Robert Hiltonsmith

Robert Hiltonsmith is a policy analyst at Demos.

Recent Articles

Debt-Ceiling Déjà Vu

A showdown on the debt-ceiling vote isn't common, but it's happened before.

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin during the debt-ceiling limit fight in 1996. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
With the debt-ceiling vote date, May 16, rapidly approaching, Republicans are gearing up for the fight. " I hope the Democrats are not going to play 'debt-ceiling politics " ... wait, Democrats playing debt-ceiling politics? This statement isn't from the showdown shaping up in Washington today. It actually comes from Republican Sen. Howard Baker Jr., then-majority leader, in early February 1981, in the midst of what would turn out to be the first major fight of President Ronald Reagan's young presidency: raising the debt ceiling, on which the administration exhorted "swift congressional action." Well, now it's Republicans playing debt-ceiling politics, with representatives promising to vote against an increase in the ceiling unless it is accompanied by significant "cuts and controls in spending going forward." Much of the media coverage of this now months-long threat by the Republicans has underscored just how "serious" they are, and that Democrats will have to give in to some...

The Blue Dogs' Boondoggle

By echoing Republican calls for austerity, conservative Democrats could derail the fragile recovery.

Conservative Democrat Mike Ross of Arkansas (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The Blue Dog Coalition -- a group of self-identified moderate Democrats in Congress -- has become the latest group trying to establish its bona fides as "serious" about reducing the deficit. Echoing Republican calls for austerity as we face the worse economic recession since the Great Depression, earlier this week, the coalition released its own proposal to rein in "out of control" federal spending. But as with Republican blueprints that also call for drastic cuts to discretionary spending, the Blue Dog plan offers little hope of ensuring real economic stability. The coalition is proposing the "largest deficit cuts in history" by drawing down the yearly budget shortfall to 2.3 percent of gross domestic product by 2014; two-thirds of this savings would come from spending cuts, and the rest would come from tax reform. If we continue on our current track, the CBO estimates that the 2014 deficit will be 4.4 percent of GDP. But the agency also projects real GDP growth of 3.4 percent that...

Budget Fantasies and Realities

A few Republican lawmakers have broken ranks and acknowledged the truth: Dealing with the budget deficit will require tax increases.

Sen. Mike Crapo (AP Photo/Matt Cilley)
The Congressional Budget Office released on Friday its preliminary analysis of President Barack Obama's 2012 budget proposal, and projected cumulative deficits of $9.5 trillion over the next decade. That was $2.7 trillion higher than the CBO's pre-budget prediction and $2.3 trillion higher than the administration's own estimate. These budget projections underscore a simple accounting truth: The federal government needs to raise revenues through increased taxes or make politically impossible cuts to programs like Social Security or to defense spending. But the truly shocking development of recent days, and one that's been nearly completely ignored by the news media, is that several prominent Republicans are among the few willing to acknowledge that taxes must be raised. It's the first break with the GOP's guiding orthodoxy since President George H.W. Bush agreed to raise taxes 20 years ago. Though other Republicans have hinted they're willing to compromise in the current budget debate...

Paul Ryan's Hypocrisy

Republicans are backing Rep. Paul Ryan’s government-gutting ”Roadmap for America’s Future,” which includes a radical set of cuts to Social Security. Last week, 22 Republican senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama threatening to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless he agrees to them. Along with the standard set of backdoor benefit cuts -- chiefly, “progressive” price indexing and another hike in the retirement age -- contained in other prominent Social Security reform proposals , the Roadmap includes a plan to partially privatize the program and let workers under 55 divert 40 percent of their and their employers’ contributions into individual accounts. As the Urban Institute and many others have noted , such a plan would destroy the progressivity of the program, gutting benefits for the poorest Americans. There’s little new about these proposals -- Republicans have long been trying to eviscerate entitlement benefits. But there are a few notable things the proposal...

Republicans' Next Move: Get Rid of Pensions Altogether

Some states, like Wisconsin, are asking state employees to contribute more to their pension plans, but others are just scrapping them.

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
The battle over public-sector unions is, at least in part, a battle over benefits: From Wisconsin to New Jersey, public-sector unions are among the last employees who can expect to retire with defined pension plans. Wisconsin, where a political showdown just resulted in reduced bargaining rights for public employees, is expected to release new estimates on state pensions next week, according to The New York Times . The state will likely ask employees to contribute more money to their plans and make other concessions. But other states have an even more radical proposal: Get rid of pensions, which guarantee benefits, and replace them with 401(k)-type savings-and-investment plans. Earlier this week, Kansas lawmakers held a hearing on a bill to switch state employees hired after 2012 to a 401(k) system -- a move at least six states have already made and that Florida, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Virginia are also considering . Kansas Republicans praised the bill, arguing that the state's...

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