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Brazen: Eric Cantor’s Chutzpah

Eric Cantor’s op-ed laying out the Republican agenda is filled with the kind
of distortions you’d expect, but this passage deserves special commendation.
After decrying a National Labor Relations Board Ruling, he continues:

Such behavior, coupled with the president’s insistence on raising the top tax rate paid by individuals and small businesses, has resulted in a lag in growth that has added to the debt crisis, contributing to our nation’s credit downgrade.

So Cantor is arguing that S&P downgraded U.S. debt because of President
Obama’s future plans to increase the top tax rate. That’s such a mind-boggling
claim that even Cantor cannot bring himself to put it in quite these terms. So
instead he breaks it into a series of steps.

First, he claims that the future promise of upper-bracket tax hikes “has
resulted” in a lag in growth. (Question: if the mere possibility of future tax
hikes is enough to depress growth, why don’t we go ahead and just raise taxes?
If we’re going to get the slower growth anyway, might as well get the revenue,
right?)

Second, the lag in growth “caused” by hypothetical future tax hikes added to
the debt crisis.

Third, the debt crisis contributed to the downgrading of the debt.

It’s a fairly brilliant bit of rhetoric. After all, S&P specifically cited the Republican threat to fail to lift the debt ceiling and Republican refusal
to consider any tax increases
as the cause of the downgrade. cantor has
found a way to present Obama’s support for higher taxes as the cause of the
downgrade. That’s so brazen I almost have to admire it.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, August 22, 2011

August 23, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Standard And Poor’s Goes Tea Party

Big headlines for a Friday night: “U.S. Loses Top Credit Rating!” Yes, as most now know, Standard & Poor’s went ahead with its warnings of the past weeks and downgraded the sovereign debt of the United States government from its pristine triple-A to a still stellar but one notch less so AA+. And after a miserable week in global equity markets that was almost as ugly as it gets, a week that began with the conclusion of a universally reviled debt-ceiling deal, the late-night downgrade was the fitting end.

The symbolism is undeniable. This is the first downgrade in history, as commentators rushed to remind us. But of course, that history goes back only to the late 1930s, when the ratings agencies began to hold sway. And S&P is the only one of the major three—Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P—to downgrade. So this was big bad news, a bad coda to a bad week, but only as news and not as a trenchant analysis of the creditworthiness of the United States or its ability to meet its debt obligations going forward.

Let’s be clear: Congress and the White House did not cover themselves with glory during the debt debate throughout July. The United States has a stalled economy and a large amount of debt. But on so many levels, this downgrade is absurd.

First there is the question of math. When S&P informed the White House of its intention to downgrade on Friday afternoon, the Treasury Department took issue with S&P’s math and claimed that their assessment of the trends of the U.S. debt burden and its ratio to GDP was off by trillions of dollars. No matter. After a brief review, the wizards at S&P went ahead and removed an A.

A news ticker reads “Standard & Poor’s downgrades US credit rating from AAA to AA+” in Times Square on August 5, 2011 in New York City., Andrew Burton / Getty Images

Second, what’s with the fetish for a so-called proper ratio of debt-to-GDP. Academic economists have done no favors here. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have become the go-to economists for their work showing how countries that reach a 90% ratio slide into recession and see slowing growth well before. The U.S. current level according to S&P is 74% and will rise to 85% by 2021. The explanation of the downgrade closely tracks this academic logic.

I have no criticism of an academic theory about how nations function economically. But when debatable theories become the underpinnings of decisions by unelected individuals who run organizations with significant sway (sway ceded to them by governments throughout the 20th century), then we have a problem. We have a problem when that argument gives short shrift to the debt-servicing burden. The current interest rate that the U.S. government pays to service its massive debts is hovering around 2.5%, which makes interest payments as a percentage of GDP as low as they have been since the mid-1970s.

Servicing the debt does not enter into the analysis, yet that and current interest rates make all the difference. Dismissing that counterargument, warning that rates will of course rise (yet even if they double, that will still leave the U.S. more than able to meet its obligations), and drawing on theories about the “right” level of debt puts S&P in a strange bedfellow alliance with the Tea Party.

The people who run the ratings agencies are welcome to their analysis, as is the Tea Party. But if Rogoff and Reinhart or the Tea Party announced that they were downgrading U.S. sovereign debt, they would be laughed for their audacity. Yet when it is one of the anointed ratings agencies, there is this sudden need to genuflect.

This is largely because covenant after covenant in both SEC rulings and institutional money management (pensions especially) dictate that many types of capital can only be invested in credit-worthy instruments as determined by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. The downgrade doesn’t remotely begin to threaten the “investment grade” status of U.S. debt, and there is little reason to suspect that borrowing costs will go up as a result. Still, the reason we are in this situation of having to genuflect to S&P is because an entire structure of credit and investments, and the issuance and purchase of bonds above all, has been built on the shaky and questionable foundation of the ratings agencies.

The worst part of the downgrade is this: S&P spent considerable time in the body of their explanation about debt and GDP and growth. But they didn’t lead with that. That wasn’t the kicker. No, this was: “the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.” The company assailed the Washington culture of “brinkmanship” so in display during the debt ceiling fiasco, and used that as the primary reason to take us down a notch.

Excuse me, but since when is a pristine political process a key ingredient to good credit? Are we supposed to have civil politics in order to maintain the rating? Are we supposed to have some mythic Scandinavian concord? Washington has usually been a mess, and arguably more now than ever. Nonetheless, the great distortion of the debt-ceiling imbroglio was that failure to do a deal would have led to a default. It would have led to a partial and then increasing complete shut down of the government, which would have soon enough forced a resolution. At no point would there have been insufficient tax revenue to meet the $20 billion of so in monthly interest payments on the debt, unless the crisis had gone on for months and months, which barring collective national psychosis simply could not have happened.

So S&P doesn’t feel comfortable that the American political process is conducive to dealing with long-term debt issues and so issued a downgrade. Yet S&P is a ratings agency, not a political arbiter. Olympic judges rule on athletic aptitude, not the politics of the athletes (usually). There is not a scintilla of evidence that the political process has yet impeded the ability of the United States to meet its debt obligations, even with the debt ceiling brinkmanship. The political process may indeed be contributing to the morass of the American economy, but the larger causes are the challenges of emerging economic centers and changing patterns of global commerce. Those are long-term issues that have little bearing on current ability to manage debts.

Finally, as a symbol that the United States is sliding off the rails, the downgrade is potent. It’s hard to argue with the reality that America is in a challenging moment that looks and feels a lot like decline. Whether that proves false and a new dawn awaits, we’ll find out soon enough. But the actions of S&P are part of problem and not just an independent verification that one exists.

These agencies have been elevated to heights that should not ascend; they have been chronically wrong and late in the past; and their rationale for a downgrade sounds more like a prim distaste for a dysfunctional political process that a reasoned assessment of the ability of the United States to discharge its obligations. No defense can be offered of our current political system or near-term economic prospects. But S&P—already on overreach as “neutral” judge of American creditworthiness—has no special standing to rule on the political system, and using that as a cudgel to prove their own power is a destructive act.

 

By: Zachary Karabell, The Daily Beast, August 6, 2011

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

   

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