James
Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

 

So I took a crack at the budget
simulator
cooked up over at the NYTimes Web site. It starts out with a
projected 2015 deficit of $418 billion and a projected 2030 deficit of $1.355
trillion. My goal was to do it through 100 percent spending cuts.

nytimes

Here is what I did:

1.  Eliminated earmarks  ($14 billion)

2. Cut the pay of civilian workers by 5 percent ($17 billion)

3. Reduced the federal workforce by 10 percent ($15 billion)

4. Reduced nuclear arsenal and space spending  ($38 billion)

5. Reduce military to pre-Iraq War size and further reduce troops in Asia and
Europe ($49 billion)

6. Reduce Navy and Air Force fleets ($24 billion)

7.  Cancel or delay some weapons programs ($18 billion)

8. Reduce the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to 60,000 by 2015
($149 billion)

9. Enact medical malpractice reform ($13 billion)

10. Increase the Medicare eligibility age to 68  ($56 billion)

11. Reduce the tax break for employer-provided health insurance ($157
billion)

12. Cap Medicare growth starting in 2013 ($562 billion)

13. Raise the Social Security retirement age to 70 ($247 billion)

14. Reduce Social Security benefits for those with high incomes ($54
billion)

15. Tighten eligibility for disability ($17 billion)

16. Use an alternate measure for inflation ($82 billion)

In the end, my budget would have a minuscule 2015 deficit of $80 billion and
a 2030 surplus of $187 billion. Now I would have preferred an option for deeper
domestic spending cuts. The Heritage
Foundation has ideas
for over $300 billion worth. And I think eliminating
hundreds of billions of tax breaks and lowering tax rates across the board would
boost growth and revenue. The simulator only lets me use the Bowles-Simpson plan
which would lower rates by cutting tax expenditures —  but uses some of the
dough for deficit reduction. Plus, the simulator assumes no impact on growth
from higher taxes or lower taxes. Also, there is no doubt the Medicare cuts
would be rightly labeled as “rationing.”  But Americans really have only two
choices, I think: severe government healthcare rationing (since right now
healthcare costs are rising much faster than GDP growth) or voucherization.

The simulator also shows how tough it is to balance the budget through tax
increases alone. If you went for every tax increased offered, you would still
have a slight deficit in 2030. And again, that assumes zero impact on economic
growth from a) letting all the Bush tax cuts expire; b) eliminating tax breaks;
c) adding a national sales tax, carbon tax and bank tax. That is a fantasy.
Letting all the Bush tax cuts expire, for instance, would probably knock 2-3
percentage points from GDP next year.

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

By
Published: May 8, 2011
 

The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong?

Well, what I’ve been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it’s mostly the public’s fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate’s foolishness.

So this seems like a good time to point out that this blame-the-public view isn’t just self-serving, it’s dead wrong.

The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.

Let me focus mainly on what happened in the United States, then say a few words about Europe.

These days Americans get constant lectures about the need to reduce the budget deficit. That focus in itself represents distorted priorities, since our immediate concern should be job creation. But suppose we restrict ourselves to talking about the deficit, and ask: What happened to the budget surplus the federal government had in 2000?

The answer is, three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.

So who was responsible for these budget busters? It wasn’t the man in the street.

President George W. Bush cut taxes in the service of his party’s ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand — and the bulk of the cuts went to a small, affluent minority.

Similarly, Mr. Bush chose to invade Iraq because that was something he and his advisers wanted to do, not because Americans were clamoring for war against a regime that had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, it took a highly deceptive sales campaign to get Americans to support the invasion, and even so, voters were never as solidly behind the war as America’s political and pundit elite.

Finally, the Great Recession was brought on by a runaway financial sector, empowered by reckless deregulation. And who was responsible for that deregulation? Powerful people in Washington with close ties to the financial industry, that’s who. Let me give a particular shout-out to Alan Greenspan, who played a crucial role both in financial deregulation and in the passage of the Bush tax cuts — and who is now, of course, among those hectoring us about the deficit.

So it was the bad judgment of the elite, not the greediness of the common man, that caused America’s deficit. And much the same is true of the European crisis.

Needless to say, that’s not what you hear from European policy makers. The official story in Europe these days is that governments of troubled nations catered too much to the masses, promising too much to voters while collecting too little in taxes. And that is, to be fair, a reasonably accurate story for Greece. But it’s not at all what happened in Ireland and Spain, both of which had low debt and budget surpluses on the eve of the crisis.

The real story of Europe’s crisis is that leaders created a single currency, the euro, without creating the institutions that were needed to cope with booms and busts within the euro zone. And the drive for a single European currency was the ultimate top-down project, an elite vision imposed on highly reluctant voters.

Does any of this matter? Why should we be concerned about the effort to shift the blame for bad policies onto the general public?

One answer is simple accountability. People who advocated budget-busting policies during the Bush years shouldn’t be allowed to pass themselves off as deficit hawks; people who praised Ireland as a role model shouldn’t be giving lectures on responsible government.

But the larger answer, I’d argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they’ll do even more damage in the years ahead.

By

Robert Reich

Why aren’t Americans being told the truth about the economy? We’re heading in the direction of a double dip — but you’d never know it if you listened to the upbeat messages coming out of Wall Street and Washington.

Consumers are 70 percent of the American economy, and consumer confidence is plummeting. It’s weaker today on average than at the lowest point of the Great Recession.

The Reuters/University of Michigan survey shows a 10 point decline in March — the tenth largest drop on record. Part of that drop is attributable to rising fuel and food prices. A separate Conference Board’s index of consumer confidence, just released, shows consumer confidence at a five-month low — and a large part is due to expectations of fewer jobs and lower wages in the months ahead.

Pessimistic consumers buy less. And fewer sales spells economic trouble ahead.

What about the 192,000 jobs added in February? (We’ll know more Friday about how many jobs were added in March.) It’s peanuts compared to what’s needed. Remember, 125,000 new jobs are necessary just to keep up with a growing number of Americans eligible for employment. And the nation has lost so many jobs over the last three years that even at a rate of 200,000 a month we wouldn’t get back to 6 percent unemployment until 2016.

But isn’t the economy growing again — by an estimated 2.5 to 2.9 percent this year? Yes, but that’s even less than peanuts. The deeper the economic hole, the faster the growth needed to get back on track. By this point in the so-called recovery we’d expect growth of 4 to 6 percent.

Consider that back in 1934, when it was emerging from the deepest hole of the Great Depression, the economy grew 7.7 percent. The next year it grew over 8 percent. In 1936 it grew a whopping 14.1 percent.

Add two other ominous signs: Real hourly wages continue to fall, and housing prices continue to drop. Hourly wages are falling because with unemployment so high, most people have no bargaining power and will take whatever they can get. Housing is dropping because of the ever-larger number of homes people have walked away from because they can’t pay their mortgages. But because homes the biggest asset most Americans own, as home prices drop most Americans feel even poorer.

There’s no possibility government will make up for the coming shortfall in consumer spending. To the contrary, government is worsening the situation. State and local governments are slashing their budgets by roughly $110 billion this year. The federal stimulus is ending, and the federal government will end up cutting some $30 billion from this year’s budget.

In other words: Watch out. We may avoid a double dip but the economy is slowing ominously, and the booster rockets are disappearing.

So why aren’t we getting the truth about the economy? For one thing, Wall Street is buoyant — and most financial news you hear comes from the Street. Wall Street profits soared to $426.5 billion last quarter, according to the Commerce Department. (That gain more than offset a drop in the profits of non-financial domestic companies.) Anyone who believes the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill put a stop to the Street’s creativity hasn’t been watching.

To the extent non-financial companies are doing well, they’re making most of their money abroad. Since 1992, for example, G.E.’s offshore profits have risen $92 billion, from $15 billion (which is one reason it pays no U.S. taxes). In fact, the only group that’s optimistic about the future are CEOs of big American companies. The Business Roundtable’s economic outlook index, which surveys 142 CEOs, is now at its highest point since it began in 2002.

Washington, meanwhile, doesn’t want to sound the economic alarm. The White House and most Democrats want Americans to believe the economy is on an upswing.

Republicans, for their part, worry that if they tell it like it is Americans will want government to do more rather than less. They’d rather not talk about jobs and wages, and put the focus instead on deficit reduction (or spread the lie that by reducing the deficit we’ll get more jobs and higher wages).

I’m sorry to have to deliver the bad news, but it’s better you know.

As reported by ReimagineAmerica

Congratulations to the FBI for their “take-down” of a $100M Medicare fraud ring on October 13,2010.  According to the NY Times October 14 morning addition, the “band of Armenian-American gangsters” billed Medicare for more than “$100M by inventing 118 bogus health clinics in 25 states”.  According to the paper, the gangsters made off with $35M in cash that cannot be recovered.  You will find a link to the NY Times news story at the end of this blog.

How did this happen?  It happened because Medicare is a wholly automated payment system that is notoriously porous.  If the SSN number of both patient and doctor are validated electronically, and the treatment code is separately validated electronically, an electronic payment is generated.  Only after the payment is any audit performed.   Often, but not always, the audit happens only when a recipient reviewing their own Medicare statement reports activity they know to be fraudulent, according to the CBS 60 Minutes exposé filmed in Florida, earlier this year,   I suppose that Medicare subscriber doctors, also,  report fraud when the IRS accuses them of under reporting their income?

The 2010 Health Care Reform legislation did include funding for Medicare fraud detection.  But focusing on investigation after the fraud occurs and on TV warnings to Medicare recipients urging them to “guard the card” will not solve a problem estimated to be at least $50B – billion with a B – dollars a year!  In fact, the legislation expects these efforts to save only $2B a year – 4% of the estimated reduction in benefit payments mandated by the Act.   Wow we need to do 96% better or cut seniors’ benefits, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates!

Last week Fox Business News reported, and an IBM spokesman confirmed,  that Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM,  told Barack Obama that IBM had carefully studied the Medicare fraud issue and estimated the actual 10 year problem to be closer to $900B – that’s billion with a B — over ten years.  Mr. Palmisano believes so strongly in both IBM’s numbers and IBM’s potential solution that he offered to “build” the  solution for “free”.  Fox reported that Barack Obama turned down this offer.   Can you imagine, an American CEO of an American corporation offers a solution that could, potentially, save 90% of the projected health care reform deficit and the President of the United States turned down the offer?

I was astounded – so astounded that I knew I needed to verify the story before I gave full vent to my frustration.  So I Googled “IBM Medicare fraud”.    Turns out that it’s true!  IBM confirmed it. 

There is no mystery here.  Health care is a great business opportunity for IBM.  IBM Health Care Practice works with partners every day in both the United States and Europe to improve the use of technology to simultaneously reduce the cost of delivering health care and improve health care outcomes.  

It is important to examine my Palmisano’s language carefully.   He offered to “build” the solution for free to “prove” it worked.  He never said, IBM didn’t want to be paid if it worked.  He was willing to “share the risk”.    That has been a standard practice in business for years!  Time that we adopted these money saving practices in the government as well. 

Why would the President turned down such an offer?  Certainly he knows that all major technology initiatives in federal government are done by private contract vendors?   So what’s up?

  1. Most benignly, he does not want to appear to promote one federal vendor over others?  That can easily be dealt with in the contracting process – requiring IBM to partner with other major software and hardware vendors to develop an “open source” solution. 
  2. Can it be the President, who has no business experience,  does not understand the concept “investing in a new business opportunity”?    Mr. Palmisano is not an altruist.  Successfully ending Medicare fraud would further strengthen IBM’s “qualifications” as a global health care solutions provider.  This would be worth billions in new profits to IBM and its partners.
  3. Can it be possible that the President really has such a deep-seated distrust of business and business executives that he cannot imagine a CEO can be a patriot at the same time that he is responsible for producing share holder value? 
  4. Could the President fear that accepting this offer might be seen as a public rebuke of the team at Medicare, who are all SEIU or AFGE members?  Could he be concerned that such a perception would have political ramifications as he looks to government union support in his 2012 Presidential election?

Based on CBS and the New York Times reporting, I can think of a half dozen “quick hit” changes to the existing Medicare payment process that would produce billions in potential Medicare fraud savings.   So,  its easy for me to believe that the full force of IBM, IBM partners,  the Medicare staff, and the FBI could eliminate $900B in Medicare fraud over the next decade.

Personally, I believe that Mr. Palmisano is acting both as a patriot and a good CEO.   Mr. Obama, what do you have to lose?