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What Actually Happens If The U.S. Hits The Federal Debt Ceiling?

Are you just now recovering from the migraine induced by months of partisan feuding over the 2011 federal budget? Looking forward to a lengthy reprieve before Congress tackles next year’s budget? Sorry, but you’re in for a rude awakening. (And you might want to reach for some aspirin.) Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned Congress last week that the United States — currently liable for more than $14 trillion of debt — will collide with the federal debt ceiling around May 16. Once the government hits the current limit of $14.3 trillion it will be legally prohibited from incurring any additional debt; problematic since the U.S. only takes in around 60 cents for each dollar it spends.

Congress has raised the debt ceiling 74 times since 1962. Ten of those increases occurred in the past decade. It’s a routine vote. However, the political calculus has shifted in the newly anointed “age of austerity.” House Speaker John Boehner acknowledged that a failure to raise the ceiling could have calamitous implications. However, congressional Republicans appear unlikely to authorize an increase in the debt limit without significant Democratic concessions, setting up yet another high-noon scenario on Capitol Hill. 

This poses the question: What would happen if the U.S. hit the debt ceiling?

In the immediate aftermath of such an event, the Treasury Department can impose “extraordinary actions” to help pay the bills. Those measures include, “suspending investments in a savings plan for federal workers and pulling Treasury securities out of a trust fund for two federal retirement plans. In such cases, the Treasury must make the funds whole again once the ceiling is raised.” However, such stopgap measures would prove ineffective before long, and the government would have to either authorize an increase in the debt limit or cut $738 billion in federal spending in the span of six months, with severe consequences for the economy. Notwithstanding such a massive curtailing of government spending, the U.S. would default on some of its debt obligations. And the implications are frightening

For one, the government would grind to a halt — cutting off military salaries and retirement benefits, along with Social Security and Medicare payments. Worse still, default would also plunge the U.S. back into recession. Interest rates and borrowing costs would surge, while the dollar would plummet. In a worst case scenario, the markets would go into a death spiral as investors distanced themselves from the U.S.

At the very least, defaulting would call into question the true value of U.S. Treasury bonds — heretofore the gold standard of the bond market. Additionally, such an event would damage the country’s credit rating, and significantly hamper its ability to generate revenue necessary to keep government running. A default on government debt obligations could conspire to undermine the United States’ preeminent position in the global economy. Needless to say, all of this would swiftly end the recovery, as Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke pointed out.

As for the political repercussions, Nate Silver at the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog argues that the failure to raise the debt ceiling would equate to nothing less than political ruin for virtually every elected federal official.

This as close as you can get in American politics to mutually assured destruction. No matter how Machiavellian your outlook, it’s very hard to make the case that any politician with a significant amount of power would become more powerful in the event of a debt default.That in mind, it seems unlikely that the ceiling won’t be raised. It’s just a matter of when, and how, we get there.

By: Peter Finocchiaro, Salon, April 11, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ludicrous and Cruel: America Is Being Punked By GOP Voodoo Economics

Many commentators swooned earlier this week after House Republicans, led by the Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, unveiled their budget proposals. They lavished praise on Mr. Ryan, asserting that his plan set a new standard of fiscal seriousness.

Well, they should have waited until people who know how to read budget numbers had a chance to study the proposal. For the G.O.P. plan turns out not to be serious at all. Instead, it’s simultaneously ridiculous and heartless.

How ridiculous is it? Let me count the ways — or rather a few of the ways, because there are more howlers in the plan than I can cover in one column.

First, Republicans have once again gone all in for voodoo economics — the claim, refuted by experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves.

Specifically, the Ryan proposal trumpets the results of an economic projection from the Heritage Foundation, which claims that the plan’s tax cuts would set off a gigantic boom. Indeed, the foundation initially predicted that the G.O.P. plan would bring the unemployment rate down to 2.8 percent — a number we haven’t achieved since the Korean War. After widespread jeering, the unemployment projection vanished from the Heritage Foundation’s Web site, but voodoo still permeates the rest of the analysis.

In particular, the original voodoo proposition — the claim that lower taxes mean higher revenue — is still very much there. The Heritage Foundation projection has large tax cuts actually increasing revenue by almost $600 billion over the next 10 years.

A more sober assessment from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office tells a different story. It finds that a large part of the supposed savings from spending cuts would go, not to reduce the deficit, but to pay for tax cuts. In fact, the budget office finds that over the next decade the plan would lead to bigger deficits and more debt than current law.

And about those spending cuts: leave health care on one side for a moment and focus on the rest of the proposal. It turns out that Mr. Ryan and his colleagues are assuming drastic cuts in nonhealth spending without explaining how that is supposed to happen.

How drastic? According to the budget office, which analyzed the plan using assumptions dictated by House Republicans, the proposal calls for spending on items other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — but including defense — to fall from 12 percent of G.D.P. last year to 6 percent of G.D.P. in 2022, and just 3.5 percent of G.D.P. in the long run.

That last number is less than we currently spend on defense alone; it’s not much bigger than federal spending when Calvin Coolidge was president, and the United States, among other things, had only a tiny military establishment. How could such a drastic shrinking of government take place without crippling essential public functions? The plan doesn’t say.

And then there’s the much-ballyhooed proposal to abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers that can be used to buy private health insurance.

The point here is that privatizing Medicare does nothing, in itself, to limit health-care costs. In fact, it almost surely raises them by adding a layer of middlemen. Yet the House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs.

The only way that can happen is if those vouchers are worth much less than the cost of health insurance. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2030 the value of a voucher would cover only a third of the cost of a private insurance policy equivalent to Medicare as we know it. So the plan would deprive many and probably most seniors of adequate health care.

And that neither should nor will happen. Mr. Ryan and his colleagues can write down whatever numbers they like, but seniors vote. And when they find that their health-care vouchers are grossly inadequate, they’ll demand and get bigger vouchers — wiping out the plan’s supposed savings.

In short, this plan isn’t remotely serious; on the contrary, it’s ludicrous.

And it’s also cruel.

In the past, Mr. Ryan has talked a good game about taking care of those in need. But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, of the $4 trillion in spending cuts he proposes over the next decade, two-thirds involve cutting programs that mainly serve low-income Americans. And by repealing last year’s health reform, without any replacement, the plan would also deprive an estimated 34 million nonelderly Americans of health insurance.

So the pundits who praised this proposal when it was released were punked. The G.O.P. budget plan isn’t a good-faith effort to put America’s fiscal house in order; it’s voodoo economics, with an extra dose of fantasy, and a large helping of mean-spiritedness.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 7, 2011

April 8, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government Shut Down, Health Care Costs, Ideologues, Independents, Journalists, Media, Medicare, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Uninsured, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Want To Cut The Deficit? Restore Fair Taxes On Corporations And The Wealthy

If the deficit hawks in Congress are serious about righting our economic ship and reducing deficits in the federal budget and many state capitols, it would we worth listening to the voices rising from the streets suggesting a very different solution than more cuts in safety net programs, education, pensions, and worker’s rights.Greed at the upper echelons of our society is bankrupting our governments at every level. “Suggesting corporations and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share,” writes Deborah Burger, “usually earns one the reproof of advocating class warfare. But class warfare when practiced by the elites is apparently perfectly acceptable. The average CEO who was paid $27 for every dollar earned by an employer 25 years ago – during which wages have mostly fallen or stagnated – now gets a ratio of about $275 to $1.”

This is not a budget fight, it’s a fight for the future of an America in which everyone should be able to retire in dignity, not worry about whether they can go to the doctor when they get sick, or whether there will still be schools for their kids.

How will we pay for it? By increasing the revenues from those who can most afford it, not by punishing those who have the least. By requiring corporations and the wealthiest individuals to pay their fair share, and stop blaming working people for an economic crisis created by Wall Street and exploited by their politician acolytes.

We’ve all heard the arguments. Pass more corporate tax breaks because that’s what makes the economy grow. Except it doesn’t.

Corporate profits per employee are at record levels. At $1.6 trillion, third quarter 2009 corporate profits were the highest ever recorded. Yet official unemployment still hovers near 9 percent, and the real jobless number is probably double that. Whatever big corporations are doing with their record profits, they are not hiring more workers.

Or the argument that our 35 percent corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world. Except few if any major corporations pay anywhere near that amount. Half of foreign companies and about 42 percent of U.S. companies paid no U.S. income taxes for two or more years from 1998 to 2005, according to a recent Government Accounting Office study.

How do they accomplish this? Pages of corporate tax loopholes that render the supposed tax rate meaningless, loopholes not available to the average working family.

Who are some of those tax scofflaws? Bank of America and Citigroup, two of the financial institutions that, unlike workers did actually create the financial meltdown, paid no taxes in 2009. Boeing, just awarded a new $35 billion contract by the federal government to build airplanes, also paid no taxes between 2008 and 2010 despite recording $10 billion in profits those year, reports Citizens for Tax Justice.

Where’s the shared sacrifice from these corporate giants? Not from General Electric which, as the New York Times reported March 24, made $14.2 billion in profits in 2010, but paid no U.S. taxes, and was rewarded with the appointment of their top executive to head President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Apparently paying no taxes is a model for how to be competitive.

Then there’s the wealthiest Americans who won a two year extension on tax breaks in December and also profited from the near elimination of estate taxes, at a time when the richest 5 percent of Americans control 23 percent of total income, compared to just 12 percent for the 40 percent at the bottom.

According to Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini Consulting, there were about 3 million high net worth individuals and ultra high net wealth individuals in the US in 2009, those with investable assets, excluding primary residences and consumables, of from $1 million to $30 million.

Calculations by the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy, research arm of National Nurses United, shows that a one-time wealth surcharge of 14% on those assets would more than pay for the $1.6 trillion budget deficit projection for 2011. Or, it would support about 33.8 million households at the national real median income level for 2008, pay for a year’s worth of AIDS medication for about 142 million patients, or create 34 million jobs at $50,000 per year.

In other words, we could more than balance our federal and state budgets without cutting Social Security or slashing pensions for public servants or depriving students of access to a decent education or far too many Americans of access to healthcare.

Turn off the Fox News echo chamber and you can hear the sounds of those calling for economic justice and a more fair tax system every day in the streets of Madison, Columbus, Indianapolis, and other cities across America. They have opened a door that will not be closed, and their voices are getting louder.

By: Deborah Burger, Originally published March 25, 2011, CommonDreams.org

March 27, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Corporations, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Politics, States | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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