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“Ideology Displacing Facts”: Simpson-Bowles “Spending Problem” Voodoo Economics Ignores The Lack Of “Crowding Out”

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles – co-founders of the corporate lobby Campaign to Fix the Debt – were on Meet the Press this morning. I couldn’t drag myself to watch it because I am sick and tired of hearing every oligarch’s favorite lackeys argue that the national debt is a reason to gut the welfare state. Which is exactly what they were doing this morning:

“Yes, the president has taken some steps forward on the entitlement programs, but has he done enough? Absolutely not,” Bowles said.

But they and their disciples couldn’t be more wrong. The U.S. government has no “spending problem” from a macroeconomist’s point of view. Of course, the country can’t indefinitely continue to borrow more than it earns, but the idea that we must somehow tackle debt by cutting spending — and do it right now — is voodoo economics of the highest order.

For spending to be an immediate problem, it would have to be problematic. And the primary reason that government spending is problematic is due to “the crowding out effect.”

I could find some haughty economist to quote on the issue, but for simplicity’s sake here’s Wikipedia:

“…crowding out is a phenomenon occurring when expansionary fiscal policy causes interest rates to rise, thereby reducing investment spending.”

Yet interest rates are rock bottom and aren’t expected to rise anytime soon, and demand for U.S. Treasury bonds remains high.

Thus, government spending appears to be having no averse effect on financial markets, which, according to Treasury yields, actually seem to think that lending the U.S. government money is a wise idea. The debt “crisis” is only caused by a “spending problem” when one considers government spending to be an issue from an ideological standpoint.

If Simpson and Bowles were serious about tackling the debt without completely undermining the economy, they’d advocate higher taxes on those that can afford to pay more. Corporations are awash with cash, and capital is taking a larger slice of the pie than ever. But aggregate demand is lagging, and to undermine social safety nets would further weaken it. Sound economic policy would, therefore, have the rich finance deficit reduction — if it must be done in this fragile economy.


By: Samuel Knight, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 6, 2013

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Deficits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“But For Protecting The Middle Class”: Still Believe President Obama Seeks A Permanent American Socialist State?

One of the strangest—and for me, most annoying—perversions of politics in the Obama era is the meme pursued by so many on the right suggesting that this president is a raging socialist who seeks to install a permanent welfare state in America—despite all evidence to the contrary.

In the wake of the fiscal cliff deal—supported not only by the President but by an overwhelming vote of elected Democrats—we should now be able to put this foolishness to rest once and for all as we acknowledge a simple and clear reality—

If Barack Obama is indeed a socialist, he must be the absolute worst socialist in recorded history.

How do we now know this beyond any reasonable question of a doubt?

Any good conservative will be among the first to tell you that financing a permanent welfare state takes huge amounts of money—money that can only be raised by taxing a wide swath of the nation’s citizenry. And yet, the President just pushed through a law permanently lowering taxes for some 99 percent of all Americans— and was hailed as a big winner for his effort to do so.

For someone who would prefer to be President of, say, Sweeden, such a deal could only be viewed as a crushing defeat, not a political victory.

And if you somehow imagine that the President believes he can accomplish the financing of his “European style welfare state” through the rather meager increase in progressive tax rates now to be levied on the nation’s largest earners, I would suggest you take heed of the many conservatives who have incessantly reminded us over these past few months that the sum total of the tax increases on the rich will only serve to fund government for a few days a year—clearly nowhere near enough cash to fund a true, socialist agenda.

Still, I know what you’re thinking…the President is planning to create his socialist paradise by borrowing and printing all the money required to pay the high cost of the expanded welfare state he covets.

Sorry…it just doesn’t work and the President would know this better than just about anyone.

While borrowing money may be the modus operandi for filling in the shortfalls when it comes to financing entitlement programs in an era of relatively low taxes (at least comparatively speaking) and a dramatic increase in the senior population depending upon entitlement programs, I suspect even the most conservative economists would tell you —correctly I would add—that all of our available borrowing power is strained just trying to stay even with our entitlement and defense obligations, let alone expand entitlements to the point where we would even approach a government philosophy that could be comparable with a European socialistic society.

Indeed, even if the President chose to press for more borrowing or printing, he could, at best, only do so in support of the existing entitlement programs as it would take an act of Congress to expand the system.

Does anyone believe the Congress is heading in the direction of expanding entitlements? We have a House of Representatives gerrymandered into GOP control for a period likely to last at least until the end of the decade—meaning it will outlive Obama’s second term.

Thus, when Obama got behind preserving the Bush tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans, he did so knowing that he would never be able to expand the entitlement programs at any time during the remainder of his term. If it was a socialist society he was seeking, he had but one chance and that was to raise taxes on everyone, not just the very wealthy.

So, exactly how is it possible that a President and a Democratic Party—hell bent on creating this permanent welfare state in America—could support any deal that would not allow the Bush tax cuts to sunset as scheduled so that tax rates would return to the larger numbers of the Clinton era?

Such support would make no sense for anyone favoring expansion of the welfare state. And yet, this President chose to support the permanent lowering of taxes on the middle class as did his party.

While you may be displeased with the fiscal cliff compromise for any number of reasons, including the failure of the parties to do much of anything about spending, the simple fact remains that—for better or for worse—decades of Democratic Party/progressive tax philosophy went out the window last week when an overwhelming majority of Democrats voted to support the fiscal cliff deal—and with it went any rational support for the notion that President Obama and his party have some secret, European socialist vision in mind for the country.

All you need do to understand this is take a look at the number of Congressional Democrats who cast their votes in support of the two pieces of legislation that produced the Bush tax cuts and compare those votes to the vote of the Congressional Democrats making those very cuts permanent for approximately 99 percent of all Americans.

The vote tally for the 2001 bill that created the first round of the Bush tax cuts delivered just 28 votes in support from House Democrats. The second round—which came in 2003—could only muster up 7 Democratic votes in support.

The vote this week to make these very same tax cuts permanent received overwhelming support from House Democrats, who cast 172 votes in favor of very likely ending middle class tax increases during our lifetime—and they did so at the specific behest of the same Democratic president who many argue is committed to creating the American welfare state.

That simply does not add up for a President looking to create France in America.

As a result, one cannot rationally argue that the President, and his party— who cast their support in favor of leaving more money in the pockets of 99 percent of Americans so that they could spend the money supporting the businesses of America rather than handing it over to government to spend it for them—desire the path of socialism.

While I’m certain there will be no shortage of issues available to those wishing to attack the President, can we now dare to hope that the next time someone feels the need to vent, they might do so without the whole “Obama is a socialist” narrative?

I hope so. What was a silly narrative before the fiscal cliff deal, it is an embarrassingly preposterous narrative today.

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, January 6, 2013

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is On Congress”: The Debt Ceiling Isn’t President Obama’s Problem, It’ The GOP’s Problem

Obama and Dems have vowed not to negotiate with the GOP over the debt ceiling. This morning, I asked what “not negotiating” would look like in the real world, and whether it’s even possible. But another question may be even more relevant: Do Republicans really have the leverage in the debt ceiling fight they think they have?

Some Republicans are now coming out and acknowledging that the GOP may not be in a strong position in the debt ceiling battle, after all. Here’s Newt Gingrich, on Morning Joe today, telling Republicans that a debt ceiling fight is a “loser” for them:

“They’ve got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy. Everybody’s now talking about, ‘Oh, here comes the debt ceiling.’ I think that’s, frankly, a dead loser. Because in the end, you know it’s gonna happen. The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television, and say: ‘Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse. You guys will be held responsible.’ And they’ll cave.”

And here’s the Wall Street Journal editorial page, warning against it in similar terms:

Mr. Obama will say Republicans are risking national default and recession, most of Wall Street will echo him, and the Treasury will maneuver to apply maximum political pressure — for example, by claiming it can’t pay Social Security benefits. We’ll support efforts to cut spending and reform entitlements, but the political result will be far worse if Republicans start this fight only to cave in the end. You can’t take a hostage you aren’t prepared to shoot.

This gets right to the heart of the matter, which is this: Are Republicans really prepared to let the country go into default and take the blame for crashing the economy? Sure, maybe some Tea Party Republicans are, but if GOP leaders aren’t, and the next compromise can be passed through the House with mostly Democratic votes, then all of a sudden the GOP position doesn’t look so strong, after all.

And so maybe the question of what “not negotiating” on the debt ceiling looks like has a simpler answer than you might think: The White House just treats this as Congress’ problem. You can see that framing already in this comment from the White House today (emphasis mine): ”It is quite clear that the economy will be better if Congress does its job and does what it routinely has done historically which is raise the debt limit without problem.”

It’s true that in one way, the White House will inevitably be negotiating on the debt ceiling, in the sense that it will be engaged in talks over the sequester, tax reform, and spending cuts that Republicans will insist must be resolved before they agree to raise it. But as Ezra Klein notes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the White House has to be held hostage over the debt ceiling, and it’s really quite possible that in the end, Republicans will opt to agree to a somewhat balanced deal rather than risk taking the blame for cratering the economy.

After all, John Boehner is already on record saying that not raising the debt ceiling will cause financial disaster. The pressure on Republicans not to let this happen will be intense. For the GOP, blowing up the economy will mean nothing short of political Armageddon. Can you name a single prominent Republican in any position of influence who is willing to say the GOP should allow the country to default, rather than accept a deal that doesn’t gut entitlements?

I understand the pessimism on the left that the White House will ultimately give away too much. But things seem to be shifting: Now even prominent Republicans are giving away the game, admitting that the GOP doesn’t have the leverage here that it claims to have.

This is on Congress. If Republicans are willing to force a choice between destroying the economy and gutting popular social programs, let them wallow in that winning message. If they’re willing to tank the economy to get what they want — after taking a shellacking in the election and proving so dysfunctional that they could not pass tax cuts for everyone but the ultra-wealthy without substantial Democratic help — then it’s on them. Just leave it there.


BY: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 4, 2012


January 7, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Rigged Democracy”: In The House Of Representatives, Deck Stacked For Republicans

As a new Congress convenes, it has become an unquestioned truth among Republicans that their party has as much of a mandate as President Obama because voters returned them to power in the House.

The mantra has been intoned by John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and many other party eminences, and there is a certain logic to saying that the voters, by giving Republicans the House, were asking for divided government.

But the claim to represent the voters’ will doesn’t add up.

The final results from the November election were completed Friday, and they show that Democratic candidates for the House outpolled Republicans nationwide by nearly 1.4 million votes and more than a full percentage point — a greater margin than the preliminary figures showed in November. And that’s just the beginning of it: A new analysis finds that even if Democratic congressional candidates won the popular vote by seven percentage points nationwide, they still would not have gained control of the House.

The analysis, by Ian Millhiser at the liberal Center for American Progress using data compiled by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, finds that even if Democrats were to win the popular vote by a whopping nine percentage points — a political advantage that can’t possibly be maintained year after year — they would have a tenuous eight-seat majority.

In a very real sense, the Republican House majority is impervious to the will of the electorate. Thanks in part to deft redistricting based on the 2010 Census, House Republicans may be protected from the vicissitudes of the voters for the next decade. For Obama and the Democrats, this is an ominous development: The House Republican majority is durable, and it isn’t necessarily sensitive to political pressure and public opinion.

According to the Jan. 4 final tally by Cook’s David Wasserman after all states certified their votes, Democratic House candidates won 59,645,387 votes in November to the Republicans’ 58,283,036, a difference of 1,362,351. On a percentage basis, Democrats won, 49.15 percent to 48.03 percent.

This in itself is an extraordinary result: Only three or four other times in the past century has a party lost the popular vote but won control of the House. But computer-aided gerrymandering is helping to make such undemocratic results the norm — to the decided advantage of Republicans, who controlled state governments in 21 states after the 2010 Census, almost double the 11 for Democrats.

To be sure, Democrats tend to be just as flagrant as Republicans when they have the chance to gerrymander. And the Republican advantage isn’t entirely because of redistricting; Democrats have lopsided majorities in urban clusters, so the overall popular vote overstates their competitiveness in other districts. An analysis by FairVote found that nonpartisan redistricting would only partially close the gap, which comes also from the disappearance of ticket-splitting voters who elected centrist Democrats.

But the 2012 House results show the redrawing of districts to optimize Republican representation clearly had an impact. Consider three states won by Obama in 2012 where Republicans dominated the redistricting: In Pennsylvania, Democrats won just five of 18 House seats; in Virginia, Democrats won three of 11; and in Ohio, Democrats won four of 16.

Using Wasserman’s tally, Millhiser ranked districts by the Republican margin of victory and calculated that for Democrats to have won the 218 seats needed for a House majority they would have had to have added 6.13 percentage points to their popular-vote victory margin of 1.12 points.

To put the Republican advantage in perspective, Democrats could win the House only if they do significantly better than Republicans did in their landslide year of 2010 (when they had a 6.6-point advantage). That’s not impossible — Democrats did it in 2006 and 2008 — but it’s difficult. Republicans don’t have a permanent House majority, but they will go into the next several elections with an automatic head start. For many, the biggest political threat comes not from Democrats but from conservative primary challengers.

In theory, the Supreme Court could decide before then that this rigged system denies Americans fair and effective representation. But this won’t happen anytime soon. For now, Democrats need to recognize that the Republican House majority will respond only sluggishly to the usual levers of democracy.

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 4, 2012

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Elections | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Constitution? What Constitution?”: Paul Ryan Refuses To Provide For The General Welfare

When the members of the 113th Congress of the United States took office this week, they swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

The preamble to that Constitution establishes its purpose: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

The Constitution rests a special responsibility in this regard on the legislative branch of the federal government, declaring that the Congress shall use its powers to tax and spend to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”

A good debate can be had about the precise meaning of “the general Welfare of the United States.” The founders had that debate—with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton differing vociferously—and it has continued in the Congress and the courts to this day.

But even in the 1790s, there was broad understanding that providing for the “general welfare” involved the taking of steps to protect the people from “misfortune, sickness, calamity or evil”—and to help them respond to such circumstances. Then, as now, “calamity” was understood to involve epic storms, floods and natural disasters.

It is difficult to imagine a recent crisis that more precisely fits the definition of “calamity” than Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, which has left hundreds of thousands of Americans with destroyed or damaged homes and made it impossible for thousands of businesses to operate along the East Coast of the United State. Whole communities are struggling simply to return to something resembling normal.

On Friday, mere hours after swearing an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” the House of Representatives faced a simple vote on the most basic federal intervention on behalf of the victims of Superstorm Sandy: a measure to temporarily increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assure that the National Flood Insurance Program could meet its obligations.

One hundred and ninety-one Democrats voted for the first real response by Congress to a disaster that occurred more than two months earlier. They were joined by 161 Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota.

But sixty-seven House members —led by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan—voted “no.” The House Budget Committee chairman termed the maintaining of the existing flood-relief program to be “irresponsible.”

Ryan, as is frequently the case when it comes to matters constitutional, was precisely wrong.

One of his few clearly defined responsibilities, one of the few clearly defined responsibilities of any House member, is “to provide for the general Welfare.” They swear an oath to do so. And, barely hours into the new Congress, Ryan and his compatriots rejected that oath and a fundamental premise of the Constitution it supports.

By: John Nichols, The Nation, January 5, 2012

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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