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.”

By JIM ABRAMS 02/ 8/12 10:00 AM ETAssociated Press AP

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House is trying Wednesday to give President Barack Obama the line-item veto, a constitutionally questionable power over the purse that has been sought by both Republican and Democratic presidents.

The legislation, expected to pass, allows the president to pick out specific items in spending bills for elimination. Currently, the president must sign or veto spending bills in their entirety.

The president’s choices for removal would then have to be approved by Congress.

Congress has made several attempts in the past to enact line-item veto bills, saying that surgical cuts to spending bills are useful both in removing wasteful earmarks and in reducing spending. Most state governors have some kind of line-item veto power.

The House bill, offered by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the top Democrat on the committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, stipulates that all savings from eliminated programs would go to deficit reduction. House Republicans have included the bill as part of a package of measures to overhaul the budget process so as to save money.

In 1996, a Republican-controlled Congress succeeded in giving line-item veto authority to another Democratic president, Bill Clinton. He exercised that authority 82 times, and although Congress overrode his veto on 38 instances, the moves saved the government almost $2 billion.

But in 1998, on a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, saying it violated the principle that Congress, and not the executive branch, holds the power of the purse.

Supporters say the bill has been written to meet constitutional standards. They say that while the president can propose items for rescission, or elimination, Congress must then vote on the revised spending package and then the president must sign what is in effect a new bill.

Under the proposal, the president has 45 days within the enactment of a spending bill to send a special message to Congress proposing cuts to any amount of discretionary, or non-entitlement, spending. Legislation to consider the proposed cuts would move quickly to the House and Senate floors for automatic up-or-down votes with no amendments.

The White House, in a statement, said it “strongly supports” passage of the bill, praising it for “helping to eliminate unnecessary spending and discouraging waste.” It said the bill was similar to a line-item veto proposal that Obama sent to Congress in May, 2010.

One top Democrat, minority whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, voiced opposition, saying that while he had supported line-item veto bills in the past, he thought the bill was too restrictive in requiring that money saved from a rescission go to deficit reduction and could not be used to fund other priorities.

The bill, if it passes the House, faces an unclear road ahead in the Senate. Four senators – Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Dan Coats of Indiana and Democrats Tom Carper of Delaware and Mark Udall of Colorado – pushed to have a line-item veto provision considered by the supercommittee which last year was unable to come up with a comprehensive plan to reduce the deficit.

But the Senate, traditionally more protective of its constitutional powers, has not always been receptive to the line-item veto idea. In 2007 former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., picked up 49 votes for a line-item proposal, well short of the 60 needed to break a Democratic-led filibuster.

Written by Alexander Eichler Reported in Huffington Post

 

What does it mean to be poor?

If it means living at or below the poverty line, then 15 percent of Americans — some 46 million people — qualify. But if it means living with a decent income and hardly any savings — so that one piece of bad luck, one major financial blow, could land you in serious, lasting trouble — then it’s a much larger number. In fact, it’s almost half the country.

“The resources that people have — they are using up those resources,” said Jennifer Brooks, director of state and local policy at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. “They’re living off their savings. They’re at the end of their rope.”

The group issued a report today examining so-called liquid asset poverty households  — the people who aren’t living below the poverty line, but don’t have enough money saved to weather a significant emergency.

According to the report, 43 percent of households in America — some 127.5 million people — are liquid-asset poor. If one of these households experiences a sudden loss of income, caused, for example, by a layoff or a medical emergency, it will fall below the poverty line within three months. People in these households simply don’t have enough cash to make it for very long in a crisis.

The findings underscore the struggles of many Americans during what has often seemed like an economic recovery in name only. While the Great Recession officially ended more than two years ago, unemployment remains high and wages have barely budged for most workers. For more people, whether they draw a paycheck or not, a life free of deprivation and financial anxiety seems perpetually out of reach.

That’s not to say that everyone who is liquid-asset poor spends all their time fretting. On the contrary, because many have regular paychecks coming in, they may not grasp the precariousness of their situation.

“They don’t necessarily realize how close people can be to one interruption to income or one interruption to health benefits,” said David Rothstein, the project director for asset building at the non-profit Policy Matters Ohio. “They’re one paycheck away from being in debt.”

Rothstein, who also serves on a steering committee at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, told The Huffington Post that payday lenders — who loan money to desperate borrowers at high interest rates, drawing people into hard-to-escape cycles of debt — are “a huge problem” in Ohio, as in many other states. People often turn to payday lenders to cover one-time, unexpected expenses, but can end up in a long and costly relationship.

“People say things like, it’s just one mechanical problem with their car,” said Rothstein. Before they know it, he said, “every other week, they’re back at the payday lending shop.”

The Corporation for Enterprise Development findings echo other recent studies showing that many Americans are ill-prepared for financial emergencies. Analysts said the reasons include flat wages, the high cost of medical treatment and the nationwide drop in housing values leaving homeowners with less wealth than they believed they had.

Andrea Levere, the president of Corporation for Enterprise Development, told HuffPost that greater financial literacy might have helped prevent the current situation.

People can “graduate high school and not know how to write a check,” Levere said, adding that an increased emphasis on personal responsibility for budgeting and spending sould be an important part of any step forward.

At the same time, Corporation for Enterprise Development officials were quick to argue that public policy needs to address the scope of the problem. Levere cited the example of asset limits in public benefit programs, which restrict services like food assistance and public health insurance to households with few or no assets — a policy that critics say denies help to many people in need.

“In some cases,” said Levere, “it means they can’t even own a car that is in good enough shape to get them to work.”

Brooks agreed. “A family that loses its job, that was maybe solidly middle class, in a state where they have restrictive asset tests, is going to have to liquidate all their assets, all their savings for the future” in order to qualify for benefits.

The report maintains that there are a number of measures that could alleviate liquid asset poverty, from strengthening consumer protections against payday lenders to making greater assistance available to first-time homebuyers. Levere said even minor policy adjustments could have “revolutionary implications.”

“There’s a lot of ways forward. It doesn’t mean it’s not tough,” Levere said. “I’m a great believer in one step at a time.”

 

As reported by Jennifer Bendary from Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders have settled on which piece of President Barack Obama’s jobs plan they want to move on first: $35 billion for state and local governments to rehire teachers, police and firefighters.

“Our expectation [is] that the first measure will be teachers,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a Monday press gaggle aboard Air Force One.

“I didn’t want to get ahead of Senator Reid,” Carney said of breaking the news. “We have been in consultation with him, but it’s his prerogative and we’re very pleased that he will be taking it up.”

During a conference call, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he plans to unveil the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act later Monday and decide “in the next day or two” when to hold a vote on it. He said the bill would keep 400,000 teachers and first responders on the job, and would be paid for by imposing a 5 percent tax on millionaires.

Asked which pieces of Obama’s jobs plan are next in line for Senate votes, Reid demurred. But he said he has already settled on the next four votes on pieces of Obama’s bill and is waiting to meet with the Democratic Caucus on Tuesday before discussing his plan publicly.

“There is no reason we cannot finish the appropriations bills before the end of the week, and have a vote on this jobs bill,” Reid told reporters on the call. “I am happy to keep the Senate in session as long as needed to make sure we get a vote on this jobs bill.”

Reid’s office also sent out a fact sheet that highlights past votes and statements by Republicans in favor of jobs bills similar to the teacher/first responders aid bill. The fact sheet cites a May 2010 press release by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying he was “proud” to help secure funds for first responders. It also points to a March 2007 vote to fully fund the COPS program; it included the support of 16 GOP senators.

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During a speech earlier Monday in Fletcher, N.C., Obama knocked Senate Republicans for voting down his entire $447 billion jobs package last week. All Republicans opposed a procedural vote to begin debate on the bill, along with two Democrats. Obama said his push to break out pieces of his bill and hold individual votes on them gives Republicans “another chance” to act on jobs.

“Maybe they just couldn’t understand the whole thing all at once,” Obama said, drawing laughs from the crowd of supporters. “So we’re going to break it up into bite-sized pieces so they can take a thoughtful approach to this legislation.”

“So this week, I’m going to ask members of Congress to vote on one component of the plan, which is whether we should put hundreds of thousands of teachers back in the classroom and cops back on the street and firefighters back to work.”

Of course, the reality is that Republicans are poised to vote against any piece of Obama’s plan because they don’t like how it is paid for: by raising taxes on millionaires and ending subsidies for the oil and gas industry. But with the 2012 elections in mind, Obama and Democratic leaders plan to keep lining up votes anyway to build the case that Republicans are voting against jobs and the economy in the name of protecting corporate interests.

This story has been updated with information on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s conference call Monday.

By  Peter Wallsten, Published: September 8

More than two dozen senators from both parties met privately this week to revive hopes of a grand debt-cutting bargain — exploring how to push the newly formed debt “supercommittee” to find far more than its assigned goal of $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions.

The senators want at least $3 trillion slashed from the deficit over the next decade. In addition, they plan to press the committee to pass a major tax overhaul to lower rates and close special-interest loopholes, as well as changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare, according to several participants.

The effort comes as the 12-member supercommittee begins what is expected to be a grueling process to map out its plans before a November deadline — and it threatens to undercut the chances for President Obama to win passage for portions of a jobs plan expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars in the short term.

“I don’t think I’m speaking out of school that it was a unanimous feeling among a large group of senators from both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of the meeting participants. “Most people are far more focused on this supercommittee than any speech the president’s going to give.”

Another in the group, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), said the senators want to “encourage” the supercommittee “to reach for a higher number.” He said the committee should “compromise with one another and do what parts of each party will not like, for the greater good, because that’s really what most of the people in the country want.”

Obama, too, is expected to press the committee to exceed its deficit-reduction goal. In his speech Thursday night, he called on Congress to increase the super­committee’s deficit-cutting goals to cover the costs of his jobs plan, and he said that a week from Monday he will announce a more detailed plan “that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.”

Several people familiar with the discussions said the lawmakers felt that, after the pomp and ceremony of Obama’s joint-session speech fades, the center of political and policy gravity on Capitol Hill will be the work of the special committee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.).

Under last month’s debt-ceiling deal struck by Obama and GOP lawmakers, deep cuts would automatically take effect in national security and other areas if the supercommittee fails to reach agreement or if Congress fails to pass legislation by December.

One senior Democratic aide called Obama’s jobs plan largely “dead on arrival” because its expected price tag would roughly cancel out the one year’s worth of savings many lawmakers hope the supercommittee will find.

The Senate on Thursday blocked a resolution of disapproval for an additional $500 billion increase in the debt ceiling. The procedure is required by the legislation to raise the borrowing limit in phases by at least $2.1 trillion.

A Senate staffer familiar with the senators’ private discussions said the effort was intended to be “complementary” to the work of the supercommittee but also to offer a gentle nudge.

The staffer said the senators’ push would “demonstrate there can be some support and safety if they choose to go beyond their charge.”

Both aides spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the private deliberations.

The private gathering this week, held Wednesday in a Capitol meeting room, included about 25 centrists from both parties. It was organized by Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), two members of the “Gang of Six,” which tried unsuccessfully to engineer a grand deal patterned loosely after the plan laid out by the deficit commission headed by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former senator Alan Simpson.

At least a third of the Senate at one time had indicated some level of support for the broad framework being negotiated by the Gang of Six, according to people familiar with that group’s discussions.

As reported in Courier Post 8/19/11

 

New Jersey’s proposed energy policy calls for 22.5 percent  of the state’s power to come from renewable sources within 10 years  a goal that was the subject of heavy debate at a legislative hearing  attended by nearly 100 people Thursday.

Environmentalists said they want a 30 percent target, but business  leaders said that would drive their costs up.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, defended the goal proposed  in Gov. Chris Christie’s draft energy master plan, calling it fair  and an “aggressive standard.”

Only eight states have higher renewable portfolio standards  than 22.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy website.  The standards are state policies that require electricity providers  to obtain a minimum percentage of their power from renewable energy  resources, including the sun and wind, by a certain date.

After Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club made a case for  the higher benchmark, Beck said: “I’ve been told on many occasions  that’s a stretch for us. We know solar and wind are great sources,  but they’re not particularly reliable, and that’s a challenge.  There’s also a responsibility for us to be realistic to set goals  that can be met.”

New Jersey currently obtains less than 10 percent of its electricity  supply from renewable energy sources.

But Tittel noted that New Jersey has ramped up, with more than  10,000 solar arrays installed. Only California has more.

“We’re No. 2 in solar installations. We shouldn’t go back,”  said Tittel, who added that he fears Christie’s policy could jeopardize  funding for renewable energy projects for homeowners and small  businesses and affect more than 200 solar companies in New Jersey.

Corporate executives who testified said the current relative  high costs of solar energy should not be discounted.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations  for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the poor economy underscores  the need for an energy policy that loosens restrictions. He praised  Christie’s plan.

“I think you have to look at everything in context,” said Egenton,  who said money spent on higher energy costs by companies would lead  to less money spent on operations and investments. “You have to  look at the bigger picture.”

The joint legislative hearing took place at the Toms River town  hall and was co-chaired by Sen. Bob Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon,  both Democrats.

State energy regulators also are holding hearings this month  and will vote to adopt a final energy policy later this year.

The lawmakers on the panel received an admonishment from Janet  Tauro, an environmentalist who is co-chairwoman of Grandmothers,  Mothers and More for Energy Safety.

With the topic turned to energy conservation, Tauro made a common  sense suggestion:

“We can turn down the air conditioning and turn off lights,”  said Tauro, also of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Most of the panel members were in jackets or sweaters.

There was little reaction from the panel after Tauro, a Brick  resident, made her comment. Later the room became colder, and more  lights were turned on.

As presented in InvestorsInsight.com

 

One of the great privileges of traveling and speaking as I do is getting to
meet a wide variety of very interesting people. Of late, I have become friends
with David Walker, former Comptroller General of the US, who is now
crisscrossing the country warning of the deficit crisis. It is a message that my
book Endgame resonates with. If we do not bring the deficit down below
the growth rate of nominal GDP, we become Greece. We hit an economic wall and
everything collapses. It will be a real and true Depression 2.0. Fixing this is
the single most important topic and task of our generation. If we do not,
worrying about P/E ratios, moving averages, long-term investments – anything
else, in fact – is secondary. Solve this and we can go back to the usual
issues.

This week’s Outside the Box is a presentation that David made recently.
Powerful stuff. I urge you to forward this on. The message must be heard so that
we can as a nation get this right. The world does not need a crippled USA.

David released a short statement about the Navy Seals getting Osama
(finally!). It echoes my own thoughts.

“All Americans should come together in appreciation for the work of America’s
intelligence agencies and special forces who planned and executed yesterday’s
Osama Bin Laden operation. While his death is a key milestone in the fight
against terrorism, the battle is far from over. More importantly, as I said in a
CBS 60 Minutes segment in 2007, ‘The greatest threat to America is not a
person hiding in a cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it is our own fiscal
irresponsibility.’ That statement was true then and it is even more true now.
It’s now time for the President and the Congress to work together and address
the fiscal debt bomb that represents a much greater threat to our country’s and
families futures.”

My flight was cancelled, so I am in Toronto for one more night. The folks at
Horizon Funds have graciously offered to take me to an early dinner and a
private wine cellar, as I have a 4:30 AM (ugh) wake-up call and will turn in
early. I hate 4:30 AM. That is not a civilized time of day. If I wanted to live
like Dennis Gartman I could learn to deal with it, but I guess occasionally one
does what one must.

One final thought. While getting OBL is a wonderful thing, it does little to
change the reality of the Middle East, and may even finally create a true martyr
(albeit one who was living well, and not in a cave). The world remains
unsettled. Every speaker at my recent conference was asked what keeps them up at
night. Every speaker mentioned the Middle East, some rather pointedly. It is a
true wild card. But let us enjoy for the moment some token of pleasure for the
just end of the planner of the 9/11 tragedy.

I will report more about the conference in future letters.

Your having a lot to think about analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box


Restoring Fiscal
Sanity in the United States: A Way Forward

By: Hon. David M. Walker, Founder and CEO of the Comeback
America Initiative and Former Comptroller General of the United States
(1998-2008)

Two hundred and twenty two years ago, the American Republic was founded. The
United States had defeated the world’s most powerful military force to win
independence, and over a several year period, went about creating a federal
government based on certain key principles, including limited government,
individual liberty, and fiscal responsibility. That government was established
by what is arguably the world’s greatest political document – the United States
Constitution.

Our nation’s founders understood the difference between opportunity and
entitlement. They believed in certain key values including the prudence of
thrift, savings and limited debt. They took seriously their stewardship
obligation to the country and future generations of Americans.

The truth is, we have strayed from these key, time-tested principles and
values in recent decades. We must return to them if we want to keep America
great and help to ensure that our future is better than our past.

Believe it or not, to win our independence and achieve ratification of the
U.S. Constitution, the U.S. only had to go into total federal and state debt
equal to 40 percent of the size of its then fledgling economy. Fast forward to
today, when the U.S. is the largest economy on earth and a global superpower –
but total federal debt alone is almost 100 percent of the economy and growing
rapidly. Add in state and local debt, and the total number is about three times
as much as the total debt we held at the beginning of our Republic – and it is
headed up rapidly. As the below graphic shows, our total federal debt has more
than doubled in just the past ten and a half years.

America has gone from the world’s leading creditor nation to the world’s
largest debtor nation. We have also become unduly dependent on foreign nations
to finance our excess consumption. Many of these foreign investors have shunned
our long-term debt due to concerns over future interest rates and the
longer-term value of the dollar. And PIMCO, the largest Treasury bond manager in
the U.S., also recently sold their Treasury security holdings due to a lack of
adequate return for the related interest rate risk.

And who is now the largest holder of Treasury securities? It’s the Federal
Reserve. I call that self-dealing. The Fed may be able to hold down interest
rates for a period of time; however, they cannot hold them down forever. The
Fed’s debt purchase actions are just another example of how Washington
policymakers take steps to provide short-term gain while failing to take steps
to avoid the longer-term pain that will surely come if we fail to put our
nation’s fiscal and monetary policies in order.

The Fiscal Fitness Index

In March 2011 the Comeback America Initiative (CAI) and Stanford University
released a new Sovereign Fiscal Responsibility Index (SFRI) – or as my wife Mary
refers to it, a Fiscal Fitness Index. We calculated each country’s SFRI based on
three factors – fiscal space, fiscal path, and fiscal governance.

Fiscal space represents the amount of additional debt a country could
theoretically issue before a fiscal crisis is imminent. Fiscal path is an
estimate of the number of years before a country will hit its theoretical
maximum debt capacity. (The U.S. will hit its maximum within16 years, but will
enter a “fiscal danger zone” within 2-3 years). Fiscal governance is a value
based on the strength of a government’s institutions, as well as its
transparency and accountability to its citizens. Unfortunately, the U.S. ranks
far below the average in all three of these categories – in particular, the
fiscal governance category.

The overall SFRI index showed that the U.S. ranked 28 out of 34 nations in
the area of fiscal responsibility and sustainability. And when you see which
countries rank around us, it’s clear that we’re in a bad neighborhood. We’re
only a few notches above countries like Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, all of
which have recently suffered severe debt crises. That report also showed that
the U.S. could face a debt crisis as soon as two to three years from now, given
our present path and interest rate risk. Below is the full list of rankings.

On the positive side, the CAI and Stanford report showed that if Congress and
the President were able to work together to pass fiscal reforms that were the
“bottom line” fiscal equivalent of those recommended by the National Fiscal
Responsibility and Reform Commission last year, our nation’s ranking would
improve dramatically, to number 8 out of 34 nations. In addition, we would
achieve fiscal sustainability for over 40 years!

So what are our elected officials waiting for? Do they want a debt crisis to
force them to make very sudden and possibly draconian changes? If not, they need
to wake up and work together to make tough choices. That’s what New Zealand did
in the early 1990s, when that country faced a currency crisis. Due to tough
choices then and persistence over time, New Zealand now ranks number 2 in the
SFRI – second only to Australia, which the Kiwis are not happy about! If New
Zealand can do it, America can too!

The Recent Budget Policy Proposals

In order for us to begin to restore fiscal sanity to this country, President
Obama has to discharge his leadership responsibilities as CEO of the United
States Government. He got into the game with his fiscal speech on April 13, in
which he largely embraced the work of his National Fiscal Responsibility and
Reform Commission, although with a longer timeframe for implementation and less
specifics on entitlement reforms. The President also endorsed the debt/GDP
trigger and automatic enforcement concept that CAI had been advocating. Under
this concept, Congress could agree on a set of statutory budget controls that
would come into effect in fiscal 2013. Such controls should include specific
annual debt/GDP targets with automatic spending cuts and temporary revenue
increases in the event the annual target is not met. In my view, a ratio of
three parts spending cuts, excluding interest savings, to one part revenue would
make sense.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan recently demonstrated the political
courage to lead in connection with our nation’s huge deficit and debt
challenges. His budget proposal recognizes that restoring fiscal sustainability
will require tough transformational changes in many areas, including spending
programs and tax policies. Chairman Ryan’s proposal includes several major
reform proposals, especially in the area of health care. For example, he
proposes to convert Medicare to a premium support model that will provide more
individual choice, limit the government’s long-term financial commitment and
focus government support more on those who truly need it. He also proposed to
employ a block grant approach to Medicaid in order to provide more flexibility
to the states and limit the governments’ financial exposure. These concepts have
varying degrees of merit; however, how they are designed and implemented involve
key questions of social equity that need to be carefully explored. And contrary
to Chairman Ryan’s proposal, additional defense and other security cuts that do
not compromise national security and comprehensive tax reform that raises more
revenue as compared to historical levels of GDP also need to be on the table in
order to help ensure bipartisan support for any comprehensive fiscal reform
proposal.

The President and Congressional leaders should be commended for reaching an
agreement that averted a partial shutdown of the federal government and resolved
funding levels for fiscal 2011. While it took way too much time and effort, this
compromise involved real concessions from both sides and represents a small yet
positive step towards restoring fiscal responsibility. But this action is far
from the most important fiscal challenge facing both the Congress and the
President. After all, Washington policymakers took about 88 percent of federal
spending, along with much-needed federal tax reforms, “off the table” during the
recent debate over the 2011 budget. In essence, they have been arguing over the
bar tab on the Titanic when we can see the huge iceberg that lies ahead. The ice
that is below the surface is comprised of tens of trillions of dollars in
unfunded Medicare, Social Security and other off-balance sheet obligations along
with other commitments and contingencies that could sink our “Ship of State”. It
is, therefore, critically important that we change course before we experience a
collision that could have catastrophic consequences. As you can see in the
series of pie charts below, mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare
already take up the largest share of the federal budget and, absent a change in
course, will continue to do so in increasing amounts in the next several
decades.

The Federal Debt Ceiling Limit

Now that the level of federal funding for the 2011 fiscal year has been
resolved, there has been an increasing amount of attention on Congress’ upcoming
vote to increase the federal debt ceiling limit. As is evident by the chart
below detailing the debt ceiling limit per capita adjusted for inflation since
1940, the U.S. started losing its way in the early 1980s. Fiscal responsibility
was temporarily restored during the 1990s, when statutory budget controls were
in place, but things went out of control again in 2003, the year after those
budget controls expired.

In essence, raising the debt ceiling is simply recognizing the federal
government’s past fiscally irresponsible practices. But while federal law
provides for the continuation of essential government operations even if the
government has not decided on a budget or funding levels for a fiscal year, such
a provision does not exist in connection with the debt ceiling. Therefore, if
the federal government hits the debt ceiling during a time of large deficits,
which is the case today, dramatic and draconian actions will have to be taken to
ensure that additional debt is not incurred. This would likely include a
suspension of payments to government contractors, delays in tax refunds, and
massive furloughs of government employees. In addition, since Social Security is
now paying out more in benefits than it receives in taxes, the monthly payments
may not go out on time if we hit the debt ceiling limit. That would clearly get
the attention of tens of millions of Americans, including elected officials.

However, although failure to raise the debt ceiling is not a viable option
given our current fiscal state, we must take concrete steps to address the
government’s lack of fiscal responsibility. We must also do so in a manner that
avoids triggering a massive disruption and a possible loss of confidence by
investors in the ability of the federal government to manage its own finances.
Such a loss of confidence could spur a dramatic rise in interest rates that
would further increase our nation’s fiscal, economic, unemployment and other
challenges.

In order to begin to restore fiscal sanity, Congress could increase the debt
ceiling limit in exchange for one or more specific steps designed to send a
signal to the markets, and the American people, that a new day in federal
finance is dawning. To be credible, any such action must go beyond short-term
spending cuts for the 2012 fiscal year. The debt/GDP trigger and automatic
enforcement concepts I advocate above are one specific step Congress could take.

The S&P’s revised outlook on the long-term rating for U.S. sovereign debt
should be yet another wake-up call for elected officials and other policymakers
in Washington. S&P’s action serves as a market-based signal that independent
ratings agencies believe the U.S. is on an imprudent and unsustainable fiscal
path and that action is needed in order to maintain investor confidence. In my
view, this action should have been taken place some time ago; however, it is now
likely that other rating agencies will reconsider their ratings positions on
U.S. Sovereign debt.

Moving Past Partisan Politics

The American people need to understand that doing nothing to address our
deteriorating financial condition and huge structural deficits is simply not an
option. Failure to act will serve to threaten America’s future position in the
world and our standard of living at home. Therefore, both major political
parties must come to the table and put aside their sacred cows and unrealistic
expectations. As John F. Kennedy said, “The great enemy of the truth is very
often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth —
persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

Given President Kennedy’s admonition, liberals need to acknowledge that we
need to renegotiate the current social insurance contract. For example, contrary
to assertions by some, Social Security is now adding to the federal deficit and
is underfunded by about $8 trillion. As you can see below, it will face
escalating annual deficits beginning in 2015.

There is no debate that last year’s health care reform legislation will
result in higher federal health care costs as a percentage of the economy. (See
the chart below). In addition, according to Medicare’s independent Chief
Actuary, based on reasonable and sustainable assumptions, last year’s health
care reform legislation will end up exacerbating our deficit and debt challenges
rather than helping to lessen them. He estimated that the cost of the health
care law to the Medicare program could be over $12 trillion in current dollars
more than advertised.

Conservatives need to acknowledge that we can’t just grow our way out of our
fiscal hole. They need to admit that all tax cuts are not equal and there is
plenty of room to cut defense and other security spending without compromising
our national security. And while conservatives are correct to say that our
nation’s fiscal challenge is primarily a spending problem, they must recognize
that some additional revenues will be needed to restore fiscal sanity. The math
just doesn’t work otherwise.

All parties must acknowledge that we can’t inflate our way out of our problem
and that we must take steps to improve our nation’s competitive posture. This
means that some properly targeted and effectively implemented critical
infrastructure and other investments may be both needed and appropriate even if
they exacerbate our short-term fiscal challenge.

Washington policymakers need to understand that the same four factors that
caused the recent financial crisis exist for the federal government’s own
finances. And what are those factors?

First, a disconnect between those who benefit from prevailing policies and
practices and those who will pay the price and bear the burden if and when the
bubble bursts. Second, a lack of adequate transparency and accountability in
connection with the true financial risks that we face. Third, too much debt, not
enough focus on cash flow, and an over-reliance on narrow and myopic credit
ratings. Finally, a failure of responsible parties to act until a crisis was at
the doorstep.

There is growing agreement that the greatest threat to our nation’s future is
our own fiscal irresponsibility. In fact, as I noted in 2007 and Joint Chiefs
Chairman Admiral Mullin stated last year, our fiscal irresponsibility and
resulting debt is a national security issue. After all, if you don’t keep your
economy strong for both today and tomorrow, America’s standing in the world and
standard of living at home will both suffer over time – and waiting for a crisis
before we act could also undermine our domestic tranquility.

So where should Washington go from here?

First, Congress and the President should reach a compromise agreement on an
appropriate level of spending cuts in 2012 while also providing for some
additional properly designed and effectively implemented critical infrastructure
investments. Second, they should agree to re-impose tough statutory budget
controls that will force much tougher choices on both the spending and tax side
of the ledger beginning no later than 2013. Third, they should authorize and
fund a national citizen education and engagement effort to help prepare the
American people for the needed actions and to facilitate elected officials
taking them without losing their jobs. Fourth, they should create a credible and
independent process that will provide for a baseline review of major federal
organizational structures, operational practices, policies and programs in order
to make a range a transformational recommendations that will make the federal
government more future focused, results oriented, successful and sustainable.

Spending levels certainly need to be cut. After all, the base levels of
federal discretionary spending increased by over 30 percent between 2007 and
2010 during a time of low inflation. At the same time, all parties must be
realistic regarding how much should be cut and how quickly it can be achieved.
In my view, we should be targeting greater cuts than have been recently
considered, but over a longer period of time: for example, real spending cuts of
$125-$150 billion over several years. If we did so, the related savings would be
significant and would compound over time.

As the National Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Commission, CAI, The No
Labels political movement (of which I am a co-founder), and others have noted,
everything must be on the table – and all political leaders need to be at the
table – in order to put our nation on a more prudent and sustainable fiscal
path. This includes a range of social insurance program reforms, defense and
other spending cuts, and comprehensive tax reform that generates additional
revenues, including both individual and corporate tax reform. We must keep in
mind that the private sector is the engine of innovation, growth, and jobs. In
addition, many businesses are taxed at the individual, rather than the
corporate, level.

Realistically, it will take us a number of years to get back into fiscal
shape. And while it would be great if we could do a “grand bargain” and enact a
broad range of transformational reforms in one step, that just isn’t realistic
in today’s world. Therefore, what is a reasonable order of battle to win the war
for our fiscal future?

First and foremost we need to enact budget process reforms, re-impose the
type of budget controls and engage in the fact-based citizen education and
engagement effort referred to previously. The next order of battle items should
be corporate tax reform and Social Security reform. Why corporate tax reform?
Because it can help to improve our competitiveness, enhance economic growth and
generate jobs.

And why Social Security reform? Because we have a chance to make this
important social insurance program solvent, sustainable and secure for both
current and future generations. We can also exceed the expectations of all
generations and demonstrate to both the markets and the American people that
Washington can act before a crisis forces it too.

The above efforts should be followed by broader tax reform and
Medicare/Medicaid reforms. We will then need to rationalize our health care
promises and focus more on reducing health care costs in another round of health
care legislation. We must also begin a multi-year effort to re-baseline the
federal government’s organizations, operations, programs and policies to make
them more future focused, results oriented, affordable and sustainable.

In summary, the truth is that the government has grown too big, promised too
much and waited too long to restructure. Our fiscal clock is ticking and time is
not working in our favor. The Moment of Truth is rapidly approaching. As it
does, let us hope that our elected officials must keep the words of Theodore
Roosevelt in mind: “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the
right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can
do is nothing.” And “We the People” must do our part by insisting on action and
by making the price of doing nothing greater than the price of doing something
We must insist that our legislators offer specific solutions to defuse our
ticking debt bomb in a manner that is economically sensible, socially equitable,
culturally acceptable, and politically feasible We need to recognize that
improving our fiscal health, just like our physical health, will require some
short-term pain for greater long-term gain. The same is true for state and local
governments.

We’ll soon know whether Washington policymakers are up to the challenge and
whether they will start focusing more of doing their job than keeping their job.
They need to focus first on their country rather than their party. And yes, the
President and Congressional leaders from both political parties need to be at
the table and everything must be on the table in order to achieve sustainable
success. Let’s hope they make the right choice this time!

All of us who are involved with the Comeback America Initiative (CAI) will do
our part. All that we ask is that you do yours. The future of our country,
communities and families depends on it.

For more information about the Comeback America Initiative and No Labels,
check out www.tcaii.org and www.nolabels.org.

Deficitation

July 27, 2011

I thought I would only write 1 newsletter this week.

 

You know….

 

Keep it light…

 

Talk about the summer fun

 

 

As much as I am trying to enjoy this summer

 

I am finding that I once again have to speak up

 

 

 

I wrote several newsletters in the past

 

Discussing the deficit and government spending

 

 

It just amazes me that Washington

 

Is going out of their way

 

Not to bring a serious resolve to the issue

 

 

Short term……Long term

 

 

What steps must be taken?

 

 

Putting party politics aside

 

 

That will send a message to the financial world

 

That we are done drinking the kool aid

 

 

The US will take responsible steps

 

To control our cost

 

And bring our economy in line

 

 

We can no longer continue to borrow $.43 cent of every
dollar

 

To support our economy

 

 

The chart below shows the growth of government

Over the past 40 years

 

 

TotReceipt     Tot Expense  Surplus/Deficit

 

1970      $192B          $195B              $2.8B

 

1980      $517B        $590B               -$73B

 

1990      $1.031T     $1.253T         -$221B

 

2000      $2.025T   $1.788T        +$236B

 

2010      $2.165T   $3.833T     – $1.555T

 

 

They are talking of doing a short term deal

 

 

Cutting spending by $1.2T over the next 10 years

 

 

That’s about $120B a year

 

Although they say most of it is on the back end

 

 

Smoke and Mirrors….

 

 

Every family has to deal with budget issues

 

 

We are all held to responsible spending

 

 

Even when we borrow money

 

 

Banks look at acceptable levels of

 

Debt to Income

 

 

 

We are a great nation…

 

Difficult decisions have been made in the past

 

To bring us to where we are today

 

 

Let Washington send a strong message

 

 

That we are back…

 

 

And ready to do business responsibly.

As reported in Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is renewing an old fight with the business community by insisting that $400 billion in tax increases be part of a deficit-reduction package. His proposals have languished on Capitol Hill, repeatedly blocked by Republicans, often with help from Democrats.

Some would raise big money. Limiting tax deductions for high-income families and small business owners could raise more than $200 billion over the next decade. Others are more symbolic, such as scaling back a tax break for companies that buy corporate jets.

The corporate jet proposal would raise $3 billion over the next decade, according to GOP congressional aides. That’s a relatively small sum in the big scheme of Washington budgets, but Obama and Democrats call attention to it repeatedly in their effort to portray Republicans as defenders of corporate fat cats.

No matter how Democrats characterize their proposals as revenue raisers or plugging tax loopholes, GOP leaders oppose them all, arguing that raising taxes in a bad economy would only make matters worse.

“If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars,” Obama said this week, “then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship, that means we’ve got to stop funding certain grants for medical research, that means that food safety may be compromised, that means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden.”

The White House has identified about $600 billion in tax increases it wants over the next decade. About $400 billion of them were offered as part of deficit-reduction talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. That would be paired with more than $1 trillion in spending cuts.

Some of the tax proposals are vague and budget experts have yet to calculate just how much they would raise. For example, limiting deductions for high-income families and small businesses could raise anywhere between $210 billion and $290 billion, depending on what threshold is established as high income.

Obama is proposing to eliminate $41 billion in tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies, raise taxes on investment fund managers by $21 billion and change the way many businesses value their inventories for tax purposes. The change in inventory accounting would raise an estimated $70 billion over the next decade, hitting manufacturers and energy companies, among others.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has given Congress an Aug. 2 deadline for raising the current debt ceiling, currently $14.3 trillion, to avoid defaulting on the government’s financial obligations for the first time in the nation’s history. He warns that a default could trigger potentially dire consequences for an already anemic economy, including higher interest rates, tighter credit and new rounds of job layoffs. The government hit the debt ceiling in May and has been juggling accounts since then to make all its payments.

Obama says he is proposing a balanced approach that spreads the pain among people who rely on government services and those most able to finance them.

While Republican leaders argue that raising taxes is bad policy, bad politics and too unpopular to pass the Republican-controlled House, several GOP senators have said they are willing to consider eliminating unspecified tax breaks to reduce the deficit.

Two weeks ago, 33 Republican senators joined a 73-27 majority to repeal a $5 billion annual tax subsidy for ethanol gasoline blends. On Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said, “I would like to do away with special tax breaks but not legitimate business deductions.”

But GOP leaders insist there is no support among Republicans to impose the kind of tax increases Obama is proposing.

“The president is sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the House,” Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “The votes simply aren’t there, and they aren’t going to be there because the American people know tax hikes destroy jobs.”

Among the tax increases proposed by the White House and the amount they’d raise over the next decade:

_ Limit itemized deductions, including those for charitable contributions and mortgage interest, for families and small business owners making more than $500,000. Under current law, if a taxpayer’s top income tax rate is 35 percent – the highest rate – a $100 deduction is worth $35 in tax savings. For several years, Obama has proposed limiting itemized deductions for people making above $250,000 to 28 percent, meaning a $100 deduction would be worth only $28 in tax savings at most. That would raise $293 billion. Increasing the income threshold to $500,000 would raise “in the ballpark of $210 billion,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, one of the House Democratic negotiators in the Biden talks.

_ Change the way businesses value their inventory, raising an estimated $70 billion. Current law allows businesses to lower their taxable profits – and their tax bills – by using an accounting method that can inflate the cost of goods sold. Obama proposes to phase out the practice, known as last-in, first out, or LIFO.

_ Increase taxes on investment fund managers, mainly hedge funds and private equity firms, raising about $21 billion. Investment managers typically pay capital gains taxes on their fees, with a top rate of 15 percent. Obama wants to tax the fees as regular income, with a top tax rate of 35 percent.

_ Eliminate about $41 billion in tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies. Obama has called for eliminating tax breaks for all oil and gas companies every year since he took office in 2009. The biggest is a deduction for production expenses that is available to all manufacturers. In May, the Senate rejected a smaller proposal that targeted the five biggest companies: Shell Oil Co., ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP America and Chevron Corp.

___

Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Andrew Taylor and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

By KEN THOMAS 06/26/11 07:18 AM ET AP

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday the Obama administration wouldn’t let middle class Americans “carry the whole burden” to break a deadlock over the national debt limit, warning that the Republican approach would only benefit the wealthy.

Addressing Ohio Democrats, Biden said there had been great progress in talks with Republican lawmakers on a deficit-reduction plan agreement. But he insisted that his party wouldn’t agree to cuts that would undermine the elderly and middle-class workers.

“We’re not going to let the middle class carry the whole burden. We will sacrifice. But they must be in on the deal,” Biden said in a speech at the Ohio Democratic Party’s annual dinner.

Biden led efforts on a deficit-reduction plan but Republicans pulled out of the discussions last week, prompting President Barack Obama to take control of the talks.

The sides disagree over taxes. Democrats say a deficit-reduction agreement must include tax increases or eliminate tax breaks for big companies and wealthy individuals. Republicans want huge cuts in government spending and insist on no tax increases.

On tax breaks for the wealthy, Biden used the example of hedge fund managers who “play with other people’s money.”

“And they get taxed,” Biden said. “I’m not saying they don’t do good things, they do some good things. But they get taxed at 15 percent because they call it capital gains. Because they’re investing not their money, (but) other people’s money.”

To ask senior citizens receiving Medicare to pay more in taxes when people earning more than $1 million a year receive a substantial tax cut “borders on immoral,” the vice president said.

“We’re never going to get this done, we’re never going to solve our debt problem if we ask only those who are struggling in this economy to bear the burden and let the most fortunate among us off the hook,” Biden said.

Republican leaders say without a deal cutting long-term deficits, they will not vote to increase the nation’s borrowing – which will exceed its $14.3 trillion limit on Aug. 2. The Obama administration has warned that if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, it would lead to the first U.S. financial default in history and roil financial markets around the globe.

Obama and Biden are scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Monday. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, say no agreement can include tax increases.

Biden assailed moves by GOP governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to strip away collective bargaining rights from most public workers while criticizing efforts by Republicans in Congress to alter the Medicare program. He defended Obama’s handling of the economy, pointing to difficult decisions on an economic stimulus package and the rescue of U.S. automakers.

Ahead of Biden’s visit, Republicans countered that Obama’s policies led to GOP gains in 2010 and have failed to revitalize the economy.

“All the visits in the world from President Obama, Vice President Biden and other top-level surrogates won’t change the administration’s job-killing policies,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Ryan Tronovitch.

Biden, who spoke frequently of his blue-collar roots in Scranton, Pa., during the 2008 presidential race, is expected to be a frequent visitor to the Midwest during next year’s campaign.

Obama won states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2008. But those states elected Republican governors in 2010 and are considered prime targets for Republicans next year.

Looking ahead to 2012, Biden called Ohio “the state that we must win and will win.”