Who Killed the Debt Deal

March 28, 2012

By  As reported In Huffington Post
Published: March 28, 2012

Almost immediately after the so-called grand bargain between President Obama and the Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner, unraveled last July, the two sides quickly settled into dueling, self-serving narratives of what transpired behind closed doors. In the months that followed, some of Washington’s most connected Democrats and Republicans told me in casual conversations that they didn’t know whose story to believe, or even what, exactly, had been on the table during the negotiations. A few mentioned, independently of one another, that the entire affair reminded them of “Rashomon,” the classic Kurosawa film in which four characters filter the same murder plot through their different perspectives. Over time, the whole debacle became the perfect metaphor for a city in which the two parties seem more and more to occupy not just opposing places on the political spectrum, but distinct realities altogether.

 Sunday, July 17, Oval Office. Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner meet with President Obama, where the framework for a deal is agreed upon.
Tuesday, July 19, Capitol building. Senator Mark Warner, left, and the rest of the Gang of Six brief fellow senators on their plan.
Thursday, July 21, John Boehner’s office. Relations have grown tense between Boehner and the White House. Trying to salvage a deal, Boehner floats the idea of a counteroffer to Cantor.
Friday, July 22, Oval Office. After 24 hours of silence from Boehner, President Obama receives the call telling him the deal is off.

There is a practical reason for this. Both sides knew that if the most crucial and contested details of their deliberations became public, it would complicate relationships with some of their most important constituencies in Washington — or worse. It’s one thing for a Democratic president to embrace painful cuts in Medicare and Social Security benefits, or for a Republican speaker to contemplate raising taxes, if they can ultimately claim that they’ve joined together to make the hard decisions necessary for the country; it’s quite another thing to shatter the trust of your most ideological allies and come away with nothing to show for it. Obama and Boehner have clung to their separate realities not just because it’s useful to blame each other for the political dysfunction in Washington, but because neither wants to talk about just how far he was willing to go.

The Republican version of reality goes, briefly, like this: Boehner and Obama shook hands on a far-reaching deal to rewrite the tax code, roll back the cost of entitlements and slash deficits. But then Obama, reacting to pressure from Democrats in Congress, panicked at the last minute and suddenly demanded that Republicans accede to hundreds of billions of dollars in additional tax revenue. A frustrated Boehner no longer believed he could trust the president’s word, and he walked away. Obama moved the goal posts, is the Republican mantra.

In the White House’s telling of the story, Obama and Boehner did indeed settle on a rough framework for a deal, but it was all part of a fluid negotiation, and additional revenue was just one of the options on the table — not a last-minute demand. And while the president stood resolute against pressure from his own party, Boehner crumpled when challenged by the more radical members in his caucus. According to this version, Boehner made up the story about a late-breaking demand as a way of extricating himself from the negotiations, because he realized he couldn’t bring recalcitrant Republicans along. Boehner couldn’t deliver, is what Democrats have repeatedly said.

In recent weeks, as it became clear that I was planning to write a more nuanced and detailed account of the final week of negotiations, both sides — but primarily the speaker and his aides — went out of their way to give extensive accounts to reporters at other outlets, in an effort to reinforce their well-rehearsed narratives. And yet it’s possible now to get beyond these clashing realities. Over the last several months, I spoke with dozens of people who were involved in or were kept apprised of events that week, some of whom made available private documents from that time, including the various offers and counteroffers. I conducted most of these interviews on the condition that I would neither reveal nor quote the people who spoke to me, so that they would feel free to speak candidly.

What emerged from these conversations is a clearer and often surprising picture of exactly how close Obama and Boehner came to finalizing a historic agreement, what exactly was in it and why it ultimately fell apart — including a revelation that illuminates Boehner’s thinking in those final hours and directly contradicts a core element of the version he has told, even to some in his own leadership.

The truth here matters for more than its historical value. At the end of this year, no matter how the presidential election turns out, the two parties will face yet another Armageddon moment in the fight over debt and spending; this time, if they don’t settle on a plan to rein in the nation’s nearly $16 trillion debt, then a series of onerous budget cuts — worth about $1.2 trillion over 10 years, divided between defense and other programs — will automatically go into effect. If we understand what really went on last July, then we’ll have a better sense of how difficult it will be for the two parties to stave off the coming political calamity and why, too, the situation may not be quite as hopeless as it seems.

The Secret Negotiations Begin

You may recall that Washington last summer was verging on something resembling cold-war hysteria. Republicans in the House were refusing to meet an August deadline for increasing the nation’s debt limit by some $2.4 trillion unless they got an equivalent amount of budget cuts in return, raising the prospect of a default that, it was assumed, would send the financial markets into a death spiral. Vice President Joe Biden and Eric Cantor, the House majority leader and Boehner’s No. 2 in the Republican caucus, had been holding talks in hopes of finding some preliminary agreement that might avert disaster, but those talks broke down in late June, primarily over the issue of taxes; the two men and their staffs had identified something like $2 trillion in cuts over the next decade, but the White House wasn’t going to make a deal that didn’t include some new tax revenue, and Cantor was adamant that raising taxes — any taxes — was a deal-breaker.

By then, however, Obama and Boehner had themselves started meeting furtively in the White House, in secret negotiating sessions that grew out of a much-discussed golf outing in June. Over a few drinks at the clubhouse at Andrews Air Force Base, Boehner suggested they might be able to use the impending debt crisis to achieve something ambitious and significant — not just the kind of cuts that Cantor and Biden were discussing, but fundamental reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code too, a sweeping modernization of the federal budget. The president agreed that they should try to get something started, but the breakthrough that seemed to make a transformational deal possible didn’t come until mid-July, in the form of a cryptic e-mail.

Budget deals happen in much the same way you might haggle over the purchase of a house: one side bangs out a proposed contract and sends it to aides on the other side, who cross out some numbers and phrases and insert new ones in their place, until the two sides ultimately iron out their differences, or until someone delivers a final offer and walks away. In this case, Obama’s principal negotiators — Jack Lew, then his budget director, and Rob Nabors, his top aide on legislation — sent a proposal to Boehner’s team that included $1.5 trillion in new revenue over 10 years. The White House negotiators knew this had about as much chance of happening as a meteorite falling on the Capitol, but the real question was whether Boehner was willing to go some distance toward meeting them on the revenue side of the ledger, or whether he would stick to Cantor’s hard line against any form of new taxes.

When the response came back to Nabors, Boehner’s aides had, as expected, struck the $1.5 trillion from the offer. But in its place they had inserted a strange formulation: they were proposing to reduce federal revenue, “compared to current law,” by $2.8 trillion. On the surface, this sounded like a flagrant rejection of what the White House was proposing — “You’re asking for more in taxes, we’re giving you less” — but in fact Boehner was speaking in complex code.

Boehner’s Cryptic Message

There are two “base lines” — or sets of assumptions — that policy makers generally use when they try to make projections about future revenue, and in order to understand some of the most critical moments in the negotiations, it’s necessary to understand the arcane difference between them. One is “current law,” which refers to what’s supposed to happen in the years ahead, assuming that certain temporary tax cuts or increases really do expire as planned. The other is “current policy,” which refers to what the numbers would look like if you took the rules as they are today and froze them in place. The most important difference between these two projections has to do with the Bush tax cuts, which Obama and Congressional Republicans agreed to extend, temporarily, at the end of 2010. Under “current law,” those tax cuts would expire at the end of this year, leading to a projected total revenue of more than $39 trillion over the next decade. But few people in Washington actually expected Congress to let most — if any — of the Bush tax cuts lapse anytime soon, and through the more realistic lens of “current policy,” under which all the tax cuts would remain in place, that same 10-year number became something like $35.5 trillion, or $3.5 trillion less.

In his offer, Boehner had used the higher, less relevant “current law” base line. Then he’d proposed lowering revenue by $2.8 trillion, which reduced the 10-year number to just under $36.3 trillion. What mattered from the White House perspective was that this number was about $800 billion more in revenue than either party was actually expecting to generate under “current policy.”

This was an exceedingly convoluted way of coming at the tax question, and even Nabors, who is one of a small number of genuine budget experts in Washington, wasn’t sure, as he stared at Boehner’s language, whether it meant what he thought it meant. Sitting in his spacious West Wing office, Nabors might as well have been one of John F. Kennedy’s advisers in 1962, reading and rereading the cable from Khrushchev, trying to divine the carefully worded message within. He showed it to Lew, and they quickly reached the same conclusion: Boehner was saying that he was willing to accept $800 billion more in tax revenue. Or, to put it another way, Boehner was proposing to increase the government’s haul by the same amount you would get if you reversed Bush’s tax cuts for the most affluent Americans, but he was proposing to do it by lowering rates and eliminating loopholes and subsidies instead — a revenue increase by other means. There was no other way to read this except to conclude that the speaker was now backing off his party’s hard line against additional revenue.

Excited White House aides suddenly felt that a deal might really be possible. But even with more revenue now on the table, Boehner and Obama continued to go back and forth over the Rubik’s Cube-like structure of a comprehensive deal — whether entitlement cuts would have to come before tax reform, whether most of the cuts would accrue in the first decade or the second and so on. Meanwhile, political pressure was building from inside Boehner’s leadership circle. Cantor, who had heard about the Obama-Boehner talks only when Biden happened to mention it, was nonplused at having been excluded and appalled that Boehner was offering more revenue. He and others pressed the speaker to drop the idea of a comprehensive deal, and on July 9, Boehner did just that, calling Obama at Camp David to tell him that the grand bargain was dead. He issued a statement immediately after, saying it was time for both parties to set their sights on a less ambitious solution to the debt-ceiling crisis, which now loomed less than a month away.

Except the speaker couldn’t bring himself to settle for something less ambitious. Five days later, on July 14, he called the president yet again.

Decoding Boehner’s Proposal

Why couldn’t Boehner let it lie? It’s a question that still puzzles a lot of his closest allies in Washington, not to mention his fellow Republican leaders on the Hill. Obama’s reasons for chasing the grand bargain were clear enough. Not only was he bent on avoiding a catastrophic debt default, but he needed to get out from under the debt issue, to demonstrate that he cared about reducing deficits before public concerns about government spending, stoked by rhetoric on the right, overwhelmed his presidency. Boehner’s motives were less obvious. The speaker occupied what may have been the toughest spot in Washington — trying to control a nihilistic rebellion in his own caucus while watching the approval ratings for Congress fall into the teens, all the while surrounded by young, ambitious leaders who doubted his ideological resolve. The last thing Boehner needed, you would think, was to close his eyes and take a Thelma-and-Louise-style plunge with a president whom no one in his party could stand.

Nothing better illustrated Boehner’s position than his clandestine, convoluted overture to the president on taxes. The offer for $800 billion in additional revenue — as opposed to, say, $700 billion or $900 billion — was no accident. On one hand, Boehner’s people must have known that Obama probably couldn’t settle for anything less than that, because Democrats in Congress would demand that any deal recoup the cost of Bush’s least defensible tax cuts. At the same time, Boehner’s aides had calculated that, at $800 billion, they could plausibly argue to their own caucus that the government could raise more money without actually raising anyone’s taxes.

How could you make that case? Boehner would argue that some sizable chunk of that money — if not all of it — would come to the government as a result of economic growth spurred by new, lower tax rates, and from better compliance, since the new tax code would be less confusing. Thus, by this feat of actuarial magic, Boehner contended that raising revenue did not require raising taxes, and in fact would enable you to lower them. The math was debatable, certainly, but it was a central tenet of any deal Boehner would negotiate.

But then, having worked out a theoretical way to get to the $800 billion that he knew the White House needed, Boehner wasn’t comfortable even putting the figure down on a piece of paper. The idea of any new tax revenue was so heretical to his party, and Boehner was so fearful of the reaction, that his aides felt compelled to come up with a roundabout way of expressing the offer in terms that few people in Washington would be able to decipher, just in case the paper should fall into the wrong — that is, his own party’s — hands. Boehner knew that his position might well imperil his standing as speaker, whether it led to a deal or not, and yet he was taking it anyway.

Boehner would later tell me that he was determined to do this because he was tired, after 20 years in Washington, of seeing one Congress and one president after another ignore the coming explosion of spending on entitlement programs and the growing public debt. He also shared Obama’s view that a grand bargain would actually be easier to pass than a smaller deal — that if lawmakers were going to have to make a bunch of politically explosive cuts, they were more likely to go through with it if they could go tell voters that they’d achieved something truly transformative. As Biden put it, “There’s no point in dying on a small cross.”

The Trouble Getting to ‘Yes’

But politics is often as much about self-perception as it is about policy, and it wasn’t hard to discern a more personal reason for Boehner’s attachment to the idea of a grand bargain. Having fashioned himself as a reformer since coming to Congress in 1991, Boehner was now 61, and with Congress flipping back and forth between the parties, it wasn’t a given that he would hold the speakership for more than a few years. What would Boehner’s legacy be, or would he even have one? Some speakers, like Tip O’Neill or Newt Gingrich, carve out places in history as indispensable partners in creating momentous legislation. Others, like Denny Hastert, are destined to be lost to the ages. Those who know Boehner say that what he saw in the grand bargain was a chance to be remembered as a statesman who helped set the country on a different course, rather than as a party functionary who shakily presided over a fractious caucus.

Obama and Boehner had spent little time together before the talks began, and they had only a vague sense of each other. Aides on both sides described a kind of forced familiarity between the two men, who would begin meetings with the shallowest of chatter — “Play any golf this weekend, John?” — before moving quickly into the substance of budget politics. White House aides thought Boehner looked as if there were someplace he’d rather be, while Boehner’s aides were put off by what they saw as Obama’s lecturing style. Still, the two men — Midwesterners, former state legislators, introverts by nature and smokers by habit — seemed to think they could trust each other.

In fact, when Boehner called back on that Thursday afternoon, the 14th, in hopes of restarting the negotiations, it wasn’t Obama but rather one of his chief aides who Boehner had decided was the problem. For weeks leading up to the breakdown in talks, Boehner and his top lieutenants — Barry Jackson, his chief of staff, and Brett Loper, his policy aide — had been talking principally to Jack Lew and Rob Nabors at the White House. But they had become exasperated with Lew, who, in their view, talked a lot but offered few concessions. Lew, whose detailed knowledge of the budget outpaced anyone else’s in the room, always seemed to have a better idea than whatever Boehner was proposing, and these ideas seemed to Boehner like more complicated ways of describing positions they had already rejected. The problem with Lew, Boehner bluntly told the president when he called, is that he just didn’t know how to get to “yes.”

Boehner thought he had a better shot with Bill Daley, the president’s chief of staff, and Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary. Daley had made a point of reaching out to Boehner since joining the administration, and he was known to be a pragmatist and a dealmaker. Geithner, clearly rattled by the possibility that Treasury might default on its debt, had been issuing almost daily warnings to Congressional leaders about the mounting fear in the markets. Send me Daley and Geithner, Boehner told the president, and let’s see what we can do.

The next afternoon, a Friday, Daley and Geithner went to the Capitol to meet with Boehner and Cantor. In addition to requesting a change in negotiators, Boehner’s team had come up with a new, simpler way to structure the deal that they hoped would eliminate some of the persistent conflicts over timing in the earlier talks. Before, Boehner had wanted to legislate cuts in annual spending and entitlements up front, while leaving tax reform for Congressional committees to work out over a period of months — a formulation that worried Obama and his allies. But now the speaker’s team suggested that the two sides come up with a framework of broad principles and specific target numbers on both the cuts and revenue, and then let Congress work out all the details at the same time. Using that template, the two sides quickly found a large swath of common ground. Two days later, on Sunday afternoon, Boehner and Cantor went to the White House to continue the conversation, and Obama joined the group after he returned from church.

No one was under the illusion that a final agreement had been nailed down and was ready for signatures, but when Obama and Boehner shook hands that afternoon, there was a general feeling that they would work through the remaining details relatively easily. Before the meeting at last broke up, Obama mentioned to the others that they would have to carefully think about how to roll out the deal, to make sure that both sides were saying the same thing publicly. That night, Jackson and Loper sent over a three-page proposal based on the discussions; in exchange for agreeing to the $800 billion in additional revenue, they asked for more than $450 billion in combined cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over the next decade alone, as well as a series of changes to Social Security, including a new formula for calculating benefits and a higher retirement age.

There was no question that the framework negotiated by Obama, Daley and Geithner — and laid out in the Republicans’ offer sheet — unsettled the stomachs of some White House aides. No one liked the idea of acceding to Medicare cuts, and most didn’t think Social Security should be part of the deal at all. (Democratic orthodoxy holds that Social Security has nothing to do with the federal debt, since it generates its own revenue from the payroll tax.) But Obama’s senior aides, including the political adviser David Plouffe, had come to believe that a grand bargain, however imperfect, was preferable to a smaller deal — and far preferable to a debt default. The debate now was about what it would take to get the votes. Nabors and his legislative team had real doubts that Democrats in Congress would go for anything close to what Boehner was asking for, and they were just as skeptical that Boehner could get his own caucus behind it. As Jackson and Loper waited anxiously at the Capitol for a counteroffer, the internal White House discussions dragged on into Monday night.

Enter the Gang of Six

For more than six months, ever since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the chairmen of Obama’s fiscal commission, offered their stark recommendations for remaking the budget at the end of 2010, a group of senators — Mark Warner, Richard Durbin and Kent Conrad on the Democratic side, along with the Republicans Saxby Chambliss, Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo — had been trying to build some consensus around a plan. Over dozens of dinners and negotiating sessions, some of which were held at Warner’s stately home in Alexandria, Va., the so-called Gang of Six labored over a compromise they could sell to their colleagues, while leaders of both parties eyed them warily.

But a deal remained maddeningly out of reach, mainly because it was proving impossible to bridge the distance between the two members of the gang who were furthest apart on the ideological spectrum. Durbin, a member of the Democratic leadership and a close friend of the president’s — and the only avowed liberal in the group — was determined to protect tax credits for the poor and the working class. Coburn, a rigid fiscal conservative from Oklahoma, wanted $130 billion more in cuts to entitlements than the rest of the group. In May, Coburn excused himself from the deliberations in order to come up with his own deficit-slashing plan.

By mid-July, just as Boehner was preparing to invite Daley and Geithner up to the Hill, the group’s informal chairmen, Warner and Chambliss, decided they couldn’t wait any longer to share the gang’s uncompleted work with the rest of the Senate. They scheduled a briefing for senators only — no staff — on Tuesday morning in the Capitol.

The White House knew about the briefing (Durbin had kept the West Wing informed), but it didn’t seem especially consequential to aides who were now thoroughly immersed in their own secret negotiations. After all, the gang had made noise about being close to a deal many times before, and nothing had ever come of it. Even now, its members admitted to having only the broadest outline of a plan, and the briefing was slated for 8:30, when most senators are still groping for coffee or pounding the treadmill. Even Warner thought it was bound to be more of a sideshow than a main event.

And so no one was more surprised than the gang members themselves when almost half the Senate, roughly divided between the parties, trickled in as Warner and Chambliss outlined the new revenue and spending cuts in their emerging plan to cut $4.6 trillion from the budget. The first one to rise, after the presentation was finished, was Coburn. The unpredictable sixth man gave an impassioned endorsement of the plan, telling his colleagues it wasn’t perfect, but it was the best they were going to accomplish. Then Durbin stood up and echoed the sentiment. One by one, senators from both parties added their support.

It’s not hard now to understand what happened in the room. As House Republicans and the administration debated the debt, most of the Senate felt sidelined and powerless. What the Gang of Six was offering was the promise of action, a way for the Senate to re-emerge as a serious player in a national drama.

A Costly Miscalculation

Word quickly traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where Nabors, who was still honing a response to Boehner’s offer from Sunday night, called Barry Jackson in the speaker’s office and asked what was going on. Jackson wasn’t sure. Within a few hours, though, the White House had the sense that something important had shifted. More than 20 Republican senators, by some counts, had stood up in favor of a plan that would raise more revenue, and Obama thought he now had an opportunity to exert more pressure on House Republicans by highlighting the widening split inside their own party. Shortly after noon, Obama took the unusual step of marching out to the briefing room to declare his support for the Gang of Six, instantly elevating what was supposed to have been an informal, sparsely attended briefing into the day’s national news. It was, in retrospect, a costly miscalculation.

Even before the president had stopped speaking, it was beginning to dawn on White House aides that what had looked like an opportunity was actually a serious problem. Like Boehner, Obama was risking an insurrection in his own party once the details of their plan became public. For a lot of Democratic lawmakers, even conceding the central Republican point about the debt — that it was the hallmark of unsustainable government spending — was a kind of apostasy. The way they saw it, Republicans had created the deficit problem with ill-advised tax cuts and disastrous wars, and now they were using it as a pretense to roll back social programs for the poor and middle class. And as for Medicare, leading Democrats on the Hill hoped to make it a pivotal issue in House and Senate races in 2012, now that Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House budget committee, had proposed replacing the program with a voucher system. (A sign in the window at the Democratic headquarters in Washington read: “Vote Republican, End Medicare.”) Why, they wondered, would the president want to forfeit that advantage by agreeing now to cut those programs himself?

If it was never going to be easy for the White House to sell the grand bargain to Democrats on the Hill, then the plan put forward by the Gang of Six was likely to make it impossible. On the surface, the gang had proposed an overall revenue increase of $1.2 trillion, 50 percent more than the $800 billion Obama and Boehner were talking about. Democrats were bound to ask why the president had settled for less in taxes than the Gang of Six did.

But once Obama’s aides looked more closely at the numbers, they understood that the political problem posed by the gang’s plan was actually far worse. This is where the whole distinction between base lines — “current law” and “current policy” — comes in again. The gang had settled on a base line that was somewhere between “current law” and “current policy”; it had assumed the Bush tax cuts for the most affluent were expiring, while the other, less costly tax cuts would persist. The White House, meanwhile, had been calculating their figures based on “current policy,” under which all the tax cuts would remain in place. This meant that when you actually compared the two plans in an apples-to-apples way, the Gang of Six was proposing to raise revenue by about $2 trillion — $1.2 trillion more than the president and the speaker had tentatively agreed to.

How could Obama possibly ask Democratic leaders to pass a deal with $800 billion in new revenue, when a bunch of Republican senators — not to mention the president himself, on national TV — had just stood up to applaud a plan with $2 trillion attached? Never mind that the Gang of Six plan was little more than a memo, with no chance of becoming an actual bill — let alone passing the House or Senate. Liberals would laugh the president out of the room. The numbers would confirm the suspicion, already voiced by some lawmakers privately, that Obama wanted a bipartisan victory too badly and would accept a deal on any terms, even if it sold out his party’s principles.

Early Tuesday afternoon, Nabors called Jackson, this time sounding grim. They were going to have a problem on the balance between revenue and spending, he said. Daley delivered a similar message to Jackson. What do we do now? he wanted to know. The president just wouldn’t be able to sell that deal to enough of his own senators and congressmen to get it across the finish line.

As White House aides would later present it, Boehner’s guys took this news with equanimity, indicating they were skeptical but willing to talk. The speaker’s aides, however, say they were reeling. A deal is a deal, a mystified Jackson told Daley. He and Loper hoped the alarm in the White House might be a temporary overreaction and that Obama might relent once he and Boehner had a chance to talk. They were still trying to process what had happened when, later that night, an e-mail from Rob Nabors popped into Jackson’s in-box. The president’s counteroffer had finally arrived.

The Grand Bargain Within Reach

For all the talk since last July about who blew up the deal, it has been difficult to get a clear sense of what specifically the agreement was supposed to include. And so the three-page counteroffer that Rob Nabors sent to Barry Jackson and Brett Loper that Tuesday night, which turned out to be the last set of numbers exchanged between the two sides, represents the most detailed picture yet of what a grand bargain might have looked like. It’s a remarkable snapshot of the moment, not for the points of contention it exposes, but rather because it illustrates how much agreement Obama and Boehner had actually managed to find.

They had agreed to reduce discretionary spending — meaning both the defense budget and money used to finance the rest of the government — by about $1.2 trillion over 10 years; it would be up to Congress to figure out how. They also agreed to a list of programs from which they could cut at least $200 billion more in the coming decade. These included an estimated $44 billion from pensions for civilian and military employees of the government; $30 billion from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; $33 billion from farm subsidies and conservation programs; and $16 billion from reforming the Postal Service.

On entitlements too they had moved closer to a final deal. The White House agreed to cut at least $250 billion from Medicare in the next 10 years and another $800 billion in the decade after that, in part by raising the eligibility age. The administration had endorsed another $110 billion or so in cuts to Medicaid and other health care programs, with $250 billion more in the second decade. And in a move certain to provoke rebellion in the Democratic ranks, Obama was willing to apply a new, less generous formula for calculating Social Security benefits, which would start in 2015. (The White House had rejected Boehner’s bid to raise the retirement age.) This wasn’t quite enough for Boehner, nor was it as extensive as what the Gang of Six had proposed. But the speaker’s team didn’t consider the differences to be insurmountable, assuming the two sides could also settle on a revenue number.

The section on revenue, though, was one of two significant disagreements that were less easily brushed aside. Boehner’s offer two days earlier, on Sunday, included several points to which he believed Daley and Geithner had essentially agreed. But in his counteroffer, written hours after the Gang of Six briefing, Obama had made some extensive changes to this section. To the $800 billion figure, he said he now wanted to add an amount equal to the cuts in Medicare and Medicaid — an additional $360 billion, at least — for a total of $1.16 trillion in total revenue. Aside from increasing the sheer amount, what Obama was doing, for the first time in the negotiation, was explicitly linking the amount of new revenue to the cuts Boehner wanted in entitlement programs. In other words, Obama’s new formula meant that for every additional dollar in savings Boehner wanted to negotiate from Medicare or Medicaid, he was going to have to add a dollar of revenue.

This in itself was certainly enough to throw the deal into jeopardy. But the White House made still other changes that were problematic. Most notably, Boehner’s team had insisted that when lawmakers sat down to design a new tax code, the $800 billion in additional revenue had to be a “ceiling” rather than a “floor” — in other words, the final number generated through tax reform couldn’t be more than $800 billion, but it could be less. That’s because, as part of revising the code, Boehner intended to ask Congress for something called a “macro estimate” of the grand bargain’s impact — basically, a best guess as to the future revenues that would accrue once the lower rates kicked in and the economy started humming along. Democrats normally despise such projections, because they are used to support the conservative theory of supply-side economics. But the macro estimate was essential to Boehner; he needed it to make the argument that a decent chunk of the additional revenue could come through growth and stepped-up compliance, and thus Congress wouldn’t need to actually raise anybody’s rates to get it done. Boehner left that Sunday meeting convinced that Geithner, in particular, understood and accepted this condition.

But in his counteroffer, Obama had reversed the formulation so that the tax revenue figure — now at $1.16 trillion — would be the minimum that rewriting the code could achieve (a floor), rather than a maximum (a ceiling). With a slight turn of phrase, he rejected Boehner’s entire premise that growth could be counted on to deliver some of the revenue. Boehner could seek all the macro estimates he wanted if it made him feel better, but he wouldn’t be able to use those estimates to lower the amount of new tax revenue that Congress would need to collect.

White House aides would later insist that, despite their rough agreement on a framework the previous Sunday, the discussion about tax reform had always been fluid and unsettled, an ongoing negotiation in which both sides were still feeling out each other’s limits. The Gang of Six briefing had no doubt complicated this negotiation, they agreed, but it wasn’t as if they had signed on to something and then taken it back. If this is true, though, then it’s true only in the technical sense. If you shake hands with a guy on the price of a car, and you agree to talk again after the car has been inspected and the loan has been approved, you don’t really expect to show up and find out that car now costs $5,000 more. This is essentially what happened to Boehner. What both Tuesday’s panicky calls from the White House and the subsequent counteroffer make clear is that Obama knew he was changing the terms and felt he had no choice.

The other remaining area of contention had to do with the problem of enforcement provisions, or “triggers,” in the deal. Because tax reform would take some time for Congress to puzzle out, while the spending cuts were relatively straightforward, the White House had been concerned from the start about being double-crossed. How could Democrats be assured that the Republican-controlled House wouldn’t simply announce a deal, enact only the spending cuts they wanted and then sabotage the revenue piece? The answer, Obama’s team decided, were a couple of “triggers” — something both sides really hated — that would automatically kick in if they didn’t come up with a version of tax reform that each party could stomach.

Specifically, Obama had two triggers in mind. The first, for Democrats, would have rescinded the Bush tax cuts for the highest earners. Boehner rejected this idea. He pointed out that Democrats themselves would have little incentive to pass tax reform if, by not passing it, they could achieve one of their most cherished policy objectives — the elimination of the Bush tax cuts.

The second trigger, to appease Republicans, would include an automatic $425 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years. But Boehner repeatedly said that he wanted his own “political trophy” as a trigger, something that had the same resonance for the right as the Bush tax cuts had for the left — namely the elimination of the “individual mandate,” the central plank in Obama’s health-care law that required every American to be insured. Striking down the provision was a top priority for the Tea Partiers in Congress, who saw it as evidence of Obama’s tyrannical tendencies. Obama wouldn’t entertain the possibility. The argument had been going on since the first round of negotiations between the two men and their staffs, but now that a deal seemed imminent, the question of how to enforce it had taken on a new urgency. At its core, the trigger debate was a matter of trust; each man had to be assured that the other wasn’t going to let his party renege on the tax-reform agreement when the inevitable arguments arose. And because they hadn’t worked together much and barely knew each other on a personal level, the only way for Obama and Boehner to feel reassured was if the political cost of pulling out was intolerably high to both of them.

Obama and Boehner argued heatedly but respectfully over both sticking points — the revenue number and the triggers — during a two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Wednesday, July 20. By the next morning, both men were facing rebellions on the Hill. The Times’s Carl Hulse and Jackie Calmes had written a front-page article disclosing the existence of the new round of talks and asserting that a deal was very near. Arriving for the weekly lunch of the Democratic Senate caucus, Jack Lew found himself berated by senators who were angered by the talk of entitlement cuts in exchange for the relatively paltry $800 billion in tax money, and livid at having heard about it from The Times. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, had been fully briefed (along with the House leader, Nancy Pelosi) only the night before. He remained stonily and pointedly silent in the meeting, while Lew absorbed one verbal blow after another.

At that very moment, Boehner was dialing Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, unbidden, in an effort to quell the eruption on the right. It wasn’t only the additional revenue that conservatives hated. Having campaigned in 2010 against Obama’s health-care plan, which included future Medicare cuts, conservatives in Congress were no more eager than Democrats to give the issue away in advance of 2012. (Their resistance to this part of the grand bargain highlighted what is perhaps the central paradox of budget politics on the right: Republicans have defined themselves almost entirely by their determination to reduce debt, but virtually every means of actually getting there — taxes, defense cuts, restructuring entitlements — strikes them as politically unpalatable.) “There is absolutely no deal,” Boehner assured Limbaugh on air.

And yet, even then, as powerful contingents in both parties rose up to oppose a deal that was already tenuous, negotiations were proceeding amiably and apace. At the White House that Thursday morning, July 21, Jackson, Loper, Nabors, Sperling and Lew, among other aides, agreed to set aside the revenue question and focus on hammering out some of the smaller discrepancies in the two offers. By now, a level of trust had grown among them; the mere fact that they had exchanged so much paper, and that none of it had been leaked to reporters or bloggers, seemed to cement their working relationship. To hear aides on both sides tell it, anyone who wandered into Nabors’s West Wing office would have thought they were moving, inexorably and constructively, toward a final agreement.

In fact, Obama felt confident enough to tell Reid and Pelosi, during a meeting in the Oval Office that Thursday evening, that a grand bargain was imminent. The president told his Congressional leaders that he had given Boehner a choice: either the two sides could go for the bigger bargain that Obama wanted, with the nearly $1.2 trillion in revenue and the spending cuts they were already close to nailing down, or they could do a smaller version, with the original $800 billion in revenue but a smaller slate of cuts. Obama told Reid and Pelosi that he understood that this would seem like a choice between a bad deal and a worse deal, but he wanted a commitment from them that they would get behind the agreement. Neither of the Congressional leaders was wild about the prospect, but they quietly pledged they’d have the president’s back.

Cantor and the Counteroffer

Like much of Washington, White House aides were perplexed by the relationship between Boehner and the man who was 14 years younger and next in line for his job, Eric Cantor. During one of a series of tense White House meetings with Congressional leaders in July, Obama’s aides had been stunned — even a little embarrassed — to see Cantor, when asked for his opinion, directly contradict the speaker in front of the president. He insisted that the caucus would not accept the kind of sweeping deal that both leaders wanted. It struck Obama’s aides as breach of Washington decorum, and it appeared to betray deeper divisions inside the Republican caucus. When Daley and Geithner were first invited by Boehner to his Capitol office to restart the negotiations in mid-July, they were surprised to find Cantor there too. It was one of the main reasons that the White House dared to hope a deal might work. They assumed that Cantor’s presence meant that the two Republican leaders were now speaking with the same voice.

Cantor hadn’t changed his mind about the grand bargain, however. Boehner had invited him to the meeting, just as he had invited Daley and Geithner, and there was little the majority leader could do in that situation other than accept. And from Cantor’s perspective, it was better to be inside the room than not, which is what had happened during the first round of talks, when for 10 days he had been ignorant of the negotiations going on.

Cantor’s objections weren’t simply obstructionist. He didn’t like the revenue piece — partly on principle, and partly because he thought it would reignite the grass-roots insurgency that Washington Republicans had been desperately trying to keep under control, endangering the re-election of some members. A fight over taxes — with the party’s leaders arguing that government should get more money, rather than less — might lead to outright insurrection and a breakaway third party. Cantor also didn’t trust the White House to stand by a deal, warning that they would ultimately come back with more demands. Perhaps most important, Cantor was highly skeptical that a grand bargain — with Boehner’s $800 billion gambit already being called a tax increase by The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page — had any chance of passing the House.

This last point hinted at what was perceived inside the caucus as Boehner’s primary vulnerability. Boehner had traveled an idiosyncratic path to the speakership, having never served as a House whip, the pivotal job of corralling and counting votes. He wasn’t much of a closer, either; the more aggressive tactics that “getting to yes” sometimes required didn’t come naturally to him. Boehner seemed to believe that his prestige as speaker would carry the day on key votes, but already that assumption had gotten him into trouble a few times, and other members of his leadership team had little faith in his predictions. Before the Gang of Six fiasco, Boehner estimated that he could round up something like 150 votes (out of 240 Republican members) for the grand bargain. Cantor and many other senior Republicans thought the number could be less than half of that.

By Thursday afternoon, when Cantor entered Boehner’s office to consult on their next move, the speaker was in something of a box. The White House position was leaving Boehner little room to maneuver within his own caucus, and yet he was loath to see the deal unravel after getting so close, and with so little time left before the debt-limit standoff became a full-blown national crisis.

The speaker’s story about this moment in the negotiations has always been remarkably consistent, and he and his aides have repeated it frequently in recent weeks, including to me. The additional revenue that Obama demanded was a “nonstarter,” he says. He did a “gut check” and decided that he could no longer trust the president, who obviously didn’t have the courage to stand behind the deal they had made. And so Boehner had no choice but to walk away from the negotiations. He and Cantor, of like mind, reached this conclusion together.

It’s a clean story of a man standing by his conservative principles. And yet the additional revenue wasn’t, strictly speaking, a nonstarter. After all, Boehner wanted a deal badly enough to stay at the table for 48 hours after Obama “moved the goal posts,” which casts doubt on his claim that this breach of trust was an obvious dealbreaker. And at some point that Thursday, Boehner and his most senior aides at least entertained what would have been an astounding counteroffer to the president.

As part of a broader proposal, which has remained until now a closely held secret, Boehner was apparently open to meeting the president at the new, higher revenue target — a concession that most likely would have meant abandoning the idea that no taxes would have to be raised. Had that counteroffer ever made it to Obama’s desk, it’s not hard to imagine that the grand bargain would have gotten done within 24 hours, at great political risk to both men. Whether it could have passed the House — whether, in fact, any deal would ever have reached the president’s desk — is a question that will never be answered.

What happened, instead, based on extensive reporting, was this: Boehner raised the possibility of his counteroffer with Cantor on that Thursday afternoon, and Cantor dismissed the suggestion out of hand. He had always warned that the White House couldn’t be trusted and would come back for more, and Obama’s reversal on the revenue number had vindicated that view. Cantor made it clear he wasn’t going to support any more counteroffers. He was pretty sure the caucus wouldn’t either. No longer was Cantor content to be the skeptic in the room. He was now certain that the grand bargain was a practical impossibility.

Boehner talked to Obama a short while later. The president laid out the options as he would later relay them to Reid and Pelosi: more revenue and a bigger package, or the $800 billion and a smaller one. Boehner heard him out, but by then he must have known, from his discussions with Cantor and others, that neither option was going anywhere in his own caucus. It was one thing to risk your speakership on a grand bargain, which Boehner had without question been willing and even eager to do. It was another thing to throw that speakership away with little chance of success, which is what Obama was now asking of him.

The final act of the saga played out like the awkward undoing of a brief teenage romance, minus the texting and Facebook un-friending. At about 10 p.m. that Thursday, Obama placed a call to Boehner’s cellphone to check in; when Boehner didn’t pick up, the president left a voice-mail message. Late the next morning, Obama casually asked Daley if he’d heard from Boehner; Daley told him there was no word, and he added that he couldn’t reach any of the speaker’s aides either. And so the president waited anxiously, wondering why the speaker wasn’t returning his call. As the hours passed, the mood in the West Wing turned from puzzlement to concern to anger. By the middle of the afternoon, rumors began to reach the White House from the Hill. Boehner had scheduled a briefing for reporters. He was telling people the deal was dead, and he was meeting with Reid and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, to see if there was some other way to raise the debt limit.

When Boehner finally called back late that Friday afternoon, it was a perfunctory call between wounded suitors. Each man hung up and immediately went out to tell his side of the story, offering the versions — Obama moved the goal posts, Boehner couldn’t deliver — that would soon become fixtures of Washington’s double-sided reality. Both were essentially true, and yet incomplete.

Why didn’t Boehner call back earlier on Friday? Any kid who has ever traded a Pokémon card knows that you don’t walk away from a negotiation without at least leaving your best offer on the table. Boehner would say that he had run out of time and was certain Obama wouldn’t budge. But there’s a more persuasive theory, which is that Boehner didn’t want to talk with Obama because he feared exactly the opposite — that Obama would respond by offering him the original terms from the previous Sunday, and that Boehner would then find himself trapped. He had to now know that, despite his sense of himself as a persuasive statesman who could get his caucus to follow his lead, he couldn’t get any deal past even his own leadership. It was safer for Boehner to walk away and accuse Obama of having sabotaged the deal than to risk that Obama would retreat to the earlier terms on which they had agreed, forcing the speaker to backtrack himself.

In the end, that’s essentially what happened, anyway. The following day, Congressional leaders informed Obama that they were ready to offer a deal on their own. It would force another vote on the debt ceiling in 2012, and it would create a “supercommittee” of six lawmakers charged with finding massive spending reductions; if the committee failed, a slate of painful cuts would go into effect at the end of 2012. (Ultimately, the debt ceiling vote was pushed back to 2013, but the rest of the bill passed.) Obama hated it and made his anger known to the lawmakers who laid it out for him in the Oval Office. After that meeting, he called Boehner yet again, asking if they could just go back to the previous Sunday’s handshake agreement. Boehner told him it was time to move on.

Boehner Betrayed?

From Boehner’s perspective, it’s not hard to see why he came away feeling Obama betrayed him. “He had to have known that this was going to set my hair on fire,” Boehner told me when we sat together in his office on the first day of March. He was seated in a leather chair by a marble fireplace, his cigarette smoldering in an ashtray at his side. Three aides sat nearby.

“You have to understand,” he went on, “there were hours and hours of conversation, and he would tell me more about my political situation than I ever would think about it, all right? So when you come in and all of a sudden you want $400 billion more — he had to have known!” Boehner shook his head, as if he was still puzzled by it all.

“Well, he did know,” the speaker finally decided. “He had to have known that he was driving this thing off a cliff.”

And yet, in the end, while both leaders had profound reservations about a grand bargain that would threaten their parties’ priorities, what’s undeniable, despite all the furious efforts to peddle a different story, is that Obama managed to persuade his closest allies to sign off on what he wanted them to do, and Boehner didn’t, or couldn’t. While Democratic leaders were willing to swallow either a deal with more revenue or a deal with less, Boehner’s theoretical counteroffer, which probably reflected what he would have done if empowered to act alone, never even got a hearing from his leadership team.

Shortly before this article was published, Boehner issued a statement to me saying there was “zero chance” of them actually making a counteroffer late that week. But when I asked Boehner on the first day of March whether he had floated his counteroffer past Republican leaders other than Cantor, his reply was more ambiguous.

“I don’t know that it ever got that far,” Boehner said after a pause. “Eric and I were comfortable with where we were. Did we think we were out on a limb? Yes. Did we think the president, if we came to an agreement, was going to be out on a limb? Yes. But I don’t think us sitting in this room with the rest of the leaders, discussing exactly where we were . . . I’m not going to say it didn’t happen. But the reason I feel that way is because I had a pretty good feel for what I thought the reaction was.” Later, he told me flatly, “I look at what happened last summer as the biggest disappointment I’ve had as speaker.”

Now, with another debt battle looming, the chance of resurrecting some kind of grand bargain doesn’t seem very promising. Obama and Boehner have spoken only a handful of times. The administration’s most driven dealmaker, Bill Daley, never recovered from the episode, which poisoned his relationship with Harry Reid, who blamed Daley for having kept him and other Senate leaders in the dark as the negotiations unfolded. Daley resigned in January and was replaced by Jack Lew — the guy whom Boehner and his aides tried to sideline.

When I talked to Boehner about the two potential crises coming at year’s end (the possibility of automatic budget cuts and, weeks later, another vote on the debt ceiling), he told me he was placing his hopes on getting a new president. “I don’t see any real evidence that this president has the courage to lead,” he growled. He added that any comprehensive deal might be even harder to sell to his members this time around.

And yet the failed attempt at a grand bargain wasn’t necessarily an unmitigated disaster. The ugly, months-long process of trying to avoid a meltdown over the debt ceiling may have further embittered a lot of ordinary Americans, but it also forced policy makers on both sides to wrestle with their own capacity for compromise. For weeks, in both the White House and in the speaker’s office, the most influential aides in the country burrowed into spreadsheets and considered, in unusually specific terms, what kinds of budget cuts and revenue numbers they could live with.

They didn’t get the sprawling deal they were after, but they did produce a serious blueprint for bipartisan reform, a series of confidential memos that left them just a few hundred billion dollars apart. That may sound like real money, and it is, but when you consider that the government can get some $25 billion back just by selling its broadcast spectrum, you begin to understand how bridgeable that difference is. What’s clear now is that the only thing holding Washington back from a meaningful step toward reducing debt and modernizing government isn’t any single policy dilemma, but rather the political dynamic that makes compromise such a mortal risk.

That dynamic could change after November. And however counterintuitive this may seem, it may be more apt to change if the cast of characters remains the same. Assume for the moment that Mitt Romney is elected president and is forced to confront, even before staffing his administration or taking the oath of office, an imminent budget crisis. Romney would have been elected despite the deep ambivalence of his own party’s conservative base, whose support he would need in order to govern, and who would be watching his every blink for proof of ideological fealty. Does anyone really think he could risk infuriating that base, in his first move as president-elect, by hammering out a compromise that increases tax revenue and cuts Medicare?

Should Obama win re-election, on the other hand, he would face the impending crisis knowing that he had just run the final campaign of his life and that he had 18 months, at best, to solidify his legacy. Boehner might well find himself, two years removed from the Tea Party elections of 2010, with fewer extremists in his own caucus. And for all their residual bitterness and mistrust, they would both know that they still had a draft agreement that left them about 80 percent of the way there.

Near the end of our interview, I asked Boehner what he thought would happen when the two sides clashed again in several months. He took a drag on his cigarette.

“We’re heading toward a very big moment, where big decisions are going to have to be made about the future of our country,” he said blandly. Then he surprised me by rising quickly to his feet and clapping his hands. “All right!” he said, reaching for my hand. He was through talking, at least for now.

What’s Going On

November 3, 2011

What’s going on?

 

That seems to be the big question…..

 

Everyone is asking

 

 

Marvin Gaye sang about it back in the 70’s

 

Yet we still are asking the same questions, today….

 

 

The economy almost collapsed

 

People started looking at….

 

How the government reacted…

 

 

Why did they not see it coming?

 

 

The stimulus failed…

 

 

And the people started saying…..

 

 

No More …….

 

 

The Teaparty came from a grass roots effort

 

And have grown to be a voice

 

 

They have endorsed……

 

Reducing government spending

 

Opposition to taxation in varying degress

 

Reduction of the national debt…

 

And the reduction of the Federal Budget Deficit

 

 

Their message resonated during the 2010 elections

 

As a result we saw a total shake up in Congress

 

 

Did we get any results???

 

 

The result was total gridlock!!!!!

 

 

I do not think that is what the Teaparty had in mind…

 

 

Closing down the government….

 

 

That will not resolve anything

 

 

 

Agreed…… the Government has grown too big

 

Agreed…… the Government must be held more accountable

 

 

The stimulus was needed…

 

 

But it was mismanaged

 

There was no accountability

 

It should not have been

 

 

Carte Blanche

 

 

 

All these events leading to the collapse

 

Did not happened overnight

 

 

We put faith in our elected officials

 

 

We too, turned a blind eye

 

 

Borrowing against inflated housing values

 

 

Margining accounts

 

We all allowed this to happen

 

 

We all drank the Kool-Aid

 

 

And must take responsibility

 

 

 

Now the voices are growing

 

We are the 99%

 

 

What started in New York City

 

Has grown not only throughout the US

 

But has seen its’ presence grow around the world

 

 

There is just not 1 message

 

 

They are saying enough is enough…

 

 

 

What happened to the American Dream?

 

The land of opportunity got up and went

 

 

Overseas….

 

 

 

They are calling for the end of corporate greed

 

 

Corruption and influence over Government

 

 

No more too big to fail

 

 

Where are the jobs

 

 

 

 

How long will this go on?

 

 

Is anybody listening?

 

 

 

I do not believe anybody is protesting

 

Against the successes of the few

 

 

In the past there was an unwritten law…

 

 

Let’s make this a win / win

 

 

The more you help us to become successful

 

We will work

 

To share those successes with you

 

 

That is how the American Dream grew

 

 

Each generation working to improve

 

The Quality of life

 

For the next generation

 

 

The United States was a beacon

 

Everybody wanted to come to America

 

 

 

 

We took our eye off the ball

 

After 911,

 

 

America was united

 

Patriotism was at an all-time high

 

 

Then we got involved in several wars

 

 

Without figuring out how to pay for them

 

 

There was no shared sacrifice

 

 

President Bush told everyone to go out and shop

 

 

The deficits started rising….

 

 

It took over 200 years to get to a $1 trillion dollars
deficit

 

 

Yet in less than 30years

 

It has ballooned to just under

 

$15 trillion dollars

 

 

 

There are hard and difficult decisions to be made

 

 

Not everyone is going to be happy

 

 

But are we all prepared to start sacrificing?

 

 

Are we going to commit ourselves to a worthy goal?

 

 

 

What will be the quality of life we pass on?

 

 

To our Children….

 

 

And our Grandchildren…..

 

 

 

Will we be known as the lost generation?

 

 

How did we ever….

 

 

 

Let it go so far?

 

 

 

We are the people

 

 

We must all take on a shared responsibility

 

 

Do what needs to be done

 

 

To right the ship

 

Steady the course

 

 

Fulfill the promise America

 

Has brought to all generations

 

 

 

Like our forefathers before us

 

 

 

When asked….

 

Is the quality of life we are passing on….

 

Better than that which we have experienced

 

 

Let us stand proud and say

 

 

YES!!!

On Vacation

August 11, 2011

Go ahead,

 

Take a look around…

 

 

Everyone is on vacation

 

 

 

Try calling a client….

 

 

Catch up with me after
Labor Day

 

I’m taking some time
off

 

 

Why am I even writing this post?

 

 

 

I’ll probably just get a lot of

 

Out of the Office return reply messages?

 

 

For you faithful few….

 

 

 

The warriors!!!!!!

 

 

Vacation…

 

 

Humbug…..

 

 

 

I don’t care how hot
it is!!!!

 

 

 

I’m gonna work

 

 

 

Even if I can’t get
anything done

 

Because everyone is
away

 

 

 

 

I will write this post for you

 

 

 

This week….

 

 

Britain is in turmoil…

 

 

A policeman shot a teen

 

The People are rioting, burning buildings

 

 

Guess what????

 

 

Cameron came back off vacation

 

 

 

Congress and Obama have spent the last month

 

Battling over the debt ceiling

 

 

 

Each claiming they are sticking to their guns

 

“We must fight to protect the middle class”

 

 

Well….

 

They came up with the grand compromise

 

 

 

And quickly left for vacation

 

 

 

Standard and Poor’s drops our credit ranking

 

 

 

The stock market drops 600 points Monday

 

 

 

As of last week

 

The stock market was down over 2000 pints

 

in the last 30 days

 

 

 

I heard that people with 401k in the stock market

 

Lost about 12% of their value last week

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Congress is on vacation

 

 

Their probably listening to the constituents’

 

 

Hang tough…..

 

Don’t give in…..

 

We’ve got your back…..

 

 

 

 

Who has our back?

 

 

 

 

Why am I thinking about this?

 

 

 

I should be on vacation

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.

JIM KUHNHENN   04/11/11 06:13 PM ET   AP

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, plunging into the rancorous struggle over America’s mountainous debt, will draw sharp differences with Republicans Wednesday over how to conquer trillions of dollars in spending while somehow working out a compromise to raise some taxes and trim a cherished program like Medicare.

Obama’s speech will set a new long-term deficit-reduction goal and establish a dramatically different vision from a major Republican proposal that aims to cut more than $5 trillion over the next decade, officials said Monday.

Details of Obama’s plan are being closely held so far, but the deficit-cutting target probably will fall between the $1.1 trillion he proposed in his 2012 budget proposal and the $4 trillion that a fiscal commission he appointed recommended in December.

The speech is intended as a declaration of Obama’s commitment to seriously tame the deficit while outlining his long-term budget principles – key components of his campaign for re-election in 2012. After gingerly avoiding any discussion until now of cuts in the government’s massive benefit programs for the elderly and poor, Obama will acknowledge a need to reduce spending on Medicare and Medicaid while at the same time tackling defense spending and calling for increased taxes on the wealthy, White House officials said.

If that sounds like a reprise of last week’s budget fight that barely avoided a government shutdown, it isn’t. The stakes are far higher, the political risks greater and the goals more ambitious. At issue are long-term budget deficits and a $14.3 trillion national debt that many say could threaten the nation’s economy.

The cuts accomplished last week were for $38.5 billion over the next six months; the cuts envisioned now are for trillions of dollars over the next 10 years.

Obama’s speech, to be delivered at George Washington University, comes as Congress readies for a fierce fight over raising the nation’s debt limit. Republicans have vowed to use that vote as leverage to extract greater budget discipline from the Democrats and the president.

Setting the terms of the debate and the likely brinkmanship to follow, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday: “What I’m saying is that we support a clean piece of legislation to raise the debt ceiling. … We cannot play chicken with the economy in this way.”

The president’s speech also comes amid liberal apprehension over recent Obama spending concessions and a desire among some Democrats to make proposed GOP cuts in Medicare a 2012 election issue.

House Republicans, led by the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, last week unveiled a plan that would cut $5.8 trillion over 10 years with a major restructuring of the nation’s signature health care programs for the elderly and the poor. Meanwhile, six senators have formed a bipartisan group to work on their own plan to rein in long-term deficits by making changes to Medicare and Medicaid and examining a fundamental overhaul of the tax system that would yield additional revenue.

Obama is expected to concede a need for overhauling Medicare and Medicaid and to even make adjustments to Social Security, always considered politically risky territory. But he will distinguish his plan from the Republican budget, which would shrink Medicare by shifting the program to private insurers and send block grants to states to pay for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.

Unlike the Republican plan, Obama is also expected to call for cuts in defense spending and for tax increases, repeating his 2012 effort to increase Bush-era tax rates for families making more than $250,000. Obama shelved that plan in a budget compromise with Republicans.

His 2012 budget blueprint didn’t touch the health care entitlements or Social Security. Now that he plans to, some of his own supporters are wary, arguing that the president ceded too much ground when he cut a tax deal with Republicans last December and in yielding spending cuts last week.

“I want to have confidence, but I’ve got to see something,” said Barbara Kennelly, a former Democratic congresswoman and president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy group. “They can’t continue to give in.”

Many liberals say Obama has not been a strong bargainer.

“Their weakness in getting the most out of negotiations is their strategic belief that they don’t want to be seen as fighting, they want to appear above the fray and beyond partisanship,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the labor-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “They also believe that they shouldn’t get out there on a position where they may not succeed. These are characteristics that make for a weak negotiator.”

Republicans on Monday said Obama’s speech was overdue.

“I’m anxious to hear what the president has to say,” House Speaker John Boehner said on Fox News. “We’ve been waiting for months for the president to enter into this debate with us. I can tell you that privately I’ve encouraged the president: `Mr. President, lock arms with me, let’s jump out of the boat together. We have to deal with this, this is the moment in time that we’ve been given to address the problems.

“Forget the next election, forget the next poll that’s going to come out. It’s time to do the right thing for the country.'”

The speech is expected to affirm Obama’s stand on the spending he is not willing to cut, chiefly in the areas of education, energy, infrastructure, research and innovation. On Medicare, the federal insurance program for senior citizens, the president is expected explain his case for cost savings without putting “all the burden on seniors,” as his senior adviser David Plouffe put it.

In choosing to wait until now, White House officials have looked at past precedents, including President George W. Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security, and have seen the pitfalls of staking out major policy initiatives that come undone in Washington’s combative environment.

Democrats have been torn over what Obama should do. Many believe the weight of the debt is a powerful issue with independent voters and that Obama needs to engage Republicans with a legitimate counterproposal and then conduct the “adult conversation” he professes to desire.

The debate over Medicare and Medicaid may not be resolved before the 2012 election, potentially making it the defining element of the presidential campaign.

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.

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.

Written by Paul Krugman  NY Times

The Geithner plan has now been leaked in detail. It’s exactly the plan that was widely analyzed — and found wanting — a couple of weeks ago. The zombie ideas have won.

The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved.

To this end the plan proposes to create funds in which private investors put in a small amount of their own money, and in return get large, non-recourse loans from the taxpayer, with which to buy bad — I mean misunderstood — assets. This is supposed to lead to fair prices because the funds will engage in competitive bidding.

But it’s immediately obvious, if you think about it, that these funds will have skewed incentives. In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.

Or to put it another way, Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.

This plan will produce big gains for banks that didn’t actually need any help; it will, however, do little to reassure the public about banks that are seriously undercapitalized. And I fear that when the plan fails, as it almost surely will, the administration will have shot its bolt: it won’t be able to come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work.

What an awful mess.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment.

US Economy shrinks at 6.2%

February 28, 2009

By JEANNINE AVERSA • Associated Press • February 28, 2009

Excerpts as reported in Courier Post

The economy contracted at a staggering 6.2 percent pace at the end of 2008, the worst showing in a quarter-century, as consumers and businesses ratcheted back spending, plunging the country deeper into recession.

The Commerce Department report released Friday showed the economy sinking much faster than the 3.8 percent annualized drop for the October-December quarter first estimated last month. It also was considerably weaker than the 5.4 percent annualized decline economists expected.

A much sharper cutback in consumer spending — which accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity — along with a bigger drop in U.S. exports sales, and reductions in business spending and inventories all contributed to the largest revision on records dating to 1976.

Looking ahead, economists predict consumers and businesses will keep cutting back spending, making the first six months of this year especially rocky.

“Right now we’re in the period of maximum recession stress, where the big cuts are being made,” said economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics.

The new report offered grim proof that the economy’s economic tailspin accelerated in the fourth quarter under a slew of negative forces feeding on each other. The economy started off 2008 on feeble footing, picked up a bit of speed in the spring and then contracted at an annualized rate of 0.5 percent in the third quarter.

The faster downhill slide in the final quarter of last year came as the financial crisis — the worst since the 1930s — intensified.

Consumers at the end of the year slashed spending by the most in 28 years. They chopped spending on cars, furniture, appliances, clothes and other things. Businesses retrenched sharply, too, dropping the ax on equipment and software, home building and commercial construction.

Before Friday’s report was released, many economists were projecting an annualized drop of 5 percent in the current January-March quarter. However, given the fourth quarter’s showing and the dismal state of the jobs market, Mayland believes a decline of closer to 6 percent in the current quarter is possible.

The nation’s unemployment rate is now at 7.6 percent, the highest in more than 16 years. The Federal Reserve expects the jobless rate to rise to close to 9 percent this year, and probably remain above normal levels of around 5 percent into 2011.

A smaller decline in the economy is expected for the second quarter of this year. But the new GDP figure — like the old one — marked the weakest quarterly showing since an annualized drop of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 1982, when the country was suffering through an intense recession.

“It’s going to be a challenging 2009,” Scott Davis, chief executive officer of global shipping giant UPS, said Thursday while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

American consumers — spooked by vanishing jobs, sinking home values and shrinking investment portfolios have cut back. In turn, companies are slashing production and payrolls. Rising foreclosures are aggravating the already stricken housing market, hard-to-get credit has stymied business investment and is crimping the ability of some consumers to make big-ticket purchases.

It’s creating a self-perpetuating vicious cycle that Washington policymakers are finding hard to break.

To jolt life back into the economy, President Barack Obama recently signed a $787 billion recovery package of increased government spending and tax cuts. The president also unveiled a $75 billion plan to stem home foreclosures and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said as much as $2 trillion could be plowed into the financial system to jump-start lending.

For all of 2008, the economy grew by just 1.1 percent, weaker than the government initially estimated. That was down from a 2 percent gain in 2007 and marked the slowest growth since the last recession in 2001.

With Friday’s figures, Mayland lowered his forecast for this year to show a deeper contraction of just over 2 percent.

In the fourth quarter, consumers cut spending at a 4.3 percent pace. That was deeper than the initial 3.5 percent annualized drop and marked the biggest decline since the second quarter of 1980.

Businesses slashed spending on equipment and software at an annualized pace of 28.8 percent in the final quarter of last year. That also was deeper than first reported and was the worst showing since the first quarter of 1958.

Fallout from the housing collapse spread to other areas. Builders cut spending on commercial construction projects by 21.1 percent, the most since the first quarter of 1975. Home builders slashed spending at a 22.2 percent pace, the most since the start of 2008.

A sharper drop in U.S. exports also factored into the weaker fourth-quarter performance. Economic troubles overseas are sapping demand for domestic goods and services.

Businesses also cut investments in inventories — as they scrambled to reduce stocks in the face of dwindling customer demand — another factor contributing to the weaker fourth-quarter reading. The government last month thought businesses had boosted inventories, which added to gross domestic product, or GDP.

GDP is the value of all goods and services produced in the United States and is the best barometer of the country’s economic health.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke earlier this week told Congress that the economy is suffering a “severe contraction” and is likely to keep shrinking in the first six months of this year. But he planted a seed of hope that the recession might end his year if the government managed to prop up the shaky banking system.

Even in the best-case scenario that the recession ends this year and an economic recovery happens next year, unemployment is likely to keep rising.

That’s partly because many analysts don’t think the early stages of any recovery will be vigorous, and because companies won’t be inclined to ramp up hiring until they feel confident that any economic rebound will have staying power.

More job losses were announced this week. JPMorgan Chase & Co. on Thursday said it would eliminate about 12,000 jobs as it absorbs the operations of failed savings and loan Washington Mutual Inc. That figure includes 9,200 cuts announced previously and 2,800 jobs expected to be lost through attrition.

The NFL said Wednesday that the league dropped 169 jobs through buyouts, layoffs and other reductions. Textile maker Milliken & Co. said it would cut 650 jobs at facilities worldwide, while jeweler Zale Corp. said it will close 115 stores and eliminate 245 positions.

Our Perspective:

The news keeps getting gloomier! I guess there is no easy way t0 say it. We took our eye off the ball. We elected officals to represent our interest and take care of our welfare. We can try to point fingers but we are all responsible. We all drank the kool-aid.

We thought this could never happen to us. We’re educated, life is good. We became complacient and did not plan for our future. I know President Obama is throwing a lot against the wall, hoping something will stick.

Roosevelt introduced the NewDeal. If something didn’t work, he said let’s tweak it, what else can we do. Obama is following this lead. It may not be pretty, but we are not left with many alternatives. We can see what happens when we do nothing or we are caught up in our own self interest.

We are all one and we are here to help one another. We must approach this dilemna with the hopes of picking everyone up, not just a few.  There will be difficult decisions. We are resilient and we will rebuild and prevail You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com .

Let us know your thoughs?

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States: 
I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That’s why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being. You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ”I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn’t feel right getting the money myself.”

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. “The tragedy was terrible,” said one of the men who helped them rebuild. “But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity.”

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.”

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.