As reported in Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Standard & Poor’s says it downgraded the U.S. government’s credit rating because it believes the U.S. will keep having problems getting its finances under control.

S&P officials on Saturday defended their decision to drop the government’s rating to AA+ from the top rating, AAA. The Obama administration called the move a hasty decision based on wrong calculations about the federal budget. It had tried to head off the downgrade before it was announced late Friday.

But S&P said it was the months of haggling in Congress over budget cuts that led it to downgrade the U.S. rating. The ratings agency was dissatisfied with the deal lawmakers reached last weekend. And it isn’t confident that the government will do much better in the future, even as the U.S. budget deficit grows.

David Beers, global head of sovereign ratings at S&P, said the agency was concerned about the “degree of uncertainty around the political policy process. The nature of the debate and the difficulty in framing a political consensus … that was the key consideration.”

S&P was looking for $4 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years. The deal that passed Congress on Tuesday would bring $2.1 trillion to $2.4 trillion in cuts over that time.

Another concern was that lawmakers and the administration might fail to make those cuts because Democrats and Republicans are divided over how to implement them. Republicans are refusing to raise taxes in any deficit-cutting deal while Democrats are fighting to protect giant entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

S&P so far is the only one of the three largest credit rating agencies to downgrade U.S. debt. Moody’s Investor Service and Fitch Ratings have both issued warnings of possible downgrades but for now have retained their AAA ratings.

The rating agencies were sharply criticized after the 2008 financial crisis. They were accused of contributing to the crisis because they didn’t warn about the dangers of subprime mortgages. When those mortgages went bad, investors lost billions of dollars and banks that held those securities had to be bailed out by the government.

Ratings agencies assign ratings on bonds and other forms of debt so investors can judge how likely an issuer – like governments, corporations and non-profit groups – will be to pay the debt back.

//

//

http://ads.tw.adsonar.com/adserving/getAds.jsp?previousPlacementIds=&placementId=1517131&pid=2259768&ps=-1&zw=300&zh=250&url=http%3A//www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/07/standard-and-poors-downgrade-defense-politics_n_920430.html&v=5&dct=S%26P%20Officials%20Blame%20Downgrade%20On%20%27Degree%20Of%20Uncertainty%27%20In%20Politics&ref=http%3A//www.huffingtonpost.com/&metakw=s%26p,officials,blame,downgrade,on,'degree,of,uncertainty',in,politics,business

Asked when the United States might regain its AAA credit rating, Beers said S&P would take a look at any budget agreements that achieve bigger deficit savings. But the history of other countries such as Canada and Australia who saw cuts in their credit ratings, shows that it can take years to win back the higher ratings.

Administration sources, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the debt issue, said the administration was surprised by the timing of the announcement, coming just a few days after the debt agreement had been signed into law.

Treasury officials were notified by S&P of the imminent downgrade early Friday afternoon and spent the next several hours arguing with S&P. The administration contended that S&P acknowledged at one point making a $2 trillion error in their computations of deficits over the next decade.

But S&P officials said the difference reflected the use of different assumptions about how much spending and taxes will come to over the next decade. The S&P officials said they decided to use the administration’s assumptions since the $2 trillion difference in the deficit numbers was not going to change the company’s downgrade decision.

In a Treasury blog posting Saturday, John Bellows, the Treasury’s acting assistant secretary for economic policy, said he was amazed by that decision.

“S&P did not believe a mistake of this magnitude was significant enough to warrant reconsidering their judgment or even significant enough to warrant another day to carefully re-evaluate their analysis,” Bellows wrote.

S&P officials said their decision hadn’t been rushed. They noted that S&P had been warning about a potential downgrade since April.

Some critics, the debacle of 2008 still in mind, raised questions about S&P’s actions now.

“I find it interesting to see S&P so vigilant now in downgrading the U.S. credit rating,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Saturday. “Where were they four years ago?”

Standard & Poor’s roots go back to the 1860s. One of its founders, Henry Varnum Poor, was a publisher of financial information about the nation’s railroads. His company, then called Poor’s Publishing, merged in 1941 with Standard Statistics Inc., another provider of financial information.

S&P’s website said both founding firms warned clients well before the 1929 stock market crash that they should sell their stocks.

The company has been owned by publisher McGraw-Hill Cos. since 1966.

As printed in philly.com

 

LindaPeterson  of West Chester was eager to switch from Peco Energy Co. at the end of last year.
She signed up for an alternative electricity supplier offering avariable rate that would fluctuate depending upon market conditions.

AsPeterson  discovered, variable rates sure can vary.

For a few months this year, Peterson’s rate was very attractive, indeed. But it went up
58 percent from May to June. At 15.63 cents per kilowatt hour – that’s just the
generation charge – her last bill was about $23 more than it would have been had
she stayed with Peco.

“I knew there would be some variation, but that’s just a huge, huge increase,” said
Peterson, who is semi-retired.

A representative from her supplier, Palmco Power PA L.L.C., did not return a phone call about
Peterson’s bill. But its customer-service department, in an unsigned e-mail,
blamed an “unusual” wholesale price spike for the increase.

“Thankfully,however, shortly after the wholesale price increase, wholesale prices dropped,and our
price billed to our customers dropped accordingly,” it said.

In Pennsylvania’s buyer-beware world of deregulated utilities, Peterson can’t do much but switch to
another supplier. Her agreement, like most with variablerates, does not carry an
early cancellation fee.

According to the state Public Utility Commission, a supplier can bill a variable-rate customer
at whatever price it believes the market will bear, even if the customer
originally thought he or she was getting a discount.

A company also can offer different rates to different customers. The variable rate that is
on a customer’s bill does not have to be the same as the initial price posted on
the PUC’s website, http://PAPowerSwitch.com.

“A supplier could have one rate for PowerSwitch . . . while offering a different rate
door-to-door . . . yet a different rate for enrolling by mail,”Denise McCracken,
the PUC’s spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “They could offer me one rate . . . my
neighbor a different rate (as long as they are not discriminatingon the basis of
race, gender, etc. of course).”

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where dozens of electrical suppliers are competing, customers
accustomed to a lifetime of regulated utility prices now face a dizzying array of
choices – fixed rates, variable rates, and”green” rates from renewable-power
generators. Next year, Peco customers will begin seeing rates that vary hourly,
according to the market.

More than 20 percent of Peco customers have switched since Jan. 1. But despite promises of
savings, most residential customers seem unwilling to leave the protective comfort of the regulated utility.

On Monday, the Retail Energy Supply Association launched a campaign to educate customers
about the benefits of switching, but it faces headwinds generated bycustomers such as Peterson, who share their experiences.

“My neighbors are very scared about switching,” said Peterson, a clinical social worker with a
small private practice.

Peterson was an early adopter of electricity choice. She had switched suppliers in the late
1990s, when limited deregulation was introduced into the Peco market. Competitive
suppliers eventually pulled out because they could no longer beat the utility’s
capped rates. But when Peco’s rate limits were lifted at the endof 2010,
competitive suppliers returned en masse.

Peterson signed up with Palmco, the marketing arm of a Brooklyn fuel-oil dealer, which posted a
price on the PUC’s website. She liked the company’s low-key marketing,compared
with the blustery direct-mail appeals she received from bigger suppliers.

“The fact that they weren’t doing a lot of heavy marketing, I guess I trusted them
a little,” she said. “I didn’t expect them to escalate the price like that.”

According to a review of Peterson’s bills, Palmco’s rate was very generous during the first
few months. It charged her an introductory rate of 5.78 cents perkilowatt hour,
clearly a below-market 42 percent off Peco’s rate. But by May,Palmco’s rate had
increased to 9.91 cents – just about the same rate Peco was charging.

And then in June came the whopping 58 percent increase – to 15.63 cents per kilowatt hour.
Peterson averages about 475 kilowatt hours a month.

The owner of Palmco, Robert Palmese, did not return a phone call. But his
company’scustomer-service department offered this response:

“Our family has been in the energy business since 1938, 73 years. We know from experience
that it is always in the best interest of our customers to keep prices for energy
as low as possible.”

In an interview in October, Palmese offered reassurance to customers who might consider
his company.

“We have very casual marketing,” he said. “We’d like our customers tolike us. Just try
us, you may like us.

“You are always free to leave.”

 

Our Perspective

HBS is a independent deregulated energy management consultant. We have been providing deregulated energy solutions to our clients since 2000. We have heard stories like the one experienced above, countless times.

While the energy market prices are at their low point, it would be smart to lock into a fixed price contract for natural gas or electric for a minimum of 1 year but also be willing to look at the 2 year option. Fixed priced contracts normally provide a 10% to 15% savings under what Peco ic currently charging.

Do not be fooled by the variable rate options.

It is a good marketing ploy….

no contract…

month to month float….

But you will only pay more in the long run.

 

To learn more about deregulated opportunities for yopur business email

george@hbsadvantage.com

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com

Reported by Sam Stein for The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Sunday night’s much anticipated debt ceiling meeting between the president and congressional leadership managed to produce an outcome, just not the desirable one. Attendees did not find agreement on a package of cuts, revenues, or entitlement reforms. Instead, they settled on the decision to meet again and, perhaps after Monday’s meeting, again after that.

As the government approaches the August 2 date at which it will run out of cash, the need to hold meetings is the only thing both sides can agree on.

Sunday night proved no different, as lawmakers met in the Cabinet Room with no apparent budging from either end. According to multiple attendees, the discussion began with President Obama pressing, once more, for lawmakers to consider a “grand” bargain to end the debt ceiling debate, something that would combine $1 trillion in revenue raisers with $3 trillion in cuts, including reforms to Medicare and Medicaid and smaller tinkers to Social Security.

“The basic thrust of the meeting was the president making the case for why to do a big deal and putting it to everyone around the table: if not now, when? And if not the big deal, then what is the alternative, particularly given that it is the Republicans who have said we need to use this opportunity to do something serious about the deficit,” said a Democratic official briefed on the meeting. “The president is a bit frustrated too … He is out there. He is ready and willing to take political heat. He is already taking some heat.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had formally rejected the very offer that Obama was pressing for, insinuating that it was too heavy a political lift and that negotiators would be better served building on the $2.4 trillion deal that Vice President Joseph Biden had been crafting in a series of bipartisan meetings with congressional leaders. Obama’s pitch did little to chip away at that opposition. The speaker, according to several sources briefed on Sunday’s meeting, did not say much during it, deferring instead to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). But a Boehner aide made it clear after the fact that his boss hadn’t exactly been won over.

“The speaker told the group that he believes a package based on the work of the Biden group is the most viable option at this time for moving forward,” said the aide. “The speaker restated the fundamental principles that must be met for any increase in the debt limit: spending cuts and reforms that are greater than the amount of the increase, restraints on future spending, and no tax hikes.”

And so it went for roughly 75 minutes, as the eight congressional attendees, along with the president and vice president, spoke at varying lengths about not just the economic logic of their respective plans but the political arithmetic behind them.

Cantor and Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Senate minority whip, both insisted that a grand bargain did not have the votes needed to pass. “We should start talking about the Biden-type framework instead,” they added, according to a GOP source briefed on the meeting.

Biden, for his part, reminded the Republican attendees that the package they were now touting was one they had previously abandoned (both Cantor and Kyl walked away from the negotiating table when the talks turned to revenues). Besides that, he argued, it wasn’t really a package at all, but rather a list of goals with blanks requiring filling.

“The one really important point Biden made is that it is a bit of a fallacy to talk about the Biden framework as something that could just be taken off the shelf, because nothing was agreed to in those conversations and the vice president made it very clear that we weren’t going to [reach a deal] without revenues,” said the Democratic official briefed on the meeting.

If lawmakers wanted to go even smaller — say, take the $1 trillion in cuts that Biden and Republicans had pinpointed – they would have to convince the president first. Obama, according to a GOP aide, told attendees on Sunday that he would not sign a debt deal that didn’t go through 2013. He and Biden also made it clear that even the smaller packages would have to have a revenue component to earn their support.

For all the intractability, there were relatively few moments of tension on Sunday evening. According to those briefed on the exchanges, lawmakers took turns talking about their preferred approaches. There were some jabs thrown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), according to a Hill aide, accused the Republican Party of falling far short of their rhetorical bluster when the topic came to deficit reduction. He pointed to the fiscal commission, the Gang of Six negotiations, the Biden deal and Boehner’s refusal to craft a grand compromise with Obama as instances in which Republicans simply left the table when it came time to make tough choices. “Every time we try to do something big on this, you walk away,” the aide paraphrased him as saying.

By and large, however, the conversation was, as one Democratic official acknowledged, “cordial.” And that may be where the problem lies. With ten days to go before the president wants a bill presented — so that it can go through the legislative process in time to pass by August 2 — the sides are still dealing in broad strokes. Additionally, there isn’t a clear sense of what type of package could garner the necessary support. The president will be hosting a news conference on Monday before he meets with congressional negotiators once more. He left the meeting on Sunday telling them to have their schedules cleared or flexible for the full week.

“The president ended the meeting by saying we will come back here tomorrow and that we should be prepared to be here every day,” recalled the Democratic official briefed on the meeting. “He said, I want people to come back here tomorrow with an answer to the question: If not this, what is your plan and how are you going to get 218 votes [in the House] for it?”

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.”

As reported in Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (AP/The Huffington Post) — Efforts to find a bipartisan agreement blending huge budget cuts with a must-pass measure to increase how much the government can borrow have entered a new phase after Republican negotiators pulled out of talks led by Vice President Joe Biden.

The exit of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from the talks on Thursday means the most difficult decisions have been kicked upstairs to GOP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and President Barack Obama. The Biden-led group had made solid progress in weeks of negotiations but was at an impasse over taxes.

Cantor, R-Va., said that the Republican-dominated House simply won’t support tax increases and that it’s time for Obama to weigh in directly because Biden and Democrats were insisting on tax increases. Democrats said it’s only fair to blend in additional revenues from closing tax breaks to balance trillions of dollars in spending cuts.

It had long been assumed that the Biden group would set the stage for more decisive talks involving Obama and Boehner. As a result, Cantor’s move was interpreted as trying to jump-start the talks rather than blow them up – a view shared by Cantor himself.

“The purpose here is to alter the dynamic,” Cantor said.

In fact, Cantor’s withdrawal came after Boehner had already made a trek to the White House – in a secret meeting Wednesday night that followed up on a golf outing over the weekend.

According to The Hill newspaper, Cantor’s walkout had been planned for weeks:

The timing of Cantor’s exit from the talks has been discussed for weeks, and senior House Republicans cast it as a natural progression for the negotiations.

For his part, Cantor didn’t inform Boehner of his decision to leave the talks until Thursday, shortly before the news broke, said a GOP official familiar with the situation. The official required anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

The White House sought to put a positive spin on developments.

“As all of us at the table said at the outset, the goal of these talks was to report our findings back to our respective leaders,” Biden said in a statement. “The next phase is in the hands of those leaders, who need to determine the scope of an agreement that can tackle the problem and attract bipartisan support. For now the talks are in abeyance as we await that guidance.”

The Senate’s Republican negotiator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, also exited the talks.

For his part, Cantor said the secretive Biden-led talks had “established a blueprint” for agreement on significant cuts in spending.

One of the byproducts of Cantor’s departure was to provide an opportunity for partisans on all sides to make statements at odds with the positions they may have to take to achieve a deal. Democrats insist that at least some new revenues are needed – both to soften spending cuts and to line up the Democratic votes needed to pass the measure.

“It will take Democratic votes to pass any debt-ceiling agreement,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “As a result, certain things are going to have to be true. We cannot make cuts to Medicare benefits. We have to allow for revenues like wasteful subsidies for ethanol and oil companies. And we have to do something on jobs.”

“President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “He can’t have both.”

As for Democratic demands for new deficit-financed “jobs” initiatives, McConnell scoffed: “What planet are they on?”

Cantor said that plenty of progress has been made in identifying trillions of dollars in potential spending cuts to accompany legislation to raise the $14.3 trillion cap on the government’s ability to borrow money. Passage of the legislation this summer is necessary to meet the government’s obligations to holders of U.S. Treasurys. The alternative is a market-shaking, first-ever default on U.S. obligations.

Written by Tyler Kingkade from Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor praised Vice President Joe Biden Monday for his handling of the debt limit talks, a positive sign for those who hope the government will raise its debt limit before financial markets react negatively to the growing potential of a U.S. default.

“I’ve been very impressed with the way he conducts his meetings — he does like to talk,” Rep. Cantor (R-Va.) said in a meeting with reporters. “I guess we all do, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”

Discussions between Biden, Cantor and other congressional leaders about legislation to increase in the debt ceiling are expected to intensify this week as both the U.S. Treasury’s Aug. 2 default deadline and Congress’ summer recess grow nearer. Three debt talks are planned for this week.

“He has conducted these meetings in a way that has kept the ball rolling, and we are — I believe — beginning to see the essence of convergence on savings beginning to happen,” Cantor said. “Now, a lot of this will be up to where the speaker and the president end up.”

“The role that I play in these discussions,” the minority leader added, is to “define the playing field and to push as far as we can to come together to maximize savings and increase the amount of reform.”

Both sides have already agreed to over a trillion dollars in cuts, Cantor said. For the GOP’s cooperation in the debt ceiling vote, his Party is pushing for spending cuts in excess the $2 trillion it would be raised by.

Cantor said everything is on the table, but not tax increases.

This place does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem,” he said, insisting even considering them would be a disincentive to small businesses. “I don’t know whether it’s good, bad, indifferent — it just is what it is.”

Cantor reiterated his caucus’ belief that corporate tax rates ought to be lowered to make the U.S. more competitive, even though the current tax rate is at a historic low as a percentage of the country’s GDP.

Cantor predicted, if Congress simply “checked the box” and raised the debt ceiling without significant cuts accompanying the vote, interest rates would skyrocket and the federal government would be forced to raise taxes.

“No one wants that,” he said. “We’re not going to going along with that outcome.”

No clues were given about where the cuts were going to come from in legislation to raise the debt limit, but Cantor said the focus is on the initial 10-year budget window.

The majority leader declined to provide a target date to have the debt ceiling increase bill written, other than saying he did not want it to get the point where a negative reaction from the stock market forces Congress to raise it.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote to Congress in May, warning that the country is projected to begin defaulting on debts come Aug. 2, 2011. However, Geithner said that is no reason to wait to vote to increase the debt limit.

“While this updated estimate in theory gives Congress additional time to complete work on increasing the debt limit, I caution strongly against delaying action,” Geithner wrote. “The economy is still in the early stages of recovery, and financial markets here and around the world are watching the United States closely. Delaying action risks a loss of confidence and accompanying negative economic effects.”

The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission previously recommending various tax increases and reforms that Republicans are now opposing. Senior economic advisers to Ronald Reagan have also said tax increases will be needed in some sort to reduce the national debt.

Bruce Bartlett, who was a policy adviser in the Bush Treasury, told The Huffington Post recently that a trillion dollars has been “left on the table” due to the historically low tax levels. Another senior Republican economic adviser, Joel Slemrod, also said a return to Clinton-era tax rates would not necessarily harm the economy, although under current conditions it could be risky.

The original request to raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion would be projected to last until the end of 2012, past the next elections. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found last week that a slim majority of Americans favor an increase, so long as it’s accompanied by spending cuts.

As reported by Courier Post

Written by
ANGELA DELLI SANTI and BETH DeFALCO

TRENTON — Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney reached a deal Wednesday to change retiree pension and health benefits by requiring public workers to pay more for both.

The deal, if approved by the Legislature, would require bigger contributions from all public workers beginning July 1, a person who has been briefed told The Associated Press. The person insisted on anonymity because the deal has not been made official.

It would also mean that public workers’ health benefits would be legislated, not negotiated, as they are now. Christie has been pushing for legislative changes; union leaders have been opposed.

An official announcement is planned for later Wednesday. Details were still being worked out by Democrats who control the Senate.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, also a Democrat, has been involved in the talks over the past several weeks, but it’s not known whether she agrees with the deal. Her spokesman, Tom Hester Jr., declined to comment Wednesday.

The governor’s office did not respond to messages for comment.

The pension and retirement health systems are both underfunded by tens of billions of dollars. The proposal is designed to reduce the long-term indebtedness of both systems.

One provision of the deal would require the state to make its annual pension payment. Governors of both parties have skipped or greatly reduced their pension contribution in most of the past 20 years.

The deal would raise pension contributions immediately by at least 1 percent for public workers such as local police and firefighters; teachers; state police; and state, county and municipal workers. Judges, who now put 3 percent of salary toward their pensions, the least of any public worker group, would see that amount increase to 12 percent.

The deal also would require employees to pay more for health care under a new salary-based contribution formula that would be phased in over four years. The rate could be as high as 30 percent of the cost of the premium for top wage earners and as low as 3 percent for the lowest-paid employees. Most workers now pay 1.5 percent of their salary toward health care regardless of the cost of their plan.

The proposed state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 relies on more than $300 million in savings from health benefits reforms.

The Communication Workers of America, the state’s largest public worker union, wants health care to remain a collective bargaining issue. The union representing 55,000 state and local employees is in negotiations with the Christie administration over a new contract; its current contract expires June 30.

“This proposal destroys collective bargaining,” said Hetty Rosenstein, the union’s state director. “It’s completely unaffordable for anybody — it does not one thing to actually save health care dollars, all it does is shift them.”

“All over this country there is a fight to protect collective bargaining,” Rosenstein said, “and we think Democrats in New Jersey should join that fight.”

The union’s health care giveback proposal relies on increased cost-sharing by employees, bulk purchasing of prescription drugs and updated medical record-keeping to reduce costs by $240 million in the fourth and final year of the contract.

 

Solar makes sense

May 31, 2011

As reported in Philadelphia Inquire May 30, 2011
With Pennsylvania
boasting the nation’s second largest number of solar-industry jobs, state
officials would be foolish to let the sun set on such a nascent but promising
industry. But that could happen due to a temporary mismatch between solar-energy
financing and market demand.

The construction of more than 4,000 solar projects has been a roaring
success, responsible for generating several thousand jobs at 600 solar
businesses. Growing that industry from scratch, with state and federal aid, also
boosted the use of nonpolluting and renewable energy. That will be particularly
helpful in meeting summer’s peak demand.

Yet, the boom in solar projects has outpaced the amount of solar energy
utilities are required to buy under the state’s alternative-energy rules. That
has depressed the value of solar-energy credits needed to provide a return on
photovoltaic solar systems, which have a steep, up-front price tag.

The best way for state officials to spur solar to new heights would be to
boost the modest solar-energy standard – now far lower than neighboring states,
at only 0.5 percent – by 2021. But last year, that idea ran into strong
opposition from Exelon and other utilities, coal producers, and business groups
– and a certain Republican candidate for governor.

Fortunately, a fellow Republican, State Rep. Chris Ross from Chester County,
unveiled a legislative proposal Tuesday that should be more to Gov. Corbett’s
liking. Ross would accelerate the amount of solar energy utilities are required
to purchase for the next few years, but leave the overall standard at just 0.5
percent. He would also follow other states by barring out-of-state solar
producers contributing to the solar glut in Pennsylvania.

The Ross proposal amounts to a tweak, but one that could be critical to
maintaining the state’s foothold in solar energy. Corbett and Republican
legislative leaders could fall back on tea-party ideological antagonism toward
so-called government mandates – or they could prove themselves progressive
enough to embrace a modest plan that makes sense for the state’s 21st-century
economy.

Deficitly

May 25, 2011

With all the commotion going on around us

Osama…..tornadoes….floods

The public has been spared the talk on the debt ceiling

Did you hear the gang of six talks fell apart?

They were seen as representing the best hope

For a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit

Senator Tom Coburn dropped out

Citing differences over entitlement spending,

Saying the 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats were

Unable to bridge differences over Medicare and Social Security

The clock is ticking,

We already exceeded the debt limit.

Now we are just shuffling payments

While waiting for a resolve.

How did we get to
this point?

There is some great information on the internet about this
subject.

Stephen Bloch did some extensive research on the deficit

And how it relates to each President

His report is titled:

US Federal Deficits, Presidents and Congress

Below are some of the facts I found interesting

  • First data he found showing
    a deficit was traced back to 1910
  • The single best predictors
    of deficits for most of the century have been war.
  • Starting in the 1970’s, it
    became harder to see a connection between war and deficits:
    • Permanent deficits became
      a way of life, regardless of whether there was a war going on.
  • The Deficit did not break
    the $1 trillion mark until 1981
  • The Deficit did not break
    the $5 trillion mark until 1995
  • During the first seven
    years of G W Bush presidency, the deficit was increased by almost twice
    the dollar amount as it had been for 32 years. (Running from JFK through
    GHW Bush).
  • When GW Bush entered
    office the deficit was $5.807 trillion
    • When GW Bush left office
      the deficit ballooned to $11,909 trillion.
    • The deficit increased
      $6,102 trillion
  • Since Obama entered office
    the deficit has grown to $14,268 trillion
    • That an additional $2,359
      trillion

Some other interesting facts:

  • Military spending has
    increased 81% since the year 2000
  • Fraud constitutes at least
    ten percent ($100 billion) of the nearly one trillion in taxpayer dollars
    that Medicare and Medicaid will spend this year.
  • The current tax system of
    the United States will collect about 18% of the GDP(Gross Domestic
    Product)
  • Spending needs are much
    higher, currently around 24% of GDP.

What makes up the 24%?

I referred to an article by Jeffrey Sachs (Economist and
Director of Earth Institute, Columbia University)

Focusing on best estimates for 2021, a decade from now

  • Social Security outlays
    will total around 5.2% of GDP
    • As Americans age and as
      health care cost have multiplied, The cost of Social Security and
      Medicare have risen from 1.7% of GDP in 1980 to 5.1% of GDP in 2011
  • Medicare will total around
    3.6% of GDP
  • Medicaid, assuming no
    drastic cuts, will total around 2.9% of GDP
  • Other mandatory programs
    for the poor, such as food stamps, will total 2.1% of GDP
  • Total defense spending is
    around 5% of GDP, most agree that defense should be cut and be around 3% of
    GDP
  • Most projections put
    interest cost on debt around 2.7% of GDP
  • Discretionary spending
    (cost used on public goods and services that cannot be provided
    efficiently by the private economy alone) will be around 4.5% of GDP

Now if you go and add up all these categories,

You will see that cost will total around 24% of GDP

In Paul Ryan’s plan, taxes would be kept at 18% of GDP and
spending would be cut to 19% of GDP.
However the deficit is still expected to grow to $16 trillion by 2021.

The Obama plan would have a slightly higher tax collection,
around 19% of GDP (by allowing Bush tax cuts expire for those making over
$250,000), while allowing the deficit to grow to $19 trillion by 2021.

Guess what!!!!!

 

They are still going
the wrong way!!!!!

Many experts feel that both of these current plans, as
presented seem practically impossible.

In several opinion surveys,

The public has spoken clearly about what to do:

  • Do not balance the budget
    by slashing Medicare, Social Security, or programs for the poor;
  • Increase spending on
    education and infrastructure;
  • Tax the rich and giant
    corporations.

This is not a practical solution either…….

It is our responsibility to stop the bleeding

Everyone will have to proportionally share in the sacrifice

Will someone step forward and have the vision and leadership,

To usher in this era……….

Will the public be accepting to the reality of their
resolution….

Or will we continue to allow our excesses to undermine us.

Let us know your thoughts…… email george@hbsadvantage.com

WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators held what were described as “productive” talks Tuesday afternoon in an effort to pass a spending measure that would cut tens of billions of dollars from the federal budget. But with just days remaining before the federal government runs out of money, there was only muted optimism that lawmakers would be able to avert a government shutdown.

The above paragraph was ripped from the headlines on Wednesday April 6th

What do you make of all this talk?

You can turn on any cable channel and the coverage is 24/7. The American press seems to be obsessed with the moment.

Japan??? ………That happened over a month ago

Libya…….That sound bite may last 30 seconds

Now we are faced with a Government shutdown!!!!….

Is it possible?

Will it happen?

I found myself being drawn to this topic. Numbers are constantly being discussed.

What are we really dealing with?

Can we just focus on making cuts to 12% of the budget and tackle the deficit issues?

What about the sacred cows!!!!!!

Defense….Social Security….Medicare…..Medicaid

Let’s look at some numbers:

On February 14, 2011, President Obama released his 2012 Federal Budget.

The report updated the projected 2011 deficit to be $1.645 trillion.

This is based on estimated revenues of $2.173 trillion and outlays of $3.818 trillion.

Observations

The federal deficit of $1.645 trillion is for 1 year (2011)

The federal deficit of $1.645 trillion is 75.7% of the $2.173 trillion total revenue the Government brought in last year.

The US Government is currently funding only 56.9% of their current expenses ($3.818 trillion) with the total revenue they received ($2.173 trillion).

The federal deficit of $1.645 trillion helps fund 43.1% of the $3.818 trillion in expenses.

You hear Congress arguing over whether to cut $30 billion or $40 billion in expenses.

That number may seems like a large amount, but what is it in the scheme of things?

Let’s take a quick look at where we are spending this money.

The federal budget in 2011 was projected at $3.83 trillion in total spending.

Below is a breakdown of the budgeted expenses for 2011. (This budget has never been passed, yet!!!)  

Obama’s new 2012 budget calls for reducing these cost by $12 billion dollars to $3.818 trillion from the proposed 2011 figure of $3.83 trillion.

You can now……. all play along….

Where do you want to take the $12 billion from?

$787.6 billion in pensions, $898 billion in health care expenditures, $140.9 billion for education, $928.5 billion in defense spending, $464.6 billion in welfare spending, $57.3 billion in protective services such as police, fire, law courts, $104.2 billion for transportation, $29 billion in general government expenses, $151.4 billion in other spending including basic research, and          $250.7 billion on interest payments.

Let’s not get too aggressive…..

What are our options?

 

How do we reduce cost and lower the deficit?

There is some talk of cutting all the expenses, 5%  across the board.

They’ll be no discrimination, everyone will take a hit.

That would reduce overall cost by $190.9 billion.

Guess what…..

the deficit would still be $1,454.1 trillion for this year.

Now what?

…………..I’m thinking…….I’m thinking

More factors to think about

 

The overall deficit is just under $15 trillion,

Our existing $1.645 trillion deficit makes up just under 11% of the overall deficit.

Recently, Robert Gates said the Pentagon has identified $178 billion in cuts for the five years from fiscal year 2012 to 2016. The Pentagon plans to reinvest about $100 billion of that into its own services, leaving the remainder for deficit reduction.

Hmmmmm!

Gates can identify $178 billion in cuts but wants to keep 57% of it?

This week, Portugal was looking to raise money by selling 6 month T -Bills for 5.117%.

Just 60 days ago the same T Bill was selling for 2.984%.

The US is currently selling T Bills for under 0.5%.

What do you think will happen if there is a Government shutdown?

There is the looming question of raising the debt ceiling.

How long before the world loses confidence in our ability to control cost?

Somehow I think we really took our eye off the ball.

Just this morning, experts were discussing the fact that the Government is expected to run with a deficit,

But……. $4 to $5 trillion is a more acceptable number.

How do we get from $15 trillion to $5 trillion?

Let’s try cutting the deficit by $1 trillion a year.

That means ………

In 10 years we can be within the acceptable numbers.

If we have already budgeted for a deficit of $1.645 trillion; to save $1 trillion this year, we would have to cut expenses $2.645 trillion dollars.

That means, we cut expenses from $3.818 trillion to $1.173 trillion.

We would only have to cut expenses by 70%!!!!

That doesn’t sound too promising!

How about we take 20 years to get the deficit from $15 trillion to $5 trillion?

Then we would only have to cut expenses 35%.

Do I hear 30 years?

Where am I going with all this fuzzy math?

I wish I knew!!!

No one seems to want to stand up and address any of these questions?

Ask anyone, we already feel we pay our fair share of taxes.

Can the American public be asked to pay more?

If you want to get reelected,

you better not be talking about raising taxes!

Cut our taxes but don’t dare cut our programs….

Is the US Government up for the challenge?

Will they be able to make the tough choices?

Or will the push the ball forward.

At HBS we pride ourselves on providing Smart Solutions for Smart Business

I am not sure where we would place this budget category?

I am just trying to make some sense of it.

Your comments are welcomed.

You may email george@hbsadvantage.com

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com