Republicans are insistent that the Bush Tax cuts be made permanent. With that stroke of lunacy, we have the imminent and predictable meltdown of the super committee. So, what happens when the minority party doesn’t get it’s way on everything? It either holds the economy hostage or changes the rule. Republicans in Congress are playing Calvin Ball to avoid the cuts that super committee failure is supposed to bring to the defense budget. They’re changing their own rules, yet again.
Plus, we’re getting another contradictory argument on taxes. Let the Bush tax cuts expire is “raising taxes”. Letting the payroll tax holiday expire is not raising taxes. How do these folks get through the day without a complete synaptic breakdown? Here’s some details from Reuters. The Murray quoted here is Senator Patty Murray from Washington State.
Murray said Republicans want to extend tax cuts that lowered individual rates — reductions that originated under former Republican President George W. Bush. Those tax cuts run out at the end of 2012.
Republicans have pushed for a permanent extension. Democrats want the tax cuts for the rich to expire.
“In Washington, there are folks who will not cut a dollar unless we raise taxes,” said Kyl, sparking an exasperated reaction from Kerry who noted that Congress has cut about $1 trillion from the budget without any tax hikes.
Republicans want Democrats to agree to do more to find long-term savings in the growing costs of government retirement and healthcare programs.
If no deal is reached by a simple majority of the super committee, automatic spending cuts would start in 2013 — two months after presidential and congressional elections.
Those cuts would be evenly divided between domestic and defense programs. Some Republican members of Congress already are talking about dismantling the automatic cuts to protect the Defense Department from deep reductions.
No serious discussion on deficits can occur without ending the Bush Tax cuts and seriously putting the Pentagon budget on the table. Representatives of the super committe were out full force on the Sunday Morning Talk Show. John Avlon at The Daily Beast points to the political posturing that’s likely still the root of the entire problem. No Republican is willing to compromise any more. Democrats and the President continue to grant many concessions on social programs that leave little left for continuing battle. No where is this more noticeable when the congress passed the old John Chaffee/Bob Dole Republican Health plan under the guise of ObamaCare. The contentious mandate originally came from the Republican side of the aisle from the American Heritage Institute. The twist of facts into partisan narratives has never been worse.
But pervasive hyperpartisan positional bargaining seems to have carried the day. Pessimism has clouded late-inning negotiations. Supercommittee Democrats have offered to put entitlement reforms on the table, but offered few specifics. Republicans have offered limited revenue increases, but tied those to the cutting the top tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent and permanently extending the contentious Bush tax cuts. Distrust and brinksmanship pollutes the process.
Ironically, but perhaps appropriately, the dysfunctional debate seems to be based around what the term “fair and balanced” actually means.
For Democrats it means a 1-to-1 ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts. For bipartisan groups like the Gang of Six and Bowles Simpson, it means a 3-to-1 ratio. But for too many Republicans, “fair and balanced” means no tax revenues raised at all—a handful of loopholes closed as concessions, like $3 billion from private jets, and the rest collected from spending cuts. The basic dynamic of both sides being willing to slaughter sacred cows is missing despite an avalanche of “more bipartisan than thou” press releases.
The core problem comes from antitax pledges that have dislodged the basic nature of balance sheets in the collective conservative mind—it is all spending, no revenue. Fiscal responsibility has been replaced by fiscal conservatism. Reducing the deficits and debts is no longer the overriding goal, despite Tea Party rhetoric about generational theft or even the balanced-budget-amendment attempt this past week. Instead, keeping tax cuts in place is the one true grail—ignoring the overwhelming popularity of provisions like raising the top rate on people making more than a million dollars a year.
Sane people continue to ask what type of Svengali powers the insane Grover Norquist holds over Republicans? If you want to learn about “The Billionaire’s Best Friend” who “hijacked the Republican party on behalf of the rich”, go no further than TIm Dickinson’s article in this month’s Rolling Stone. This man continues to hold sway over the Republican congress critterz despite overwhelming public polls that show even Republicans and Independent rank and file don’t support his agenda. Norquest comes from two Republican institutions. He was originally in the Chamber of Commerce which is one organization that has no problem seeing lies and half baked arguments printed in newspapers around the country. Ronald Reagan used him to push his tax reform measures. It’s been one power grab after another backed by nothing more than dogma and a huge budget since then.
Over the past 25 years, Norquist has received funding from many of America’s wealthiest corporations, including Philip Morris, Pfizer and Microsoft. To build a farm team of anti-tax conservatives, Norquist shrewdly took the pledge to state legislatures across the country, pressuring up-and- coming Republicans to make it a core issue before they’re called up to the big leagues. “We’re branding the whole party that way,” Norquist says. “The people who are going to be running for Congress in 10 or 20 years are coming out of state legislatures with a history with the pledge.”
Norquist also built the anti-tax pledge into the DNA of the GOP by hosting weekly Wednesday meetings that enable activist groups representing everyone from gun nuts to home-schoolers to mix with top business lobbyists and conservative officials. The meetings, which began shortly after Bill Clinton was elected, turned Norquist into the Republican Party’s foremost power broker – and gave him a forum to enforce the no-new-taxes pledge as the centerpiece of the GOP’s strategy. “The tax issue,” he says, “is the one thing everyone agrees on.”
Norquist cemented his influence by forging an early alliance with Karl Rove and setting himself up as a gatekeeper to George W. Bush’s inner circle. Then, after Obama was elected, this ultimate Washington insider positioned himself as a leader of the anti-establishment Tea Party, complete with financial support from the billionaire Koch brothers. “These Tea Party people, in effect, take their orders from him,” says Bruce Bartlett, an architect of the Reagan tax cuts. “He decides: This is a permissible tax action, or this is not a permissible tax action. And of course, anything that cuts taxes is per se OK.”
Today, GOP politicians who have signed Norquist’s anti-tax pledge include every top Republican running for president, 13 governors, 1,300 state lawmakers, 40 of the 47 Republicans in the Senate, and 236 of the 242 Republicans in the House. What’s more, the GOP’s Tea Party foot soldiers are marshaled by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – a veteran of Norquist’s farm team, who first signed the pledge as an ambitious member of the Virginia legislature. Under Cantor’s leadership, Norquist’s anti-tax pledge was directly responsible for last summer’s debt-ceiling standoff that wrecked the nation’s credit rating by leading the nation to the brink of default. “Congress was willing to cause severe economic damage to the entire population,” marvels Paul O’Neill, Bush’s former Treasury secretary, “simply because they were slaves to an idiot’s idea of how the world works.”
Yup. Bush’s former Treasury secretary thinks Norquist has congress hostage to the point that they are “willing to cause severe economic damage to the entire population simply because they were slaves to an idiot’s idea of how the world works.” The result of the work of Norquist and the Republican party has been staggering income inequality.
“The Republican Party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility,” says David Stockman, who served as budget director under Reagan. “They’re on an anti-tax jihad – one that benefits the prosperous classes.”
Notice here that I’m quoting Republicans that have had extensive experience in economics, finance, and policy. Funny thing is that the most of these folks aren’t really worried about tanking the economy. What they are worried about is this. If you haven’t read Cannonfire today, you should. First, Cannon points to this. MSNBC got a hold of a memo from a lobbying firm spelling out its plan to use any propaganda means necessary to destroy OWS. The lobbying firm is associated with the American Banker’s Association.
CLGC’s memo proposes that the ABA pay CLGC $850,000 to conduct “opposition research” on Occupy Wall Street in order to construct “negative narratives” about the protests and allied politicians. The memo also asserts that Democratic victories in 2012 would be detrimental for Wall Street and targets specific races in which it says Wall Street would benefit by electing Republicans instead.
According to the memo, if Democrats embrace OWS, “This would mean more than just short-term political discomfort for Wall Street. … It has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.”
The memo also suggests that Democratic victories in 2012 should not be the ABA’s biggest concern. “… (T)he bigger concern,” the memo says, “should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.”
Two of the memo’s authors, partners Sam Geduldig and Jay Cranford, previously worked for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Geduldig joined CLGC before Boehner became speaker; Cranford joined CLGC this year after serving as the speaker’s assistant for policy. A third partner, Steve Clark, is reportedly “tight” with Boehner, according to a story by Roll Call that CLGC features on its website.
Another interesting association is noted in the memo.
The CLGC memo raises another issue that it says should be of concern to the financial industry — that OWS might find common cause with the Tea Party. “Well-known Wall Street companies stand at the nexus of where OWS protestors and the Tea Party overlap on angered populism,” the memo says. “…This combination has the potential to be explosive later in the year when media reports cover the next round of bonuses and contrast it with stories of millions of Americans making do with less this holiday season.”
Yup, it’s the divide and conquer strategy again. Since Wall Street can’t make the case, it’s going to use proxies like the Tea Party to do its dirty work. This should be no problem given the astroturf leadership put in place by folks like Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe. These guys are longstanding Republican Beltway insiders. The interesting thing comes in some of the rumors coming out from the committee itself. Supposedly, Boehner had actually agreed to put revenues on the table and provide cover to Republicans that feared Norquist and the Tea Party. Some Democrats never really engaged, some republicans refused to even discuss anything that didn’t include making the Bush Tax cuts permanent for every one, and there was some feeling that the next election would give some indication of which way the wind blows.
A Democratic aide had this eulogy for the supercommittee: “The worm has turned a little bit. The national conversation now is about income inequality and about jobs, and it’s not really about cutting the size of government anymore or cutting spending. 2010 gave one answer to that question. But 2012 will give another, and we’ve got to see what it is.”
I still think economist Jeffrey Sachs has the best take on what the real role of Congress should be in an schizophrenic economy like ours. This is what OWS is trying to point out but is getting blasted for by concentrated efforts in corporate media to publish propaganda. (I have quoted this before, but I’m quoting Sachs again.)
The big political lie of the Super-Committee is that the deficit must be closed mainly by cutting government spending rather than by raising taxes on corporations and the super-rich. Both parties are complicit. The Republicans want to close the deficit entirely by cutting spending; Obama has brandished the formula of $3 of cuts for every $1 of tax revenues. On either approach, the poor and middle class would suffer grievously while the rich and powerful would win yet again (at least until the social pressures boil over).
The key to understanding the U.S. economy is to understand that we have two economies, not one. The economy of rich Americans is booming. Salaries are high. Profits are soaring. Luxury brands and upscale restaurants are packed. There is no recession.
The economy of the middle-class and poor is in crisis. Poverty and near-poverty are spreading. Unemployment is rampant. Household incomes have been falling sharply. Millions of discouraged workers have dropped out of the labor force entirely. The poor work at minimum wages to provide services for the rich.
Until we have some realization that laws put into place for the last 30 years have created markets that are distorted, functional only for a few, and not the least bit reflective of anything remotely “free market”, a portion of the public is going to be willing to vote for people that spread lies. This is why the credibility of any one associated with OWS must be destroyed. The minute a huge portion of us wake up to the lies–much like what happened after publication of the Pentagon Papers and the invasion of Cambodia after Nixonian promises of winding the Vietnam War down–we’re not going to get the policy we need to put things right again. We desperately need to put things right again.
As far as I can tell, if corporations and the top 1% paid anything like a fair share of taxes, budget problems would melt away.
I feel a bit like the recent physicists who seemed to find faster-than-light neutrinos in their data. (There’s the big difference that I’m an amateur at taxes, and they’re anything but amateurs at physics.) But, like them, I’m so boggled by the results that I want to throw it out there for people to pick apart.
Let’s begin at the beginning. The current US deficit is around $1.5 trillion per year. Current US GDP is around $14 trillion per year. Current yearly tax revenues are near $1.1 trillion (IRS pdf, 2008 numbers). In better years revenue is higher, deficits are lower.
An aside: Those numbers are smaller than the multiple trillions of cuts the Super Committee throws around. That’s because they say they need to come up with money for ballooning future costs of social insurance. (The powers-that-be didn’t seem to be worried about the future when tax cuts were implemented.) I don’t consider those future costs a real issue. Social Security doesn’t have any real problems. National health care costs could be cut in half with Medicare for All, based on the evidence from all the industrialized countries that do have national health care systems. (Link is to Congressional Research Service, 2004, pdf. See e.e Table 1, Fig. 1, Fig. 2.) So Medicare for All is the place to start for anyone who is actually concerned about future costs, and not some other agenda.
Further, a healthy deficit level is said to be around 2% of yearly GDP. In addition to other considerations, the ability to buy US Treasury bonds and bills is an important factor in global finance. Zero deficit means the end of that whole asset class, which is not a Good Thing. One wants a sustainable and easily carryable deficit, and 2% is a conservative estimate of that level. Two percent of $14 trillion is $280 billion. (I saw this most clearly expressed somewhere in Krugman’s writing, but all I can find right now is a passing reference here.)
So the yearly shortfall, in round numbers, is $1.2 trillion ($1.5T deficit – 0.280T healthy deficit).
If Fortune 500 corporations actually paid tax on their corporate profits, there’d be much less freeloading from that end. When even Marketwatch headlines “Big Profits, Zero Taxes” you know it’s not a small issue. It’s hard (for me) to find unequivocal numbers on how much difference that would make to revenue, but there are fairly clear data on corporate tax payments as a share of GDP. It’s now at a recent all-time low of 1% of GDP. Moving that back to 4%, about where it was in the 1960s would bring in an extra $480 billion (1% of GDP = $160B, 3% = 480B).
That would entail ending all the corporate loopholes, such as income-shifting in transnationals to whichever tax haven suits them that year, as well as ending special tax breaks for wildly profitable industries such as oil and finance. It would involve adding necessary new taxes, such as a financial transaction tax that would have other beneficial social consequences by slowing down market trading velocity. And it would involve raising rates on large corporations. (Update from comments below: 25 CEOs received more in compensation than their companies paid in taxes. Just mindboggling.)
Then, the other task is to raise taxes on the top 1%. According to the IRS (pdf), in 2008 the top 1% was composed of households making an average of $1.2 million per year. Their effective tax rate is 20% ±5% (CBO pdf, Table 3), and at that rate they contributed well over $350 billion in tax revenue. (For instance, in 2009 the top 1% contributed 36.7% of total income taxes. That proportion is typical during the last decade, plus or minus a few percent. Total income tax revenue in 2008, the last year for which I could find complete IRS data, was $1.081 trillion. 36% of 1.081T = $389 billion.) If their tax rates went to 60%, there would be an extra $700 billion revenue.
So, $700 billion plus $480 billion approaches $1.2 trillion, pretty much the entire yearly shortfall of $1.2 trillion.
That doesn’t pay down the debt. Nor does it provide funds for essential projects such as switching to clean, sustainable energy. But those are one-time charges, as it were, not permanent features of fiscal balance, which I gather is what the Super Committee is worrying about.
Raising taxes on the megarich is not the same as taxing the middle class. It’s not even taxing the upper middle class, such as the heart surgeons and mid-size successful business owners. It involves only having the massively wealthy corporations and households pay something vaguely like their fair share. What’s more, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to their lifestyles. For an income of $1.2 million per year, that tax increase would drop them from living on $80,000 per month to living on $40,000 per month. They could still jet to Paris for the weekend. Anybody who feels deprived living on $40,000 per month needs therapy, not tax breaks.
All this is something to think about while the news covers the new super ways the Super Committee has found to shred the safety net. Nor is this just a classic “Don’t tax him, don’t tax me. Tax the fellow behind the tree.” The fellow behind the tree has been tax cheating for far too long, and it’s time to rebalance. If the megarich paid their fair share, we could have a future that was more than collapsing bridges and work on their plantations.
Crossposted to Acid Test
As Dakinikat has explained again and again and again and again, the problem our economy faces is that millions of Americans don’t have any money to spend because they don’t have jobs. Our economy runs on consumer spending. When people don’t have jobs, they don’t have money to spend on consumer items. That hurts our economy. It’s pretty simple, really.
But President Obama doesn’t understand simple basic economics. He’s already decided that high levels of unemployment are “structural.” He thinks our problem is that the government is spending too much money. Yesterday Obama gave another big ol’ nothingburger of a speech on how he’s
giving away the store to negotiating with the Republicans in Congress.
Now, I’ve heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term, but then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit. I don’t share that view. I don’t think the American people sent us here to avoid tough problems. That’s, in fact, what drives them nuts about Washington, when both parties simply take the path of least resistance. And I don’t want to do that here.
No, Mr. President, what is driving Americans “nuts” about Washington is that you and your Republican pals seem to be determined to crash the economy. Another thing that drives American’s “nuts” is that you haven’t lifted a finger to do anything about jobs since you took office. All you’ve done is take care of your superrich pals so they’ll donate to your next campaign.
I’ll bet you don’t even know that the latest PPP Poll shows that most Americans want to raise taxes on higher income people.
Poll data by the Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling released Wednesday said voters in Ohio, Missouri, Montana and Minnesota back hiking taxes on the wealthy — even for people with incomes as low as $150,000.
The respondents were asked: “In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose raising taxes on those with incomes over $1,000,000 a year?”
Nearly 80 percent of voters in the four states backed the idea.
And, BTW, Senator Reid, I’m pretty sure these voters want real tax increases, not phoney “sense of the Senate” resolutions. Back to Obama’s mealy-mouthed speech:
I believe that right now we’ve got a unique opportunity to do something big — to tackle our deficit in a way that forces our government to live within its means, that puts our economy on a stronger footing for the future, and still allows us to invest in that future.
Most of us already agree that to truly solve our deficit problem, we need to find trillions in savings over the next decade, and significantly more in the decades that follow. That’s what the bipartisan fiscal commission said, that’s the amount that I put forward in the framework I announced a few months ago, and that’s around the same amount that Republicans have put forward in their own plans. And that’s the kind of substantial progress that we should be aiming for here.
And on and on, bla bla bla…
I don’t know who you mean by “most of us” Mr. O, but I’m pretty sure most of us citizens don’t support the findings of your
right wing cat food commission bipartisan fiscal commission.
President Obama just doesn’t get it. He might be able to learn a little bit about economics if he would just hire a few actual economists to advise him. But the big O thinks he already learned all he needs to know by listening to Ronald Reagan back in the ’80s. All of his economics advisers have
left the sinking ship resigned, because Mr. O thought he knew better than they did. Remember this quote?
In his biography of Obama, “The Bridge,” David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, quotes White House senior adviser and longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett: “I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”
You need to snap out of it, Mr. President; because our country is in big big trouble right now, and you’re really not as smart as you think you are.
Paul Krugman is an actual economist, and his hair is on fire. He can’t figure out what the President has against Keynesian economics.
I’m not alone in marveling at the extent to which Obama has thrown his rhetorical weight behind anti-Keynesian economics; Ryan Avent is equally amazed, as are many others. And now he’s endorsing the structural unemployment story too.
To those defending Obama on the grounds that he’s saying what he has to politically, I have two answers. First, words matter — as people who rallied around Obama in the first place because of his eloquence should know. Yes, he has to make compromises on policy grounds — but that doesn’t mean he has to adopt the right’s rhetoric and arguments. The effect of his intellectual capitulation is that we now have only one side in the national argument.
Second, since Obama keeps talking nonsense about economics, at what point do we stop giving him credit for actually knowing better? Maybe at some point we have to accept that he believes what he’s saying.
Why is Obama doing this, Krugman wants to know. It can’t be because he’s just stupid, can it? (That’s me, not Krugman)
Anyway, now Obama is handling the decisions about the economy all by himself. He’s even decided to “take the lead” in the budget talks with the Republicans–probably because he didn’t think VP Biden was caving quickly enough to Republican demands. Today,
CBS News reported that Obama wants to give the Republicans twice as much as they were originally asking for.
Two Democratic officials familiar with the negotiations over a deal to raise the debt limit said Wednesday that President Obama wants the final deal to be bigger than the $2 trillion deal that has been the focus of negotiations so far.
In fact, they said, Mr. Obama wants the deal to save the government as close to $4 trillion as possible.
Mr. Obama said Tuesday that lawmakers have “a unique opportunity to do something big,” and a deal to save the federal government $4 trillion would certainly qualify. The officials said the president believes “these moments come around at most once a decade” and that “you can’t run away from an opportunity like this.”
According to the officials, Mr. Obama believes that a larger deal would actually be easier to get through Congress. His thinking, they indicated, is this: Any major deal, whether it’s for $2 trillion in cuts or $4 trillion in cuts, will cause significant pain for both parties. But a larger deal allows backers to argue that despite their misgivings, they’ve taken a major step toward dealing with the deficit and debt problem.
Doesn’t Obama understand that cutting that much government spending is going to create even more unemployment? Is this man insane? No, he’s just a right wing Republican. Actually, maybe that does mean he’s insane.