Category Archives: Budget

Triangulation On Taxes

Time is running out on playing politics and real decisions are going to have to be made. As the President and Speaker play golf, the rest of Congress needs to decide how to raise the debt ceiling without completely leaving the poor and working families in the dust, and both sides know more revenue is going to have to come from somewhere.

Before going into the first of four meeting this week to discuss the debt ceiling, Majority Leader Eric Cantor said “We have hit the point at which we are at some really tough stuff. Big numbers, everything as I have said before is on the table except tax increases.”

As negotiations continue, Republicans are asking for over one trillion dollars in cuts that won’t include Medicare or Social Security. So that means other programs that involve grants for research, food stamps, public housing, and infrastructure, are potentially on the chopping block. The GOP is serious about the cuts, but they’re not evil beings who want to see people suffer.

In this time of economic ups and downs, taxes need to be raised in order to keep the programs running that are helping people stay afloat, and Republicans know this. Even though their most conservative supporters don’t want them to raise taxes on anyone, the party that was built by Abraham Lincoln does not want to be become the party who turned its back to the poor.

A New York Times article on Monday discussed lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations who hold assets abroad, where they will bring the money back and invest it. The amount of money is worth billions, some by single companies, and is sitting in accounts around the world where they are barely touched. Republicans have always been in favor of lowering corporate tax rates, but many Democrats have argued these companies do not pay any taxes even under the current rules.

However, this proposal seems to be gaining momentum as Senator Chuck Schumer is negotiating a deal, with both sides, for lowering the rates into a jobs package being put together in the Senate that focuses on infrastructure. According to the article on CNN “While the repatriation holiday alone is a non-starter for most Democrats, pairing it with an infrastructure program could marshal labor support. It’s an approach backed by former Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern, who’s emerged as the most vocal proponent of the tax holiday on the left.”

But while corporate tax rates might be lowered, a part of the deal will be to close the loopholes corporations currently use to avoid paying them in the first place. But no matter how you cut it, say it, or write it, closing loopholes is a tax increase.

Once the deal is cut, Eric Cantor will be talking about how cutting spending and lowering the overall corporate rate will create jobs. But cutting spending has nothing to do with creating jobs, in fact, it could make the entire situation worse. Right now states want to hire people to strengthen their infrastructure but they need the money to do it. But banks aren’t lending, and since the GOP refuses to spend any money, states are stuck.

On the second point, if the overall tax rate is lowered, the IRS wouldn’t be collecting as much as they would now if they enforced the rules already on the books. But if the deal passes they would be collecting more money because the rules will be easier to enforce, and presumably there will be more money to collect. But politicians could be taking a huge gamble. There is no guarantee these corporations will bring back the money, or European governments won’t lower their taxes even further so those corporations keep their money where it is.

And don’t forget, most of Europe’s taxes are collected through a Value Added Tax System (VAT) which allows them to collect money before these large corporations accountants and lawyers figure out how to hide it.

Democrats will declare this a victory too. Many liberal economists are trying to figure out ways for the government to put more money in people’s pockets. One idea has been to lower the amount being taken away out of people’s paychecks for Social Security and Medicare. So yes, economists do consider tax reductions a stimulus. But the only stimulus that takes place is through the money that people spend when they receive their cut, which right now isn’t much. In this climate they are more likely to save it or spend it on necessities like rent, healthcare, and food (like that last one did), which only had a small and short impact on the overall economy.

The Tax Code is a complex monstrosity that should be put into a shredder and thrown into a furnace. But let us digress, and come to the realization that even if this plan does come together, there is no way to determine how many jobs will be created or how much it will reduce the deficit. It is a possibility for a short term solution, that requires long term thinking, and no one can say how much good it will really do. In the end it is just another example of how current economic models and the advice given to politicians are defunct.

 

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Filed under Budget, Congress, debt, debt ceiling, Democrats, Economics, Eric Cantor, Political Economy, Politics, taxes, VAT

Living In The Present And Working For The Future

Sometimes it gets easy to blame the media when polls show the American people contradicting themselves on questions. But this time only the politicians have themselves to blame. The WSJ/NBC poll found 61 percent of American’s believed the budget should be cut, while only 31 percent said they believed the President and Congress should boost the economy even if it means an increase in budget deficits.

Having always being against increased spending and raising taxes, Republicans have had it easy. It’s always a lot easier to say “read my lips, no new taxes!” or “government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem” than “I am going to raise taxes, just not yours” or “sometimes government regulation is needed, and sometimes it’s not”. Campaigns are sometimes won if the voters do not understand what you plan to do in office or what you did while in office. If they don’t agree with you that’s one thing, but if they don’t understand what you’re about that’s a whole different problem.

Economists and policy wonks alike have made arguments (Robert Reich, Fareed Zakaria, and, not that I’m on their level, but yours truly) that the problem with the economy right now isn’t the supply of things, it’s the demand for them. No matter what income bracket American’s are in the majority of their money goes toward housing, followed either by insurance or healthcare, and then food. Things like Ipads, movies, music, days at the beach, are all luxuries many American’s can’t afford or are squeezing out of their pockets. But when the economy was moving in the 1990’s these were areas that did really well.

Even though most people were not earning more money, they were confident in the future which allowed them to spend money on extra outings or stuff that allowed them to have fun with their families and friends. But now the cost of gasoline is so high in some areas that driving to work is costing families most of their weekly budgets.

What both parties do a bad job of explaining is that economies are cyclical and money has to come from somewhere. Even in times when the economy was strong, families did not earn enough to pay for health insurance on their own. So the government had to step in and create policies that made sure families were secure in the long run so they could live in the present.

When the last round of tax breaks were passed, the “extra” money people thought they had was spent on necessities like food. None of the areas that would have a bigger effect on the economy like infrastructure or food stamps were even part of the bill. That being said, the biggest items economists claimed would have a simulative effect wasn’t even an increase of 2 percent, and in some cases it wasn’t even 1. These were also short bursts of growth, it wasn’t anything that would have secured families in the long run so their kids can go to college, eat, or get to work.

But when we see video’s of the President saying government is wasting our money, of course no one is going to believe that the government can do anything right. Whether he is right or wrong, it gives the Republican’s the ammunition they need to say there is no reason for you to be taxed. President Obama also likes to remind people we are coming out of what was almost Great Depression 2.0. Well, when FDR cut stimulus funds during the middle of his depression, the American economy went into another free fall. Plus with interest rates as low as they are, and Bernanke not hinting to raise them any time soon, more money into the economy won’t do any harm. In fact, all signs point to gains.

There is also no proof that raising taxes will hurt the economy either. In fact, it was after George H. W. Bush raised taxes the economy really started to move. It shows one thing has nothing to do with the other. But if policy makers are serious about making sure America stays number one, raising taxes on the rich to secure social programs and create a stimulus is a must.

I don’t think anyone is willing to bet right now they will be making enough money to retire in the future. No one ever has, which is why pensions and Social Security were created in the first place. The federal government needs to spend more money in exchange for short term debt. If they don’t more scenes, like the ones taking place Minnesota, will be more frequent around the country. More stimulus now means more people will be working, families can buy what they need, and more revenue can be raised in order to take care of the families in the future.

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Filed under America, Budget, Congress, Economics, economy, Families, Political Economy, Politics, President Obama, taxes

Democracy At Work?

On Sunday, Eric Cantor announced the second round of his “You Cut” website, where people are given three options of federal programs they would like to see taken out of the budget. In general, I’m in favor of open government initiatives in hopes it gets people to pay more attention, and realize it’s not as simple as choosing which programs to cut. But Cantor goes about opening up the process entirely the wrong way.

Instead of having an honest discussion on how to balance the budget, You Cut lists three things the Majority Whip would probably like to see gone anyway, without any discussion. Besides voting which program they would like to see cut, the only other option people have is to submit another program to cut in a small box explaining why it should be eliminated. I’m also not a conspiracy theorist, but I seriously doubt those suggestions are taken seriously. As someone who just created and researched websites, small boxes indicate to people they don’t have a lot of room, and if you really want more thoughtful suggestions you want to make it clear to your viewers they can say as much as they want. Instead, there is only a biased blurb about each program and why it’s bad, and there is no room for people to discuss why one program should be cut over the other.

So let’s take a look at the options presented to us. The first is to reduce the number of federal employees by 10 percent, saving $139 billion. The first thing that stands out to me, and how you know Ryan is making the numbers up, is he doesn’t even list the number of employees that will be cut. Just because someone is retiring, doesn’t mean that their job wasn’t important. All the water treatment plants around the country need to be inspected, and if land is to be used to for new or growing businesses, their needs to be an assessment to make sure it is safe. If there are problems in the future in either of these areas, people will ask why no one was on top of the situation.

The second option is to eliminate the Economic Development Administration (EDA) within the Commerce Department. Yes, this is one of the recommendations by the Bowles-Simpson commission. One of the reasons for the EDA, and the blurb points out, was to build roads across the country that would create jobs. Well, the last time I checked the country’s infrastructure was graded a D. So instead of throwing out things we know have worked in the past, why don’t we try and use them again in a time we need more jobs?

The last item on the website is about the Department of Energy’s Weather Assistance Program (WAP). Cantor, without posting any links, says that “The program generated headlines for significant instances of waste, fraud, and abuse, including paying for shoddy and ineffective workmanship and payment for work not actually done.” But it doesn’t discuss news outlets in Mississippi telling its viewers about the program and how it can help them. Or in the winter when Chuck Schumer touts how this program is keeping residents in upstate New York warm. The truth is this program helps millions of people around the country stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. By cutting it, Eric Cantor is telling all the people who apply to these grants, they should figure out how to pay for their energy bills themselves.

Obviously, as we have seen in recent events, there are ways politicians should and should not interact with their constituents. But the efforts people are taking to make the internet a platform where the government can interact with its people work long and hard hours figuring out ways to do so effectively. You Cut doesn’t accomplish any of the criteria those people are looking to accomplish. If Eric Cantor is serious about wanting to create a smart budget, he needs to figure out a better way to do it.

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Filed under Budget, budget ceiling, Congress, debt, economy, Eric Cantor, Government 2.0, Politics, Republicans

Blue Dogs Singing The Blues

In my desperate attempts to find news not about Anthony Weiner, I went to POLITICO’s website and found an article about Blue Dog Democrats, or I should say, the lack of Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. The Blue Dog Caucus was started in 1995 and was always a thorn on the side of liberal Democrats of the west coast and north east. Whenever it came to taxes, health care, and especially the farm bill, these moderates always seemed to have the upper hand.

Coming from the Dakota’s, Tennessee, Kentucky, and “Pennsyltucky,” these Congressmen and women would always use the same argument; our “rural” constituents don’t want more spending, so I can’t vote for this unless I can tell them how they will benefit from it. Or they would lay the guilt on the Democrats in safe seats and rant about how in order to keep the majority the liberals need to put together more moderate policy proposals. Well guess what, the Democrats did pass moderate legislation that benefited every single state in the union, and they still lost.

According to the article “The Blue Dog decline has been sharp, to put it mildly. Following the 2008 elections, the coalition counted 54 House members. When the dust settled from the 2010 midterms, just 25 remained.” Of course if they were real Republican’s it would be a lot easier for them to win reelection. They do come from more conservative districts, but I find it hard to believe Blue Dogs lost because of the policies that were passed between 2008 and 2010.

The hardest votes Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to get were for the bailout, stimulus, and health care, and had to work hard to convince the Blue Dogs. They were worried about keeping their job, and since the media and Republican’s hit the panic button whenever they get a chance, they have to go with the flow. The communications staff of House and Senate members (usually between 2-5 people) don’t have the time or tools to work on all the stories the media is covering. Most congressional offices have a policy of sticking to a limited amount of stories that make the member look good. But Blue Dogs can’t say the Democrat’s didn’t try to help them.

One of the biggest bills (and one that gets the least attention) was the Farm Bill in 2008, which is set to expire in 2012. It always carries huge subsidies for America’s least productive industry (1.2 percent of GDP) but there is never, ever, a debate of whether it should be passed. As far as the people who benefit from it are concerned, the more people who can benefit from it the better, and you can forget all that deficit stuff. The subsides in this law are with billions. I will also be writing a letter to Anheuser Busch. Since the law extended the tariffs for ethanol allowing local breweries to charge less to bars, I want to know why I still have to pay triple the price for a Budweiser.

Both Democrat’s and Republican’s need a wide variety of candidates in order to keep the gavel. The difference is while Democrat’s make a big deal out of their differences, Republican’s pretend there aren’t any. When the Democrats took back the House in 2006, there were stories coming out of Blue Dogs telling their leadership they were the reason they control the House. But the leadership should have reminded them about all the money they so the Blue Dogs could have their seat.

There will be Blue Dogs coming back in the next year, and yes it will help the Democrats get control of Congress, but that doesn’t mean the Democratic leadership should bow down to their every wish. If they wind up losing their seat it’s because their constituents didn’t see what their representative did for them. But if you look at what the GOP has accomplished this year (cut to Eric Cantor trying to fix his whip), and considering the seriousness of the issues coming up (cut to John Boehner crying), Democrats should stop singing the blues and replace it with rock and roll.

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Deficit, Democrats, Politics, Uncategorized

Did The Republicans Really Win?

Like all political junkies, I wake up early on Sunday’s to watch the political talk shows to see what news, if any, is going to be made. This week consisted of the budget battle and the last minute deal that was reached on Friday. So I’m watching Meet The Press and This Week, and the consensus among the reporters was that because the Republicans pushed the Democrats around, and got the cuts they were asking for, they were the winners. But then I wondered: what else is new? While getting an agenda through Congress can sometimes equal a political victory, this policy victory won’t equal a political victory for the GOP.

Collectively, Congress has always had low approval ratings. It doesn’t matter what they do, people watch the debates on C-SPAN and see the overblown rhetoric used by politicians on the news, and guess what..they don’t like it. It gets to a point where both parties are looking like they are trying to save face (which they are) and really aren’t doing what they were elected to do, represent the people. The way the negotiations took place this week didn’t give American’s any more confidence in their government, and instead, showed both sides to be spoiled brats.

We still don’t know what the particulars are of the $38 billion that was cut, but who cares?! All the Republicans cared about was appeasing the Tea Party and cried for more cuts after getting what they originally asked for. I’m sure when John Boehner met with Harry Reid and President Obama at the White House, it was pointed out to him that polls consistently showed the majority of Republicans wanted a compromise. But all we got was more rhetoric and statements that argued for more cuts because it will help the economy or because abortions are bad. Both arguments are the crutch Republicans turn to when they know they reached too far, and people are sick of it.

The Republican’s also liked to say elections have consequences, which is true. If the Democrats kept the House last year none of this would have happened. A Continuing Resolution would have been passed to keep spending levels where they were and no one could have complained. It’s been done many times before. Even though they got their sound bites out there, the GOP never came up with one policy solution to help end the situation. If the government shut down it would have been their fault because they are the ones complaining.

In the meantime, Democrats looked like they didn’t even know what they stood for. Even though they still control the Senate and White House they weren’t able to get a strong message out. The way Boehner was acting was a gift for them. When he says that Government is the problem, Democrats should have reminded him of TARP (which he was in favor of) and how the program has actually earned America money. It was probably just easier for him to support it while George W. Bush was going to have to sign it into law. While Democrats can’t totally claim it was their idea, there is no reason they can’t use it to argue against Boehner’s assertion that government programs were hurting the economy.

I’m not going to go as far to say the Democrats won, but it’s hard for me to believe the Republicans took the trophy. American’s want to see their government work for them, and when they see both sides bickering over an issue that really isn’t going to help anyone, it makes them feel they don’t have the right people representing them. As both parties tried in the aftermath to position themselves as “winning” they need to realize at some point they are going to get booed off the stage.

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Harry Reid, John Boehner, Obama, Politics, Triangulation

The Politics of Budgets

Did you know that America doesn’t actually have a budget? It’s true. Congress does not pass one big bill where all the spending is voted on. Instead, all the appropriations are voted on separately and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) adds them all up. There are so many convoluted ways in which Congress creates America’s spending it is no wonder how it has a debt of thirteen trillion dollars.

Every year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reports to the President on spending levels, the debt, and what economists are predicting for the coming year. After this analysis is complete, the President makes his priorities known. Decisions are made on what the tax levels should be, where spending should be cut, and where spending should be increased. Then the president starts pushing these ideas at the State of the Union address.

The CBO and OMB can sometimes come up with different numbers for how much a program can cost, how much the debt will be, or how much the economy will grow, but there usually isn’t that big of a difference. The CBO is a non-partisan office, and because of that, their recommendations carry a lot of weight. During the healthcare debate, the CBO estimated that if the healthcare bill passed Congress it would reduce the deficit. The Democrats jumped on this and the Republicans had no reason or will to fight this fact. Of course, they still managed to find other things to complain about.

In Congress, the appropriations committees are filled with members who have a direct interest in seeing money going to their districts. For instance, the House committee on Science and Technology (which oversees NASA), had to deal with one of President Obama’s priorities this past year. The president wanted to cut NASA’s budget in order to reduce the deficit. But the members of that committee refused to let it happen, and it didn’t. NASA was still fully funded for years to come, and for the members whose constituents didn’t have a direct effect on the vote, they got a big IOU from those that it did. Needless to say, it is very hard to reduce the deficit this way.

One of the most effective ways the deficit was reduced occurred was when President Nixon was in office. When Nixon was living in the White House, he had the ability to cut spending that he did not think was necessary. Similar to a line-item veto but after the budget was passed. However, while he was in office Democrats controlled Congress, and eventually took this ability away from him, and claiming he wasn’t cutting funding in Republican districts.

Before Obama introduces his budget and sets his priorities at the State of the Union, Congress is going to have to vote on its debt ceiling. A lot of pundits are making a big deal out of this because the debt was a big issue in the last election. But this same vote has happened every year for as long as there has been a deficit. And every year the minority party blames the majority party for increasing the deficit. But really, the ceiling is based on the coming years interest on what the government owns. So if a member voted for an appropriation last year that the CBO said would increase the deficit, they only have themselves to blame.

But that does not make it any less important for the debt ceiling to be raised. If it is not, the Treasury will be forced to default on the loans from China and other countries around the world. If you thought the financial crisis was bad, this will be one-hundred times worse. If the United States defaults (which amounts to claiming bankruptcy) the entire world economy will go into an unprecedented tail spin. It won’t be just where people invested that will be hurt, this time it will be all the businesses that borrowed money from banks (which is all of them) from all around the world.

If John Boehner wants to give a fight about this, he will be playing a very dangerous game. I know he will be all high and mighty after Pelosi hands him the gavel, but unless he wants to be responsible for what I just described, he will raise the roof.

 

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Filed under appropriation, bills, Boehner, Budget, budget ceiling, Congress, debt, Deficit, Economics

>Building A House

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Remember when Republicans were saying: government should act like American households when it comes to its budget? It was a great line. Short, easy to understand, and appealed to the GOP base (aka Tea Baggers) which allowed them to get excited. It then culminated with the recent shellacking this past election. The household analogy was used time and time again even though it was false. While it would be great to be able to print our own money (or if money grew on trees), we gave that right to the federal government when we ratified the Constitution.

But because elections have consequences, the two parties will be fighting to show who is most fiscally conservative. Obama announced today that he will be issuing a two year pay freeze that will save the federal government two billion during current fiscal year, twenty-eight billion over next five years, and sixty billion over ten years. While it sounds good on paper, it’s really a political move. It’s worth pointing out that it won’t really be known how much is being saved until President Obama is out of office. And it’s no accident. That way the White House can keep citing those numbers as a way to say the deficit is being reduced. Also, the pay of federal employees isn’t the problem, it’s the benefits they get that is driving costs up. That’s why Defense Secretary Robert Gates is looking at ways to raise funds for the militaries Tricare. Of course, the new health care law will help maintain some of those costs, but apparently most of the new GOP governors won’t enact the policy in their states.

This pay freeze announcement comes on the same day that several liberal think tanks are unveiling plans that are trying to tackle the federal deficit, all of which cut programs by federal agencies. In the meantime, government bureaucrats are always lobbying to keep their programs running. Think of it as an annual review where you have to tell your boss what you did this past year. You have to go through everything to show what you did while having to worry about keeping your job. Government agencies worry about the same thing, except it’s all the time. They will give grand presentations, trips, gifts, and anything else that is legal to make sure they get the funding they think they need. While Obama doesn’t have a J. Edgar Hoover problem, he still needs to make sure his employees are happy.

And do I even need to go into the special interest lobbyists like Jack Abramoff? There are plenty of those guys too. But whether you know it or not, you too have someone lobbying for you. For instance, do you want to save the environment? There are plenty of environmental groups out there who talk to members of Congress and their staff every day. Just look up The Environmental Defense Fund and read about how the Environmental Protection Agency was created.

One of the most contentious issues when it comes to the budget is taxes. No one likes them, and if a politician ever talks about them, he/she better say they will be lowered. But if you want a balanced budget someone’s gotta pay for it.

The White House is right on this one, extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and let them expire for the rich. When people earning over a million dollars get a tax cut, they don’t spend the money, and it does nothing for the economy. What makes raising taxes even more volatile this year is that state governments have had to raise their taxes over the last four years. So if Congress does nothing, the people who need help the most will be giving more than they can. Middle and working class Americans need the break and will spend it on the items they need to live, which will also help the economy. They deserve the extension.

It is baffling me how many Republican candidates are considering running for President in 2012. Just today John Bolton (who has never run for public office before) is thinking about running for President. Political Action Committees are already in the first couple of primary states for Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin will probably run as an average Joe just to make a few more million. In the meantime, decisions need to be made, and the people who actually have to balance their budget are hurting the most.

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Filed under Budget, Deficit, President Obama, Public Policy, Republicans, Salary Freeze, Sarah Palin