Data Up

May 29, 2014

I remember the good old days

Back in early 90’s

The internet was new

Everyone was trying to get online

And we were all using…..

Dial up

Honey…

I just dialed up the internet

I am going to run to the hardware store

We should be connected….

By the time I get back

Yawn…….

After tolerating the dial up

For several years

The phone company

Came up with a new way

Of delivering the internet over copper

Welcome to the world of DSL

A big small step forward

Is there anyone out there still using DSL?

As we continued to thirst for

Faster access to information

Fiber was introduced

While copper was like driving down

A one lane road

Fiber was like driving on

A 24 lane highway

However;

As access to information

Was getting faster and faster

The cost was getting

Higher and higher

Deregulation was introduced

To bring competition to the field

Competition was designed to control prices

For a time

This apparently was not happening

What should we be looking at…

When we are buying access to information

Do we look for the lowest price?

Do we pay the higher price?

Is more better?

Are all speeds the same?

Should I want a faster download speed?

Or

Faster upload speed?

These are all questions everyone should be asking

We find

That many people are not asking these questions

Advertising is designed to

Spark an interest

Make people call

Get customers in the door

But as we know

Cheaper is not always better

You have to understand

What are your needs

There is no one size fits all solution

At HBS we listen

We evaluate what you are currently doing

Determine how to deliver

What you want

Designed to meet your needs

Several years back

Businesses were paying over $1000 a month

For fast data access

Slowly the prices began to come down

As competition entered the field

But companies were still paying

$600 – $700 a month for fiber

Enter…..

Comcast and Fios

You say Tomatoe ….

I say Tamatoe….

Both are good companies

Making a push to

Saturate the commercial market

Looking to capitalize on price and speed

Comcast and Fios

Are both tripping over themselves

Offering high speed data access

At a fraction of the cost

There are currently big savings

To be found in the data delivery field

HBS represents both Comcast and Verizon

Our services extend to lighting up

A center city building

Bringing access to all the tenants

To bringing phone and data capabilities to your office

Many clients are beginning to use Comcast and Fios

For redundancy

(As a fail over should their T1s or PRI go down)

Some keep the voice on their T1s or PRIs

And move their data to Cable and Fios

Not only will we guide you to the best solution

We will manage the installation

Delivering the product to your location

Getting you up and running

Providing service support

As the need arises

HBS is here

To guide our clients thru the

Maze of information

Delivering smart solutions

To your business

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As reported in Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — In March, the commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Labor, Mark Butler, explained how the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund had gone broke.

“In an attempt to curry favor with Georgia businesses, Gov. Roy Barnes declared a ‘tax holiday’ before Barnes’ failed 2002 re-election campaign,” Butler wrote. “Businesses stopped paying into the trust fund. By the time we hit the Great Recession –- and many, many Georgians became unemployed through no fault of their own — the $2 billion Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund had been reduced by $1.3 billion.”

“Plainly speaking,” Butler added, “Georgia had not saved for that rainy day.”

Georgia lawmakers agreed to much of Butler’s plan to restore the trust fund to solvency — cutting the duration of benefits in an effort to save money. The legislature also modestly increased the amount of wages subject to the state payroll taxes that fund the unemployment system.

While the cuts to unemployment benefits were relatively drastic, the tax cutting that preceded them was typical. Most states failed to make prudent decisions about funding their unemployment trust funds over the years, according to a comprehensive report from the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.

States now owe $43 billion to the federal government, according to NELP policy analyst Mike Evangelist, and it’s likely lawmakers will rely more heavily on benefit cuts than tax hikes in order to get out of debt.

“Over the past 30 years, support for accepted norms in the UI program has been systematically eroded, with state lawmakers now more willing to go after long‐standing features of the program, such as the duration of state benefits or suitable work protections that were previously seen as untouchable,”  Evangelist wrote in the report.

Businesses pay both state and federal unemployment taxes for each worker on payroll — state taxes fund the first 26 weeks of benefits for laid off workers, and federal taxes pay for extra benefits that Congress puts in place during recessions. When a state unemployment trust fund runs dry, the state can borrow from the federal government to pay benefits. If a state borrows for too long, federal payroll taxes go up.

When under pressure to refill trust funds, it used to be that state lawmakers would seek savings by tightening eligibility rules. But this year Georgia joined six other states states that had cut the standard 26 weeks duration of benefits for the first time ever. While each state differed in how they cut benefits, Georgia put benefits on a sliding scale that goes up and down with the state’s unemployment rate. When the rate goes down, the duration of benefits could be as low as 14 weeks. The upper limit is 20 weeks.

The states were strapped for cash because tens-of-millions of additional people filed claims, but also because of tax cuts.

According to Evangelist, 31 states cut unemployment taxes 20 percent or more between 1995 and 2005. And from 2000 to 2009, the overall percentage of wages subject to state unemployment taxes fell to the lowest level in the history of the federal-state unemployment system. In 2007, states were collectively $38 billion shy of recommended trust fund reserves.

Doug Holmes, an unemployment insurance expert who advocates for businesses, suggested states would be unwise to try and meet funding thresholds “because to do so would require dramatic increases in state unemployment taxes that would place these states in an uncompetitive position to attract and keep businesses in their states.”

It’s unlikely states will want to hike taxes to pay for unemployment, Evangelist wrote in his report. “Realistically, it is unreasonable to believe that states will close this gap without doing further harm to the UI program’s ability to sustain unemployed workers and their families through periods of temporary job loss.”

As reported by Zach Carter and Ryan Grimm of the HuffingtonPost

 

WASHINGTON — In early February, Alabama Republican Spencer Bachus called for a meeting between two of the most quietly influential interest groups in the nation’s capital: credit unions and community banks.

Bachus, chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, was looking to ensure the passage of a slew of federal favors benefiting both sides. All the lobbyists had to do was show up at a meeting and figure out how to work together.

It was too much to ask.

The Credit Union National Association and the Independent Community Bankers Association immediately agreed to the sit-down, but as the meeting approached the community bankers abruptly cancelled the event, according to lobbyists and congressional staffers familiar with the plans.

“There was supposed to be a couple of joint meetings with different congressional offices and with the leadership of Financial Services. And the banks decided that we had too many bills in play and they didn’t want to meet with us,” says Linda Armyn, a senior vice president for Bethpage Federal Credit Union.

It’s no small matter to cancel on a committee chairman. ICBA had performed the Capitol Hill equivalent of cussing out the boss at an office Christmas party. Still, the group has no regrets.

“There won’t be any meetings. There won’t be any compromise. There won’t be any deals. There won’t be any discussions,” says ICBA chief economist Paul Merski.

To most folks, community banks and credit unions are indistinguishable. Both are often viewed as good-guy alternatives to Wall Street banks, eschewing the too-big-to-fail crowd’s phantom, subprime profits in favor of safe, consumer-friendly products. After the 2008 financial crash, that strategy allowed them to reap financial rewards and reputational halos. The “Move Your Money” movement and Bank Transfer Day shifted billions of dollars worth of business from Wall Street to these small lenders.

But community banks and credit unions each operate under different government charters and regulatory regimes. They compete for the same good-guy customer base, and are openly hostile  with each other on Capitol Hill. Their mutual animosity is frequently unmoored from profit margins and bottom lines, a passionate conflict that at times seems like a Washington version of the Hatfields and McCoys.

“The credit unions have become the skunk at the garden party,” Merski says.

“The hypocrisy of the bank lobby appears to have no end,” Credit Union National Association (CUNA) CEO O. William Cheney said during a November hearing.

But while the dispute between the two groups goes back decades, their most recent clash serves as a window into the way American government works — or doesn’t work — in the 21st century. Legislative scuffles between entrenched interest groups occasionally gather enough momentum to attract public attention. Last year’s blowout over debit card swipe fees hijacked the Senate schedule for nearly six months, and the Stop Online Piracy Act sparked furious online protests.

Most of the time, the special interest stranglehold over Congress is exercised relatively quietly, in small-bore negotiations that never really get off the ground. Even if the bills go nowhere, they present lucrative fundraising opportunities for lawmakers, while devouring the time and attention that elected officials could be using to attend to the public good — say, solving the jobs crisis, ending homelessness or improving the standard of living for the one in four American children who currently live in poverty.

Instead, lawmakers expend tremendous amounts of energy trying to bridge emotional divides between favored interest groups that are accustomed to getting their way and have little interest in compromise — like, for example, credit unions and community banks.

Few fight harder in Washington than your cuddly local lenders.

“People always say it’s Wall Street, but the big banks aren’t the most potent lobbyists, because everybody hates them,” says Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). “It’s the credit unions and the community banks because of their grassroots networks.”

A big bank like Citigroup appears to have oceans of lobbying clout that a small community bank lacks. But every congressional district has a community bank and a local credit union. As united forces, the ICBA and CUNA can (sometimes) defeat even their Wall Street competitors on the Hill.

This week, they will flex that muscle. CUNA expects 4,000 members of the credit union community to fly in to Washington for the group’s annual lobbying convention — including at least one from every congressional district.

Like the credit unions, community banks will be making their annual descent on Capitol Hill later this year. Both groups have profitable requests pending in Congress.

The Communities First Act, introduced in April 2011, reads like ICBA’s wish-list for the entire year. During a November hearing on the bill, Georgetown University Law School professor Adam Levitin criticized the bill as a set of unearned giveaways for small financial firms — tax cuts, accounting gimmicks to hide losses, weaker capital requirements and even immunity from some forms of scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But whatever its impact on communities, the bill would undoubtedly help banks pad their profits.

“It does nothing for communities,” Levitin said, calling the bill “narrow, special-interest pleading.”

Credit unions, meanwhile, are seeking legislation that would allow them to expand their business lending operations. Credit unions are currently barred from issuing business loans in excess of 12.25 percent of their total assets, an arbitrary rule that banks were able to slip into a 1998 law over the objections of both credit unions and President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Over the past year, credit union lobbyists have amassed 121 co-sponsors — 46 Republicans and 75 Democrats — for the Small Business Lending Enhancement Act, a bill that would raise that business lending cap to 27 percent. Credit unions argue that allowing them to make more business loans will help small firms hire, claiming the bill will create 140,000 jobs.

Community banks and credit unions need each other. Neither the Communities First Act nor the Small Business Lending Enhancement Act is likely to pass on its own, prompting Rep. Bachus’ attempt to combine them. (Bachus’ office did not return requests for comment). The only trouble? The credit unions and community banks have been at each other’s throat for decades.

“It’s a very visceral reaction they have,” says Ryan Donovan, a top CUNA lobbyist, referring to community bankers. “The ICBA would rather have their entire legislative agenda burned than let our small bill pass.”

On the bill that would lift the lending cap on credit unions, ICBA’s Merski says,”We’ll fight this to the death because of the fundamental philosophical unfairness. It’s almost un-American, really.”

Banks have little to lose from the credit union bill, and large potential profits to gain from their own legislation. Credit unions do very little business lending. For the most part, they stick to simple, standardized consumer products like checking accounts, mortgages and credit cards. Credit unions are generally small, even compared to community banks, and account for just 1 percent of the commercial lending market nationwide, according to CUNA, with an average loan amount of only $220,000.

“We’re not talking shopping malls,” explains CUNA senior vice president for communications Mark Wolff. “We’re talking landscaping and bakeries.”

Even community banks that compete head-to-head with specific credit unions simply will not lose very much if the credit union bill passes. The credit union group only pegs the gains from their legislation at 140,000 jobs — a drop in the bucket relative to the jobs crisis. Yet the legislative arm-wrestling continues.

“If you look at the marketplace, the banks have 95 percent of the market share. There isn’t a whole lot of data that supports we’re taking their business,” says Armyn of the Bethpage Federal Credit Union. “I mean, we’re taking a piece of their business, but if you look at it on the grand scale, they still have 95 percent of the market share.”

But the battle isn’t really over balance sheets. It’s over those “philosophical” differences Merski cites. Talking to members of both groups, bankers essentially think credit unions are tax cheats, while credit unionists see bankers as greed-mongers.

Credit unions are nonprofits owned by their customers, a unique status among financial institutions which allows them to be exempt from income taxes. But a credit union charter comes with major drawbacks — they can’t pay dividends to shareholders, since they don’t have any shareholders, nor can their executives enjoy wild paydays in the form of stock options. They also only have one option for growth: profit. Banks can take on debt or issue stock to capitalize on profit opportunities, but credit unions have nothing but year-end earnings to draw on.

Bank executives do enjoy higher paydays. Among credit unions with at least $100 million in assets, the median CEO pay comes out to $211,558, according to CUNA. According to data compiled by SNL Financial, publicly traded banks with less than $10 billion in assets (a common threshold in regulation and legislation to define a “community bank”) pay out  median CEO compensation of $385,577.

As with most CEO pay in the financial industry, the bigger the bank, the better the potential payday, but community banks with less than $500 million in assets still paid a median of $248,437 — about 15 percent better than the median for all credit unions over $100 million in assets, according to the SNL Financial data. The largest credit union is Navy Federal, with $46 billion in assets.

But both sides use such relative metrics to criticize the other.

“They don’t pay taxes!” says ICBA’s Merski.

“They don’t get that we really are a different model,” counters CUNA’s Wolff.

Both sectors, of course, have always been free to change their charters whenever they wish. Credit unions file to become banks all the time, and there is no law barring banks from adopting a credit union model.

This year’s skirmish between community banks and credit unions will almost certainly dwindle into obscurity, a common fate for special interest legislation. Next year the two groups will undoubtedly concoct new slates of legislative demands, as is the nature of lobbying. But the public has still paid the opportunity cost for the lobbying push.

The dispute between credit unions and community banks is one of an endless array of Washington feuds that tend to not connect with the broader public interest. Even if the two groups had been able to put aside their differences and move their legislation forward, the tangible benefits for everyday Americans would have likely been minor. It doesn’t make much difference for most businesses whether they get their loan from a small bank or a credit union, so long as they get their loan. And the benefits that ICBA was seeking amount to a set of unhelpful deregulation.

Even if the uncounted hours of attention that were devoted to introducing the bills, garnering co-sponsors, holding hearings and briefing lawmakers had borne fruit, the public would still have been left out of the equation. Similar disputes take place every year between dozens of special interests, on every committee in Congress. And, in this case, the special interests groups themselves say the fuss has largely proved to be just that.

“We all just want to move forward and grow,” says Armyn, the Bethpage Federal Credit Union executive, frustrated with the political gridlock. “To me, it’s just silly.”

As reported by Ebru News             Feb 19,2011 

WASHINGTON (AP) – State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers.

“Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate,” federal auditors said in a 1988 report.

It’s clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30 states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless.

The ramifications will be felt for years.

In the short term, states must find the money to pay interest on the loans. Generally, that involves a special tax on businesses until the loan is repaid. Some states could tap general revenues, making it harder to pay for schools, roads and other state services.

In the long term, state will have to replenish their unemployment insurance programs. That typically leads to higher payroll taxes, leaving companies with less money to invest.

Past recessions have resulted in insolvencies. Seven states borrowed money in the early 1990s; eight did so as a result of the 2001 recession.

But the numbers are much worse this time because of the recession was more severe and the funds already were low when it hit, said Wayne Vroman, an analyst at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington.

The Obama administration this month proposed giving states a waiver on the interest payments due this fall. Down the road, the administration would raise the amount of wages on which companies pay federal unemployment taxes. Many states probably would follow suit as a way of boosting depleted trust funds.

Businesses pay a federal and state payroll tax. The federal tax primarily covers administrative costs; the state tax pays for the regular benefits a worker gets when laid off. The Treasury Department manages the trust funds that hold each state’s taxes.

Each state decides whether its unemployment fund has enough money. In 2000, total reserves for states and territories came to about $54 billion. That dropped to $38 billion by the end of 2007, just as the recession began.

Over the next two years, reserves plummeted to $11.1 billion, lower than at any time in the program’s history when adjusted for inflation, the Government Accountability Office said in its most recent report on the issue. Yet benefits have stayed relatively flat, or declined when compared with average weekly wages.

“If you look at it from the employers’ standpoint, they’re not going to want reserves to build up excessively high because then there’s an increasing risk that advocates for benefit expansion would point to the high reserves and say, ‘We can afford to increase benefits,”‘ said Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

A review of state unemployment insurance programs shows how states weakened their trust funds over the past two decades.

In Georgia, lawmakers gave employers a four-year tax holiday from 1999-2003. Employers saved more than $1 billion, but trust fund reserves fell about 40 percent, to $700 million. The state gradually has raised its unemployment insurance taxes since then, but not nearly enough to restore the trust fund to previous levels. The state began borrowing in December 2009. Now it owes Washington about $588 million.

Republican Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner, said his state had one of the lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the nation when the tax holiday was enacted.

“The decision to do this was not really based upon any practical reasoIt was based on a political decision, which I think, by all accounts now, we can look back on and say it was the wrong decision,” Butler said. “Now we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve had to borrow money and that puts everyone in a tight situation.”

In New Jersey, lawmakers used a combination approach to deplete the trust fund. The Legislature expanded benefits and cut taxes, as well as spending $4.7 billion of trust fund revenue to reimburse hospitals for indigent health care. The money was diverted over a period of about 15 years and helps explain why the state’s trust fund dropped from $3.1 billion in 2000 to $35 million by the end of 2010. The state has had to borrow $1.75 billion from the federal government to keep the program afloat.

“It was a real abdication of responsibility and a complete misunderstanding of how you finance an unemployment insurance fund to make sure you have sufficient money in bad economic times,” said Phillip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “In good economic times you build up your bank account, but in New Jersey, they said, ‘Well, we have all this money, let’s spend it.”‘

California took its own road to trust fund insolvency. Lawmakers kept payroll tax rates the same, but gradually doubled the maximum weekly benefit paid to laid-off workers to $450. The average benefit now is about $300 and is paid for about 20 weeks.

Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department, said lawmakers were warned of the consequences.

“We testified at legislative hearings that the fund would eventually go broke and would become permanently insolvent if legislation wasn’t passed to increase revenue,” Levy said.

California has borrowed $9.8 billion to keep unemployment insurance payments flowing. It owes the federal government an interest payment of $362 million by the end of September.

In Michigan, unemployment insurance tax rates declined from 1994 through 2001. The trust fund prospered during those years because of the healthy economy and low unemployment rate. Then the recession arrived and reserves plunged. In response, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that lowered the amount of wages subject to unemployment taxes from $9,500 to $9,000. They increased the maximum weekly benefit from $300 to $362. The trust fund dropped from $1.2 billion to $112 million over the next four years. In September 2006, Michigan was the first state to begin borrowing from the federal government.

Other states held their trust funds purposely low as part of an approach called “pay-as-you-go.” Texas is a nationally recognized leader of this effort. Its philosophy is that, in the long run, it’s better for the economy to keep the maximum level of dollars in the hands of businesses rather than government. Texas had to borrow $1.3 billion in 2009. State officials have no regrets about their policy.

“By keeping the minimum in the (trust fund), Texas is able to maximize funds circulating in the Texas economy, allowing for the creation of jobs and stimulation of economic growth,” said Lisa Givens, spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission.

The pay-as-you-go approach goes against the findings of a presidential commission that looked into the issue of dwindling trust funds in the mid-1990s.

“It would be in the interest of the nation to begin to restore the forward-funding nature of the unemployment insurance system, resulting in a building up of reserves during good economic times and a drawing down of reserves during recessions,” said the Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation, which President Bill Clinton appointed.

Hobbie, from the association representing state labor agencies, said there’s no way to tell which approach is better over the long haul. He acknowledged that keeping reserves at the minimum in good times goes against one of the original aims of the program – to act as an economic stabilizer in bad times. That’s because businesses are asked to pay more in taxes, which leaves them less money to invest in their company.

A survey from Hobbies’ organization found that 35 states raised their state unemployment taxes last year.

Hobbie said he suspects that some states allowed reserves to dwindle out of complacency.

“I think we just got overconfident and thought we wouldn’t experience the bad recessions we had in, say the mid ’70s, and then this big surprise hit,” he said.

Robert Reich

Fmr. Secretary of Labor; Professor at Berkeley; Author, Aftershock: ‘The Next Economy and America’s Future’

Posted: January 22, 2011 11:18 AM

Whenever you hear a business executive or politician use the term “American competitiveness,” watch your wallet. Few terms in public discourse have gone so directly from obscurity to meaninglessness without any intervening period of coherence.

President Obama just appointed Jeffry Immelt, GE’s CEO, to head his outside panel of economic advisors, replacing Paul Volcker. According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, Immelt has “agreed to work through what makes our country more competitive.”

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post announcing his acceptance, Immelt wrote “there is nothing inevitable about America’s declining manufacturing competitiveness if we work together to reverse it.”

But what’s American “competitiveness” and how do you measure it? Here are some different definitions:

  • It’s American exports. Okay, but the easiest way for American companies to increase their exports from the US is for their American-made products to become cheaper internationally. And for them to reduce the price of their American-made stuff they have to cut their costs of production in here. Their biggest cost is their payrolls. So it follows that the simplest way for them to become more “competitive” is to cut their payrolls — either by substituting software and automated machinery for their US workers, or getting (or forcing) their US workers to accept wage and benefit cuts.
  •  

  • It’s net exports. Another way to think about American “competitiveness” is the balance of trade — how much we import from abroad versus how much they import from us. The easiest and most direct way to improve the trade balance is to coax the value of the dollar down relative to foreign currencies (the Fed’s current strategy for flooding the economy with money could have this effect). The result is everything we make becomes cheaper to the rest of the world. But even if other nations were willing to let this happen (doubtful; we’d probably have a currency war instead as they tried to coax down the value of their currencies in response), we’d pay a high price. Everything the rest of the world makes would become more expensive for us.
  •  

  • It’s the profits of American-based companies. In case you haven’t noticed, the profits of American corporations are soaring. That’s largely because sales from their foreign-based operations are booming (especially in China, Brazil, and India). It’s also because they’ve cut their costs of production in the US (see the first item above). American-based companies have become global — making and selling all over the world — so their profitability has little or nothing to do with the number and quality of jobs here in the US. In fact, it may be inversely related.
  •  

  • It’s the number and quality of American jobs. This is my preferred definition, but on this measure we’re doing terribly badly. Most Americans are imprisoned in a terrible trade-off — they can get a job, but only one that pays considerably less than the one they used to have, or they can face unemployment or insecure contract work. The only sure way to improve the quality of jobs over the long term is to build the productivity of American workers and the US overall, which means major investments in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D. But it’s far from clear American corporations and their executives will pay the taxes needed to make these investments. And the only sure way to improve the number of jobs is to give the vast middle and working classes of America sufficient purchasing power to get the economy going again. But here again, it’s far from clear American corporations and their executives will be willing to push for a more progressive tax code, along with wage subsidies, that would put more money into average workers’ pockets.
  •  

 

It’s politically important for President Obama, as for any president, to be available to American business, and to avoid the moniker of being “anti-business.” But the president must not be seduced into believing — and must not allow the public to be similarly seduced into thinking — that the well-being of American business is synonymous with the well-being of Americans.

Hu Jintao State Dinner

CHRISTOPHER BODEEN   01/16/11 08:24 PM   AP

BEIJING — Chinese leader Hu Jintao is being feted in Washington this week with a lavish state banquet at the White House and other pomp usually reserved for close friends and allies – all intended to improve the tone of relations between a risen, more assertive and prosperous China and a U.S. superpower in a tenuous economic recovery.

The shaky trust between the United States and China has been eroding recently because of an array of issues – currency policies and trade barriers, nuclear proliferation and North Korea – and both sides seem to recognize the need to recalibrate relations.

The U.S. is one of China’s biggest markets, with $380 billion in annual trade largely in Beijing’s favor. Washington increasingly needs Beijing’s help in managing world troubles, from piracy off Africa to Iran’s nuclear program and reinvigorating the world economy.

Hu sounded a conciliatory tone in a rare interview with U.S. newspapers ahead of his visit, saying the two countries could mutually benefit by finding “common ground” on issues ranging from combatting terrorism and nuclear proliferation to clean energy and infrastructure initiatives.

“There is no denying that there are some differences and sensitive issues between us,” Hu said in written answers to questions submitted by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal that were published over the weekend. “We both stand to gain from a sound China-U.S. relationship, and lose from confrontation.”

Hu called for more dialogues and exchanges to enhance “practical cooperation,” stressing the need to “abandon the zero-sum Cold War mentality” in U.S.-China relations.

Center for Strategic and International Studies scholar Charles Freeman, a former trade negotiator in the George W. Bush administration, said, “It is absolutely critical for the two sides to be setting a tone that says ‘hang on a second, we are committed to an effective, positive relationship.'”

The state banquet President Barack Obama is hosting will be Hu’s first. In the days before his visit, senior officials from both countries have spoken publicly in favor of better ties.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech Friday that the countries needed to manage their conflicts but their shared interests were so entwined as to constitute entanglement.

“History teaches us that the rise of new powers often ushers in periods of conflict and uncertainty,” Clinton said. “Indeed, on both sides of the Pacific, we do see trepidation about the rise of China and the future of the U.S.-China relationship. We both have much more to gain from cooperation than from conflict.”

Chinese officials have emphasized what they see as common concerns while acknowledging the complexity of the relationship.

“When the relationship is strained we need to bear in mind the larger picture and not allow any individual issue to disrupt our overall cooperation,” Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said in a speech Friday.

Such maxims, however, don’t apply to issues China defines as its “core interests,” including Taiwan, Tibet and the overarching authority of the Communist Party. That’s a condition Hu’s visit won’t change.

In his interview for the U.S. newspapers, Hu said the two countries should “respect each other’s choice of development path,” an implicit rejection of U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record and other internal affairs.

Hu, whose four-day trip starts Tuesday, is expected to talk up China’s intended peaceful rise in a speech to business leaders and opinion-makers in Washington on Thursday and to highlight the benefits of China’s market and investment when visiting Chicago.

Aware of China’s plummeting image in American opinion, Chinese Foreign Ministry functionaries have in recent weeks been looking for ways to make the usually stiff Hu, and China as a country, appear more human, something akin to reformist patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s donning a 10-gallon hat in Houston in 1979 just after the opening of diplomatic relations.

For the protocol-obsessed Chinese leadership, a highlight of the visit will be Wednesday’s state banquet – an honor denied Hu on his last trip to the White House in 2006. President George W. Bush thought state banquets should be reserved for allies and like-minded powers and instead gave Hu a lunch. Even worse, a member of Falun Gong, the spiritual movement banned by China, disrupted Hu and Bush’s joint appearance, and an announcer incorrectly called China “The Republic of China,” the formal name of democratically ruled Taiwan.

In this visit, no major agreements are expected. Talks over a joint statement ran aground until last-minute negotiations in Beijing last week. But the shared recognition to put things right and the bumpy relations of the last year augur for a better outcome.

The U.S. wants Beijing to move toward faster appreciation of its currency to boost U.S. exports and reduce unemployment. But in his written answers to the U.S. newspapers, Hu did not signal any significant changes in China’s currency policy.

China now holds the world’s largest foreign currency reserves at $2.85 trillion and a major chunk of U.S. government debt. At current rates, economists estimate China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy within 20 years, possibly by the end of this decade.

Hu said “the current international currency system is the product of the past,” but he did not dispute the U.S. dollar’s role as the global reserve currency. He said it “will be a fairly long process” before the Chinese renminbi can become an international reserve currency.

Beijing has largely rebuffed U.S. appeals for help in reining in bellicose North Korea, curbing Iran’s nuclear program and dismantling of trade barriers. Chinese officials and the nationalistic state-run media have criticized Washington’s renewed attention to Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia, its arms sales to Taiwan and its continued naval patrols in the Yellow and South China seas as attempts to constrain China’s influence in its backyard.

Economic View

 

 

BY the time President Obama gave his State of the Union address last year, the speech felt like an old friend. It had been part of my life — from the brainstorming sessions in late November 2009 to the last minute fact-checking. I knew when all of my favorite lines were coming. That led to an awkward moment during the address when I sprang to my feet, applauding the president’s tacit endorsement of the free-trade agreement with South Korea, before noticing that the only other person cheering seemed to be Ron Kirk, the special trade representative.

David G. Klein

 

This year, instead of being on the floor of Congress with the rest of the cabinet, I will be watching on television with the rest of the country. Instead of knowing what is coming, I can write about what I hope the president will say. My hope is that the centerpiece of the speech will be a comprehensive plan for dealing with the long-run budget deficit.

I am not talking about two paragraphs lamenting the problem and vowing to fix it. I am looking for pages and pages of concrete proposals that the administration is ready to fight for. The recommendations of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that the president created are a very good place to start.

The need for such a bold plan is urgent — both politically and economically. Voters made it clear last November that they were fed up with red ink. President Obama should embrace the reality that his re-election may depend on facing up to the budget problem.

The economic need is also pressing. The extreme deficits of the last few years are largely a consequence of the terrible state of the economy and the actions needed to stem the downturn. But even with a strong recovery, under current policy the deficit is projected to be more than 6 percent of gross domestic product in 2020. By 2035, if the twin tsunami of rising health care costs and the retirement of the baby boomers hits with full force, we will be looking at deficits of at least 15 percent of G.D.P.

Such deficits are not sustainable. At some point — likely well before 2035 — investors would revolt and the United States would be unable to borrow. We would become the Argentina of the 21st century.

So what should the president say and do? First, he should make clear that the issue is spending and taxes over the coming decades, not spending in 2011. Republicans in Congress have pledged to cut nonmilitary, non-entitlement spending in 2011 by $100 billion (less if recent reports are correct). Such a step would do nothing to address the fundamental drivers of the budget problem, and would weaken the economy when we are only beginning to recover.

Instead, the president should outline major cuts in spending that would go into effect over the next few decades, and that he wants to sign into law in 2011.

Respected analysts across the ideological spectrum agree that rising health care spending is the biggest source of the frightening long-run deficit projections. That is why the president made cost control central to health reform legislation. He should vow not just to veto a repeal of the legislation, but to fight to strengthen its cost-containment mechanisms.

One important provision of the law was the creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which must propose reforms if Medicare spending exceeds the target rate of growth. But the legislation exempted some providers and much government health spending from the board’s purview. The president should work to give the board a broader mandate for cost control.

The fiscal commission recommended that military spending — which has risen by more than 50 percent in real terms since 2001 — grow much more slowly in the future. It also proposed thoughtful ways to slow the growth of Social Security spending while protecting the disabled and the poor. And it recommended caps on nonmilitary, non-entitlement spending.

President Obama needs to explain that while these cuts will be painful, there is no way to solve our budget problem without shared sacrifice. At the same time, he should give a ringing endorsement of government investment in infrastructure, research and education, which increases productivity and thus improves both our standard of living and the budget situation over time. And, following the fiscal commission, he should ensure that spending cuts not fall on the disadvantaged.

Finally, the president has to be frank about the need for more tax revenue. Even with bold spending cuts, there will still be a large deficit. The only realistic way to close the gap is by raising revenue. Some of it can and should come from higher taxes on the rich. But because there are far more middle-class families than wealthy ones, much of the additional money will have to come from ordinary people. Since any agreement will have to be bipartisan, Congressional Republicans will have to come to terms with this fact as well.

AGAIN, the fiscal commission has made sensible proposals. It recommended broad tax reform that lowers marginal tax rates and cuts tax expenditures — deductions and exemptions for mortgage interest, employer-provided benefits, charitable giving, and so on. Such tax reform cannot be revenue-neutral — it needs to increase tax receipts. But it can make the system simpler, fairer and more efficient while doing so.

Limiting the exemption of employer-provided health benefits would have the further advantage of making companies and workers more cost-conscious about health care.

Another revenue measure should be a tax on polluting energy. Basic economics says that something that has widespread adverse effects should be taxed. A gradual increase in the gasoline tax would raise revenue and encourage the development of cleaner energy sources. A broader carbon tax would be even better.

None of these changes should be immediate. With unemployment at 9.4 percent and the economy constrained by lack of demand, it would be heartless and counterproductive to move to fiscal austerity in 2011. Indeed, the additional fiscal stimulus passed in the lame-duck session — particularly the payroll tax cut and the unemployment insurance extension — is the right policy for now. But legislation that gradually and persistently trims the deficit would not harm the economy today. Indeed, it could increase demand by raising confidence and certainty.

The president has a monumental task. It’s extremely hard to build consensus around a deficit reduction plan that will be painful and unpopular with powerful interest groups. The only way to do so is to marshal the good sense and patriotism of the American people. That process should start with the State of the Union.

Christina D. Romer is an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and was the chairwoman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

 

Written by

Martin Feldstein

CAMBRIDGE –The tax package agreed to by President Barack Obama and his Republican opponents in the United States Congress represents the right mix of an appropriate short-run fiscal policy and a first step toward longer-term fiscal prudence. The key feature of the agreement is to continue the existing 2010 income-tax rates for another two years with no commitment about what will happen to tax rates after that.

Without that agreement, tax rates would have reverted in 2011 to the higher level that prevailed before the Bush tax cuts of 2001. That would mean higher taxes for all taxpayers, raising tax liabilities in 2011 and 2012 by about $450 billion (1.5% of GDP).

Because America’s GDP has recently been growing at an annual rate of only about 2% – and final sales at only about 1% – such a tax increase would probably have pushed the US economy into a new recession. Although the new tax law is generally described as a fiscal stimulus, it is more accurate to say that it avoids a large immediate fiscal contraction.

The long-term implications of the agreement stand in sharp contrast both to Obama’s February 2010 budget proposal and to the Republicans’ counter-proposal. Obama wanted to continue the 2010 tax rates permanently for all taxpayers except those with annual incomes over $250,000. The Republicans proposed continuing the 2010 tax rates permanently for all taxpayers. By agreeing to limit the current tax rates for just two years, the tax package reduces the projected national debt at the end of the decade (relative to what it would have been with the Obama budget) by some $2 trillion or nearly 10% of GDP in 2020.

That reduction in potential deficits and debt can by itself give a boost to the economy in 2011 by calming fears that an exploding national debt would eventually force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates – perhaps sharply if foreign buyers of US Treasuries suddenly became frightened by the deficit prospects.

The official budget arithmetic will treat the agreement on personal-income tax rates as a $450 billion increase in the deficit, making it seem like a big fiscal stimulus. But the agreement only maintains the existing tax rates, so taxpayers do not see it as a tax cut. It would be a fiscal stimulus only if taxpayers had previously expected that Congress and the administration would allow the tax rates to rise – an unlikely prospect, given the highly adverse effects that doing so would have had on the currently weak economy.

Even for those taxpayers who had feared a tax increase in 2011 and 2012, it is not clear how much the lower tax payments will actually boost consumer spending. The previous temporary tax cuts in 2008 and 2009 appear to have gone largely into saving and debt reduction rather than increased spending.

It is surprising, therefore, that forecasters raised their GDP growth forecasts for 2011 significantly on the basis of the tax agreement. A typical reaction was to raise the forecast for 2011 from 2.5% to 3.5%. While an increase of this magnitude would be plausible if a forecaster had previously expected tax rates to increase in 2011, it would not have been reasonable to forecast 2.5% growth in the first place with that assumption in mind. So, either the initial 2.5% forecast was too high or the increase of one percentage point is too large.

What is true of the agreement is also true of the decision, as part of that agreement, to maintain unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed. This, too, is essentially just a continuation of the status quo. No new benefit has been created.

The most substantial potential boost to spending comes from a temporary reduction of the payroll tax, lowering the rate paid by employees on income up to about $100,000 from 6.2% to 4.2%. But, while the decline in tax payments will be about 0.8% of GDP, it is not clear how much of this will translate into additional consumer spending and how much into additional saving. Because this tax cut will take the form of lower withholding from weekly or monthly wages, it may seem more permanent than it really is, and therefore have a greater impact on spending than households’ very feeble response to the previous temporary tax changes.

The final component of the agreement is temporary acceleration of tax depreciation, allowing firms in 2011 to write off 100% of capital investment immediately, in contrast to the current rule, which stipulates a 50% immediate write-off, followed by depreciation of the remaining 50% over the statutory life of the equipment. But, at a time when interest rates are very low and large businesses have enormous amounts of cash on their balance sheets, this change in the timing of tax payments is not likely to do much to stimulate investment.

A greater stimulus to business investment may come from the perception that Obama’s agreement to extend the personal-income tax cuts for high-income individuals signals his administration’s reduced antagonism to business and the wealthy. Obama’s recent statement that he favors reforming personal and corporate taxes by lowering rates and broadening the tax base reinforces that impression. Let’s hope that’s true.

Martin Feldstein, Professor of Economics at Harvard, was Chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, and is former President of the National Bureau for Economic Research.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.
http://www.project-syndicate.org

BEN FELLER | 12/22/10 09:23 PM | AP

WASHINGTON — Buoyant in political victory, President Barack Obama on Wednesday wrapped up a long, rough year in Washington by rejoicing in a rare, bipartisan “season of progress” over tax cuts, national security and civil justice. Halfway through his term, he served notice to his skeptics: “I am persistent.”

The president who strode on stage for a news conference cut a remarkably different figure than the Obama who, just seven weeks ago, held a similar event in which he somberly admitted he had taken a “shellacking” in the midterm elections and needed to re-evaluate. This time, Obama was about to jet off to a Hawaiian holiday vacation knowing he had secured the kind of legislative wins that rarely come so bundled as they just did, particularly in a postelection lawmaking session.

Obama spoke on the same day that he found enough allies in both parties to get Senate ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, a vote watched around the world as a test of international security and presidential clout. He also signed landmark legislation to allow gays to serve openly in the military, calling himself overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment.

And that was on top of other achievements, including a hard-fought deal to extend tax cuts and unemployment insurance even as it piled on more debt, a broad food security bill, a trade deal with South Korea and declarations of progress in the widening war in Afghanistan.

“If there’s any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it’s that we are not doomed to endless gridlock,” Obama said. “We’ve shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together.”

That spirit may be fleeting.

Obama was able to get the votes he needed in a lame-duck session in which his party still controlled the House and Senate, retiring or ousted members could act knowing they would no longer face voters, and the potential of a politically devastating tax hike on Jan. 1 forced lawmakers into action. None of those factors will be in play come January when Republicans take control of the House and have a greater voice in the Senate as well.

To a nation long tired of political gamesmanship, Obama used the moment to try to put himself above it – and to challenge both parties to join him. He said voters wanted this “season of progress,” promising to stick with that mission and hoping “my Democratic and Republican friends will do the same.”

He also did not get all he wanted, losing some fights and swallowing a two-year extension of tax cuts for wealthier people as part of the tax deal.

Obama underscored his agenda ahead, much of it amounting to unfinished promises: deficit reduction, energy innovation, immigration reform, the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, education and research investments, and the biggest item of all: finding ways to create more jobs for millions of hurting Americans.

In the course of questioning, Obama revealed that his position on gay marriage is “constantly evolving.” He has opposed such marriages and supported instead civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The president said such civil unions are his baseline – at this point, as he put it.

“This is something that we’re going to continue to debate, and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward,” he said.

The slow progress on the economy continues to pull down the spirits of the country and threaten to overshadow many of Obama’s other successes. Unemployment was measured at 9.8 percent in November, down only slightly from its double-digit high in 2009. Obama sought to broaden the burden of responsibility to Republicans for a faster economic rebound, saying “people are going to be paying attention to what they’re doing as well as what I’m doing.”

Obama sought to give credit to Congress, and chiefly the Democrats who have been running it, for what he called the most successful post-election period in decades. But he also sought to assert his own role and power, just weeks after his relevancy had been called into question.

“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck: I am persistent,” Obama said. “If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it.”

He saved his most emotional appeal for committing anew to the DREAM Act, a measure which would offer a path to legal status for young illegal immigrants who enroll in college or join the military. It died in Congress in the waning days of the session, overwhelmed by Republican opposition. Obama said those young people live in fear of deportation.

“It is heartbreaking,” he said. “That can’t be who we are.”

Obama also promised that deficit reduction would be a major issue in 2011. The midterm elections were seen in part as a reflection of how many Americans are sick of Washington’s spending ways, and promises over the years to rein in deficit spending have fallen short of reality when the choices get tough.

“I guarantee you, as soon as the new Congress is sworn in, we’re going to have to have a conversation about, how do we start balancing our budget or at least getting to a point that’s sustainable when it comes to our deficit and our debt?” he said.

Obama was flying to Hawaii later in the day, joining his wife and the couple’s two children for a year-end holiday. When he returns, it will be a few days before a new Congress convenes, with a House controlled by Republicans and a Senate with a shrunken Democratic majority.

More Savings If You Have Young Children Or Attend College

STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — It’s the most significant new tax law in a decade, but what does it mean for you? Big savings for millions of taxpayers, more if you have young children or attend college, a lot more if you’re wealthy.

 The package, signed Friday by President Barack Obama, will save taxpayers, on average, about $3,000 next year.

 But many families will be able to save much more by taking advantage of tax breaks for being married, having children, paying for child care, going to college or investing in securities. There are even tax breaks for paying local sales taxes and using mass transit, and a new Social Security tax cut for nearly every worker who earns a wage.

Most of the tax cuts have been around since early in the decade. The new law will prevent them from expiring Jan. 1. Others are new, such as the decrease in the Social Security payroll tax. Altogether, they provide a thick menu of opportunities for families at every income level.

“The tax code wants to encourage people to invest in their homes, invest in their education, invest in their retirement, and you have to know about all of these in order to take advantage of it,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

The law extends most of the tax cuts for two years, including lower rates for the rich, the middle class and the working poor, a $1,000-per-child tax credit, tax breaks for college students and lower taxes on capital gains and dividends. A new one-year tax cut will reduce most workers’ Social Security payroll taxes by nearly a third next year, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

A mishmash of other tax cuts will be extended through next year. They include deductions for student loans and local sales taxes, and a tax break for using mass transit. The alternative minimum tax will be patched, sparing more than 20 million middle-income families from increases averaging $3,900 in 2010 and 2011.

The $858 billion package also includes $57 billion in renewed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“I am absolutely convinced that this tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector,” Obama has said. “It will help lift up middle-class families, who will no longer need to worry about a New Year’s Day tax hike. … It includes tax cuts to make college more affordable, help parents provide for their children, and help businesses, large and small, expand and hire.”

At the request of The Associated Press, The Tax Institute at H&R Block developed detailed estimates for how the new law will affect families at various income levels next year:

-A single taxpayer making $50,000 a year who rents an apartment and pays $3,500 in college tuition and fees would save $2,280 in income taxes and $1,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of $3,280.

-A married couple with two young children, some modest investments and combined wages of $100,000, would save $6,256 in income taxes and $2,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of more than $8,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates, a $1,000 per child tax credit and a $1,200 tax credit for child care expenses. The couple earns $2,000 in dividends but it would be tax-free at their income level. Wealthier investors would pay a top tax rate of 15 percent on dividends. The couple would also be spared from paying the alternative minimum tax, and would pay lower Social Security payroll taxes.

-A married couple with a child in high school and another in college, combined wages of $170,000 and larger investments would save nearly $7,800 in income taxes and $3,400 in Social Security taxes – a combined savings of nearly $11,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates and more generous deductions for state and local income taxes, property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable donations.

Assuming the couple earned $4,000 in qualified dividends and $5,000 in capital gains, that income would be taxed at 15 percent, instead of the higher rates that would have taken effect without the new law.

At their income level, the couple wouldn’t qualify for the child tax credit and would get only $125 from the education tax credit. However, they would save more than $3,600 because they would be largely spared from the AMT.

“One thing generally about the higher income taxpayers is that even though they have a lot of opportunities, they also phase out of a lot of benefits that are designed for lower- to middle-income taxpayers,” said Gil Charney, principal tax analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block.WASHINGTON — It’s the most significant new tax law in a decade, but what does it mean for you? Big savings for millions of taxpayers, more if you have young children or attend college, a lot more if you’re wealthy.

The package, signed Friday by President Barack Obama, will save taxpayers, on average, about $3,000 next year.

But many families will be able to save much more by taking advantage of tax breaks for being married, having children, paying for child care, going to college or investing in securities. There are even tax breaks for paying local sales taxes and using mass transit, and a new Social Security tax cut for nearly every worker who earns a wage.

Most of the tax cuts have been around since early in the decade. The new law will prevent them from expiring Jan. 1. Others are new, such as the decrease in the Social Security payroll tax. Altogether, they provide a thick menu of opportunities for families at every income level.

“The tax code wants to encourage people to invest in their homes, invest in their education, invest in their retirement, and you have to know about all of these in order to take advantage of it,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

The law extends most of the tax cuts for two years, including lower rates for the rich, the middle class and the working poor, a $1,000-per-child tax credit, tax breaks for college students and lower taxes on capital gains and dividends. A new one-year tax cut will reduce most workers’ Social Security payroll taxes by nearly a third next year, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

A mishmash of other tax cuts will be extended through next year. They include deductions for student loans and local sales taxes, and a tax break for using mass transit. The alternative minimum tax will be patched, sparing more than 20 million middle-income families from increases averaging $3,900 in 2010 and 2011.

The $858 billion package also includes $57 billion in renewed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“I am absolutely convinced that this tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector,” Obama has said. “It will help lift up middle-class families, who will no longer need to worry about a New Year’s Day tax hike. … It includes tax cuts to make college more affordable, help parents provide for their children, and help businesses, large and small, expand and hire.”

At the request of The Associated Press, The Tax Institute at H&R Block developed detailed estimates for how the new law will affect families at various income levels next year:

-A single taxpayer making $50,000 a year who rents an apartment and pays $3,500 in college tuition and fees would save $2,280 in income taxes and $1,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of $3,280.

-A married couple with two young children, some modest investments and combined wages of $100,000, would save $6,256 in income taxes and $2,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of more than $8,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates, a $1,000 per child tax credit and a $1,200 tax credit for child care expenses. The couple earns $2,000 in dividends but it would be tax-free at their income level. Wealthier investors would pay a top tax rate of 15 percent on dividends. The couple would also be spared from paying the alternative minimum tax, and would pay lower Social Security payroll taxes.

-A married couple with a child in high school and another in college, combined wages of $170,000 and larger investments would save nearly $7,800 in income taxes and $3,400 in Social Security taxes – a combined savings of nearly $11,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates and more generous deductions for state and local income taxes, property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable donations.

Assuming the couple earned $4,000 in qualified dividends and $5,000 in capital gains, that income would be taxed at 15 percent, instead of the higher rates that would have taken effect without the new law.

At their income level, the couple wouldn’t qualify for the child tax credit and would get only $125 from the education tax credit. However, they would save more than $3,600 because they would be largely spared from the AMT.

“One thing generally about the higher income taxpayers is that even though they have a lot of opportunities, they also phase out of a lot of benefits that are designed for lower- to middle-income taxpayers,” said Gil Charney, principal tax analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block.