Budget

Bending the Rules

Congress keeps finding new ways to attack farm-bill reform.

Yesterday, the House and Senate released their final appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Like the House bill passed in June , the bill, which provides funding to the Department of Agriculture, cuts a number of programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture coalition discusses the programs most hurt in a detailed blog post. One of the areas most hurt is conservation: On the whole, programs that help preserve land were cut by almost $1 billion. But the most senseless provisions were, perhaps, the ones that prevent the USDA from finishing revisions to the rules that govern how meat markets work. The rules, which are enforced by a division of the USDA known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, regulate the markets through which chicken, hog, and cattle farmers interact with meatpacking companies. Food advocates have long described the ways in which power has consolidated among meatpackers so that a handful of companies control the...

Don't Save Republicans from Themselves

With the Super Committee near collapse, will the Democrats snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory? Republicans, by locking themselves into no new taxes at a time when two-thirds of Americans prefer to tax millionaires instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare, are in a nice pickle. Over the weekend, Republicans on the Super Committee proposed to trade about $300 billion in net revenue increases for more than $2 trillion in permanent tax cuts. Democrats, mercifully, did not take the bait. Some Republicans on the panel, such as Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, proposed a “two step” process, whereby the committee would agree on a target figure for revenue increases and leave the details to the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. But the Texas Two-Step is another trap. Cuts in Social Security and Medicare would be negotiated first, and the details of tax hikes would come later—after Democrats had given up their leverage. Senator Dick...

Generation Y Bother

Young adults entering the workforce today think they'll be worse off than their parents—they're not wrong.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The recession officially ended nearly two and a half years ago, in June 2009, but for the generation of young adults who’ve been trying to take their first steps into adulthood, its effects could shape the future for decades to come. Why is this recession different from other sharp downturns? The standard economic indicators fail to tell the whole story. Yes, unemployment rates for young people remain at the record-high levels they hit at the Great Recession’s peak in 2007, but this is typical for young workers, who tend to be the last group that recovers after a recession—and tend to feel its effects far after the economy has rebounded. The young baby boomers who bore the brunt of the 1981-1982 recession had lower earnings even 15 years after the economy recovered, and during that downturn, the economy only lost half as many jobs as during the Great Recession. For youth entering the workforce today, not only has the sour economy delayed their careers; they are entering a workforce...

The Return of Sanity

Issue 2 opponents cheer at a rally co-sponsored by the Cleveland Teachers Union and We Are Ohio in Cleveland as they hear election results sounding the defeat of Issue 2 in the Ohio general election on Tuesday, Novmber 8, 2011. By voting no on Issue 2, Ohioans overturned the controversial Senate Bill 5, which, among other things, limited collective bargaining for 350,000 unionized public workers. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
The common thread in yesterday’s unbroken string of Democratic and progressive victories was the popular rejection of right-wing overreach. From Ohio, where voters overturned by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent Republican Governor John Kasich’s law stripping public employees of collective-bargaining rights; to Maine, where voters overturned by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent Republican Governor Paul LePage’s law abolishing Election Day voter registration; to Arizona, where voters recalled Republican state Senate Leader Russell Pearce, the most vehemently anti-immigrant state legislator in the nation; to, will-wonders-never-cease, Mississippi, where voters rejected an initiative declaring a fertilized egg a person from the moment of conception, effectively outlawing abortion and just maybe birth control as well, by a decisive margin of 57 percent to 43 percent, voters shouted a resounding STOP to the rightward gallop of public policy at the hands of the radicalized Republican...

Democrats Misbehave, Obama Gets the Time-Out

http://www.flickr.com/photos/robr/2912198704/sizes/m/
When it comes to addressing the economic crisis, creating jobs, or tackling the deficit, Congress is at a standstill and the American people know it. This morning, a poll from the National Journal shows Americans have little faith that Congress will take on the issues that matter most. For example, 68 percent of respondents said it was "very important" for Congress to spend money in order to create new jobs, but only 27 percent thought it was likely to happen. Another poll, this one by The Washington Post , found that 50 percent of Americans believe Republicans are holding up President Obama's jobs bill for political reasons. The public sentiment expressed in these polls should spell disaster for Republicans who are perceived to be recklessly blocking popular legislation. In elections today and a year from now, these sentiments should play to Democrats' favor. The problem, however, is that in hard economic times, the president takes the blame, even if the other party deserves a hefty...

The Budget Prescription

Earlier this month, the European Commission launched a new round of investigations targeting the pharmaceutical industry for allegedly colluding to keep low-cost generic drugs off the market. As a result, regulators are looking into the 2005 contractual arrangements between U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and the generic branches of the Swiss-based company Novartis to see whether the agreements purposely delayed the introduction of a generic version of the painkiller Fentanyl to the Dutch market. The probe is the latest round in an ongoing battle between commission trade officials and Big Pharma over quasi-legal “pay to delay” deals—settlements forged between drug manufacturers and producers of generic alternatives with the goal of extending brand-name monopolies long after patents have expired. Four days after the Europeans moved against Johnson & Johnson, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Competition issued its annual staff report on pay-to-delay...

Super Dupes

From right to left, former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., former White House Budget Director Alice Rivlin, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, offer their advice to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. The congressional super committee is trying to come up with a package by Thanksgiving that trims the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
With the Congressional Super Committee required to produce a bipartisan budget-cutting plan by November 23, the best possible outcome would be for the committee to collapse of its own weight. With no deal, automatic cuts would kick in beginning in 2013. Those budget cuts would be excessive, but that question could—and will—be reopened after the election. And in the meantime, $4 trillion in Bush tax cuts will expire, solving most of the deficit problem. If Democrats win, it’s all up for grabs. If Republicans win, the cuts will be even deeper. The 2012 election will be a referendum on whether we want growth or austerity, and whether we want tax fairness. For now, the six Republicans on the Super Committee, predictably, want all of the budget savings to be on the spending side and are adamantly opposed to any tax increases. On Thursday, 33 Senate Republicans sent a letter to their colleagues on the committee warning them not to support any form of tax increase. What’s bizarre, however,...

Greece in Limbo as Papandreou Calls for Vote of No Confidence

So in the end, after three days of hysteria both on the home front and internationally, there will be no referendum on the Greek bailout plan. According to the latest news, which, given developments in the past week, could be rendered obsolete at any minute, Prime Minister George Papandreou has given up on the idea that the Greek people should decide whether the country should accept its new bailout package and, by extension, whether the country should remain in the eurozone. Papandreou is insisting on a vote of confidence in his government, scheduled for midnight Friday; the vote will gauge his level of support among his party. He may end up winning, though it is more likely that he won’t. Papandreou has also authorized negotiations between his own PASOK Party and the main opposition party, the conservative Nea Dimokratia, on the formation of a caretaker government, in the event he loses, whose main task will be to shepherd the new bailout agreement through parliament and then call...

The Ties That Blind

A belief in American pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythology lies at the heart of conservative attacks on the 99 percent.

Flickr/LianaAn
When the Canadian activist magazine AdBusters issued a call on its listserv to start the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York and other cities, a couple of like-minded protesters created a companion blog on Tumblr called “We are the 99 percent.” The purpose of both the protests and the blog was to point out that the bottom 99 percent have been subsidizing the very rich and their wealth-multiplying experiments for decades. But the blog did something the protests didn’t: It allowed folks who couldn’t camp out in Lower Manhattan and risk arrest to participate. Contributors upload pictures of themselves holding handwritten notes that tell their stories of disenfranchisement, insolvency, and unfair workplace practices. Each note varies, but overall, the blog depicts an economy in decline and the people pushed down to the bottom as a result. Not to be outdone, conservatives launched their own Tumblr with the same aesthetic. “We are the 53 percent” co-creator Erick Erickson, a CNN...

For Europe, High Stakes in Greece

Stabilizing one teetering economy won't end the eurozone's dance of death.

(Flickr/Oscar Alexander)
T he problems of the euro turned critical when the Greek government nearly defaulted in May 2010 and the International Monetary Fund and European Union agreed to a bailout. In truth, the 17-nation euro area had deep troubles long before that. Its oversized and undercapitalized banks, its common monetary policy but diverse and fragmented fiscal policies, the persistent economic imbalances among nations that use the euro, and a cumbersome decision-making structure all made the euro-area economy vulnerable. The crisis, which still bears the mark of the Greek tragedy that first set it off, has now spread far beyond Greece. The euro was created for normal times, but the EU lacked good mechanisms for crisis management. At every step of the Greek drama, policy-maker responses have remained behind the curve of economic deterioration. Slowly but surely, this erosion of confidence ensnared other countries, such as Ireland and Portugal, then spread to Spain and Italy, both perceived to be...

Europe Buys Some Time

The stock market liked the European deal that was announced in the wee hours of Thursday morning. At this writing, the Dow is up 268 points. But the market, as is so often the case, could well be wrong. For starters, this is not yet a done deal. The European leaders agreed that the banks will take "voluntary" losses of about 50 percent on their holding of Greek bonds, so that the Greek economy can gain some room to breathe—but the banks did not agree. Charles Dallara, who heads the international bankers' lobby, the misnamed Institute for International Finance, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying that "there is no agreement on any element of a deal." He later told CNBC that the deal was "voluntary," permitting issuers of credit-default swaps (mostly banks) to avoid payments they would have to make in the case of a formal restructuring or a default. But never underestimate the ability of banks to impose their losses on somebody else. Under the proposed deal, the banks also...

Doomed to Fail

Once again, the Obama administration has announced a plan to shore up housing prices and underwater homeowners—and once again the plan is very likely to fail. This latest effort will try to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now wards of the government, to help homeowners refinance mortgages at lower interest rates. The premise is that with interest rates at record lows, homeowners can save hundreds of dollars a month in their mortgage payments by refinancing. For example, by refinancing a 5.5 percent mortgage to a 4.5 percent mortgage, a homeowner with a $300,000 loan could save about $250 a month. In theory, as many as 1.6 million people could qualify for this kind of refinancing, putting more money in their pockets. So this new program would be a source of economic stimulus as well as housing relief. But the devil is in the details. Fannie and Freddie lost a ton of money in the subprime disaster. That’s why the government had to take them over. So the last thing they want to do is...

"The Romney Rule"

Priorities USA, the Democratic consulting firm backed by former Clinton staffer Paul Begala, is out with its first ad attacking former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. It’s a good one: Like the The Washington Post ’s Greg Sargent , I think that this will be a potent line of attack should Romney become the Republican nominee for president. As the wealthiest GOP candidate for president, Romney is uniquely ill-suited to press against higher taxes for the richest Americans, and for an overall low tax burden on the wealthy. Indeed, given the current popularity of higher taxes on the rich – and the growing popularity of Occupy Wall Street – an election fought on these grounds is bad territory for the Romney campaign. I should say that there is a practical policy danger in devoting so much attention to taxes for the rich. In the medium-term, middle-class taxes will have to go up. Unless we return to Clinton-era rates, there is no way – other than new taxes on consumption or carbon – to...

Blame and How to Give It

That Senate Republicans used the filibuster to kill a Democratic stimulus bill isn’t a surprise – at this point, Republicans have all but announced their plan to keep the economy from significantly improving, and as a result, slash the tires on President Obama’s bid for re-election. What comes as a surprise is the extent to which the press isn’t playing along. In the past, reporters would describe yesterday's event with “balanced” language that obscured Republican responsibility for the obstruction. For example, here’s how The New York Times described last week’s failed vote on the full American Jobs Act: In a major setback for President Obama, the Senate on Tuesday blocked consideration of his $447 billion jobs bill, forcing the White House and Congressional Democrats to scramble to salvage parts of the plan, the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s push to revive a listless economy. The legislation, announced with fanfare by the president at a joint session of Congress last month, fell short...

Occupy the Rules Committee

For last two months, we’ve been engaged in something of a natural experiment to see if presidential speechifying—in this case, a consistent focus on jobs—is enough to move public opinion in a progressive direction and create avenues for legislative success. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, Republicans have taken their usual position of staunch opposition, and moderate Democrats have given them cover by opposing the administration’s modest efforts to raise taxes and offset the costs of new stimulus. What has changed the direction of public opinion is Occupy Wall Street, so much so that majorities of Americans agree with the goals of the movement, and conservative figures like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are driven to acknowledge America’s extreme inequality. Of course, even if Occupy Wall Street grows in size and influence, there’s still the question of institutional barriers. As long as a political incentive for the filibuster exists, for example, there’s a real limit...

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