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Speaker Boehner’s Folly Leads To Standard And Poor’s Downgrade Of US Debt

I’m no expert, but I don’t think S&P downgrading its rating of US debt will, as such, have any really big practical implications other than becoming the next political football. If you look at S&P’s definition of the AA rating, after all, it says:

“An obligation rated ‘AA’ differs from the highest-rated obligations only to a small degree. The obligor’s capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is very strong.”

Scared yet? Me neither.

The issue today continues to be what it was a week ago. For years now, if you look at a projection from CBO or OMB it shows a spending curve that steadily accelerates. It accelerates because the government currently pays for health care for old people and for poor people, and because the cost of health care services has been accelerating.

Consequently, for a long time now it’s been clear that in the future either the US has to stop paying for old people’s health care, or else raise more revenue in taxes, or else reduce the growth in the price of health care services. And for a long time now it’s been unclear what combination of those strategies will be adopted. But people have generally had confidence that some combination of them would be adopted.

Once upon a time earlier in the Obama administration, I asked a senior official how he thought this would ever get resolved. A deal, everyone agreed, had to be bipartisan. But to be bipartisan, it would have to include tax increases. But Republicans wouldn’t vote for tax increases. He told me that of course that made sense, but at some point pressure from bond markets would be unbearable and Republicans would come to the table.

Broadly speaking, that’s the thing that most people generally believed would happen. What we saw with the debt ceiling was a mini-test of that theory, and the theory failed. “No new revenues” wasn’t just a GOP bargaining position, it turned out to be something they were really committed to even in the face of an imminent financial crisis. You can see why that would dent confidence in the long-term fiscal trajectory of the country.

The person who looks bad here, in my view, is John Boehner. President Obama wanted to do a “grand bargain.” The Gang of Six Senators wanted to do a “grand bargain.” And it looked for a moment like Speaker Boehner was going to be part of a grand bargain. But ultimately he decided that he didn’t want to sign a deal that would fracture his caucus, so the grand bargain talks fell apart. And yet the little bargain that did eventually pass the House ultimately couldn’t pass with Republican votes alone. So what did Boehner really achieve? If he was ultimately destined to strike a deal with the White House that needed Democratic votes to pass the House, why not go for the grand bargain? According to Boehner “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the white House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.”

How happy is he now?

 

By: Matthew Yglesias, Think Progress, August 5, 2011

August 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up Is Down: Michele Bachmann Distances Herself From Reality

Talk about cognitive dissonance. I went to a breakfast this morning with Alice Rivlin and lunch with Michele Bachmann. How to put this politely? If men are from Mars and women from Venus, Rivlin is from Earth, Bachmann is from Saturn. Someplace way out in the solar system and removed from reality.

Rivlin, a Democrat, is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. She is, in short, a Very Serious Person and, like every serious person around, finds herself somewhere between disbelieving and aghast at the current crisis over raising the debt ceiling.

“Putting a limit on the debt and saying, ‘Hey, we made these decisions but we didn’t really mean it, we’re not going to pay our bills,’ is just an unthinkable thing to do,” Rivlin said at an event sponsored by Atlantic Media.

“This is outrageous, folks,” she told interviewer Linda Douglass. “The greatest democracy, oldest democracy in the world should not be behaving this way.…It’s embarrassing for us to have a government that is so dysfunctional and that has created this artificial crisis.”

And the consequences could be catastrophic. “Suppose the world has decided that [debt ceiling crisis] might happen again and this democracy isn’t quite as solid or thoughtful as we thought it was, so we not going to stop lending to the United  States but we’re going to charge more interest. As the interest bill goes up, two things happen. One is it’s must more expensive for the government to carry this large debt….But more seriously it means that everybody’s interest payment goes up….So we would be paying more on our mortgage, more on our car loans, more on our credit cards, more for business loans and that’s not good for the economy.

It takes nothing away from Rivlin’s considerable intelligence and insight to say that she is expressing the conventional wisdom.

Fast forward a few hours to Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota and Republican presidential candidate, addressing the National Press Club. Bachmann’s position is two-fold:

First, the debt ceiling should not be raised, under any circumstances. No deal could be good enough, Bachmann said, to induce her to do so. “I won’t raise taxes. I will reduce spending and I won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling,” she said. “And I have the titanium spine to see it through.”

Second, the United States will not default. “I want to state unequivocally I think for the world as well as the markets as well as for the American people, I have no doubt that we will not lose the full faith and credit of the United States,” Bachmann said.

Huh? Bachmann accused President Obama of employing “scare tactics” in warning of “catastrophic results for our economy.” But what do she and others in the titanium spine caucus think is going to happen when the United States can’t pay its bills?

Sure, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner could manage to pay off bondholders. But as Rivlin and others explained, it won’t be too long before the checks due exceed the amount in the coffers.

An analysis by former George W. Bush administration Treasury official Jay Powell by the Bipartisan Policy Center shows that if the administration prioritizes payments to bondholders, Social Security recipients, Medicare and Medicaid providers, defense contractors and unemployment benefits (total $172.7 billion for the month) then it wouldn’t be able to pay another $134 billion worth of bills, including military active duty pay, veterans affairs programs, federal salaries and benefits, food stamps and Pell grants. You can shift around the numbers all you want but the bottom line is that refusing to increase the debt ceiling is not a sustainable option.

Bachman said that “saying no” to an increase in the debt ceiling would be “saying yes to job creation and to the next generation.” Up is down in Bachmann-world. The credit rating agencies are already threatening a downgrade. The grave implications of that are clear, for jobs now and stretching into the next generation with the hangover of higher interest rates.

Bachmann spent a lot of time invoking Ronald Reagan, so here’s one from the Gipper back at her. “The full consequences of a default—or even the serious prospect of default—by the Untied States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate,” he wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker in November 1983. “Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result.”

By: Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post, July 28, 2011

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July 29, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blame For The Debt Ceiling Crisis Rests With Republicans

Are you watching your 401(k) drop? Are you seeing your retirement tank? Are you waiting for higher interest rates on your credit cards and mortgages? Are you nervous about another recession?

Well, thank the Republicans.

This debt crisis is totally of the Republicans’ making. From the beginning we should have had a clean vote—up or down—on the debt ceiling, just as Ronald Reagan and other presidents have done.

If Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans allow a default with  their last minute antics things are only going to get worse. That is  clear.

And the very notion of revisiting this silly scenario in six months  is absurd. For the life of me I can think of no quicker way to sink our  economy. Will that give confidence to the markets? Not a chance. Will it  result in a downgrading of our credit rating? In all likelihood it  will.

The sad truth is that without the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy,  without the oil and gas loopholes and, most important, without two wars  that the Republicans and Bush failed to pay for, we would be in the  black right now, or close to it.

Democrats will have to come up with a grand compromise, hurting many  segments of our society, to bail out the Republicans, much the way Bill  Clinton did in the 1990s. Revenues will have to be part of that package.  Hopefully, that can happen when cooler heads prevail and the Tea Party  stops their nonsense.

In the meantime, if the stock market continues to drop and Americans  are taken to the cleaners, pick up the phone and thank John Boehner and  the Tea Party Republicans for what they have done to your bank accounts  and your savings.

All this sound and fury comes out of the majority in the House and  not one bill on jobs, not one piece of legislation to help our economy.  Sad.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Mortgages, Politics, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Defcon 1 Alert: Debt Ceiling Crisis Reveals GOP’s Suicide Bomber Wing

In  retrospect, the emergence of a suicide-bomber wing of the Republican Party  should’ve seemed obvious.

Why  use such an inflammatory term? What I mean by it is this: They would blow up  the economy to fulfill a mission of otherworldly righteousness.

Their  first attempt to blow up the economy arrived with the defeat  TARP. It was a  reckless subversion of the leadership of both parties  and, at least for a day,  brought equity markets to their knees.

With  ideological bravado to match their breathtaking economic  illiteracy, they  positively relished the impact they could have on our  national life.

Since  then, they’ve become still more emboldened, knocking off an  incumbent  senator in Utah and propping up a  bad joke of a senate  candidate in Delaware.

Last  year’s wave election infested the party with additional scores of suicide  bombers.

In  a repeat of the TARP fiasco, the bomber boys and (and, lest we  forget  bomber-in-chief Michele Bachmann, girls) have, once again, made  it impossible  for congressional leaders to do the right thing. A grand  bargain was in sight—but the itch for destruction overmatched the  desire for reasonable compromise.

We  may yet stumble toward some cobbled-together agreement that staves off a  catastrophe. But  the bombers will be emboldened again.

And  why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got a cheering section among Washington pundits.

The  normally thoughtful Yuval  Levin calls this suboptimal state of affairs, in which Republicans will secure  far less  in deficit reduction than they could have, a “stunning victory.” New  York Post columnist  Michael  Walsh compares the debt ceiling showdown to the Union’s victory at Gettysburg. Most  depressing of all is my former hero George  Will, who calls the Tea Party “the most welcome political development since the  Goldwater insurgency.”

Will  is dead wrong: Ronald Reagan’s election—or rather his  administration—did not  simply bring the “Goldwater impulse” to  “fruition.” It signaled that the  Goldwater impulse had matured into a  governing philosophy—a governing  philosophy that could accept  compromise, could acknowledge reality.

The  Tea Party’s triumph has reversed that process of maturation; a governing  philosophy has degraded back into mere impulse.

Enjoy  your ascendancy while it lasts, Tea Partyers.

But  know this: You are not legislators. You are vandals.

By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, July 26, 2011

July 27, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Disasters, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Lawmakers, Politics, Press, Public, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debt Ceiling: What Killed The Deal And What Might Make One Happen This Week

There are a lot of good articles running through what happened between Thursday night, when a deal seemed likely, and Friday evening, when the talks fell apart. New reports suggest that Boehner is trying to prepare a deal by tomorrow evening, to prevent the markets from dropping Monday. So here’s the short version of what just happened, and where we’re likely to be going:

On Tuesday, the Gang of Six proposed a deal that would raise tax revenues by $2 trillion — which showed there was support among Senate Republicans for a deal that raised taxes by about $2 trillion. On Thursday, congressional Democrats rebelled over reports that the deal Boehner and Obama were negotiating had only $800 billion in new revenue, and it wasn’t even clear how those would be achieved. That night, Obama called Boehner looking for about $400 billion more in revenue to have something he could sell to Democrats. That would have brought the deal from $800 billion in revenue to $1.2 trillion in revenue. He didn’t get a call back until the next day at 5:30 p.m. — by which point the call was unnecessary. Boehner had already told the media that he was leaving the talks.

Republicans are emphasizing that the White House went from asking for $800 billion in revenue to $1.2 trillion. The word you’re hearing from them is “reneged,” but the White House emphasizes that negotiations were ongoing, and both sides were asking for more as they tried to figure out what they could both agree on and pass through Congress. Boehner, for instance, wanted further cuts to Medicaid, a trigger that would repeal the individual mandate and the Independent Payment Advisory Board if the entitlement cuts didn’t come through, and a tighter cap on discretionary spending. “They make it seem like the president made some ultimatum on $1.2 trillion in revenue,” says a senior administration official. “He didn’t. He said, ‘If you can’t do this, let’s figure out what we can do.’ ”

The “what we can do” would probably have been to ratchet back the entitlement cuts. Or maybe another solution would have been found. It’s hard to say because Boehner didn’t come back with a counteroffer. He simply left the negotiations.

But let’s zoom out on where the negotiations left off. Spending cuts would have totaled about $3 trillion, with a bit less than a trillion dollars of that coming from entitlements and other forms of mandatory spending. Revenue increases — none of which would have come from raising marginal tax rates — would have been between $800 billion and $1.2 trillion. The package would have extended the unemployment insurance and payroll tax cut provisions passed in the 2010 tax deal. All in all, that’s about a trillion dollars less in revenues than the Simpson-Bowles/Gang of Six deals advocated, and about $2.6 trillion less in revenue than simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012.

There’s a question as to whether this was the very best deal Republicans could get or simply close to it. But it’s hard to believe that it was so bad that it ended the talks. What seems likelier is that Boehner spent some time between Thursday and Friday talking to his members and found that his party simply didn’t support a deal with the White House. For one thing, a deal would include some amount of revenue, and that was a hard sell under any circumstances. For another, letting the president look like a dealmaker would potentially dim the GOP’s chances of retaking the White House in 2012. As my colleague George Will put it Thursday, a deal “would enable President Obama to run away from his record and run as a debt-reducing centrist.”

And so Boehner walked. Fundamentally, this looks like the same calculation that ended the last round of talks over a 4 trillion deal. What’s different this time is Boehner’s plan B: The Speaker of the House appears to believe that a deal struck between congressional leadership would perhaps be easier to sell to his members. Since it’s hard to see Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid making deeper concessions than Obama did, it’s hard to see why that would be true, save that the deal might not look like such a victory for the White House.

Perhaps taking the benefit for Obama off the table will be enough. I’m doubtful. It’s more likely that what we’re really doing now is wasting time until the markets plummet and Boehner’s members decide that a deal is better than no deal. And there’s a very good chance that the first major show of market concern could come tomorrow night, when the Asian markets open. Boehner is hoping to present a plan by then, but a plan is very different from a deal. A plan is something politicians can come up with. A deal, we’re increasingly finding, is something that we need the markets to force.

By: Ezra Klein, Columnist, The Washington Post, July 23, 2011

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July 24, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Lawmakers, Media, Medicaid, Politics, President Obama, Press, Public, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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