Smoke and Mirrors

August 3, 2011

The debt ceiling was finally raised this week.

The US will not default.

But how come I do not feel any better?

I kept listening to both sides…

Looking for that golden nugget

Will someone finally look at the whole picture

And come up with a meaningful plan?

Republicans want to cut cost

Are they really cutting cost?

All they are doing is cutting the amount of future increases

Not real cost

The democrats want to cut cost (future increases)

And raise taxes

Let’s make everyone pay their fair share

The bottom line there will be $1T dollars in cost reduction
in the

Next 10 years

Congress will form a special committee to recommend

$1.5T dollars of additional cost reductions

To be implemented over the next 10 years

All the while

The US deficit  is
projected to grow an

Additional $8 Trillion dollars

From $14.3 trillion dollars to $22.3 trillion dollars

Is this really cutting cost?

What steps are being taken to help…

Grow the economy….

Create jobs….

Restore confidence……

In America’s future?

We are currently borrowing 43 cents of every dollar we spend

At the current pace…

How long will this be

Sustainable?

The US cannot borrow its’ way out of this dilemna

We must devise a plan for the future

One that will rebuild our economy

Help put people to work

Promote stability

And insure prosperity for America’s future

Our forefathers had their disagreements…

But their goal was always for

The common good of the nation

They undertook projects

That they knew would not benefit them

But would provide for the future

What steps are we taking to insure a better future?

For our children and our grandchildren?

Have we allowed our political leaders to become

Complaisant

As reported by HuffingtonPost  by Sam Stein and Elise Foley

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders and President Obama on Sunday night announced they’ve cut a deal to avert a historic U.S. default, saying they have assembled a framework that cuts some spending immediately and uses a “super Congress” to slash more in the future.

The deal calls for a first round of cuts that would total $917 billion over 10 years and allows the president to hike the debt cap — now at $14.3 trillion — by $900 billion, according to a presentation that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made to his members. Democrats reported those first cuts at a figure closer to $1 trillion. It was unclear Sunday night why those two estimates varied.

The federal government could begin to default on its obligations on Aug. 2 if the measure is not passed.

The next round of $1.5 trillion in cuts would be decided by a committee of 12 lawmakers evenly divided between the two parties and two chambers. This so-called super Congress would have to present its cuts by Thanksgiving, and the rest of Congress could not amend or filibuster the recommendations.

But if the super Congress somehow failed to enact savings, the measure requires automatic cuts worth at least $1.2 trillion. Those cuts would be split equally between military and domestic programs. Social Security, Medicaid and programs for the poor would be spared, but Medicare providers — not beneficiaries — would take a hit.

White House officials confirmed that there would not be an extension of unemployment benefits as part of the final package. The administration had insisted that an extension be part of the grand bargain it was negotiating with Boehner. But when those discussions fell apart, so too did efforts to ensure that unemployment insurance was part of a final package. A senior administration aide added that the president would push for an extension in the months, if not weeks, ahead.

Some observers scored one victory for the president — the second round of cuts do not kick in until 2013, when the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire. Having a fresh round of deficit reduction that is all cuts with no revenues could give the White House ammunition to end the tax cuts on wealthier Americans, as it failed to do last winter.

Though none of the leaders sounded pleased about the deal, they said they were relieved it may present a chance to avert default. President Obama seemed especially dissatisfied with the idea of the super committee, saying the leaders should have been able to accomplish all the cuts now.

“Is this the deal I would have preferred? No,” Obama said. “I believe that we could have made the tough choices required — on entitlement reform and tax reform — right now, rather than through a special congressional committee process.”

The two Senate party heads also expressed qualified support for the deal.

“Leaders from both parties have come together for the sake of our economy to reach a historic, bipartisan compromise that ends this dangerous standoff,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor Sunday night.

“At this point I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that there is now a framework to review that will ensure significant cuts in Washington spending,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

“We can assure the American people tonight that the United States of America will not for the first time in our history default on its obligations,” McConnell added.

In spite of the guarded optimism, all sides will face quite a sales job in getting enough lawmakers in the middle to accept a deal.

Liberals were extremely displeased with the final result of the talks, which began with Democrats saying there should be no strings attached to a debt limit increase that would enable the country pay its bills.

Then they insisted that if deficit reduction was going to be linked to the debt limit, then closing loopholes and raising taxes on the rich had to be part of the deal.

They lost completely on both counts, and House Republicans managed to pull the entire deal further and further to the right, even inserting a requirement into the agreement for a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus in the House had called emergency meetings for Monday as details of the plan started to leak. They seemed likely to oppose the deal.

One top House aide said his boss would vote against the measure, and the aide predicted Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would not be eager to whip her members to get on board.

“This is going to be close. I think in the end, the president and Nancy are going to have to twist arms, and I’m not sure how hard she’ll work to do that,” the aide said, noting that Pelosi still remembers the infamous TARP vote where she delivered 150 of her members but Boehner did not get 100 of his.

Many of Boehner’s freshman Tea Party members also are likely to find the proposal tough to swallow, since many wanted no hike in the borrowing limit to begin with. They also wanted the passage of a balanced budget amendment to be a prerequisite for increasing the debt ceiling.

Both sides can afford to lose members if 217 representatives can still back the plan.

Boehner’s talk to his 240 members Sunday night had the greatest note of triumph.

“Now listen, this isn’t the greatest deal in the world,” he said, according to remarks his office sent out. “But it shows how much we’ve changed the terms of the debate in this town.”

He also sounded a note of vindication.

“There is nothing in this framework that violates our principles. It’s all spending cuts. The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down,” Boehner crowed. “And as I vowed back in May — when everyone thought I was crazy for saying it — every dollar of debt-limit increase will be matched by more than a dollar of spending cuts.”

Notably, Pelosi was the only of the four congressional leaders not to pledge support for the plan.

“I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my Caucus to see what level of support we can provide,” she said in a statement.

As reported in Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Wall Street Journal June 17,2011

By JAMES
A. BAKER III

If the United States does not address its looming debt crisis, the cost of
servicing the national debt will spiral out of control. The annual interest
bill, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, will increase
four-fold to $916 billion by 2020. This year, we will spend 70% less on debt
payments than we do on defense. In nine short years, we are expected to spend 8%
more.

Washington so far has been unable or unwilling to make the tough choices
required to put us on the road toward fiscal sanity. And it is unlikely that a
grand bargain will emerge prior to the 2012 election. Nonetheless, our country
can still take three short-term steps to bolster confidence in the bond markets
and prevent a rise in interest rates that will damage our fragile recovery.

Step No. 1 is to raise the debt limit in a way that generates confidence in
the markets. That means including a restraint on spending.

To accomplish this, the debt limit should be increased by an amount
sufficient to service the U.S. debt for six months, provided that the proceeds
from the increase are used to service debt obligations. Doing this would
eliminate the argument that a U.S. default will end Western civilization as we
know it. And we should also increase the debt limit by an additional amount
sufficient to cover the federal government’s anticipated borrowing needs for the
next six months. But we must do so only if the administration and Congress agree
to a cap on total spending that will be enforced by sequestering spending from
specific programs or by cuts across the board—and only if, in addition,
agreed-upon amounts and types of projected spending are eliminated. Special care
here should be taken not to agree to waivers, exceptions or exemptions that
could be used to defeat the purpose of the cap, sequester or across-the-board
cuts.

We’ll have to repeat the process twice a year until a comprehensive budget
fix is reached. The caps should aim at achieving a historical ratio of spending
to GDP of 20.6%. The debt-limit increase should not exceed the six-month period,
because it is only when the debt limit has to be increased that Congress will be
forced to muster the political will to enact enforceable spending restraint.

Of course, the best way to permanently reduce spending would be to enact a
balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution requiring a supermajority in both
houses of Congress to run an annual deficit, raise tax rates, or increase the
debt ceiling. Unfortunately, the chances of enacting such a constitutional
amendment are slim.

Step No. 2 is to take a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook in 1986 and
restructure our convoluted tax code by reducing loopholes and lowering marginal
rates. Business responded when the Reagan administration and a Democratic House
overhauled the tax system this way. It would respond again today if given the
chance. But, as in 1986, any changes in 2011 must be revenue-neutral so as to
avoid turning the discussions on tax reform into a heated debate over aggregate
levels of taxes and expenditures. Otherwise, with a divided government, the
effort will fail.

Step No. 3 is for Congress and the White House to fully embrace free trade.
With the dollar at low levels, consumers in other countries have an appetite for
products with a “Made in the USA” label. To encourage them, we should give more
than lip service to the currently pending free trade agreements with Colombia,
South Korea and Panama. The White House should stop stalling after two and a
half years of inaction and send them up to Congress for a vote.

In the long run, much more will be needed to correct America’s fiscal woes.
We must solve long-term funding shortfalls in entitlements such as Medicare,
Medicaid and Social Security. And at some point we will have to start thinking
about ways to raise revenue. But as President Reagan taught us, the very best
way to do that is by increasing economic activity with pro-growth economic
policies—lower tax rates, less regulation and more free trade.

With the Federal Reserve ending its purchase of bonds later this month, the
Treasury must rely even more on China, Saudi Arabia, Japan and other countries
to invest in our securities. The cost of these borrowings will ultimately
increase if the U.S. is not seen to be dealing with its fiscal problems. We must
demonstrate to the American people as well as the world that our leaders are
doing so.

Mr. Baker was President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Treasury from
1985-88.