire intended for people with mental disabilities.  


The lawsuit occurred after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received a large number of complaints from operators of group homes around the city.  The Justice Department is asking the court to make the city stop enforcing the discriminatory laws and make reasonable accommodations for all group homes.  The Justice Department is also seeking monetary damages for victims of the civil rights violations.  


Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, stated, “No person should be denied an equal opportunity for housing in his or her community, or suffer harassment or intimidation, because he or she is a person with a disability.  The Justice Department is committed to preventing discriminatory treatment of people with disabilities.”


André Birotte, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Central district of California, stated, “This suit is part of my office’s continuing efforts, in partnership with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, to ensure that all residents of the Central District are accorded the rights to which there are entitled under the law.”


Source: U.S. Department of Justice
 

Structure of the U.S. States

Structure of the U.S. States

The Structure of the U.S. States
 
The United States is made up of 50 federated states that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this, an individual can be a citizen of both the State and the Federal entity simultaneously. This comes from the United States Constitution, which gives power to the both the state and federal government.
The U.S. state’s power is specifically delegated by the constitution in the 10th amendment of the Bill of Rights which says that any power that is not given to the federal government or is then received by the States or to its people, as long is the power has not been specifically prohibited to the states.
Traditionally, the 10th amendment leaves certain things to be regulated by the U.S. states such as:
• Public health
• Public education
• Transportation
• Water supply
• Electrical grids
• Local law enforcement
• Roads
• Telecommunications
• Intrastate commerce
With certain amendments and interpretations of the Constitution, there has been an increasing trend of the federal government playing a stronger role.
U.S. states have the power to organize their governments however they see fit as long as it is constitutionally sound and it is a republic.  Most states have used a three-branch system that imitates that of the Federal government, with an executive, legislative, and a judiciary branch.
• The executive branch of a U.S. state is led by the governor, who is the chief executive. He leads the Cabinet of the State in states that have a plural executive and has the power to veto legislation.
• The legislative branch of a U.S. state is usually a bicameral legislature (the exception being Nebraska’s unicameral legislature). There is the state Senate, which is the upper house, and the lower house which can be the State Assembly, House of Delegates, or the House of Representatives.
• The organization of the judiciary branch can vary between U.S. states, but their purpose is to still protect an individual’s Constitutional rights through due process. Many states have different levels of courts, from trial level, to the first appellate, and the state Supreme Court. With the exception of Louisiana which uses civil or code law, all U.S. states use common law.
The U.S. started with just the original 13 and since then has expanded to 50 states. Article 4 Section 3 of the Constitution points out that while new states can be admitted into the Union by Congress, the new state cannot be made up from jurisdictions of other states, or the combination of multiple states, whether partially or fully, unless all involved state legislatures and Congress agree to it. However, most states have been incorporated after being a territory organized under Article 4 section 3’s Territorial Clause.

French Lawmakers Approve Same-Sex Marriage Bill

French Lawmakers Approve Same-Sex Marriage Bill


Same-sex marriage in France is now one step closer to legality, as lawmakers in the lower house of parliament approved a bill that extends the right to adopt and marry to same-sex couples.


The initiative secured approval in the National Assembly by a vote of 329 to 229 and 10 abstains. Before it can be placed into law, the bill must still go before the Senate; if passed, it would formally mark the most critical advancement for French gay rights advocates in more than 10 years.


France is not the only nation debating the polarizing issue of gay marriage, as UK lawmakers also took a big step last week toward legalizing the measure when they appropriated the second reading of a bill in the House of Commons.


While a significant number of Parliament members backed the legislation, which is backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, the push has prompted widespread controversy and rebellion within Cameron’s conservative party. The bill in the United Kingdom must go through several more stages before it can officially be made into a law. The Church of England, and other religious institutions, are among the organizations vehemently opposed to UK legislation.


Extending the right to adopt and marry to homosexual couples in France was one of President Hollande’s electoral pledges during his campaign efforts last year.


France’s National Assembly, which is dominated by Hollande’s Socialist Party, approved the most critical article of law with an overwhelming majority earlier this month. The left, which also controls the majority of the Senate, faces stiff opposition from social conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church as huge numbers routinely turn out for protest marches in the nation’s capital of Paris.
The archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, claims that offering marriage and adoption to same-sex couples would be viewed as a transformation of marriage that would impact everyone. The bishop went onto say that failing to recognize gender difference within the union of marriage would be a deceit that would damage the foundations of society and lead to widespread acts of discrimination.


That said, the legislation has secured wide backing from gay rights advocates, including from the French, gay, lesbian and transgender organization Inter-LGBT who claims that legislation would be a significant step forward for France in terms of equality of rights.


A law legalizing civil unions in France was passed in 1999 under a previous Socialist government. Known in the nation as PACS, the civil union agreement may be entered into by straight or homosexual couples and offers many but not all of the rights of a traditional marriage.
 

Jobless Benefits May be Cut by 10%

Jobless Benefits May be Cut by 10%

 

Forced federal budget cuts initiated by Congress could cost the jobless up to 10% in their unemployment benefits. This proposal would take place March 1st if the budget proposal passes.
 
Aside from unemployment benefits, many other safety net programs, including Medicaid and food stamps, are protected from the $85 billion in forced spending cuts. 
 
The unemployment benefits vulnerable to the budget cuts are those provided by the federal government. These federal benefits kick in when your state benefits, which last up to a maximum of 26 weeks, are exhausted. Eligible workers currently can collect these federal benefits for up to 47 weeks. Federal unemployment benefits, which average roughly $300 a week, act as an emergency measure. Congress has been offering said benefits since 2008 as a stop-gap to protect the millions of Americans struggling to find new employment in a difficult economy.
 
The forced spending cuts are set to take effect next month to trim the program’s funding. If the budget goes through, recipients of unemployment benefits could lose an average of nearly $400 through the end of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30th. 
State benefits would not be impacted by the proposed budget cut. 
 
An estimated 3.8 million Americans are receiving federal unemployment benefits. The reduction in individual employment benefits will vary based on where the individual lives. This variance arises because states are scrambling to adjust their unemployment system if Congress fails to avoid these cuts. The longer a state waits; the next unemployment check a person receives could be very small. 
A number of the proposed federal cuts will not be felt immediately, but the reduction of unemployment benefits will surely ripple through the economy at a fairly rapid pace. 
 
The proposed budget cuts would also slash the resources an unemployed person can utilize at job centers, as funding aimed at assisting disabled workers, disadvantaged youth and low-skilled adult workers is set to be sliced. Veterans’ transition assistance programs, which aid military personnel locate jobs when they return from deployment, would also be negatively affected if the proposal goes through. 
 
Moreover, states will also lose a portion of their funding to administer the unemployment benefit program, which could result in slower processing claims and widespread staff layoffs.  
 

Throng of Hundreds of Thousands March in Puerto Rico against Gay Rights

Throng of Hundreds of Thousands March in Puerto Rico against Gay Rights

 

Roughly 200,000 religious Christians marched to voice their anti-gay sentiment in Puerto Rico on Monday afternoon. The march is considered the largest anti-gay demonstration in the commonwealth’s history.
 
Forming around San Juan’s Capitol building, hundreds of thousands religious Puerto Ricans halted traffic while defending the traditional heterosexual marriage concept. Traffic was halted for miles as the throng protested against the premise of granting gay couple’s legal rights. 
 
The mass demonstration, which took over three weeks to organize, attracted protested from all sects of the Christian religion who vehemently oppose same-sex marriage. And while many of these religious individuals simply rallied against the premise of same-sex marriage, a decent percentage were openly opposed to granting any rights to homosexual couples, including protections against violence. 
 
The protest comes in light of efforts by some Puerto Rican lawmakers who are seeking to pass an amendment to the nation’s Domestic Violence Act 54, which would provide protection rights for all couples, gay or straight. 
 
Puerto Rican Senator Luis Vega Ramos claims that the measure is essential because it provides justice and equal access to protection from intimidation, assault or domestic violence. However, in Puerto Rico, massive opposition to the movement could prevent homosexual couples from receiving any sort of protection against acts of violence.
 
The throng of protestors, who blasted gospel music and brandished large posters and signs, alleged that the proposed law would discriminate against the church. 
 
“We are worried that the legislation will discriminate against the church, and we are concerned that public education will be used to damage our children because it presents them with behaviors that their parents don’t support,” said Pastor Cesar Muniz, a spokesman for the nation’s religious group Puerto Rico for the Family. 
 
Monday’s protest marks the largest anti-gathering rally in the history of Puerto Rico. The rally deeply offended members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as many LGBT members held small counters protests that, unfortunately, went unnoticed. 
 
A number of Puerto Rican legislators have expressed opposition to same-sex marriages while still fighting for violence protections for gay couples. The American commonwealth remains largely divided over the issue, especially among the religious communities.