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Posts Tagged ‘Fiscal Cliff’

Obama’s bargaining strategy and tactics with regard to deficit cutting over the past three years have proven to be an unmitigated disaster. From the idea of seeking a ‘grand bargain’ with Teapublicans in the House of Representatives in 2011, to the debt ceiling and sequester deals of August 2011 that resulted in $2.2 trillion in spending-only cuts and no tax hikes whatsoever on the rich, to caving in on the so-called ‘Fiscal Cliff’ this past January 1 that resulted in taxing only the richest 0.7% and allowing $4 trillion in Bush tax cuts to continue permanently—Obama’s bargaining strategy and tactics have proven a case example of exactly what not to do in negotiations.

Obama’s first error was to believe that by offering hundreds of billions in entitlement cuts back in the summer of 2011 in exchange for revenue hikes that Republicans would agree to raise taxes a mere year before the 2012 elections. Obama and the Democrats subsequently further believed that by linking $1.2 trillion in sequestered spending-only cuts in August 2011, as part of the debt ceiling deal that Republicans would not allow $500 billion in sequestered defense spending cuts take effect and would agree to some tax hikes in exchange. Obama then made the error this past December thinking Republicans would discuss tax revenue proposals after they agreed to the minimal $60 billion in Bush tax cut extensions (aka ‘Fiscal Cliff’) on January 1, 2013. Or that Republicans would have to agree to some kind of tax revenue enhancement deal on March 1 when the sequestered defense cuts would take effect, or March 27 when the government ran out of money. But the Teapublicans proved him wrong in every one of these accounts. How and why did this all happen? And will Obama and the Democrats continue to get outmaneuvered in the coming final round of deficit negotiations that commences with Obama’s latest budget, to be announced on April 10?

Some Key Questions of Strategy

The question is why have the Teapublicans agreed to the token January 1 tax hikes? Why did they agree to allow the $1.2 trillion sequestered cuts, including defense spending, go into effect? Why did they not engage in brinksmanship again on March 1 or March 27, unlike they did in August 2011? And why will they not go to the brink again on the debt ceiling issue when it arises once more in May?

The answer to the first question is Teapublicans in the House got a tax deal they simply couldn’t refuse on January 1, a deal which their big corporate campaign benefactors, the Business Roundtable, wanted and helped engineer together with the Obama administration. They got to keep $4 trillion of the Bush tax cuts, which are now permanent and which include nice ‘sweeteners’ (i.e. further tax cuts) like no more Alternative Minimum Tax and an even more generous Inheritance tax than Bush himself had introduced.

However, after having blocked with Obama prior to the January 1 deal to push through token tax hikes on only the wealthiest 0.7%, the Roundtable has since ‘switched sides’ and adopted the Teapublicans position with regard to subsequent entitlement spending cuts.

In February 2013, the Roundtable came out with its position paper on the matter of sequestered cuts and entitlement spending. It proposed to cut the social security COLA adjustment, introduce a means test for Medicare, raise the eligibility age for both Medicare AND social security to 70, and convert Medicare into a voucher system in 2022. That’s exactly the Teapublican-Paul Ryan program. With big corporate interests now in their corner firmly with regard to entitlement cuts as the primary focus of deficit cutting, why should the Teapublicans agree to any further tax hikes on the rich? And with the Roundtable and CEOs now firmly on their side, and the tax cuts successfully decoupled from the spending cuts, why should the Teapublicans go to the brink over shutting down the government on March 27? By March 1 they were already almost three-fourths of the way to the $4 trillion deficit target, with a total of $2.8 trillion in spending cuts and token tax hikes. That leaves only $1.2 trillion to go!

By letting the March 1 sequestered cuts take effect, the Teapublicans in effect did to Obama on the topic of defense spending what Obama had the opportunity to do to them on the topic of Bush tax cuts on January 1 but didn’t take. Obama could have let all the Bush tax cuts expire on January 1, and then reintroduced middle class tax cuts only on January 2. That would have put the Teapublicans in the position of having to vote down middle class tax cuts. But he didn’t, and settled for the paltry 0.7% hike on taxes on the wealthy, some of which will undoubtedly be reversed again, buried deep in the legislation, when the major tax code negotiations conclude later this year. The Teapublicans, by allowing the sequestered defense cuts to take effect on March 1, can also always reintroduce legislation piecemeal later this year to restore many of the defense cuts.

It’s not surprising that Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, and others in Congress, in recent weeks have offered ‘deals’ amounting to another $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. That number is not coincidental. Graham’s proposal is for $600 billion in social security and medicare cuts and another $600 billion in unspecified tax revenues. $1.2 trillion is now the remaining ‘target’ number.

To repeat: Why should Teapublicans precipitate a political crisis over the March 1 or March 27 deadlines? Why should they repeat the debt ceiling crisis on May 18? They’re winning hands down.

What Obama May Propose

Having agreed to decouple tax cuts on January 1 and having been outmaneuvered on March 1 and March 27, and with Teapublicans signaling there will be debt ceiling crisis in May, Obama has been stripped of all his leverage points in bargaining. He has no ‘stick’, only more ‘carrots’ to offer and his opposition knows it. Obama has left only the option to offer even more social security, medicare and Medicaid cuts. And throughout March he has continued to do so unilaterally once again. Not just offering once again to cut COLA adjustments for social security but to suggest his willingness to confront big cuts—in the $600 to $700 billion range—for medicare and social security and more for Medicaid. Even more specific reductions will be forthcoming in weeks to come.

But Obama has planned all along to cut social security and Medicare. He made that clear in his signing of the Bush tax cuts deal on January 2, 2013, during which he stated: “Medicare is the Main Cause of Deficits”. And again, in his February State of the Union address, Obama publicly noted he ‘liked the Simpson-Bowles’ recommendations concerning Medicare cuts.

And what are the Simpson-Bowles recommendations for Medicare cuts?

A new $550 a year deductible for Parts A and B of Medicare and provide only 80% coverage for Part A instead of the current 100% (which would require another $150-$300 a month in private insurance to cover the remaining 20%, much like Part B now). That together amounts to another $195-$350 taken out of monthly social security checks to cover, when the average for social security benefit payments is only $1100 a month today. In other words, Medicare benefits will not be cut. Its just that if seniors want to maintain current levels of benefits they’ll have to pay even more for them. Alternatively, they can choose to have fewer benefits and not pay more. It’s all about rationing health care, just as Obamacare for those under 65 is essentially about rationing—as were Bush’s proposals to expand health savings accounts (HSAs) and Bill Clinton’s health maintenance organization (HMOs) solution.

In his typical bargaining approach of ‘let’s make a unilateral offer and see what the Teapublicans do’, in recent weeks Obama has again unilaterally offered to reduce social security COLA increases that will take more than $230 billion out of the pockets of seniors. He has also proposed to introduce a means test for the wealthy, which Teapublicans will begin to extend down to the middle class. As for Medicare, watch for the Simpson-Bowles recommendations in some form to appear, likely scaled in over time. If not in the budget itself, then surely in negotiations that follow. Readers should also note that Obama last week announced higher payments to medicare health providers, while simultaneously planning in his budget cuts for seniors. But Medicare ‘cuts’ will not be mandated benefit reductions. Instead, seniors will have to pay more for the benefits they have, or opt for lower benefit coverage. Social Security Disability recipients will be also significantly impacted by the forthcoming proposals. And Republican state governors will be permitted to reduce their spending in part on Medicaid. And of course, almost certainly there will be the changes to social security: reduction of cost of living adjustments, means testing, and a raising of the eligibility age at least to 67 and later possibly even higher.
With only $1.2 more to cut in deficit spending to reach the Simpson-Bowles $4 trillion target, and Obama offering again his $600-$700 billion enticement in entitlement spending cuts, a deal is closer than ever before. Watch therefore for the full $600 billion in social security, medicare, and Medicaid to take effect, the effective date of the changes to be ‘backloaded’ in later years of the decade and certainly not before the next midterm elections in 2014.

Expect defense spending cuts of no more than half the $500 billion proposed in the sequester, and nearly all of which will be from withdrawals from middle east (Afghanistan, Iraq) operations and not equipment spending. After 2014, most will be recouped as defense spending on naval and air force equipment and operations will ‘ramp up’ for the shift of US military focus to the pacific. The Army brass had its land wars in Asia; now it’s the turn of Navy and Air Force in the pacific.

That leaves only a ‘token’ tax revenue increase of about $200 billion over the coming decade, or a paltry $20 billion a year, which will come in difficult to estimate phony tax ‘loophole’ closings. Major cuts in corporate taxes later in 2013 will not be included or ‘calculated’ in the grand bargain $4 trillion deal. In addition to big cuts in the top corporate tax rate, look for multinational corporations’ tax breaks and tax forgiveness on the $1.4 trillion they are presently sheltering in offshore subsidiaries as well. And of course small-medium business will be thrown yet another tax cut bone to buy into the deal. In exchange, the middle class will pay more in terms of limits on deductions and exemptions.

In retrospect over the past three years, and especially since November 2012 elections, the ‘grand bargain’ looks less like a bargain and more like a ‘grand collusion’ between the various parties—Teapublican, Big Corporate, Obama, and the pro-corporate wing of Democrats in Congress that have had a stranglehold on the Democratic party since the late 1980s.

This is not the Democratic Party of your grandfather that agreed to introduce Social Security in the 1930s and that proposed Medicare in the 1960s. This is the Democratic Party, and the Democratic President, that has agreed with Republicans and Corporate America to begin the repealing in stages of these very same programs—programs that are not ‘entitlements’ but are in fact ‘deferred wages’ earned by Americans over the decades that are now being ‘concession bargained’ away without any say or input. Not content with concessions from those workers still in the labor force, capitalist policymakers are intent on concessions on social wages now coming due in the form of social security and medicare benefits.

It’s not a grand bargain; it’s a charade and a ‘grand collusion’ from the very beginning from Simpson-Bowles to the present.

What Should Be Done

Writing letters to Congress won’t change anything. What is now necessary is to begin the formation nationwide of ‘Social Security-Medicare Defense Clubs’. After all, that’s how Social Security started in the first place. Neither party proposed it in the 1930s initially. In fact, Roosevelt initially publicly advocated Social Security should not be part of the New Deal. A grass roots protest, organized by the clubs forced him and the Democrats to reverse this position just before the midterm 1934 elections and support the proposal for Social Security. Now it’s time to reform the clubs to defend social security. And the first action should be to call for a million person march on Washington to reverse whatever cuts are surely forthcoming in the weeks ahead.

Jack Rasmus

Jack is the author of ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’, 2012, which provides a history of deficit cutting in the US and predictions of its impact. His blog is jackrasmus.com. For a video presentation on social security and medicare given recently to the Progressive Democrats of America, see his website at http://www.kyklosproductions.com/videos.html.

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COMMENTARY: THE FOLLOWING IS THE LATEST DECEMBER 31 UPDATE TO THE TERMS OF THE FISCAL CLIFF PENDING DEAL IN CONGRESS.

In a press conference concluded today, December 31, 2012, just hours ago, President Obama reported a partial agreement on the Fiscal Cliff was very near.  To hold a conference and report such at this stage, means the major sticking points have been settled and just the details are now being worked out.

The agreement, as this writer has been predicting, will be only a partial one. Fiscal cliff (aka ‘Austerity American Style’) negotiations on unresolved matters will continue for the next several months.

According to today’s press conference by the President, the agreement about to happen today will reportedly include the following main elements: first, an extension of the tax cuts for roughly 98% of households. Tax rates on the 2% will apparently rise. So too apparently will payroll taxes rise back to their 6.2% rate. In a concession to Republicans, the tax cuts will now be made permanent instead of having an expiration date, as has been the case since 2001, and the cutoff for the top 2% will be raised from $250k income per year to $450k, thus making the increase on the top 2% in effect a tax hike on the top roughly 1.5% instead of top 2%. Second, the partial deal will include an unspecified extension of unemployment insurance benefits. Not part of the deal, however, are cuts involving the approximate $1.2 trillion in sequestered defense and non-defense spending, agreed to last August 2011, which are scheduled to start taking effect this January 1, 2013. However, there is also talk that the sequestration will be postponed for two months as part of the deal. Nor is there a settlement of the debt ceiling issue as part of the pending deal.

The agreed upon deficit reduction target of $4 trillion over the coming decade is not resolved by the pending agreement. The tax hikes on the 1.5% will provide only $600 billion in additional tax revenue for the coming decade. That amount, by the way, is well below Obama’s previously offer a few weeks ago of tax revenue generation of $1.2 trillion, and Boehner’s earlier December counteroffer of $1 trillion. To get some kind of partial agreement, Obama in effect reduced his tax revenue demand in half, from $1.2 trillion to $.6 trillion, raised the cutoff from $250k to $450k, and agreed to make the tax cuts permanent. Republicans thus get a reduction of $400 billion below their last $1.0 trillion position plus a $200k increase in the cutoff to $450k. Both those points amount to major ‘wins’ for the Republicans. Nonetheless, there is consequently still a long way to go in deficit cutting negotiations, which will occur over the next two months. In short, deficit cutting has not concluded; it has only just begun. And Republicans will be in an even stronger bargaining position going forward.

The focus from this point will be even more heavily on spending cuts and the Republicans will have the upper hand in spending cut negotiations for the following two reasons: the tax issue is largely out of the way and the debt ceiling coming up allows them, the Republicans in the House, to once again engineer a repeat of the debt ceiling debacle of August 2011. We are now headed toward a ‘Debt Ceiling Crisis Redux’, which will peak sometime in late February-early March 2013. The original debt ceiling debacle of August 2011, to recall, resulted in all spending cuts of $1.2 trillion. Version 2.0 will almost certainly result in something similar, with perhaps a couple hundred billion more in token revenue generation, if even that. Expect spending cut proposals approaching twice that $1.2 trillion agreed upon in August 2011.

The August 2011 debt ceiling deal amounted to a ‘trade off’ by Obama and the Democrats of $1.2 trillion in spending only reduction in exchange for an agreement from the House radical Republicans not to play the debt ceiling card until after the November 2012 negotiations. It’s likely another such deal will occur—i.e. Democrats trading spending cuts for a halt to debt ceiling brinkmanship by the Republicans until after the 2014 midterm elections.

In terms of bargaining strategy, Obama and the Democrats are cutting a deal today, December 31, that will prove disastrous for them over the coming months. They have conceded on several major points just to try to get an agreement today—i.e. $600 billion in total revenue, $450k cut off increase, and making cuts permanent.  Republicans will get several more ‘bites at the tax apple’ in coming months to offset the tax hikes on their 1.5% richest friends.  In addition, Democrats are passing their bargaining leverage to the Republicans. Democrats should have allowed the fiscal cliff to happen, then later this week proposed a 98% tax cut for the middle class and tied that to a proposal for no debt ceiling brinksmanship for the next two years. Republicans would have been put in the position of having to vote AGAINST a middle class tax cut to keep their debt ceiling leverage. They no doubt realized this and, as this writer has previously predicted. Republicans conceded little in order to retain their debt ceiling leverage for future negotiations.

To sum up, in today’s pending deal, the House Republicans get a $600 billion concession by Obama in total tax revenue generation, a bigger hammer in the debt ceiling, an increase in the threshold for the top 2%, from $250 to now $450k a year (reducing the top 2% to in effect 1.5%), making the tax cuts permanent, and greater future control of the debate agenda. Obama and the Democrats get a continuation of middle class tax cuts, some kind of unemployment insurance, and a loss of bargaining leverage for the next phase of continuing deficit reduction negotiations.

The second phase of fiscal cliff negotiations will focus on reducing sequestered defense cuts, more emphasis on cutting social security, Medicare, Medicaid and the like, and a return to playing chicken and brinksmanship once again on the debt ceiling. Republicans now have the bargaining agenda where they want it: almost totally focused on spending cuts. And they have their big stick again to whip the Democrats with—i.e. the debt ceiling.

Jack Rasmus

Jack is the author of the April 2012 book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”. Chapter 7 of that book, ‘Deficit Cutting on the Road to Double Dip Recession’, is available for free on his website, http://www.kyklosproductions.com. Visit the website also for Jack’s 7 recent radio interviews on the fiscal cliff negotations, at http://www.kyklosproductions.com/interviews. For updates daily on the fiscal cliff negotiations, follow Jack at twitter, #drjackrasmus.

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Late Friday afternoon, December 28, President Obama held a press conference reporting on the status of negotiations on the so-called ‘Fiscal Cliff’. Having met with House and Senate Democrat and Republican leaders earlier the same day, in his press conference Obama reported both sides had made progress during the day toward an eventual deal. Senate leaders Reid and McConnell were in fact working on an agreement as he spoke, Obama noted.

Whatever Senate leaders Reid and McConnell may work out will almost certainly come to a Senate vote by December 31st. Less certain is whether the House of Representatives will allow a vote on the same Senate package to be taken by then as well. An ominous indication of what the details of the Senate version might be were hinted by Obama during his press conference, as he indicated the deal would require “the wealthiest to pay a little more” and that spending would be cut “in a responsible way”. Watch for an emphasis on ‘little’ with regard to taxes, and on ‘responsible’ meaning major spending cuts.

Should the House balk at voting on the forthcoming Senate proposal, Obama noted he was prepared to have Senate Democrat leader, Harry Reid, introduce a second bill, the outlines of which he, Obama, suggested before the Xmas holidays. That alternative bill would reintroduce the tax cuts for the 98% earning less than $250k a year, pass an extension of unemployment insurance, as well as other unspecified economic growth measures.
The first package being developed this weekend in the Senate by Reid-McConnell will not come up for a vote in the Senate until Monday, December 31. The House will then either vote it up as well or refuse to vote. If the latter, then the Obama-Reid backup proposal will likely come up for a vote on it on January 2 or 3. At that point, the Bush tax cuts will have expired officially. That means the vote on the tax cuts for the 98% will be a vote to reintroduce and pass the 98% tax cuts. House radicals who might refuse to vote on the Senate’s initial December 31 proposal—in which tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% aren’t extended—might then find themselves in the difficult position of NOT voting for reintroducing tax cuts for the 98%. This possibility will almost certainly force the House radicals to vote for the Senate’s first version on the 31st, especially if that Senate version includes major cuts in spending for social security, Medicare, Medicaid and the like, and ‘smoke and mirrors’ tax revenue hikes on the 2%. In short, the House radicals now find themselves ‘boxed in’, as Obama doubles down on them.

Metaphorically, they have jumped out of Boehner’s ‘Plan B’ frying pan proposal of last week, onto the hot stove of Obama’s double down proposal announced today. Watching them ‘hot step it’ to an eventual deal may prove entertaining.
As this writer has predicted since November, a deal will be concluded between the two wings of the ruling party of Corporate America. That deal will come in three stages: the first a partial settlement to get through the January 1, 2013 artificial deadline to show the ‘markets’ (e.g. Investors, speculators and corporate America) that a deal is being hammered out, albeit in stages. The second stage negotiations will commence immediately after next week on additional items, continuing through February to March 2013. And a final third stage will come later this year, involving a major revision of the US tax code that will result in big corporate tax rate cuts.

AN ALTERNATIVE ‘ONE TAX’ SOLUTION

While this ‘dance’ of negotiations plays out over the next week, readers should consider that the entire ‘Fiscal Cliff’ charade could be resolved with one program, one proposal involving taxation on the wealthiest 1% of US households—i.e. those whose average annual income is about $1.5 million and whose effective and actual income tax rate today is not the nominal 35% but in fact only about 22.5%.

The very wealthy 1% actual income tax rate has never been the 35% top rate. In 1980 that top rate was 70% but the actual effective rate they paid was only 45%. Similarly, today the reported top rate is 35% but the actual rate on average 22.5%. Some hedge fund managers making billions a year actually pay less than 10%.

University of California professor, Emmanual Saez, and his colleagues, Thomas Picketty and Stefanie Stantcheva, a few months in the third quarter 2012 issue of ‘Tax Justice Focus’, estimated that by simply making the wealthiest 1% pay the same effective, actual tax rate they paid in 1980 (45%) it would raise an additional $405 billion a year in tax revenue. Over a decade, that’s more than $4 trillion—which is coincidentally the amount identified as necessary to reduce the deficit over the coming decade by all the parties, Democrat and Republican, as the deficit cutting target amount. Since the Simpson-Bowles report of November 2010, the target has always been $4 trillion.

Thus, one simply tax measure would solve the entire fiscal cliff issue, generate the $4 trillion in deficit reduction, allow all the other tax cuts in question to continue, and require no cuts whatsoever in social security, Medicare, Medicaid or anything else.

Professors Saez and others estimated this $405 billion on an assumption of a GDP of $15 trillion in 2011. Today’s $16.5 trillion GDP means this one tax measure would now raise more than $450 billion a year. The 45% tax on the richest 1% amounts to a 2.7% increase in government tax revenue as a percent of GDP. If you think that is too much, consider that federal tax revenues as a percent of GDP was 20.6% in 2000 before George W. Bush began his investor-corporate tax cuts in 2001. That 20% had been the average for a number of years. But after Bush’s two recessions, his $3.4 trillion in tax cuts, his wars, runaway health care costs, and the historic weak recovery of the US economy under Obama since 2008, federal tax revenue as a percent of GDP had fallen to 14.4% from the 20.6% of only a decade or so ago. So taxing the 1% at the 1980 effective rate raises tax revenue as a share of GDP by 2.7%, to about 17%. Taxes can and should be raised on Corporate America as well, to get back to the 20%.

But don’t count on the latter, since Obama has promised throughout the election campaign to cut corporate tax rates from the current 35% to 28%. And don’t be surprised by the major spending reductions that will come out of current fiscal cliff negotiations, in the next few days and continuing throughout this year. Fiscal Cliff is only a cover phrase for what amounts to ‘Austerity American Style’.

The problem with the US deficit and debt is not a spending program problem. It has always been overwhelmingly a tax cut for the rich and corporations problem. And it can be resolved with one program and proposal to ‘make the millionaires pay 45%’. It’s that simple.

Jack Rasmus

Jack is the author of the 2012 book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few” , and host of the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network, PRN.FM. His website is http://www.kyklosproductions.com, his blog, jackrasmus.com, and twitter handle #drjackrasmus.

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COMMENTARY: WITH THE FIRST PHASE OF ‘FISCAL CLIFF’ BARGAINING HAVING ENDED WITH THE IMPLOSION OF HOUSE SPEAKER, BOEHNER’S, SO-CALLED ‘PLAN B’, THE NEXT IS ABOUT TO BEGIN ON THE THREE-STAGE APPROACH TO FISCAL CLIFF THAT I HAD PREDICTED WOULD OCCUR LAST NOVEMBER 20. THE FOLLOWING IS AN APPRAISAL OF WHY BOEHN’ERS PLAN B BLEW UP IN HIS FACE.

Yours truly having negotiated scores of contracts in various venues over the years, it is easy to recognize that House Speaker, John Boehner, really bungled as a bargainer in his recent failed attempt to push his ‘Plan B’ in the fiscal cliff negotiations a few days ago.

As Washington Post political commentator, Charlie Cook, observed in the aftermath of the collapse of Plan B, in Washington DC, it appears “the art of negotiation has been lost…these people don’t know how to negotiate”. How true.
There are at least three major axioms of negotiation that Boehner violated in his recent attempt to push Plan B and leave Obama on the defensive over the Xmas holidays.

First axiom: Never tackle the toughest or biggest (i.e. costliest) issue first in negotiations. Settle the smaller issues first and leave the big item to last; then settle the big stuff by horse-trading the most important thing you want for the most important thing your opponent wants. Boehner did the opposite. He addressed the big tax hike issue—the Bush tax cut for the top 2% from the outset. In Plan B, he in effect asked his base to agree to a tax hike in mid-stream of negotiations and when doing so would not have concluded the negotiations.

Second axiom: Never negotiate in one direction. Boehner focused on Obama and not on his base. Bargaining is always dual in nature. There’s your opponent and there’s your own supporters. Boehner lost sight of his base. From what is now leaking out in the press, it appears he somewhat desperately pushed forward with his Plan B even though he didn’t have the votes among other House Republican leaders or his base. Never call for a vote guessing on the outcome. Call for a vote you either want to fail or know will pass. Never ‘test’ your base with a vote the outcome of which you are uncertain. That’s an approach that will often lead to an ‘egg pie in the face’, and a significant loss of negotiating authority with your own base thereafter, making it even more difficult subsequently to get an agreement. If there’s a cliff here, it’s not fiscal, but the one Boehner leaped off of with his push for Plan B.

Third axiom: Never tell your bargaining committee you’re going to do what you want regardless of what they want. Never take a stand 180 degrees opposite to them. Never tell your ‘chief steward’ and bargaining committee you’re going to make an offer whether they like it or not. Who’s Boehner’s ‘bargaining committee’? For certain it includes House budget chairman, Paul Ryan, and House Ways and Means chair, David Camp. According to the Wall St. Journal lead page one story today, December 22, Boehner decided to go ahead and offer Plan B without them signing on to it. No doubt those two simply went back to the Republican base and organized a revolt against Boehner before he could even offer Plan B.
Another faux-pas by Boehner was to try to desperately put Obama on the defensive over the holidays with Plan B so he, Boehner, could look tough for his upcoming election in the house on January 3. Lesson: never play chicken in bargaining on the eve of your own election. Boehner should have delayed the negotiations big trade-offs until February, agreeing to minor stuff along the way just to keep up the appearance progress was being made. A February closure to the negotiations would have given him more bargaining leverage, with the federal government due to run out of money in March.

No wonder Boehner, after his bungled bargaining, has passed the task on to McConnell in the Senate and to the Obama team. He’s finished as a negotiator, showing his opponents he can’t get a deal and simultaneously losing all authority with his own bargaining committee and his base. His plan may have been ‘B’, but his bargaining skills grade is a generous D-.

Jack Rasmus

Jack is the author of the book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”, Pluto Press, 2012; host of the weekly radio show, ‘Alternative Visions’, on the progressive radio network, PRN.FM. His website is http://www.kyklosproductions.com, his blog, jackrasmus.com, and twitter handle, #drjackrasmus.

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MY ANALYSIS OF THURSDAY’S US HOUSE (Boehner’s Boys) NO VOTE ON ‘PLAN B’–AS WELL AS AN ECONOMIC EXPLANATION WHY THE ‘FISCAL CLIFF’, SHOULD IT EVEN HAPPEN, IS JUST AN ECONOMIC ‘SPEED BUMP’, THE IMPACT OF WHICH IS GROSSLY OVERESTIMATED

Today, December 20, 2012 the US House of Representatives—aka ‘Boehner’s Boy’s—decided to not vote on the House Speaker’s ‘Plan B’ to continue all the Bush tax cuts except for token reductions on the millionaires and billionaires. The move is being hyped by the press as bringing the US economy to the edge of the so-called Fiscal Cliff. Should the Teaparty radicals who have been running the U.S. House since 2010 continue with their once-again brinkmanship through January 1, 2013, the US economy will descend over the cliff into recession once again. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the result will be an immediate 4% decline in GDP. However, this view is wrong for two reasons:

First, the House refusal to vote Plan B today, December 20, does not represent a breakdown of negotiations. It is just a tactical move designed to pass the hot potato to Obama and the Senate while they, Boehner’s Boys, break for the Xmas holiday. Why vote on Plan B now when they can do so later, after Xmas, and before the January 1 (non) deadline date? The Teapublicans need to look tough during negotiations, and appear as if they were forced into an agreement at the last moment; and this is not the last moment. Nor is January 1.

But it is increasingly clear that Corporate CEOs and public opinion is not willing to go along with a repeat of Teapublican tactics of 2011. As this writer has noted previously, CEOs want an agreement, with top income tax rates and/or revenue raised, in order to later get the big corporate tax cut Obama has promised them, reducing the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 28% later this year. They can’t get it without an agreement on the ‘fiscal cliff’, and that includes tax hikes on the personal income tax. Similarly, public opinion is overwhelmingly identifying the House Republicans as the main problem preventing a settlement. So the Boehner-Teapublican tactic to postpone a Plan B vote is likely to backfire.

Watch for a major decline in the US stock market on Friday, December 21, perhaps as much as 500 points at the market opening, with global markets to follow similarly. Watch for Corporate CEOs to up the pressure in coming week as well. The Capitalists will be sending the House ideologues a message, and Boehner will eventually bring them to heel. What postponing Plan B represents is the House radicals are refusing to appear as if they are willing to negotiate a deal; they prefer to be ‘forced’ into having to accept one. They must have a crisis before they can agree to anything.

But the economic side of the fiscal cliff is also not what it seems. Should no agreement be reached by January 1—or anytime after for that matter—there will be no economic Armageddon. There will be no renewed recession in the first quarter of 2013—at least due to the fiscal cliff. The ‘fiscal cliff’ is no cliff at all, and in reality better described as an economic speed bump derived from the Bush tax cuts. Here’s why:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in its recent November 2012 report on the economic consequences if the tax cuts are allowed to expire, and spending cuts go into effect, on January 1, 2013 estimates that $503 billion will be taken out of the economy starting January 1. Another $682 billion will follow in 2014. Of the $503 billion, about $420 billion represents the expiration of tax cuts—about $80 billion in the payroll tax increase and the rest representing Bush tax cuts. Of the $85 billion or so in spending cuts, a mere $24 billion is defense spending. The rest is social program spending.

The $85 billion in spending cuts won’t hit the economy all at once in the first three months. So let’s say $25 billion will in the first quarter? The US gross domestic product, GDP, in 2013 will exceed $16.5 trillion next year easily. Conservatively estimating $4 trillion GDP in the first quarter, the spending cuts will mean a 0.6 of 1% decline in GDP. Hardly a recession due to the spending cuts.

OK. That still leaves $420 billion in tax increases that will take effect, about $80 billion in payroll hikes and the rest Bush tax cuts expiring. But as nearly all economists will admit, taxes have less an effect on the economy and GDP than spending does. In terms of an attempt to stimulate GDP, a $100 billion in tax cuts has less impact than does a $100 billion in spending increase. The opposite is also true: a $100 billion tax hike will slow the economy less than a $100 billion spending cut. It’s what economists call the ‘multiplier effect’.

Since 2008 the ‘multiplier effect’ has had significantly less impact on stimulating the economy, whether tax or spending multiplier. This has been due to the deep and rapid contraction of the economy in 2008-09, the historic weak recovery ever since, the massive unemployment, the record remaining debt overhang levels, and stagnant disposable income growth for more than 100 million households. Tax multipliers have been especially weak. Some estimates are that in recent years a tax cut of $1 has generated only a spending of that tax cut amounting to 35 cents. The multipliers are thus a fraction, not even a true multiple.

What that means in turn is raising taxes will have an equivalent weak, fractional impact on slowing the economy in 2013 just as cutting taxes has had very little effect on stimulating the economy from 2008 to 2012. The tax cuts of 2008-12, and especially the tax cuts for businesses and investors, have been mostly ‘hoarded’ and not invested. That’s why Corporate America still sits on $2 trillion in cash today and is not investing it. Business investment has been declining for months throughout 2012. Instead, corporations and investors have been, and now are increasingly, using the Bush and other tax cuts to buyback stock, pay special dividends to shareholders, invest offshore or in financial securities, etc. Stock buyback volumes this year alone will set a record of more than $400 billion in the US.

The tax cuts since 2008 did not produce much in the way of investment or jobs in the US; so ending them will not likely have all that much impact on the downside as well. If $340 billion of the $420 billion in tax hikes take effect after January 1, 2013, and if the .35 multiplier continues today, then we’re talking about $110 billion hit to the economy in the tax hikes. Over four quarters, remember. So that means about $30 billion taken out of the economy in the first quarter—or about roughly the same impact as the above $25 billion spending cut in the first quarter 2013.

That leaves only the $85 billion or so reduction from the payroll tax returning to its prior 6.2%. That impact is on the working-middle classes, who have not been ‘hoarding’ their tax cuts to the extent corporations and investors have. So one can assume the ‘multiplier’ is higher than .35 cents on the dollar. But it’s still a tax multiplier and not a spending multiplier, so it is not as if spending were cut one dollar. Generously, one can assume the payroll tax multiplier is $1 dollar for every $1 dollar tax hike. For the first three months of 2013, the impact will therefore be a $21 billion negative hit to GDP in the first quarter.

What this all means is that the true negative impact on the US economy during the first quarter from a ‘fiscal cliff’ taking effect, is no more than $75 billion on an economy that will be more than $4 trillion! A more accurate consideration of multiplier effects means the total impact on GDP is about a third of what the CBO has estimated for the first quarter of 2013. Moreover, once a deal is reached by March 27, 2013 at latest in the ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations, most of that could be restored retroactively. What might be lost in the first quarter would mostly be restored in the second.

Even discounting an eventual deal and restoration of income to GDP in the first quarter, a $75 billion negative impact on GDP from going over a ‘fiscal cliff’ is negligible. There is no such thing as the ‘fiscal cliff’, in other words. There is a ‘Tax Cut Speed Bump’ at most.

It is far more likely that whatever deal is eventually negotiated between Obama and the House of Representatives’ ‘Boehner Boys’ will have a far more negative impact on the economy than the fiscal cliff of mostly Bush tax cuts expiration could ever have.

Not to mention the even more fundamental forces that constitute a drag on the US economy itself, from the rapid slowing of global manufacturing, trade and exports now continuing, to the refusal by big corporations to invest in the US, to the US banks refusing to lend to small businesses, to the steady decline in household consumption income for the 100 million households that constitute the middle and working class, to the growing likelihood of banking crises in Europe, growing problems in Japan’s economy, and so forth. The latter are the real threat to the US economy, not the fiscal cliff. What’s coming as a solution to the ‘fiscal cliff’, or what is best described as ‘Austerity American Style’ in 2013, is also (ironically) more a threat to the economy than the fiscal cliff. That is, the solution will prove decidedly worse than the problem itself.

In conclusion, there is no ‘fiscal cliff’ in reality—just a third derivative negative bump to the US economy in the worst case scenario.

So why all the media and political hype about the fiscal cliff? That’s how you get everyone to buy ‘Austerity American Style’ and convince them—as bad as it is—Austerity is better than the fiscal cliff that might have happened. That’s the only way they can cut social security, medicare, Medicaid, education, and all the rest $4 for every $1 they hike taxes on the wealthy and their corporations. That’s the only way they can clear the deck for historic cuts in corporate income taxes and a total pro-business revision of the entire tax code that is planned for later in 2013.

So politically there will eventually be no ‘fiscal cliff’. A deal will happen, after all the tough posturing is concluded. Economically there really is no ‘cliff’ just an economic speed bump, even should we go over it. But we won’t do that either. So watch the game play out, and then hold onto your wallets middle class and working class America.

Jack Rasmus
copyright December 2012

Jack is the author of the book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”, April 2012, and host of the weekly radio show, ‘Alternative Visions’, on the progressive radio network (PRN.FM). His blog is jackrasmus.com, website: http://www.kyklosproductions.com, and twitter handle #drjackrasmus where daily updates on the fiscal cliff negotiations are available.

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FOLLOWING IS MY LATEST UPDATE AND ANALYSIS ON THE FISCAL CLIFF NEGOTIATIONS IN WASHINGTON. MOST RECENT EVENTS CONFIRM ONCE AGAIN MY PREDICTION OF NOVEMBER 20 (‘FISCAL CLIFF’-WHY A DEAL WILL HAPPEN THIS TIME’). OBAMA-BOEHNER ARE IN AGREEMENT ON TAXES, JUST GOING THROUGH THE PUBLIC MOTIONS TRYING TO LOOK TOUGH FOR THEIR AUDIENCES. ONCE TAX ISSUE IS RESOLVED, WATCH FOR BIG CUTS IN SOCIAL PROGRAMS TO SEAL THE DEAL. (Follow me daily on twitter for my updates, #drjackrasmus)

‘Fiscal Cliff–A Well Orchestrated Dance’ by Jack Rasmus, December 18, 2012

As the Democrats and Republicans continued their political theater this past week, coming closer step by step to an agreement on the so-called Fiscal Cliff (aka ‘Austerity American Style’), it has become increasingly clear that the key to a final agreement is how much and how to raise taxes. Given the offers and latest positions of Obama-Boehner in recent days, both are one, possibly two, steps at most away from a final agreement in principle on the tax issue. And once the tax side of the fiscal cliff debate is resolved, the spending cuts issue will quickly fall into place.

Since November 2010 and the publication of the Simpson-Bowles report, both sides have been always in agreement on the target of $4 trillion in deficit cuts. That number was confirmed in Obama’s budgets of the past two years, in Paul Ryan’s House budget proposals, in the aborted ‘grand bargain’ in the summer of 2011 between Boehner and Obama, and is the target once again, in the abrupt return to deficit cutting after the hiatus from deficit cutting during the 2012 election year. The contention has always been, given the $4 trillion target,  over how much tax increases vs. how much spending cuts; and,within the tax side of the equation, how much will the wealthiest 2% pay vs. how much the middle class will have to pay in a ‘broadened tax base’; while on the spending side, how much to cut military spending vs. how much to cut social programs, and social security-medicare-medicaid, in particular.

In a well orchestrated political dance, yesterday, Monday, December 17, Obama took the lead in the fiscal waltz and agreed to reduce the tax revenue mix a second time. After an initial offer of $1.6 trillion in tax revenue generation (tax hikes) two weeks ago, he reduced it to $1.4 trillion last week, and again, most recently, to $1.2 trillion. Boehner raised his offers for tax revenue, from an initial $800 billion to $1 trillion. A compromise at $1.1 trillion is just about what Simpson-Bowles recommended two years ago.

Boehner has also agreed in principle to some kind of increase in the top tax rate, while Obama has signaled he’s willing to give up on his $250,000 threshold, suggesting a $400,000, but indicating even this was not his last offer. Boehner offered $1 million. It’s not unlikely they’ll settle at around $600,000, which is approximately the average annual income of the wealthiest 1% households in the US.

So the parties, Boehner and Obama, are virtually agreed on the tax question. The only issue is how much tax revenue will be realized from tax rate increases vs. tax bracket manipulation. With just one or two offers from an understanding on the tax issue, the parties are already moving on to determining how much spending cuts will accompany the revenue hikes. If the final deficit reduction target is $4-$4.4 trillion over the coming decade, that means another roughly $3 trillion in spending cuts and/or tax hikes on the middle class will be necessary.

Evidence that Obama and the Democrats are about to make a significant offer in spending cuts is indicated by Obama’s meeting yesterday with Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi. They’re getting ready to up the ante in cuts in social programs in the next move or two. Since last week the parties’ respective positions, Republican and Democrat, spending cuts was an offer of $340 billion in Medicare-Medicaid cuts by Obama and a $600 billion proposal by Boehner. Watch for around $500 billion in Medicare spending reduction in a final deal—although not in the form of benefits cuts but in hikes in Part B and Part D deductibles and copays by retirees. So that’s a total of about $1.5 trillion in revenue from the wealthiest 1% plus Medicare over the coming decade.

Forget about the $500 billion in defense cuts called for in the sequestration deal of August 2011. That’s no longer an issue, and never was. If readers had listened close to Obama in the second presidential debate, when asked by the moderator what was his position on that issue, he briefly answered ‘that was Congress’ proposal, not mine’. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that even in the sequestration deal, only $24 billion in 2013 is scheduled in defense cuts. Look therefore for about half, or no more than $200 billion over ten years in military spending cuts. That will come from withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq and Army personnel downsizing. Military equipment expenditures will likely actually rise, however, after 2014 as the US military redeploys to the western pacific and Navy-Air Force spending takes precedence over Army expenditures. Defense equipment companies know the deal for them is already cut. They reportedly even have no ‘Plan B’, according to the Wall St. Journal, in the event that military spending is reduced per the sequestration agreement, which is now virtually out of the question. Unlike the reduction of the cuts in military spending by half in a Fiscal Cliff agreement, don’t expect the other $500 billion in the 2011 sequestered cuts social programs to be similarly reduced by half.

Adding up the likely amounts in a final Fiscal Cliff deal, there’s the $1 trillion in tax revenue generation, the $500 billion Medicare spending cuts, about $250 billion estimate in military spending reduction (mostly by attrition), and the roughly $500 billion in Education and other cuts scheduled since August 2011. The leaves $1.5-$2 trillion more in tax hikes and spending cuts to achieve the $4 trillion target.

That remaining amount will likely come from a ‘broadening the tax base’—i.e. the code word for cutting tax deductions, credits, exemptions, etc., now enjoyed by the middle class. That means those with annual family incomes ranging from $118,000 to the $400,000 recently offered by Obama. Expect limits on their mortgage deductions, state-local tax deductions, charitable and medical insurance deductions, education credits, etc. over the coming decade. If around $50 billion a year, ‘broadening the tax base’ will produce another $500 billion over the coming decade. Elimination of the 2% payroll tax cut will mean another $900 billion to a $1 trillion over the coming decade.

We’re now at a total of about $3.75 trillion in deficit reduction, and just a step away from the $4 trillion target. Apart from savings from interest on the federal debt as a result of the deficit reduction, and assumed tax revenue from economic recovery (which may not happen), the rest could easily come from social security, in the form of reducing the cost of living formula adjustments, raising the retirement age toward the end of the ten years, and reducing social security disability eligibility—all of which are proposals of the Republicans. If House Democrats won’t agree to the social security cuts, then additional cuts in Medicaid at about $10-20 billion a year closes much of the remaining $250 billion gap. And there’s the $4 trillion.

What we’re witnessing this past week, and the week to come, are the chief negotiators (Obama and Boehner) going through the motions publicly to appear as if they’re driving a hard bargain, in order to placate their respective bases in Congress. However, the deal is already done in principle. The dance is for the audience.

Four weeks ago, immediately following the November 6 elections, this writer publicly predicted a deal would happen. That was because major corporate CEOs were now aligning strongly behind Obama. Their joint pressure, it was predicted, would result in splitting the Republican ranks, with the Republican Senate and major corporate campaign donors putting pressure on the House radicals. All that was needed was a switch in 25 votes in the House to seal a deal. A threat of withholding future corporate campaign donations would likely sufficient to buy 25 votes in the House on the Republican side, it was argued. Obama has been meeting the past two weeks with groups of Corporate CEOs at minimum twice and three times a week. Key CEOs have been playing lobbying middlemen between the White House and the Congress—and especially the House of Representatives—now for several weeks. This Corporate CEO factor and direct involvement is a new element in the equation absent in 2011 deficit debates and reductions.

So why are Corporate CEOs so aligned with Obama this time around? Because a deficit reduction deal is a prerequisite for what they really want—a cut in the corporate tax rate, understandings on non-enforcement of the foreign profits tax, and further incentives—all of which Obama (and Romney) promised in the recent elections. Obama is on record during the elections, and well before, in favor of cutting the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%–i.e. where it was during the Reagan period. The idea, in other words, is to raise the rate on the personal income tax a couple percent, and later cut the corporate rate by 7% in the summer 2013 as part of a major revision of the tax code.

But major corporate tax cuts cannot happen in the current negotiations. It would look as if medicare-social security were being cut, and middle class taxes raised, in order to fund big corporate tax cuts. Moreover, cutting the corporate tax rate to 28% cannot be part of the current negotiations and still get the $4 trillion in total deficit reduction. So the corporate tax cuts will come in a subsequent phase later in 2013. And when that second phase happens, one can expect another round of cuts in Medicare and Social Security as part of that subsequent deal as well.

Whether taking place in phase one, between now and March 27, or in a subsequent phase two, in the coming Fiscal Cliff deal both the revenue hikes and spending cuts will be mostly ‘backloaded’. They will not take full effect in 2013 or even equally across the decade. Most will begin to have their greatest impact in 2014 or even in 2015 and beyond.
In terms of time lines, January 1 is not the real deadline date despite all the press hype. Cuts and tax hikes can occur after and made retroactive to January 1, 2013. The real deadline, if any, is March 27, 2013. That’s when the federal government runs out of money. A deal could be reached in key principles, if not in detail, before January 1 and more formally concluded after January 1. However, it will then be followed by a second phase deal later in 2013 in the form of a major tax code revision, which will include further spending cuts.

So sit back and watch Boehner and Obama stumble around the dance floor for another week. Most of the main elements of an agreement are already in place. Negotiations between Boehner and Obama are not the real problem. Not even Congress. The Senate has already agreed and is waiting in the wings to sign off on a deal quickly. Even Senate radicals like Coburn and Corker are fully on board.

Getting the Teapublicans in the House to buy entitlement cuts in exchange for token tax hikes on the wealthy, and getting Pelosi to corral liberal Democrats in the House to agree to Medicare-Medicaid-Social Security cuts are the real remaining negotiations.

The glue is CEOs promising some big election contributions in 2014—or the withdrawal of the same—or the withdrawal of the same. And it probably won’t take much to buy the necessary votes—from either side of the aisle in the House.
Jack Rasmus, December 17, 2012

Jack is the author of book “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”, 2012, and host of the weekly radio show, ‘Alternative Visions’, on the progressive radio network, PRN.FM. His website is http://www.kyklosproductions.com, his blog, jackrasmus.com, and twitter handle #drjackrasmus.

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For my latest update on the Fiscal Cliff negotiations between Obama and Congress, go to my December 5 radio show, ‘Alternative Visions’, on the Progressive Radio Network, at the following url: http://prn.fm/2012/12/05/alternative-visions-income-inequality-america-120512/#axzz2ED5isoYj.

For an hour long in-depth discussion of the Fiscal Cliff and its origins back to 2010, listen to my radio show of the preceding week, November 28, at: http://prn.fm/2012/11/28/alternative-visions-fiscal-cliff-hold-wallet-mr-middle-class-112812/#axzz2ED5isoYj

For a print version of the background to the Fiscal Cliff, see my Chapter 7, “From Deficit Cutting to Double Dip Recession’, of my 2012 book, “OBAMA’s ECONOMY: RECOVERY FOR THE FEW’, which is posted for free on my website, http://www.kyklosproductions/articles.html

And for one-liner daily commentary, check out my twitter account at #drjackrasmus

More to Come on the Fiscal Cliff and my predictions re. the outcome. A Deal is in the works and will happen, as predicted on this blog several weeks ago. Events of the past week are moving toward confirming that, and related, predictions re. the likely content of the deal. Check this blog again on sunday evening for the latest assessment.

Dr. Jack Rasmus

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