Swing State Pres

Monday, December 31, 2012

Breaking News....We're Going Over the Fiscal Cliff (December 31, 2012)

The House will adjourn at 6:30 PM without voting on the Fiscal Cliff bill, if one exists.

Instead, they will vote on whatever the Senate comes up with tomorrow.

Of course, this is to avoid voting for a "tax increase"....waiting until tomorrow allows them to vote instead for a "tax decrease," even though there is no substantive difference between the two.  All of the Bush tax cuts expire at midnight.

They waited until the stock market closed at 4 PM EST to announce this.  And the market is closed tomorrow.  So there will be no adverse stock market reaction, or rather the reaction will be confined to the reaction to the final bill, rather than a reaction to "no deal."

Of course this assumes the Senate actually consummates an agreement and votes in favor of it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Boehner Bursts Into Tears at Fiscal Cliff Press Briefing (December 8, 2012)


Boehner Bursts Into Tears at Fiscal Cliff Press Briefing

Washington (AP) -- Speaker of the House John Boehner, apparently overcome with frustration at the pace of “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, burst into tears at a press briefing this afternoon.  When asked repeatedly to characterize the progress of the talks, Boehner wavered, and then began sobbing, saying “It’s just not fair!  Every other time the President did what I wanted him to, but this time I just don’t think he's going to!”

Public tears are nothing new to the Speaker.  He has been known to wear his emotions on his sleeve, often sniffling when referencing his hardscrabble upbringing or expressing his love for the country.  But never before has he slipped when discussing policy or politics.

The crying jag was brought on by a seemingly innocuous question by Kelly O’Donnell of NBC, after a series of related questions from the White House press corps.  “Mr. Speaker, how would you describe the tone of the discussions so far, the tenor of them if you will?”  At that point, clearly emotional, the Speaker’s lip quivered before the floodgates opened, as the phalanx of congressional Republicans behind him began to shift uncomfortably and exchange worried glances.

The Speaker pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his cheeks and appeared to recover quickly.  He launched into another critique of President Obama but then faltered again.  “The President has wasted another week with his refusal to….ah….his refusal to…I mean, he just isn’t doing what I want him to do!”  At this point the Speaker broke down entirely as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stepped forward, closely followed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Cantor grasped the Speaker and then appeared to give him a quick shove in the direction of McConnell, who took the Speaker by the shoulders and guided him away from the podium, patting his back.

“Speaker Boehner is right in…ah….concept,” Cantor declared.  “We stand united in opposition to President Obama’s one-sided approach to the fiscal cliff negotiations.”  Cantor then nodded curtly to the press and jerked his thumb to the congressional delegation in an apparent directive to leave, as the press shouted questions that went unanswered as the congressmen shuffled off hurriedly.

Shortly thereafter, the Speaker’s office issued a terse statement.  “Our position on the fiscal talks is unchanged.”


Friday, December 7, 2012

Breaking News: Upbeat Jobs Report (December 7, 2012)

The economy added 177,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7%, despite the presumed adverse effect of Hurricane Sandy.  The new November figures well exceeded projections.

No one has asked Mitt Romney to comment.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Persuasion (December 3, 2012)


I can’t solve this Fiscal Cliff problem.  What I can do, though, is write a song parody about it.  This one is to the tune of Tommy James and the Shondells’ classic “Crystal Blue Persuasion”….I call it “Fiscal Cliff Persuasion.”

Look over yonder
Crunch time for our nation…
Tax breaks expiring
And sequestration….

But a new day is coming (ooo ooo)
Repubs are a’ changing
Nordquist’s a’ runnin’ (ooo ooo)
Fiscal cliff persuasion

Better get ready
For gives from the right
Revenue is the answer (ooo ooo)
And that’s all right

So don't you give up now (ooh ooh)
So easy to find
Raise rates and close loopholes
Just open your mind

Fiscal cliff persuasion (mmm, mmm)
It’s ne-go-ti-a-tion
Fiscal cliff persuasion
Fiscal cliff persuasion

Maybe tomorrow
Our budget will balance
Far less to borrow
Entitlements less like France

They’ll be…
Strong defense
A wide safety net
Fiscal cliff persuasion, yeah
Fiscal cliff persuasion, aha
Fiscal cliff persuasion, aha
Fiscal cliff persuasion, aha

Fiscal Cliff Notes (December 3, 2012)


No rest for Obama after his re-election…the Petraeus Affair, Gaza Battles, Egypt Power Grabs, Will Susan Rice Be Named Secretary of State…all major headline news and the election is not even a month old.  But looming over it all is the “Fiscal Cliff.”

Perhaps you’ve read every "Fiscal Cliff FAQ" out there.  But if not, I’ll try to make this quick…

Various temporary tax breaks and benefits are set by current law to expire on January 1st:  the Bush era tax rate reductions, the payroll tax reductions and various extensions of unemployment insurance benefits.  The so-called “sequestration” cuts (put in as part of the debt ceiling deal, as a back-up plan if the “Super Committee” failed, which it did) will also take effect automatically on January 1st.   And the debt ceiling needs to be raised again in February or March.

If all those tax breaks expired and the cuts actually occurred – that is, no deal -- that would take care of most of the deficit, just like that.  Tax revenues would rise by $400 billion in 2013 alone and the cuts are worth another $100 billion, thus reducing the deficit in 2013 nearly by half.  Sounds good, right, deficit hawks?

BUT… such a dramatic hit to household budgets (through higher taxes), combined with the loss of jobs and output that would ensue from the budget cuts would deeply and adversely impact the economy.  Virtually all economists agree that going over the “fiscal cliff” would drive the country back into recession.  (The non-partisan CBO estimates have unemployment rising to back over 9% and GDP in recession at -0.5%).  No one wants that…not even those deficit hawks, who suddenly realize that government spending actually does affect jobs – positively.

So, having agreed that the fiscal cliff must be avoided, the battle lines between Democrats and Republicans are basically drawn over tax rate increases versus closing loopholes and/or capping deductions.  Obama wants $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, through a combination of those actions.  Republicans want to generate only $800 billion, with no rate increases, closing some loopholes, and that mysterious cure-all called “growth.”  (The more the economy grows, the higher are tax receipts.)  There are other battles to fight on the cost-cutting side, especially over the nature of entitlement cuts and defense spending.

It looks like the resolution will come in two parts, with Part One a short-term agreement, to avoid the Jan. 1 effects, on the structure of the “Grand Bargain” with a $50 billion “downpayment” of immediate deficit reduction.   Part Two would come over the next year as Congress addresses specific tax code reforms and structural entitlement change and other complicated issues.  But of course there is no agreement yet on any of that, including where the $50 billion comes from.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OUTLAYS AND RECEIPTS

I thought it might be useful to actually look at federal spending and receipts, over time.  It’s quite fascinating (well, to me).  I picked four points in time:  1992, what Clinton inherited, 2000 when W took over, 2008 when Obama came in, and 2011, the last full year for which we have actual data.  I put it all in 2011 constant dollars so inflation effects are minimized (below).






                Avg. Annual % Change
$ Trillion
1992
2000
2008
2011
Clinton
Bush
Obama
92/11
Receipts
1.7
2.7
2.6
2.3
6%
0%
-4%
1.6%
Outlays
2.1
2.4
3.1
3.6
1%
4%
5%
2.8%
Surplus/(Deficit)
(0.5)
0.3
(0.5)
(1.3)













GDP
9.7
12.9
15.0
15.0
4%
2%
0%
2.3%
Receipts % GDP
17.5%
20.6%
17.6%
15.4%




Outlays % GDP
22.1%
18.2%
20.8%
24.1%















There are a lot of numbers but you can see what is going on.  Clinton balanced the Budget because receipts grew a whopping 6% per year under him, driven by a strong economy; plus he kept spending down to 1% growth per year, very impressive.  He turned a $500 million deficit into a $300 million surplus.

Bush, on the other hand, instituted his tax cut in his early years and saw the economy crumble in his last years, thus reducing overall receipts.  Yet he increased spending by +4% per year, driven primarily by the wars, the new prescription drug benefit and continued entitlement growth.  He thus magically turned that $300 billion surplus into a $500 billion deficit, with mounting debt.

Obama, a true Keynesian, provided an $800 million stimulus to keep the bottom from falling out on the economy.  Since the stimulus was a combination of a $300 billion tax cut to go along with a $500 billion spending increase, this, of course, both reduced receipts as well as increased spending.

Republicans look at charts like this and say:  “It is blindingly obvious that Obama is incompetent.”  But Democrats look at it and say, “But what would have happened without the stimulus?”  Their point:  without the stimulus, spending would have been lower but so would receipts – by far.  An even deeper recession would have occurred, or maybe even a depression (-10% GDP….in Bush’s last quarter it was -6%).  Instead, thanks to the stimulus, which if anything was too small, the economy began to recover, albeit slowly.

Based on this chart, it would seem that the best way to balance the Budget is for both receipts and outlays to be about 18-20% of GDP.  That would put both at about $2.8 - $3.0 trillion.  Hence you can see while a “balanced” approach makes sense.  Trying to fix this simply by cutting spending is insane.

If you look at the spending detail (below) it is also instructive.  Most spending line items have grown between 2% and 5% per year since 1992, which does not sound bad except when you remember that these are constant dollars.  That’s a lot of growth above inflation.  Medicare and Social Security have grown consistently.  Defense grew under Bush, driven by the wars.  “Income Security” (essentially programs such as welfare and extending unemployment benefits and the like) and “other” (e.g., education and energy spending) rose under Obama.

Outlays Detail




                Avg. Annual % Change
$ Billion
1992
2000
2008
2011
Clinton
Bush
Obama
92/11
Defense
462
386
644
706
-2%
7%
3%
2.3%
Medicare
184
259
409
486
4%
6%
6%
5.2%
Income Security
310
334
450
597
1%
4%
10%
3.5%
Social Security
446
538
645
730
2%
2%
4%
2.6%
Net Interest
308
293
264
230
-1%
-1%
-4%
-1.5%
Other
741
875
1,156
1,451
2%
4%
8%
3.6%


Basically, it is a vast understatement to say politicians love to cut taxes and loathe to cut spending.  As I’ve said to many of my friends, solving this impasse economically would be easy – the contours of what should be done are clear, and we’ve seen countless reasonable “Grand Bargains” floated, notably Simpson-Bowles (or is it Bowles-Simpson?).  But solving it politically – through the political process -- has proven nearly impossible.

This time around, Obama seems willing to test going over the cliff.  It’s not really a cliff, after all, the impact would not be immediate, per se, and quick action in January would pull everyone back to safety.  He was just re-elected with this issue squarely on the table, and he knows from exit polling and Pew that 60% of Americans favor taxing high income earners.  So I doubt he will blink on rates.  Several prominent Republicans have either embraced the tax rate increases or at least walked away from the Grover Norquist “No Tax Increase” pledge.

So let the drama build toward New Year’s…