Category Archives: taxes

Obama Going Big On Taxes

President Obama unveiled his tax reform plan in a speech today in the Rose Garden. It was a populist message that called for raising taxes on the wealthy, and reminded everyone of his jobs plan he sent to Congress last week. Obama said the plan has “two dollars in cuts for every dollar in revenues” and that he would not have had to propose these cuts if the Republicans did not walk away from the debt ceiling talks.

Overall there are a lot of good ideas in the plan, most notably raising taxes on the rich along with closing corporate loopholes in order to help pay down the deficit. The spending cuts are from the military draw downs in Iraq and Afghanistan and areas to Medicare and Medicaid that will take place in 2017. It is meant to cover the $447 billion jobs plan and reduces the countries debt by $3 trillion over ten years.

This is a very populist proposal that will rally his base and has no chance of passing Congress. It helps Obama with liberals because he is raising taxes on the wealthy and not raising the age when people are eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic members of Congress have already praised the proposal mainly because of its emphasis on taxes and that it does not make changes to Social Security.

We have already seen early signs these ideas are putting Republicans on the offensive. GOP elected officials and pundits have already said these ideas are “dead on arrival” because they have already been voted down. Some of the new revenue comes from tax increases from the Bush tax cuts that were meant to expire at the end of the year, making it harder for Obama to take credit for “changing” the tax code. Those are also cuts Republicans have staunchly defended in the past.

Republicans have been calling these ideas “class warfare” because Obama is targeting the rich. It is true that these ideas have been proposed before, particularly in the intense debt ceiling debate, where everyone wound up looking bad. To say this is class warfare though is a hit below the belt. If it is good policy to cut benefits to the poor like food stamps and other unemployment benefits, why is that not class warfare too? Most Americans have common sense and realize it simply is not right to put all the burden of fixing the economy on one group.

That is why there is a chance Obama can reach Independents and Moderates with his new proposals. Most Americans already believe increasing taxes on millionaires is a good idea. In a poll conducted recently by Zogby, they found 46 percent of American’s agreed with the statement “Modernize the nation’s infrastructure and help pay for it by ending the Bush tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000 and closing tax loopholes for large corporations.” That includes 48 percent of Independents (the poll release does not say how many people said they could not decide). It is not a majority but it is strong a start.

One thing to keep in mind with deficit reduction though is that these spending cuts could hurt job creation in the short term. Many economists have been sounding the alarm because many states have been cutting spending, which has lead to less construction projects and not as many new jobs for teachers and other areas in the public sector. You also lose revenue for those social programs everyone wants to save, and when it comes to the state sales tax; if people do not have a job and are spending less money, you lose revenue their too. That is why, while I am glad Obama is talking like his old self again, I know in the back of my mind the policy recommendations he is putting out there could be stronger.

The jobs plan, and today’s deficit reduction plan, are good steps in the right direction to getting this economy going again. It focuses on big and important changes that need to take place. It starts honing in on areas that effect every day Americans who are struggling to find a job and pay the rent. It also helps the middle class by securing a stronger future for their children by investing in education and other programs now that will create jobs for them later on. And of course, they will not be solely responsible for paying back the debt.


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The GOP Want To Raise Taxes?

You have to give David Weigel a lot of credit for writing this story on how the Republican nominees for President are telling middle and working class families they should be paying more taxes. Trust me, when everyone is on vacation, and staffers aren’t sending out press releases, (between; I probably shouldn’t be saying this) it gets pretty hard to find something to write about. So props for Weigel’s creativeness, but unfortunately I don’t believe his argument will hold much water.

Weigel quotes Michelle Bachmann as saying”Part of the problem is today, only 53 percent pay any federal income tax at all; 47 percent pay nothing,” said Bachmann. “We need to broaden the base so that everybody pays something, even if it’s a dollar. Everyone should pay something, because we all benefit.”

It sounds eerily familiar to the argument Warren Buffet made a couple of weeks ago on why rich people should pay more in taxes. But he was talking about him and his friends who own corporate jets, not the people who don’t have enough saved to retire or are having trouble paying the rent. Personally, I would love for the GOP nominee to tell people he/she is going to raise their taxes. It would be a complete turnaround from trying to appease the Tea Party and Grover Norquist to saying Keynes was right after all.

Not surprisingly, the American people don’t want their taxes raised. In a Rasmussen Poll conducted earlier this month, 64 percent of Americans said it’s better to keep taxes low and reduce deductions, while only 16 percent said they would like to see higher taxes and more deductions. While economists like the debate whether or not people are rational, numbers like these show that they are.

The truth is the majority of people can’t afford to pay higher taxes right now. Whether it is a young person who graduated college and can’t find a job, a family with two kids that are about to take the SAT’s, or the main bread winner just loss his/her job and can’t find another one. But taking away small deductions like the child tax credit from Weigel’s report is a small step in the right direction. There are plenty of other, including corporate loopholes, that could be closed as well.

But the main reason why we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking taxes will be a winning issue for the Democrats is because the election is still over a year away. People aren’t going to remember what any of the nominees say now, especially since most people aren’t paying attention. Not to mention this story hasn’t gotten a lot of attention (sorry Dave) on television.

Even presumed front runner Mitt Romney is yelling at Republicans at the Iowa State Fair telling them he won’t raise their taxes. In Bachmann’s statement, she never gets specific on who the people not paying taxes are so the crowed won’t get awkwardly silent on her. If any of the nominees are specifically asked if they are going to raise taxes they will say no. I will bet any amount of money on it.

Even if more people noticed the statements being made right now, it would still be hard for people to believe Republicans want to raise taxes. Especially when the GOP uses easy to remember catch phrases like “tax and spend” to describe Democratic policies. So until we know who the GOP nominee is, I’m just looking for funny gaffes and reading the Borowitz Report.

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Why Rich People Should Pay Taxes

This argument usually comes from a moral point of view, running on the lines of “the wealthy owe the country because it has served them so well” or as Warren Buffet reminded us today that it’s about “shared sacrifice.” Liberals who make this argument are right but there are fundamentals involved that can help them explain why. Taxes are a bad word because nobody, no matter how much money you earn, likes to pay them. But for those who earn a lot of money it’s important to remind them what they give the government will help them earn more money in the future.

A paper by Jon Bakija from Williams College, Bradley Heim from Indiana University, and Adam Cole from the Treasury Department, looks at who the top earners in the United States are. Looking at tax returns between 1979 and 2005, they find that Executives, Managers, Supervisors, and Financial Professionals are the ones who reported the highest incomes. These high earners either work for a major corporation, own their own business, or have some sort of combination of work and family money. What they all have in common though is that the majority of their earnings come from the stock market.

Whether it is through a bonus working for a firm on Wall Street, the Managers stock options within the company he/she works for, or if the family or individual already has a lot of money, the majority of their earnings for the year depend on how well the stocks they own do.

This is different from the majority of people who try and save enough to eventually invest in the market, watch it for about fifteen years, and then retire. Longer term investments in the market always get you more earnings. But the super rich have the most to lose because they have the most amount of money in it and rely on the markets going up in a shorter time span. That means they have every reason to make sure people don’t have an excuse to rile the markets.

The brokers who run the stock market are the ones who invest the rich people’s money, and are paid based on how much their clients portfolio grows. So while most people are thinking about the long run the people who have the most money in it and work on Wall Street are only thinking about the short term. Brokers make their decisions based on the information they get that day. It’s never a complete analysis and since it’s impossible to know everything, there is based on experience and “instinct.” It could be a companies earning report, how the stocks overseas did, news about a merger between two companies, anything that they believe will earn them money. But even with the same information and experience different conclusions can be made.

So why does all this mean rich people should pay higher taxes? One word: stability. Higher taxes that go toward social programs like Social Security or Medicare make people feel secure that they are not going to lose them in the future. When politicians are saying changes need to be made to these programs because they are running up debt people get scared. This is bad for two reasons; 1) it makes people less confident in the economy and markets become stagnate because brokers don’t know what is going to happen. 2) Politicians take advantage of this anxiety and get voters to elect them based on not raising the debt ceiling, where the rumors of default could cause the market to go down.

Don’t forget about the obvious reason that the money collected from top earners can be used to create jobs. Jobs aren’t just important so the jobless rate goes down, it’s because when people have jobs they spend money. For those who say they get food stamps and other ways to spend, it’s not enough to live on and having a job gets you more money than being reliant on those social protection programs. Plus, when people have a job (especially in these times) they are happy and would be more willing to splurge a little. When people spend money it helps the economy, Wall Street, and rich people earn more money.

The irony in this is that people who have the most money also save the most. According to one of Robert Reich’s tweets, the “Richest 1% of Americans do 20% of all consumer spending, richest 5% do 37% of spending. But the rich also account for most of the saving. Result: insufficient demand.” So yes, rich people rely on poor people to spend money and need to make sure they are able to do so.

On top of all this, the study by Bakija, Heim, and Cole also found that if the Bush Tax Cuts that are set to expire would not cause the top earners to lose a lot of money. They also found that every dollar collected by the top 1% of individuals equals $6.57 cents to the government. That money can be used to boost the economy and the stock market. So yes, rich people, like everyone else, like to earn more money. But they are the ones who can really get the economy going, have the money to do it, and more importantly gain the most from doing it.

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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

Taxes: Political vs. Reality

It’s not every day the Working Families Party and the Manhattan Institute agree on a issue. But in the case of capping property taxes here in New York, they found a common cause.

Last week Governor Cuomo and Republican’s in the Senate agreed to cap property taxes by 2 percent for parts of Long Island, Westchester, and most of upstate New York (you’re welcome Westchester, I won’t bundle you in with the suburbs of Albany, Syracuse, or Buffalo). There was no choice but to lower property taxes. Being that they were already one of the highest in the nation and many families were already tightening their belts as much as they could. But the problem was that the revenue was not made up from anywhere else.

Instead of raising taxes on the wealthy or corporations, New York’s legislature cut programs for education, the homeless, and safety. These cuts have had a disproportionate affect on the bigger counties and cities. While 93 percent of counties were able to pass education budgets, New York City’s Council is now debating the ways it can stop experienced teachers from being fired. Neither Syracuse, Buffalo, or Albany, figured out how to pass their budgets either.

One of the reasons for the bad employment data that came out today was because state governments cut their budgets. But raising taxes is never a popular move, especially in bad economic times. One of the problems with tax policy is that it’s so complicated. The federal code is longer than War and Peace, and it makes it hard in this thirty seconds or less media to explain the effects this compromise will have on the state.

But the fact remains people are willing to pay for the programs that benefit their families like public education and safety. Cuomo got the political victory for getting his agenda passed, but the reality is most New Yorker’s are facing the reality of those cuts.

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Filed under Long Island, Mayor Bloomberg, New York, Political Economy, Politics, property taxes, Public Policy, tax caps, taxes, Westchester

Add Value To Your Buck

It’s almost that time of year again, tax season! OK, maybe I’m exaggerating on how exciting this is. The US tax code is longer than War and Peace, but just like the classic book, almost no one can understand it, and almost no one today has read it. But someone has to read the code in order to figure out how much money people owe their government. If only there was a simpler way…

Debating tax policy is almost as bad as actually paying them, but here I go. The last time any serious tax reform occurred was during the Reagan administration. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 reduced individual and corporate taxes almost by half, and indexed those standards for inflation. The number of tax brackets were also reduced. But the Act also included the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) which only complicated the code more. The more complicated the code became, the more loopholes were there for people to take advantage of. While less money was coming in, the government was spending more, which increased the national debt. The code has become so complicated, and hard to enforce, only 47% of American’s who file for federal taxes actually pay them.

President Obama has said he wants to reform the tax code to make it easier for Americans. But what’s the best way to do this? There are a lot of ideas out there. Some say there should be a flat tax where everyone pays the same amount. But that’s not progressive. It can also hurt those who do not have a lot of money, while people who earn more won’t be paying their fair share. Another idea is to eliminate loopholes and certain credits. This could work, but doesn’t go at the heart of the problem, which seems to be the way we calculate how much American’s need to pay.

One idea that works for forty other countries (mostly in Europe) is the Value Added Tax (VAT). Instead of pushing a sales tax onto the consumer, items are taxed at a percentage as the product is put together. So if the VAT was 10% it would work like this:

– The manufacturer pays $1.00 for the raw materials, certifying it is not a final consumer.

– The manufacturer charges the retailer $1.20, checking that the retailer is not a consumer, leaving the same gross margin of $0.20.

– The retailer charges the consumer $1.50 + ($1.50 x 10%) = $1.65 and pays the government $0.15, leaving the gross margin of $0.30.

The government gets paid each step of the way, and it is clear how much everyone owes so it is easy to enforce. Overall this reduces the costs to the consumer because they don’t have to pay so much at the end. The French implemented a VAT in 1954 and today it counts for half of the government’s income.

But there are opponents. People argue implementing a VAT can cause large amounts of fraud such as false claims. There have been instances where the individual or business argues that they did not know they had to pay a tax on a certain item. Then of course there is the old fashion “hidden sale” where the consumer is charged something that is completely made up.

Despite those concerns, studies show that if a 5% VAT was implemented, and covered 80% of goods people consume, it could generate roughly $260 billion. The Virginia Tax Review estimates that a VAT of 25% could pay for health care reform, exempt millions of American families from income taxes and still raise the revenues necessary to cut into the budget deficit.

One of the reasons American’s are less inclined to pay taxes now is because we became a individualistic society. When FDR was President, there was a “we are in this together” philosophy. But that has gone away. The book Bowling Alone explains it pretty well. But when you are paying taxes, you are paying for the freedoms that people in the Middle East and North Africa are fighting for. Whether you are rich or poor, everyone benefits one way or another, and those who don’t pay their taxes are cheating their fellow citizens.

Just because something is European doesn’t make it scary. Paying taxes is important. It goes to Veteran Hospitals, public parks, schools, and keeps our food and water clean. But paying for these services doesn’t have to be a burden. Instituting a VAT could bring in more money for areas that all Americans use, and everyone could get a bigger bang for their buck.



Filed under Economics, Obama, Public Policy, taxes, Value Added Tax, VAT

Tax Cuts Don’t Stimulate The Economy

I hate leaving things for the last minute. Having something hanging over my head just bothers me to no end it always get to the point where I can’t sleep until it’s done. The political problem for the tax cuts was that the White House waited until the last minute to deal with it, but probably for the right reasons. President Obama has had major legislative victories which will help a lot of people. Making sure women are paid equally, allowing students to stay on their parents insurance after college, and expanding scholarship opportunities to pay for college, just to name a few. As we’ve all seen those victories didn’t just come over night, and unfortunately for Mr. Obama, there was still one last thing he had to get done.

The latest round of tax cuts which will soon be passed by the Senate is being sold so that it will help everybody, the middle class, working class, and of course the rich. The Center for American Progress is defending the tax cuts and claim it will create 2.2 million jobs. What their analysis assumes though is that businesses will spend money and there will be a demand for their products. But if you look at recent experiences, you should know there is no guarantee that businesses will spend more money just because they have it. In these uncertain times, they are more likely to keep it in case the economy goes even more down hill, just like the banks are doing since they received the bailout money. The business cuts aren’t even targeted anywhere which proves there is no strong demand for anything right now. Otherwise, policies could be enacted to create more of a demand to help a strong area grow even more, which could help overall growth. That absence is just more proof the economy is really up in the air.

The Center got these numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and used their numbers to create their analysis. The CBO however, assumes that the tax cuts will be offset by increasing taxes later so we won’t have to worry about deflation. And it does not even take into account that Social Security taxes are being lowered.

But then there are some analyses I just don’t get at all. The Heritage Foundation argues that only tax cuts can stimulate the economy. They try and differentiate between “Disposable Personal Income” and “Personal Spending.” Now if you’re a middle income family earning $150,000 a year, you have enough to go out to dinner, a movie, and keep up with your mortgage payments. But this family is not going to spend money on anything extravagant. They will not be buying a new house, car, or plan a expensive vacation in this time of uncertainty. So when they receive a tax cut, they will not be spending in the areas where it MIGHT help the businesses feel a demand for their products. And if you are working class family, you are more worried about feeding your children and keeping a roof over your head, and that’s where they will spend the money. Again, not creating a huge demand for anything, and not beneficial to helping the economy. Families don’t think of their money as “disposable” or “personal,” and neither should economists.

Instead, programs should have been created to help families cope with the new economic realities. The best part of the package was getting unemployment benefits extended for a year. For middle class families though, there should have been money spent to pay for their children’s college, or help lower their payments if the banks unexpectedly raised the interest rates. But if you don’t believe me, you can listen to President Reagan’s former budget director David Stockman, who helped invent trickle down economics.

The problem with both of these analyses is that they argue broadly about policies that need to be looked at in a more specific design. As I’ve argued in the past, current economic models do not allow economists to take into account what really matters to families. The tax cuts families receive will be spent on areas that will ensure the families stability. President Obama could have made a strong argument to raise taxes on the wealthy to ensure programs like Social Security and Medicare stay intact. Many people rely on these programs, especially the baby boomers. Who, by the way, will be retiring soon and who will vote in 2012. But by waiting this long to deal with the Bush tax cuts he had no time. The consequences, politically and economically, would have been worse if he allowed everyone’s taxes to be raised. He had to let high income earners taxes stay low. It was a classic no win scenario.

All in all, no harm was done, but unfortunately not a lot of good was done either. So lesson learned, don’t wait for the last minute to get your ducks in a row.






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Filed under Economics, economy, lame duck, President Obama, stimulus, tax cuts, taxes