Economy

Don't Count on a Sane GOP

AP Photo
A week before his inaugural, President Obama says he won’t negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt limit. At an unexpected news conference on Monday he said he won’t trade cuts in government spending in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. “If the goal is to make sure that we are being responsible about our debt and our deficit - if that’s the conversation we’re having, I’m happy to have that conversation,” Obama said. “What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.” Well and good. But what, exactly, is the President’s strategy when the debt ceiling has to be raised, if the GOP hasn’t relented? He’s ruled out an end-run around the GOP. The White House said over the weekend that the President won’t rely on the Fourteenth Amendment, which arguably gives him authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own. And his Treasury Department has nixed the idea of issuing a $1 trillion platinum coin that could be deposited with the Fed,...

Obama to Republicans: You Have No Choice but to Raise the Debt Ceiling

White House
Two years ago, President Obama welcomed the debt ceiling as an opportunity to negotiate deficit reduction with congressional Republicans. This backfired—rather than work in good faith with the president, Republicans used this as an opportunity to hold the economy hostage to a list of narrow demands: for a balanced budget amendment, for regressive changes to entitlements, for large cuts to the social safety net. The debt ceiling is again upon us, and Republicans have—again—promised to use it as a way to force concessions from the White House. But unlike last time, Obama does not see this as an opportunity for negotiations. Instead, he’s issued an ultimatum: Either Republicans agree to a “clean” debt ceiling increase—which was the norm until two years ago—or the United States defaults on its debt. By itself, this looks like another instance of Washington bickering, and so—to ensure that he has the public on his side—Obama has coupled this demand with an attempt to shift blame, which he...

Is Suze Orman's Advice Dangerous?

A conversation with Helaine Olen on her new book about personal-finance gurus

AP Photo/Matt Sayles
In Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry , Helaine Olen traces the roots of media advising us about money—a subject many find distasteful to discuss in polite company, but nonetheless spawns a billion-dollar industry of products promising guidance as we navigate the thorny territory of debt, need, and desire. Olen, a journalist who writes the “ Where Life Meets Money ” blog at Forbes, questions the “guru” model of personal-finance media, which focuses on changing the money habits of individuals with nearly no analyses of the social and economic reasons for why the gap between rich and poor is expanding beyond belief. She argues that personal-finance journalism can be revolutionary, but is often undercut by conflict-of-interest product sponsorships and simplistic solutions that are less empowering than they are appeasing. In our interview, Olen spoke about the myths perpetuated by personal-finance gurus like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer, why women are...

House Republicans Are Seriously Serious

Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Rafael Edwards)
As any parent knows, when your children are young, you have one distinct advantage over them: you're smarter than they are. It won't be that way forever, but if it comes down to an argument, using words, with a six-year-old, you're probably going to win. Faced with this disadvantage, children often resort to things like repeating the thing they've already said a hundred more times, or stomping their feet. Which brings us, of course, to the House Republicans. This morning, Politico has a classic Politico story about the struggle between the beleagured Speaker John Boehner, who would prefer that the country not default on its debts, and the maniacs who make up his caucus, many of whom seem to have been reduced to chanting "Burn it down! Burn it down!" whenever the subject of the United States government comes up. I say it's a classic Politico story because it contains a lot of anonymous quotes, on-the-record quotes the authors don't consider might be tactical and not sincere, and...

What the Economy Needs Is Growth (But Washington Isn't Talking About It)

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
If there’s anything frustrating about American politics at this moment, it’s the disappearance of mass unemployment as an area of elite concern. Now that joblessness is on the decline, Washington has moved away from efforts to further address the problem, despite the fact that unemployment isn’t expected to reach pre-recession levels for another four years. You can say the same for Washington’s attitude towards growth. Gross domestic product increased by 3.1 percent in the third quarter of 2012, up from 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and 1.9 percent in the first. Average GDP for the year will probably fall near 2 percent. Compared to the rest of the world, this is a solid recovery. But compared to what we need to close our output gap and begin to return to normalcy, it’s far from adequate. Despite this, neither Congress nor the White House seem interested in finding ways to generate more growth. Instead, both are preoccupied with austerity, with Republicans pressing for large...

How You Know Republicans Aren't So Serious on the Debt Ceiling

Wikipedia
If you’re looking for evidence that Republicans will—despite their rhetoric—eventually cave on the debt ceiling, it’s worth noting a recent statement from Rand Paul, to Business Insider , on how he thinks the GOP should approach the ceiling. Rather than force a shutdown, Paul thinks Republicans should pass a bill that would prioritize payments to bondholders if the limit is reached. This would, he says, “force us immediately to have a balanced budget.” “The only real way to have leverage with the debt ceiling is to convince people that we are not going to default on our debt,” Paul said. “We could actually direct the President to pay our interest, make Social Security payments, pay soldier salaries, the basic functions that could keep government going. That way we take default off the table.” […] “We have tax receipts to pay for about 70 percent of the government and we’re running deficits of about 30 percent, so what I would say is pay for the 70 percent we would all keep going and...

Bobby Jindal Decides Louisiana Isn't Doing Enough to Stick it to Poor People

Derek Bridges / Flickr
Derek Bridges / Flickr Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wants to eliminate all income and corporate taxes in his state. No, really: Republican Governor Bobby Jindal said on Thursday he wants to eliminate all Louisiana personal and corporate income taxes to simplify the state’s tax code and make it more friendly to business. The governor did not release details of his proposal, but his office released a statement confirming that the taxes are targets of a broader tax reform plan. “Our goal is to eliminate all personal income tax and all corporate income tax in a revenue neutral manner,” Jindal said in the statement. He did not confirm reports that he will seek an increase in sales taxes in order to offset lost income tax revenue, but said: “We want to keep the sales tax as low and flat as possible.” If we assume that Louisiana wants to maintain its balanced budget and keep program funding at its current levels, taxes are going to have to go up on someone...

The Mortgage Mess and Jack Lew

Rex Features via AP Images
The more information we learn about the mortgage settlement that was announced Monday—official documents are yet to be made public—the more of a smarmy backroom deal it turns out to be. The deal lets ten major banks and other “loan servicers” off the hook for a corrupted and illegal process of millions of foreclosures, with a paltry one-time settlement of $8.5 billion. The economic damage inflicted on homeowners, and by extension on the economy, was many times that. The deal was hatched by the weakest of the federal bank regulatory agencies, the Comptroller of the Currency, and signed off on by the Federal Reserve. There was no consultation with the more consumer-oriented agencies, such as the FDIC or the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The Comptroller just went and did it. Nor was the Justice Department consulted, even though the deal, nominally a civil settlement, will make criminal prosecutions more difficult now that a major regulator has signed off on an bargain to close the...

Is Jack Lew the Best We Can Do?

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew in the East Room of the White House in Washington T o no one’s great surprise, President Obama has appointed his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Mainly, the choice signals that there will be no change either in the Obama-Geithner approach to reforming Wall Street (not very much), or on fiscal politics, where deficit reduction is a paramount goal despite a faltering recovery. The positives of Lew are these. He’s not a hard-core deficit hawk like Erskine Bowles (low bar). He’s not a bully like Larry Summers or Rahm Emanuel (even lower bar.) He’s a highly competent, detail-oriented numbers guy, and a skilled negotiator. That combination seems to drive some Republicans nuts, because in the infighting over the budget deal of 2011, Lew’s knowledge of the details enabled him to win some tactical victories in what was otherwise a rout for the administration (this was the deal that created...

What Goes Around (Comes Back Around)

Google
I find little to disagree with in Scott Lemieux’s look at the legality of minting a trillion-dollar coin . For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the idea is simple. When the president is required to spend all money authorized by Congress, in most instances, that requires the Treasury to borrow money to fulfill congressional obligations. But Congress has also imposed a borrowing limit on the Treasury. In the past, Congress has lifted the limit with little fuss, but beginning in 2011, House Republicans have used it as leverage for spending cuts. If Treasury reaches the limit without paying its full obligations, it defaults, which would have catastrophic consequences for the global economy. At the moment, Republicans are threatening not to lift the limit (though, there is some question of their sincerity). This leaves President Obama with three options: He can let the government default, triggering a global recession. He can concede spending cuts to the GOP, giving further...

We Don't Have a Spending Problem

Mother Jones
Over at Mother Jones , Kevin Drum marshals two charts showing—quite clearly—that the federal government has a revenue and aging problem, not a spending one. The first shows federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 1981 to the present: There was a spike in spending in 2009, but that was entirely a function of the recession, when the government—as it should—began spending more on unemployment insurance, food stamps, infrastructure, and other stimulus programs. That spike was larger that similar recessionary spikes in 1990 and 2001, but that’s because the 2008 recession was the most severe since the Great Depression. Even with the Affordable Care Act and other new programs passed under this administration, spending is on track to reach the modest levels of the Clinton era by the end of Obama’s presidency. As for revenue, a combination of tax cuts and recessions have plunged federal income receipts to their lowest levels in 30 years: So how does this square with...

Calling McConnell’s Bluff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff. On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, ruled out any further tax increases, declaring that “the tax issue is finished, over, completed.” He insisted, “Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction.” But is spending really the problem? For most the postwar era, federal tax revenues hovered around 19 percent of GDP, and spending a bit more than that. But for the four years since the financial collapse, federal...

The GOP's Dangerous Debt-Ceiling Threat

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Even for someone unmoved by hyper-ideological, right-wing rhetoric, Senator John Cornyn’s most recent op-ed for the Houston Chronicle is astounding in its mendacity and utter disregard for responsible governance. To wit, after engaging in a little bizarro history—where he blames the president for brinksmanship on the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, as if Obama has an obligation to implement the GOP agenda—the two-term Texas lawmaker presents a government shutdown as a responsible way to force spending cuts: Over the next few months, we will reach deadlines related to the debt ceiling, the sequester and the continuing appropriations resolution that has funded federal operations since October. If history is any guide, President Obama won’t see fit to engage congressional Republicans until the 11th hour. In fact, he has already signaled an unwillingness to negotiate over the debt ceiling. This is unacceptable. […] The coming deadlines will be the next...

Holding Steady

wools / Flickr
Estimates for December job growth converged at around 150,000 net jobs, and according to today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created almost exactly that: 155,000 new jobs, with a steady unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. The revisions show an economy that’s a little stronger than it looks; October was revised to 138,000 jobs from 137,000, and November was revised from 146,000 to 161,000. Three years after the stimulus was passed, and just a few months after the latest round of quantative easing, what we have is an economy that turns in steady, but unremarkable, growth. At the current rate, our unemployment rate will slowly decline to 6 percent by the end of President Obama’s term. This isn't a full recovery—unemployment would have to be at the five percent range for that—it would still make Obama a major job creator by historical standards. Current projections hold that the economy will grow by 12 million jobs by the end of 2016. Add to that the nearly 5...

The Austerity Lobby Loses One

Flickr/Michael Pollack
Flickr/Michael Pollack A conference sponsored by Fix the Debt in Washington, D.C. takes place in January 2012. T he fiscal deal that raised taxes on the top one percent was a victory only for what it did not do. It did not cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other public spending. Unfortunately, it merely put off the next round of jousting over fiscal issues to a time when Republicans will have more leverage. In what we might call Cliff One (tax increases for the rich), the status quo played to President Obama’s advantage. If Congress failed to act, taxes would go up on everyone. So the Republicans caved. But in the coming battles over Cliff Two (the debt ceiling) and Cliff Three (the $120 billion in automatic cuts known as the Sequester) the status quo favors the Republicans. If Congress fails to act affirmatively, the United States defaults on its debt, and highly deflationary spending cuts kick in automatically. President Obama might dispatch Cliff Two by invoking the...

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