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.
To 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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
The 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.
Income taxes have gone up for the first time in 20 years, but as the Huffington Postreports, only 1 percent of taxpayers are affected:
Forget the 1 percent, the fiscal cliff deal is all about the .7 percent. That’s the slice of Americans who will be affected by Congress’ new definition of “wealthy,” according to a new analysis from the Tax Policy Center, a nonprofit tax research group.
The centerpiece of the deal passed by Congress on Tuesday includes higher income taxes on individuals who make at least $400,000 and couples who make more than $450,000. The tax rate for those groups jumps to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent.
Yesterday, I complained that political media presents debt reduction as a no-brainer—something we must do, for the sake of our solvency—and not as a choice that may or may not be warranted in the current environment (hint: it’s not). There’s no mystery as to why that’s the case; the major mainstream news outlets are heavily influenced by elite opinion, and elite opinion is dominated by the views of successful businesspeople.
If the debate around the fiscal cliff and, particularly, the still-impending sequester demonstrates anything, it’s that Richard Nixon’s one plunge into economic theory—“We’re all Keynesians now,” the former president once said—still holds. Everyone acknowledges that laying off hundreds of thousands of government employees, including 800,000 civilian Defense Department workers, and stopping payment to government contractors will, by definition, destroy jobs, at least until the payments resume. It’s still Republican orthodoxy, to be sure, to deny that government spending actually creates jobs, but even they acknowledge that the cessation of government spending destroys them. Which illustrates that the problem with contemporary Republicanism isn’t confined to their indifference to empiricism but also their indifference to logic. Reasoning—either deductive or inductive—is either beyond them, beneath them or above them.
When President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1862 (a couple of times, actually), he conceded the possible unconstitutionality of what he had done but concluded that since the move was necessary in a time when half the country was at war with the other half, he would take his chances with Congress, the courts, and history. The country’s current chief executive finds Lincoln comparisons disconcerting, but this is a case where he might pay attention, because his legal grounds for unilaterally raising the ceiling on the national debt in a time of congressionally inflicted crisis are no weaker than Lincoln’s and probably stronger.
Now that the future revenue path is pretty clear for the next decade, I took another look at President Obama's 2013 budget, which projects spending and revenue through 2022 on the assumption—a correct one, it turns out—that taxes will only rise on the affluent.