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.”

 

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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 (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.

For Our Own Deficit

May 13, 2011

Well……. we did avoid a government shutdown.

Thanks to some last minute wrangling down and DC,

the US economy lives on…..

limping until the end of September 2011.

All eyes now have turned to the vote on raising the debt ceiling.

Officially, the government states we should pass the debt limit sometime in early to mid-May.

What would happen if the Congress votes not to raise the debt ceiling?

Steps can be taken at that time to start shuffling who and what to pay…..

That should buy us another month.

Reports are that if the debt ceiling is not raised by the beginning of July,

The US will go into default.

What would happen should the US go into default?

  • The United States would default on its bond payments and would see its credit rating fall dramatically
  • Bondholders’ would be unable to receive interest payments
  • Investors would have a difficult time trusting the United States to honor its obligations and demand for long term United States debt would fall.
  • Senior citizen would not receive their Social Security checks
    • loss of these dollars would likely further hurt domestic consumption in the United States and place an undue strain on the budgets of senior citizens
  • A default will lead to increased risks for owning U.S. bonds.
    • Increased risks equal higher rates
    • Business loan borrowers and individuals looking for personal loans would see their borrowing costs rise astronomically
    • home or auto loan rates will be drastically higher, since access to credit would be at a premium

           

That’s just a snap shot of what to expect.

We made it thru the Great Recession.

Many experts feel this would throw the US into another Great Depression.

.

Not much time to dawdle!!!

Several weeks ago….

Standard and Poors, for the first time lowered its long term outlook for the federal government’s fiscal health……

From stable

To negative……..

They warned of serious consequences

If the lawmakers fail to reach a deal to control the massive federal deficit

So when is Congress expected to start tackling this issue?

It is reported they will start meeting on this issue sometime in June.

Congress just passed the 2011 budget!!!!

Heck, we still have 5 months left until the 2011 fiscal year is over.

Yet they will resolve the debt issue in 30 days?

America is a great country

No matter what is said

There is no place better to live

Everyone would love to enjoy

The freedoms we take for granted.

The debt ceiling and the deficit…….

Should not be a political issue

It is not going to go away

What are we doing to provide a secure future for the next generation?

We must carefully look at all the programs

Analyze what works

And put a true dollar value on sustainability

We are at a fork in the road

And the decisions we make

Will determine what path we go down

Robert Reich

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

Posted: January 22, 2011 11:18 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Friday, January 21, 2011

This whole health-care thing isn’t quite working out the way Republicans planned. My guess is that they’ll soon try to change the subject – but I’m afraid they’re already in too deep.

Wednesday’s vote to repeal President Obama’s health insurance reform law was supposed to be a crowning triumph. We heard confident GOP predictions that cowed Democrats would defect in droves, generating unstoppable momentum that forced the Senate to obey “the will of the people” and follow suit. The Democrats’ biggest domestic accomplishment would be in ruins and Obama’s political standing would be damaged, perhaps irreparably.

What actually happened, though, is that the Republican majority managed to win the votes of just three Democrats – all of them Blue Dogs who have been consistent opponents of the reform package anyway. In terms of actual defectors, meaning Democrats who changed sides on the issue, there were none. This is momentum?

The unimpressive vote came at a moment when “the will of the people” on health care is coming into sharper focus. Most polls that offer a simple binary choice – do you like the “Obamacare” law or not – show that the reforms remain narrowly unpopular. Yet a significant fraction of those who are unhappy complain not that the reform law went too far but that it didn’t go far enough. I think of these people as the “public option” crowd.

A recent Associated Press poll found that 41 percent of those surveyed opposed the reform law and 40 percent supported it. But when asked what Congress should do, 43 percent said the law should be modified so that it does more to change the health-care system. Another 19 percent said it should be left as it is.

More troubling for the GOP, the AP poll found that just 26 percent of respondents wanted Congress to repeal the reform law completely. A recent Washington Post poll found support for outright repeal at 18 percent; a Marist poll pegged it at 30 percent.

In other words, what House Republicans just voted to do may be the will of the Tea Party, but it’s not “the will of the people.”

“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” By this standard, House Republicans are geniuses. To pass the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” they had to believe that the work of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is both authoritative and worthless.

The CBO, which “scores” the impact of proposed legislation, calculated that the health-reform law will reduce federal deficits by at least $143 billion through 2019. Confronted with the fact that repeal would deepen the nation’s fiscal woes, Republicans simply claimed the CBO estimate to be rubbish. Who cares what the CBO says, anyway?

Er, um, Republicans care, at least when it’s convenient. Delving into the CBO’s analysis, they unearthed a finding that they proclaimed as definitive: The reform law would eliminate 650,000 jobs. Hence “Job-Killing” in the repeal bill’s title.

One problem, though: The CBO analysis contains no such figure. It’s an extrapolation of a rough estimate of an anticipated effect that no reasonable person would describe as “job-killing.” What the budget office actually said is that there are people who would like to withdraw from the workforce – sometimes because of a chronic medical condition – but who feel compelled to continue working so they can keep their health insurance. Once the reforms take effect, these individuals will have new options. That’s where the “lost” jobs supposedly come from.

The exercise in intellectual contortion that was necessary for the House to pass the repeal bill will be an excellent tune-up for what’s supposed to come next. “Repeal and replace” was the promise – get rid of the Democrats’ reform plan and design one of their own. This is going to be fun.

It turns out that voters look forward to the day when no one can be denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. They like the fact that young adults, until they are 26, can be kept on their parents’ policies. They like not having yearly or lifetime limits on benefits. The GOP is going to have to design something that looks a lot like Obamacare.

Meanwhile, Obama’s approval ratings climb higher every week. Somebody change the subject. Quick!

Economic View

 

 

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

David G. Klein

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by

Martin Feldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That spirit may be fleeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Savings If You Have Young Children Or Attend College

STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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