Category Archives: Congress

Winning on the Debt Ceiling?

As the debt ceiling debacle continued in Washington, it didn’t seem like it was about the American people as much as it was about the coming election. Both Democrats, Republicans, and members of the Tea Party, were fighting tooth and nail to protect their priorities. Since they hear how hard it is to find a job from their constituents they were doing everything they could to protect theirs. That meant no compromise, no reform on entitlements, and no new taxes. In the meantime, the economy continued to spiral and American’s felt they were left without a government.

Whenever I go out with friends, politics is the last thing I bring up. No one ever wants to talk about it and strong emotions are always loudest which brings down the mood. But this week was different. After three weeks of absolute absurdity people started to come up to me to vent their frustration. The conversation would usually start with “what the hell is going on?” or “I can’t believe this is happening” and then proceeded for at least an hour (individually) of them complaining about how members of Congress have completely lost their minds. They were so frustrated they needed to vent, and I don’t blame them.

In the same week economists came out with revised numbers for the economy that showed we are basically still in a recession, the posturing got even worse. While government spending was the only thing keeping the economy going, all politicians were arguing about was how much of that spending should be cut. Then, instead of having a serious conversation about how to make sure Social Security will be there for future generations (the people who I was talking to) both sides were blaming the other on how they wanted to ruin it. Instead of coming together and dealing with the issue in a responsible matter, it wound up becoming a contest of who would blink first.

But why anyone in Congress thought this bickering would help them is beyond me. Gallup shows that both President Obama and everyone in Congress’ job approval was already pretty low, but sunk even further these last couple of weeks. It didn’t matter who they were either. Old, young, black, white, male, female, Democrat or Republican, people resoundingly disapproved of the way things were being conducted. Just like George W. Bush united the country against him during his final term, politicians united all American’s against them over the debt ceiling. When the news that Congress finally came to a deal was posted on Google Plus, tons of comments came in, and most people didn’t care as much for the plan as much as they were happy it was over.

While Obama overplayed his hand by asking for a grand bargain, Republicans refused to budge on any of their priorities, and Democrats refused to make any changes that might reduce the deficit or secure government programs. Personally, I wanted more government spending on specific items such as construction which is absolutely needed. We can’t keep letting our bridges fall, and it would have created jobs. One of my friends (who is getting his Masters in economics) told me that job creation is actually the best way to reduce the deficit. With more people earning money, more money would have been put into Social Security to secure the system, and other taxes could have been used to reduce the deficit. It would also be cheaper to do it now while prices are still low.

But really, some of the worst news came out today. Journalists, bloggers, and pundits, were discussing who had won and lost. It plays right into what American’s were complaining about this entire time. Whatever the specifics of the plan are, or how it turns out at the end, nobody won this debate. The way all politicians conducted themselves embarrassed the American people here and abroad. In a time when some American’s are living off food stamps and struggling to afford rent, people in Washington should conduct themselves in a matter that is attributable to the times, and stop wondering why mud is being thrown in their direction.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Congress, debt ceiling, Democrats, Republicans

Congress is Full of Debt

Newt Gingrich compared getting members of Congress to vote your way was like herding cats. They are small, quick, and can scratch. Tonight, John Boehner has a big slash right down his face which will leave a permanent scar on his tenure as speaker.

Americans are already fed up with what they have seen these past three weeks, but this brings it to an entirely new level. It is one thing if politicians can’t decide what to do and are debating the issues, but Congress isn’t fooling anyone by calling this a debate. The more appropriate term might be a pissing contest. When John Boehner can’t get his own plan through the body he is supposed to be leading, it shows the American people we have the wrong people in office.

The members of Congress who consider themselves members of the Tea Party would have been better off voting for Boehner’s plan. They won in part because of a low turnout, but the antics they have put on are irresponsible. No matter what they say on the campaign trail it won’t stop voters from realizing these guys are nuts. If they were serious about staying in office they would realize more people, independents, will be voting in the next election. Not only can they not tell them one good thing that has come about since they took over the House, but they can’t say they have accomplished anything at all.

Because of their ideologically driven agenda, the Tea Party is willing to risk America defaulting on its loans. Once it was announced Congress won’t even be holding a vote tonight, the price of credit default swaps on US treasuries was at its highest point since the 2008 financial crisis. That means people on Wall Street and around the world are losing confidence in Congress (ie America) causing the markets to fall even more. But that’s just in the short term. If a default does happen students loans, mortgage rates, and America’s debt (which, of course, the Tea Party says it wants to lower) will grow exponentially.

Even if Boehner passes what he says is his plan, it won’t matter to the American people. He overplayed his hand, and whether he gets a deal tonight or not, he will become just the second Speaker in history who only served one term.

I’m not going to say Boehner’s job is easy. Getting votes for controversial legislation never is. But, somehow, sixty-two other Speakers have managed to get it done. We’re talking about Sam Rayburn dealing with Dwight Eisenhower, Newt Gingrich dealing with Bill Clinton, and obviously it wasn’t easy for Nancy Pelosi to deal with Blue Dog Democrats when the health care debate was going on. There are always challenges and you have to figure out a way to work around it. Speaker Boehner walked away from that challenge when he told President Obama he was leaving the negotiations they were having.

John Boehner should realize his speakership is over and figure out a way to avoid the possible, ever more likely default. If there was a tie for who had more mud on their face these past couple of weeks, Republicans just fell into the puddle. Their whole body is covered in it, but unfortunately we still have another year of these guys in office.

Leave a comment

Filed under Congress, debt ceiling, John Boehner

A mailbag, sort of…

The last post I discussed why liberals should be giving Obama a break. Mainly because even though we did not get everything we had hoped for, about 75 percent of it is still there. Just today a story came out in the New York Times about how the federal government is going to start regulating health care prices in ten states, lowering the price for millions of American’s.

 

I got a lot of responses to this one, mostly via LinkedIn, and thought it would be better to respond to some of the comments here. Most people agreed with my assessment of the liberal take and why they are upset with Obama. What they disagreed with though is giving him a break. They brought up some good points such as a single payer system would be cheaper. But for the most part their arguments rely on facts that just aren’t true.

 

For instance, one person said “without a individual mandate there is no reason to pass anything in regards to health care. The went on to say Medicare has nothing to do with our debt. But the Affordable Care Act will lower prices not just because the insurance companies are taking in more money, but because of the regulations that will be enacted. And yes, Medicare has a huge part to do with our debt. Because of the lack of price controls it was costing American’s thousands out of their pockets, and (because the program subsidizes those costs) added enormous amount to the debt. One of the main arguments used by Democrats was when the CBO estimated it would lower America’s deficit around one hundred billion dollars. It’s not great, but it’s a start and better then leaving more people without coverage.

 

The main theme I kept hearing though is that they don’t like the way Obama has governed. With this, I absolutely agree with them. When Andy Borowitz writes about how Democrats are looking for the guy who ran in 2008, you know you’re in trouble. Whether the policy is good or bad, or you agree or disagree, President Obama has not had that same fire as he did on 2008. People voted for change and want to see an aggressive president make them. Whether trying to reach the middle or not, the bully pulpit shouldn’t be used as a threat against the opposing party. It is the stick that all Presidents use to focus the debate and get their legislation passed. Obama didn’t do this during health care and he almost didn’t get anything through Congress.

 

The left is lacking this leadership right now and it’s frustrating. Many people, including myself, voted for Obama thinking this was our moment to make serious changes to Washington, and yes believed it would happen faster. But change takes time, no matter who is in office. And I would still rather have a moderate Democrat who needs to appease me, then a moderate Republican who needs to appease the opposition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Congress, Obama, Poitics

Politics, Policies, and the Debt Ceiling

There’s been a lot of talk on left leaning blogs about how President Obama has moved to the right on the current debt ceiling negotiations. He has asked for more spending cuts than Republicans, along with reforms to Social Security and Medicare, which would, reduce the countries long term deficits. But what is missing in their arguments is the political reality that the White House is facing.

People who have read my past writings know I don’t always agree with the actions Obama has taken. But as both political parties like to say “elections have consequences” and we’re seeing one of them now. Not raising the debt ceiling would be catastrophic for the country. Standard and Poors lowering America’s credit rating would be the last thing America would have to worry about. The stock market would drop more than it did in 2008, and interest rates would be at an all time high. So if you thought banks weren’t lending money now, people wouldn’t be able to take any money because there would be no way they would be able to pay it back.

It’s clear that the Tea Party Republicans are the ones actually in charge of the House of Representatives, and Speaker John Boehner has no influence over them. The numbers simply aren’t there to increase the debt ceiling. But since our constitution says Congress has the power of the purse, Obama needs to find a way to get a majority. Most posts I have read blame the reason on the White House asking for tax increases which Republicans have pledged not to do, but when have Republicans ever wanted to raise taxes? This is nothing new and the left shouldn’t be acting like it is. What the major difference is, is that no matter what the Tea Party will refuse to raise the debt ceiling. They don’t believe the August 2nd deadline is real, even though Eric Cantor does, and believe tax increases will hurt the economy. They are zealots when it comes to these issues and no one is going to be able to change their mind. It forced Obama to make concessions to real Republicans, not Tea Party members but Conservatives, to get them to vote for an increase on the debt ceiling.

Raising the ceiling is a hard vote because the vast majority of people don’t want their elected officials to do it. It is much easier to say, like the Tea Party is doing, that they will not raise it and have a better shot at winning reelection. With the lack of leadership in Congress it makes it a lot easier for this minority to have a bigger voice and come up with small sound bites.

Mitch McConnell, realizing the disaster that would take place if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, was going to allow Obama to raise ceiling on his own, and then have Congress vote whether to veto this action. But this would be a loss for both sides. A vote would still have to be taken forcing all members to be on the record of increasing America’s debt. Republicans show they weren’t able to govern, and Democrats show how little influence they have even though they still control the Senate.

Where Obama screwed up is that he had bad timing. Both sides agree we need entitlement reform, but if done right it can be a progressive issue. When the think tank Third Way came out with a proposal on how to talk about reforming Social Security and Medicare one of their main points was to make it about small adjustments. “Democrats should invert the traditional messaging on entitlement reform, which has tended to emphasize the heroic, major sacrifices being proposed, and thus serves only to make it more politically painful and scary.” By emphasizing tax increases for the rich, and reminding the people currently receiving these benefits this is not about the present but the future of these benefits, it would have been a lot easier for him to make changes to the system. But now that Obama is lumping small changes in these entitlements with raising the debt ceiling, it makes it a big deal and wound up scaring a lot of people. If he really wanted to figure out a way to make sure Social Security and Medicare would be there for future generations, he should have done it earlier.

After Nancy Pelosi convinced the President not to cut much spending, at his press conference today Obama said he would like to see the $2.4 trillion in cuts that were being discussed in the Biden group as part of the debt ceiling deal. The $4 trillion he originally asked for was never mentioned, which is a win for liberals. What is considered big now is making changes to the safety net, as Obama said today “$2.4 trillion without any revenue would cut too many programs that would hurt people” and he’s right. The policies he is proposing aren’t crazy, it’s responsible, and many other Presidents, or Presidents to be, have wanted to do the same thing. It was Senator Truman and his commission who cut programs in the military that were deemed a waste on tax payer money. President Clinton also cut programs in the mid 90’s in order to reduce the deficit and emphasize the programs that worked.

If the Democrats were still in control of Congress the debt ceiling would still be a contentious vote because so much money has been spent. But the arguments would be much different. There wouldn’t be Tea Party Republicans refusing to cooperate. Instead there would be Blue Dog Democrats hoping enough moderates are in favor of the package being voted on so they could vote no. What the Democrats and Blue Dogs have in common is that they wanted to keep the majority while the Republicans want to take it.

Those politics don’t make for good policy when America’s economic structure is on the line. Obama has finally been using the bully pulpit much more recently, as he knows it will benefit him. He did so right before the fundraising quarter ended by holding a press conference, and has done it again three more press conferences in the past eleven days in order to look like the mature one in the room, and it’s worked. His campaign raised a lot of money and polls show Americans like the way he is handling this situation. But he hasn’t come out with a plan on his own that would give his opponents ammunition. What Obama is betting on is that neither side wants to see what will happen August 3rd, and I hope he’s right.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boehner, Congress, debt ceiling, Deficit, Economics, Eric Cantor, President Obama, Third Way

The Blind Leading The Dumb

There aren’t many instances when you get an email from the New York Times at one in the morning on a Saturday night, but when the Speaker of the House is begging for his political opponents to help him, you know something flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

We already knew Johns Boehner was a weak leader, but instead of the Tea Party Republicans using their influence behind closed doors, they are now openly defecting from the person they elected to run the House of Representatives. Eric Cantor didn’t leave Vice President’s Biden’s negotiating table because there was no progress being made. What he said is they have done enough and the final pieces need to be decided by the leaders. Translation: My party isn’t going to like this and if I want to be Speaker in 2014 I can’t have anything to do with it.  So he cuts off ties with the guy who is supposed to be his partner. What Cantor is blind to though is that he could become just as weak of a leader as Boehner is if he does ascend to the position.

Does Cantor really think that the same members of the Tea Party in Congress are going to allow him to raise the debt ceiling because he is sucking up to them now? We’re talking about an ideologically challenged minority that has no credible policy wonks on their side. Michael Tanner, Senior Fellow at the conservative CATO Institute, argued that cuts by themselves aren’t going to solve the debt problem. “That is why Republicans should not get hung up on seeking any particular amount of spending cuts. The dollar amount matters far less than getting the structural and institutional changes that will actually bring down the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government in the future.” Of course, the Affordable Care Act did change the structure of Medicare, and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said it would reduce the deficit.

But the Democrats have also been lacking serious leadership as well. So many debates are taking place right now that have no business being debated. From increasing taxes slows job creation, to government spending hurts the economy, none of the Democrats who have an office in the Capitol have said much to tell the American people not to believe it. President Obama holding a press conference the other week was a step in the right direction that put the Republican’s on the defensive, and he needs to do more of them.

One person who chooses her fights wisely though is Nancy Pelosi. When Obama thought about conceding more to the GOP on health care, it was the last Speaker who reminded everyone they are not going to get another chance at it. She has recently been more vocal when the President was again going to cave into Republicans on cutting benefits to the elderly, the lefts best talking point since the House passed Representative Ryan’s budget. Now that Boehner needs her help, she’s already gotten him to halve the amounts of cuts he was originally asking for.

Boehner knows his colleagues aren’t going to be supporting him on the debt ceiling, it’s going to be up the real leader in Congress to make sure America doesn’t default on its debt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boehner, Congress, debt ceiling, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi

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.

 

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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