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Biden's $6T budget: Social spending, taxes on business
President Joe Biden is proposing a $6 trillion budget for next year that’s piled high with new safety net programs for the poor and middle class
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday unveiled a $6 trillion budget for next year that’s piled high with new safety net programs for the poor and middle class, but his generosity depends on taxing corporations and the wealthy to keep the nation’s spiking debt from spiraling totally out of control.

Biden inherited record pandemic-stoked spending and won a major victory on COVID-19 relief earlier this year. Friday’s rollout adds his recently announced infrastructure and social spending initiatives and fleshes out his earlier plans to sharply increase spending for annual Cabinet budgets.

This year’s projected deficit would set a new record of $3.7 trillion that would drop to $1.8 trillion next year — still almost double pre-pandemic levels. The national debt will soon breach $30 trillion after more than $5 trillion in already approved COVID-19 relief. As a result, the government must borrow roughly 50 cents of every dollar it spends this year and next.

With the deficit largely unchecked, Biden would use proposed tax hikes on businesses and high-earning people to power huge new social programs like universal prekindergarten, large subsidies for child care and guaranteed paid leave.

“The best way to grow our economy is not from the top down, but from the bottom up and the middle out,” Biden said in his budget message. “Our prosperity comes from the people who get up every day, work hard, raise their family, pay their taxes, serve their Nation, and volunteer in their communities.”

The budget incorporates the administration’s eight-year, $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal and its $1.8 trillion American Families Plan and adds details on his $1.5 trillion request for annual operating expenditures for the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

Acting White House budget chief Shalanda Young said the Biden plan “does exactly what the president told the country he would do. Grow the economy, create jobs and do so responsibly by requiring the wealthiest Americans and big corporations to pay their fair share.”

Biden’s budget is sure to give Republicans fresh ammunition for their criticisms of the new Democratic administration as bent on a “tax and spend” agenda that would damage the economy and impose a crushing debt burden on younger Americans. Republicans also say he’s shorting the military.

“It is insanely expensive. It dramatically increases nondefense spending and taxes” and would weaken the Pentagon, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, top Republican on the Budget Committee and a generally pragmatic GOP voice on spending bills. “There will be serious discussions about government funding. But the Biden budget isn’t serious and it won’t be a part of those discussions.”

Veteran GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, whose help is needed to pass annual agency budget bills, blasted Biden’s plan as “a blueprint for the higher taxes, excessive spending” that also “shortchanges our national security.”

Biden is a veteran of a long-gone Washington that fought bitterly in the 1980s and 1990s to wrestle the deficit under control. But there hasn’t been any real effort to stem the flow of red ink since a tea party-driven moment in 2011 that produced unpopular automatic spending cuts that were largely reversed over the ensuing decade.

Huge deficits have yet to drive up interest rates as many fiscal hawks have feared, however, and genuine anti-deficit sentiment is difficult to find in either political party.

The unusual timing of the budget rollout — the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend — indicates that the White House isn’t eager to trumpet the bad deficit news.

Under Biden’s plan, the debt held by the public would quickly match the size of the economy and soon eclipse record levels of debt relative to gross domestic product that have stood since World War II. That’s despite more than $3 trillion in proposed tax increases over the decade, including an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, increased capital gains rates on top earners and returning the top personal income tax bracket to 39.6%.

Like all presidential budgets, Biden’s plan is simply a proposal. It’s up to Congress to implement it through tax and spending legislation and annual agency budget bills. With Democrats in control of Capitol Hill, albeit barely, the president has the ability to implement many of his tax and spending plans, though his hopes for awarding greater increases to domestic agencies than to the Pentagon are sure to hit a GOP roadblock.

Some Democrats are already balking at Biden’s full menu of tax increases, imperiling his ability to pay for his ambitious social spending. And his plan to increase spending on domestic agencies by 16% while limiting defense to a 1.7% rise is politically impossible in the 50-50 Senate.

A top Senate ally, Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Thursday for bipartisan talks to start the annual appropriations bills. There’s incentive for both GOP defense hawks and liberal Democrats like Leahy to bargain since the alternative is a long-term freeze at current spending levels.

The Biden plan comes as the White House is seeking an agreement with Senate Republicans over infrastructure spending. But winning gains that would even begin to meet his social spending goals would require him to rely solely on support from his narrow Democratic majorities in Congress.

Biden’s spending proposals include numerous new programs to strengthen the “caring economy” with large programs aimed at child and elder care: $437 billion over 10 years to provide free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds and two years of free community college to all Americans. Also, $225 billion would subsidize child care to allow many to pay a maximum of 7% of their income for all children under age 5.

Another $225 billion over the next decade would create a national family and medical leave program, while $200 billion would make recently enacted subsidy increases under the Obama health care law permanent.

Tax hikes, Biden claims, would pay for his initiatives over the next 15 years, including $2 trillion from corporations from curbing overseas tax preferences and raising rates to 28%. Unrealized capital gains would be taxed at death, a problem for some Democrats, and the Biden plan would significantly stiffen IRS enforcement, which the budget claims would raise $700 billion over a decade otherwise lost to cheating and dodging.

Rep. Richard Neal, the top Democratic House tax writer, praised Biden’s new spending and tax cuts but was silent on his tax hikes, saying he’ll “consider the administration’s proposals carefully.”

Biden’s budget calls for a roughly 10% bump in foreign affairs funding from 2021, with top increases for climate change, global health and humanitarian aid. Biden’s $58.5 billion request would support the administration’s return to international groups, like the World Health Organization and others, from which former President Donald Trump had withdrawn.

Last year’s $3.1 trillion budget deficit under Trump more than doubled the previous record, as the coronavirus pandemic shrank revenues and sent spending soaring.

Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecelia Rouse told reporters Friday that the economy is likely to outperform the administration’s official prediction, forged in February, of 5.2% economic growth this year.

Service clubs help veterans, civilians alike
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As popular as the food is at the Hastings Disabled American Veterans club, for many patrons — as well as employees — the community fostered there is just as important.

“That is my favorite part of working here, actually,” said Beth Sedersten, who works as a bartender at the DAV. “I consider these people my friends. I have regulars who come in every weekend that I get to sit and chat with while I pour their drinks. They’re amazing people. Deb (Hansen, club manager) and I both talk and if we haven’t seen one of our regulars in on their normal day, we actually do check in on them to make sure they’re doing OK. We genuinely care about these people. It’s a really good atmosphere. It’s like a ‘Cheers’ bar. We know your name. We know your drink. A lot of times by the time you sit down we have it ready for you.”

She considers DAV regulars to be a second family for herself.

“We care about each other, and I think that’s the most special thing about this place,” Sedersten said.

A sign in front of the club at 302 S. Elm Ave. lists the daily specials.

“People love our wing night,” Sedersten said. “The homemade pizzas (on Thursday) are a big hit.”

There are rotating specials on Mondays and Fridays.

“There are a lot of favorite foods that people come in for,” she said. “Miss Deb is an amazing cook, and people love it because it’s like home cooking, but without having to cook at home.”

Service organizations like the DAV, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars long have served an important role in the lives of veterans.

Hastings DAV Chapter 9 was chartered Nov. 20, 1945.

The DAV conducts military funerals and has an honor guard, collaborating with local American Legion and VFW posts.

On Monday, the DAV will provide the noon luncheon — free to veterans — after the Memorial Day program at Parkview Cemetery.

Through the Hastings club’s lounge, the DAV raises funds that help Hastings-area veterans through various outreach programs and donations.

“We’re here to help the veterans and also take them to their appointments,” Hastings DAV Adjutant Rick Ingram said. “We’re here to make sure they get their benefits. If we can’t do anything for them we’ll send them to the Veterans Service Office.”

The DAV is a nonprofit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families, helping more than 1 million veterans in positive, life-changing ways each year. DAV’s services are offered at no cost to all veterans, their families and survivors.

The Hastings DAV contributed funding for the Grand Island state veterans cemetery.

The club raised funds to purchase the Ford Flex parked outside the lounge that DAV volunteers use to transport veterans to their Veterans Affairs appointments. Since that transportation vehicle was put into service in 2014, it has provided over 79,000 miles of transportation for area residents.

Across Nebraska, there are now 23 DAV transportation vehicles helping veterans get to VA medical appointments.

Just since hours were tracked in 2019, Hastings DAV members have donated more than 100,000 volunteer hours helping veterans with appointments, claims, legislation, fundraisers, burial details, parades and programs.

The Nebraska DAV helped veterans statewide claim more than $30 million in new benefits from July 2019 through December 2020. The DAV helps veterans file for benefits and appeal benefit decisions.

Many of the silver-headed regulars gathering around the DAV bar are veterans.

“We have quite a few proud veterans who wear their hats and their jackets in,” Sedersten said. “So that’s always really neat to get to see. It’s just a good place for everyone in the community to come hang out.”

Eating and drinking at the DAV isn’t just for veterans. The sign in front of the club listing specials also states “Everyone Welcome.”

“I think a lot of people don’t realize you don’t have to be a member to come here,” Sedersten said. “That’s one of our big things, we accept everyone. We’re always excited to have more people come down and hang out.”

That’s not only the case at the Hastings DAV.

Service clubs in smaller communities also welcome members of the community.

Geneva’s VFW club, at 1018 G St., is open Tuesday through Sunday.

“I think our role is pretty big in that area because we don’t make any money on our meals, really; it’s more of a community (service),” said Tom Hiatt, commander for Geneva VFW Post No. 7102. “The reason we do it is to keep it open for the community. Maybe people who are not local here don’t understand that it is open to the public. Anybody can come in. Many years ago it wasn’t open to the public. You had to be a member, or be with a member, but ours is completely open to the public.”

Grady Dennis of Sutton eats at the Geneva VFW almost daily, including during lunch on a recent Friday.

“This is a good place to eat and really, really good,” he said. “I like the atmosphere, just everything.”

The club reopened the first Tuesday in June 2020 after closing temporarily due to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

The VFW paid off its mortgage a couple years ago, and also recently finished renovations such as carpeting and painting the dining room and bar area.

“Our organization is doing pretty well,” Hiatt said. “A lot of that goes to the community, but we did have a member that left us a pretty good inheritance.”

Membership has been on the decline, however. The VFW currently has about 100 members, down from around 230 just 10 years ago.

“We’re losing a lot of our membership just due to death and old age, in the VFW,” he said. “What’s really holding the small-town clubs together is the Sons of the American Legion, I believe.”

That is an organization that includes the sons, grandsons and daughters of past service members.

“They are very involved in our community,” Hiatt said.

Spring conference focuses on Cather's newspaper, magazine work
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RED CLOUD — While most readers may associate author Willa Cather with her novels and short stories, many may not realize she also had a career as a journalist writing for newspapers and magazines when she was a young woman.

Cather’s work in connection with newspapers and magazines will be the focus of the 66th annual Willa Cather Spring Conference here June 3-5.

Theme for the conference is “Willa Cather and Popular Print Culture.”

Cather was born in Virginia in 1873, then moved to Webster County with her family as a girl. She grew up in and around Red Cloud, graduating from Red Cloud High School in 1890.

She then went on to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where she eventually served as managing editor of the student newspaper, The Hesperian. She graduated in 1895, then headed east to work in Pittsburgh and later New York as a journalist, arts critic and teacher.

Between 1891 and 1912, Cather worked for publications including the Nebraska State Journal and Lincoln Courier in Lincoln; Home Monthly Magazine and the Pittsburgh Leader in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and McClure’s Magazine in New York, where she worked from 1906-12 and was managing editor for part of that time. Meanwhile, her writings appeared in many other periodicals including Ladies’ Home Journal, the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, New England Magazine and the Pittsburgh Gazette.

Cather eventually gave up full-time newspaper and magazine work to focus on her fiction writing, which continued through her death in 1947. Her first novel, “O Pioneers!,” was published in 1913.

This year’s Cather conference, organized by The Willa Cather Foundation and National Willa Cather Center, will include a blend of events for participants onsite and/or online, drawing in participants from around the globe who may be constrained from travel by great distances or remaining restrictions related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.

Pre-registration for conference events is being handled online through the Cather website, www.willacather.org. Registration deadlines for some events come as early as Monday. For more information visit the website or call 402-746-2653.

Keynote speaker will be Radhika Jones, editor–in-chief at Vanity Fair Magazine. Jones worked previously as editorial director of the books department for The New York Times; as deputy managing editor of Time Magazine; as managing editor of The Paris Review; as editor at Artforum & Bookforum; and as managing editor at Grand Street.

Jones holds her doctorate from Columbia University in New York City, where she was a research assistant to American cultural critic and historian Ann Douglas. She studied the Victorian and 20th-century novel, postcolonial theory and criticism, and the history of English as a discipline.

The conference schedule follows:

June 3

11-11:45 a.m.: Newcomers’ meet-and-greet via Zoom

Noon to 1 p.m.: Spring Conference 101 (Zoom discussion), including an overview of Cather’s life and body of work

1:30-5:45 p.m.: Pre-recorded presentations of scholarly papers, followed by live question-and-answer periods

7-8:15 p.m.: Opening plenary session, virtual on the Whova platform and live in the Red Cloud Opera House auditorium. Speaker will be Jean Lee Cole, professor of English at Loyola University of Maryland. Cole, who was raised in Nebraska and Iowa, is a longtime university instructor and editor of the journal American Periodicals. In her teaching, she focuses on American literature as it pertains to race, gender, landscapes, and its place in culture.

June 4

9-10 a.m.: Scholarship awards and presentations (virtual)

10:30-11:30 a.m.: Teaching with Cather panel session, featuring pre-recorded presentations and a live Q&A period via Zoom

Noon to 1 p.m.: Ana McCracken Educator Scholarship recipients meet-and-greet (virtual)

1-2 p.m: Virtual gallery tour and artist talk with Karen Vierneisel, featuring a pre-recorded presentation and live Q&A via Zoom

2:30-5:15 p.m.: Scholarly paper presentations, pre-recorded but with live Q&A sessions via Zoom

5:30-6:30 p.m.: Virtual mixer for longtime donors and Legacy Society members

7-8:15 p.m.: Keynote address by Radhika Jones, live with Q&A via Zoom

June 5

8:30-8:45 p.m.: “Why is Grace Episcopal Significant?” (virtual)

9-9:45 a.m.: “Celebrating Willa Cather at Grace Episcopal, Willa Cather’s Home Church” (virtual)

9:30-10 a.m.: Coffee and kolace available, Red Cloud Opera House Gallery

10-11:30 a.m.: Guided prairie walk and readings, Willa Cather Memorial Prairie south of Red Cloud (on-site event)

11:30-11:45 a.m.: “What is ‘The Passing Show’?” (virtual)

1-2:30 p.m.: The Passing Show (virtual), panel discussion featuring Radhika Jones, Jean Lee Cole, Matthe Lavin, Kelsey Squire and Robert Thacker. Moderator is Charles Johanningsmeier, this year’s Spring Conference academic director

3 p.m.: Campaign for the Future tours of recently renovated Cather sites (in-person on the sites or virtual with recordings)

6 p.m: Virtual conference wrap party and fundraiser featuring the Animal Engine Theatre Co.’s world premiere presentation of “Henrietta Solway,” combining Cather short stories and novels into one epic story. The work was commissioned by the National Willa Cather Center.

The Willa Cather Foundation is a nonprofit organization with supporters throughout the world, headquartered in the historic Red Cloud Opera House and adjacent Moon Block Building.

The foundation and National Willa Cather Center exist to promote Cather’s legacy through education, historic preservation and the arts.

Postal Service looks to raise first-class stamp to 58 cents
The U.S. Postal Service wants to raises rates on first-class stamps from 55 cents to 58 cents as part of a host of price hikes and service changes designed to reduce debt for the beleaguered agency
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service wants to raise rates on first-class stamps from 55 cents to 58 cents as part of a host of price hikes and service changes designed to reduce debt for the beleaguered agency.

The request for the changes, which would take effect Aug. 29, was filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission. It includes price hikes for first-class mail, magazines and marketing mailers. The price hikes are part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year plan for the agency, which faces an estimated $160 billion in operating losses over the next decade.

DeJoy said the increases are necessary to “achieve financial sustainability and service excellence” and will allow the postal service to “remain viable and competitive and offer reliable postal services that are among the most affordable in the world.”

The Washington Post reported that the price hikes also are being accompanied by hundreds of layoffs of “management-level employees.” An email to postal officials seeking confirmation of the layoffs did not receive an immediate response.

The Post Office has grappled with declining revenues for years; in the past decade, overall mail volume has dropped 28 percent, and first-class letters have declined by 47 percent, according to the agency. It also faces fierce competition in the package delivery business from FedEx, UPS and Amazon.

DeJoy, a major donor to former president Donald Trump, became a figure of national controversy last year when he was publicly accused by Democrats of hampering mail service for political reasons. His attempted service cuts were seen as an extension of Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting.

After Trump’s defeat, DeJoy’s position was considered to be in jeopardy. The Senate has approved three new appointees to the Postal Service’s governing board, giving the nine-member board a Democratic majority.

However, DeJoy’s dismissal is not certain. Postal Service board Chairman Ron Bloom, a Democrat, told House lawmakers in February that DeJoy “in very difficult circumstances is doing a good job.”