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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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The following site on YouTube provides my Feb. 28 35 min. presentation to the Progressive Democrats of America on the current status of Social Security and Medicare and the growing threat by the two parties, Republicans and Democrats to institute massive cuts in both as the next phase ‘solution’ to deficit cutting. The presentation is in eight parts, and may also be accessed on Youtube by indicating ‘Jack Rasmus, Bouncing Off the Fiscal Cliff’.

The central theme is that neither social security or medicare are ‘broke’ and that very small adjustments are necessary for another century. Neither are the cause of deficits and the debt.

The following is the YouTube site, also available by indicating on youtube search, ‘jack rasmus, bouncing off the fiscal cliff’.

https://www.google.com/search?q=jack%20rasmus%2C%20bouncing&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

THE FULL PRESENTATION, IN BOTH AUDIO AND VIDEO, IS NOW ALSO AVAILABLE ON MY WEBSITE AS FOLLOWS:

http://www.kyklosproductions.com/audiocds.html  (audio version)

http://www.kyklosproductions.com/videos.html (video version)

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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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This week the first presidential candidates’ debate will be aired on television. A good part of the topic of the first debate will focus on economic programs of the respective candidates. They will say they represent fundamental differences. This is in part true. But equally true is that their positions on the economy in many important aspects are strikingly, and disturbingly, similar. Read the following except from my just published article on this topic in Z magazine.

This week the first televised debate between the two presidential candidates will be held and a good part of the debate will address programs for economic recovery for the next four years. Both parties and candidates are now proclaiming there are historic, stark differences and choices between them; that this election will mean choosing two fundamentally different paths for the country for years, and perhaps decades, to come with regard to the future of the economy in terms of jobs, taxes, deficits, housing, state and local governments, and other economic indicators. A closer examination reveals, however, that while there are some clear differences between the two candidates on economic matters, the similarities in their economic proposals are both striking and disturbing.
JOBS
OBAMA
Upon entering office in 2009 Obama promised to create 6 million jobs if his $787 billion stimulus bill of (mostly business) tax cuts and spending subsidies to states and unemployed were passed. But after 18 months neither the tax cuts nor subsidies resulted in any appreciable job creation. Between June 2009 when the recession was officially declared over, and 18 months later in December 2010, an additional 1.1 million private sector jobs were lost. By year end 2010 the president had to resort to the claim he had at least had ‘saved’ further millions of jobs. With the effects of the $787 billion stimulus mostly spent, his job creation strategy then shifted mid-2010. A second recovery program passed late 2010 composed totally of an additional $800 billion in tax cuts—including $450 billion in extended Bush tax cuts Obama promised in 2008 he would not do.
This $800 billion more in tax cuts was supplemented by a new policy focus on manufacturing and promoting exports as the primary program to create jobs. Multinational corporate CEOs , like General Electric’s Jeff Immelt, were put in charge of his job creation program. That meant more free trade agreements, more deregulation for business, and more subsidies for U.S. export companies.
In 2011-12 still more business tax cuts were proposed as the way to create jobs. In 2011 tens of billions more for small business to hire unemployed and a so-called ‘JOBS’ (Jump Start Our Business Startups). JOBS was nothing more than a cover for more tax breaks and financial deregulation for start up companies, but Obama praised it as ‘a game changer’ for employment. More subsidies to the states to hire teachers and emergency responders, now being laid off in the hundreds of thousands, was also proposed but never passed Congress.

Obama’s Jobs Programs over the past 42 months therefore amount to the following:
• Tax cuts and more tax cuts for businesses
• Manufacturing-centric policies driven by more Free Trade agreements, more manufacturing export subsidies, and more business deregulation
• More subsidies to the states to hire teachers and emergency responders
These programs have proved pretty much a total bust, however: After $3 trillion in tax cuts and spending, total private sector employment has risen by only 2 million, or about 50,500 per month, which is well less than half that needed just to even absorb new entrants to the labor force. Total unemployment, as measured by the labor department’s U-6 rate, has fallen by a mere 1.3 million—from 24.6 million in June 2009 to 23.3 million in July 2012. Between June 2009 and July 2012 a paltry 200,000 manufacturing jobs were created, for an average of a mere 5,000 per month. And Obama’s much vaunted recovery of the Auto Industry has produced 157,000 auto jobs, which is still 180,000 fewer than existed at the start of the recession in December 2007.
Despite this embarrassing record on job creation, the President in his September 6 convention speech indicated clearly he would ‘stay the path’ with this business tax cuts + manufacturing promotion + free trade as his basic approach to job creation. He made it clear his second term’s strategy would be to “export more products” and that he would continue to work with business leaders to “create 1 million more manufacturing jobs over the next 4 years”. In his speech he also proudly proclaimed he had signed free trade agreements “bringing jobs back” and declared he would sign still more—a clear reference to his proposal for creating a ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership’ (TPP), a free trade agreement with all the countries of the pacific rim which Obama has been promoting for several months and an even bolder goal than George W. Bush’s Free Trade of the Americas that was proposed in 2005 to create a free trade zone throughout all of north and south America. In other words, in terms of jobs creation programs don’t expect much different from his first term in either job creation programs or results in an Obama second term.
ROMNEY
Romney’s view on how to create jobs focuses even more heavily on tax cuts as the primary approach. Romney proposes to create 12 million jobs by 2017. The primary engine would be extending the entire $3.4 trillion in Bush tax cuts of the last decade as is for another decade (minus extending the cuts for those households earning less than $40,000 a year). Obama would extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 3% households. So Obama cuts out part of the ‘top tier’ of households from the Bush tax cuts extension, while Romney cuts out the ‘bottom tier’ of households. (Both support, however, reducing the top corporate tax rate from current 35%, as noted below).
To create the 12 million, however, Romney proposes more than just extending the Bush cuts: he calls for even more tax cuts for corporations (as does Obama), reduced business regulations and more Free Trade agreements (ditto Obama), but adds more oil drilling and some token worker retraining as addenda to his jobs program.
However, Romney’s 12 million jobs goal is somewhat of a sham. It amounts to creating only 180,000 jobs a month on average, i.e. just 50,000 more than needed for new entrants to the labor force each month. That means reducing the current 23 million jobless by only 50,000 a month, which would leave 20 million still unemployed by 2017. So the Romney program is not really a program to eliminate the massive jobless overhang today—apart from the question of whether more business tax cuts, free trade, oil subsidies, etc. will even create the 12 million jobs in the first place.
In short, the relationship between job creation programs and business tax cutting is just a matter of degree between the two presidential candidates. Romney advocates ‘Bush tax cuts on steroids’ to create jobs, while Obama exempts the top 3%. Both strongly propose Free Trade and more business deregulation as job creation measures. Obama proposes subsidies to states to hire teachers and firefights, while Romney doesn’t and proposes token job retraining. Romney wants still more cuts and subsidies to oil companies; Obama does not. Both support multiple handouts to small businesses. But all these programs have been proven failures to date, so the unemployed have little to expect from either candidate once elected.

TAXES
OBAMA
As previously mentioned, Obama proposes to discontinue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 3%. The top marginal tax rate for individuals would be allowed to rise from 35% to the 39.6% level of the Clinton years, impacting wealthiest households earning more than $250,000 a year. Taxes on the wealthiest 1% (earning more than $600,000 a year) would rise $93,000 a year. (For millionaires a tax hike of $296,000 a year). The tax on capital gains, now at only 15%, would also increase to 20% under Obama proposals. Oil and gas industry tax breaks would be reduced.
But what Obama proposes to ‘taketh away’ from the top tier of the personal income tax he proposes ‘to giveth’ to their corporations. His proposals include reducing the top corporate tax rate from current 35% to the 28% it was under Reagan. This shift is proposed despite the fact that in 2011 corporate taxes amounted to only 12.1% of profits—compared to the 1987-2008 period when corporate taxes averaged 25.6% of profits. For all businesses, corporate and non-corporate, the super-generous ‘bonus depreciation’ provision of the past two years, in which businesses can write off the cost of all capital investment in the first year of purchase, would also be continued despite its costing a whopping $55 billion a year.
Obama also favors changing the taxing of U.S. multinational corporations, reducing taxes on their offshore profits, even though that group today is hoarding $1.4 trillion of in their offshore subsidiaries and refusing to pay US taxes on it. In exchange for this tax reduction, Obama proposes to raise taxes in a yet unspecified way on those multinationals that offshore jobs.
ROMNEY
Romney’s tax program is once again an extreme version of Obama’s but with many content similarities. In addition to extending all the Bush tax cuts of the past decade, for yet another decade, which would cost the US Treasury another $4.6 trillion according to the Congressional Budget Office research arm, Romney proposes the following tax changes:
• Cut the personal income tax rate for the rich even further than Bush, by 20% across the board.
• Cut the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% (vs. Obama’s 28%)
• Introduce a ‘territorial tax’ for US multinational corporations, which would in effect end the current foreign profits tax they pay (or in fact now refuse to pay)
• Repeal the Medicare 2.9% additional tax on the wealthy contained in Obama’s 2010 ‘Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by repealing the entire Act.
• Allow tax credits for those earning less than $40,000 a year to expire (i.e. earned income, child care, and other tax credits).
• End all taxation on capital gains, dividends and interest income for households earning less than $200,000 a year.
• Keep the capital gains, dividends and interest income taxed at current 15%.
• Bigger tax cuts for business research and development
• End the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) altogether, which impacts those earning around $150,000 a year and above
• End the Estate Tax altogether
In summary, apart from their respective positions on extending the Bush tax cuts, both Obama and Romney are largely in synch on introducing more massive cuts in corporate income taxes, reducing corporate taxes to the 25%-28% range from current 35%–despite corporations today paying the smallest share of taxes from profits. Both have plans as well to provide multinational corporations even more tax concessions. Romney differs in proposing to give upper middle class households bigger incentives to invest in stocks, bonds and other interest bearing securities—an ultimate boon to his stock-bond market buddies. He also proposes to give the wealthy big tax bonuses by ending the Estate, Alternative Minimum, and forthcoming Medicare 2.9% taxes. Both propose more tax cuts that will not reduce the projected US budget deficits over the coming decade, but actually make them worse—and much, much worse in the case of Romney—leading in both cases to even more massive cuts in spending programs than either candidate is so far admitting to.
BUDGET DEFICITS
OBAMA
Obama’s policy with regard to US deficits is his pledge to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. That has been Obama’s stated goal since the deficit debates in 2011 leading up to the debt ceiling crisis of August 2011. That $4 trillion goal, moreover, is the same as proposed by his Deficit Commission (Simpson-Bowles), Paul Ryan in the House of Representatives, and various other Senate and ex-government officials. Details of the president’s $4 trillion deficit reduction plan are to be found in his 2012 budget. It is perhaps of some interest to note that Obama’s budget projections include a $5.8 trillion bill for defense spending over the decade, an amount which is 23% greater on an annual average than defense spending during the Bush years, 2001-2008.
The Congressional Budget Office has issued a different estimate of the likely budget deficits over the next decade. Given current tax cuts and spending projections, the CBO estimates the Obama deficits will amount to $6.4 trillion from 2013-2022. In January 2013 government spending will decline by $1.2 trillion over the coming decade, based on the debt ceiling deal agreed upon by Obama and the Republican House of Representatives in August 2011. Raising the debt ceiling once again will therefore become a major issue in early 2013. That means major tax increases and/or further spending cuts will be on the agenda immediately after the November 2012 elections regardless who is elected president (the challenge sometimes referred to as the coming ‘fiscal cliff’ by the media). Republican insistence on no tax increases and on raising defense spending even higher than projected by law or in the Obama budget, will mean an historic confrontation between deficit reduction and massive cuts in social program spending, including not only Medicaid but Medicare, Education, Social Security, and other discretionary spending programs. As this writer has been predicting, the confrontation will start immediately, within days, of the upcoming November 2012 elections—again regardless of who is elected president.
ROMNEY
As frightening as the upcoming budget deficit confrontation following the elections will be with the Obama budget as starting point, the Romney budget-deficit proposals represent a deficit crisis of even far greater magnitude.
Romney tax cut proposals include the major elements of a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for another decade, at a cost of $4.6 trillion, plus adding trillions more in business-investor tax cuts. The result is deficits for the next decade equivalent to approximately $10 trillion! To address this massive deficit Romney proposes cutting federal spending from its current 24% of GDP to 18%-20%. That 6% of GDP in 2013 equals an immediate reduction in spending and/or increase in working poor and middle class tax cuts amounting to $300 billion. By 2015 the estimate is $500 billion, presumably rising further thereafter. In addition, he proposes to reverse the sequestered scheduled $500 billion in defense spending cuts agreed to in Congress in August 2011. The increases in working poor and middle class tax cuts were noted above. The spending cuts would mostly come from discretionary non-defense spending on items like education, transportation, healthcare, etc., for which Romney proposes a 5% cut across the board. The 5% represents no more than $60 billion a year. As others have pointed out, the Romney proposals do not add up and it is unclear how the 5% discretionary cuts, no defense cuts, retaining Bush tax cuts, adding trillions more in corporate-wealthy individual tax cuts can cover the $10 trillion. Proposing to reduce federal spending by 6% of GDP means spending cuts and/or tax increases totaling at least $900 billion a year. It can only mean unmentioned additional massive cuts in Medicaid-Medicare-Social Security and historic reversals in middle class tax breaks that are left conveniently unmentioned.
The Romney deficits therefore mean not only massive social spending cuts but hundreds of billions more in middle class tax increases as well. High on the list of the latter would have to include the elimination of tax deductions for health care and pension contributions by workers, virtually ending the mortgage interest and state income tax deductions, new taxation on Medicare benefits, and ending most of the earned income tax deduction for the working poor. Sharply reducing, or even ending, these deductions would be necessary to accommodate Romney’s proposed business and investor tax cuts. Romney would additionally end Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, reducing the deficit by another $.9 trillion. The rest presumably would come from other spending cuts in education, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
In summary, whoever wins the election, get ready for massive social spending cuts and a fight over how little to raise taxes. The deficit reduction proposals of both candidates envision historic cuts in social spending. Both envision more tax cuts for corporations that would additionally have to be made up from spending cuts and/or middle class tax hikes. Obama’s deficit reduction plan envisions some tax increases on the wealthiest individuals, while Romney’s envisions trillions of dollars more tax cuts for the wealthy, paid for by tax hikes by the poor and middle class as well as historic cuts in social spending of even greater magnitude than Obama’s.
FREE TRADE
There is virtually no difference between the two candidates on trade policy, and free trade agreements in particular. Both strongly supported recent free trade agreements with Panama, Columbia, and South Korea. And Romney supports Obama’s current drive to implement the biggest expansion of free trade with the ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership’ (TPP) pacific rim free trade policy, a development that will dwarf in scope and magnitude even Bill Clinton’s passage of NAFTA and his opening of China trade. According to the Economic Policy Institute, China trade alone has cost the US 2.7 million jobs just in the past decade. NAFTA millions more. Neverthless, both candidates unreservedly advocate accelerating free trade agreements.
The battle between Romney and Obama on trade amounts to token differences on how to show they are ‘tough on China’. Romney accuses Obama of being ‘too soft’ on China and demands more punitive action. Both candidates talk in vague generalities about the ‘offshoring’ of US jobs that has occurred by the tens of millions in recent decades, but neither offers any specific proposals for addressing the issue.

HEALTHCARE-MEDICARE/MEDICAID
OBAMA
The heart of Obama’s Healthcare policy is, of course, the retention of his 2010 Affordability Care Act. Costing nearly $1 trillion over the rest of the decade, the Act does provide a number of meaningful benefits for the general populace. However, it has two great flaws: first, it amounts to a health insurance company subsidy bill. Health insurers will receive hundreds of billions of dollars of extra business. The second flaw is that it fails fundamentally to control health insurance and other health care costs. The problem of runaway healthcare costs will thus re-emerge and continue under the ACA, a problem which has already emerged as health insurance premiums and other costs have once again begun surging in 2011-12.
On the positive side, the ACA raises taxes on the wealthy by another 2.9%–which is the real source of much of the opposition to the ACA by the wealthy, transmitted through their manipulation of the Teaparty on the issue. But it also includes a reduction in payments to doctors and health providers in the amount of more than $700 billion. That will inevitably lead to doctors and providers refusing increasingly to provide services to Medicare patients. The ACA is thus a form of income shift that promises to reduce health care access. That is the price to be paid for the subsidization of health insurers and coverage extension to the tens of millions without any coverage.
It should further be noted, that Obama has signaled in July 2011, as he sought desperately an agreement with Republicans on the debt ceiling debate, that he was willing to cut Medicaid and Medicare by $700 billion despite the proposed expansion of Medicaid in his ACA. That public proposal provoked a near revolt by Democrats in Congress and was withdrawn. Nevertheless, it remains ‘on the table’, as they say, and will most certainly arise again immediately after the November elections. Voters will not hear of this during the election campaign, but will most certainly once the election is over.
ROMNEY
Romney’s program with regard to health programs and policy top priority is to repeal Obama’s health care act of 2010. Next in priority is his complete embracing of his Teaparty Vice President, Paul Ryan, view for Medicare. The Ryan plan is to voucherize Medicare, provide payments to senior to then go and buy private health insurance—an even bigger windfall for insurance companies than Obama’s subsidies to insurers in his ACA. Ryan has projected this will ‘save’ the federal government $700 billion. However, not all seniors will receive the same voucher payment. Some will get less than others, thus creating a kind of ‘two tier’ voucher system. Moreover, there are no assurances the value of vouchers will increase annually with the rising cost of healthcare services, thus requiring seniors to increasingly pay more out of pocket for healthcare insurance. The main beneficiary from this, apart from health insurance companies, is the federal government which Ryan estimates will save $700 billion in government spending over the next decade. The Romney-Ryan Medicare voucher plan thus represents an income transfer of hundreds of billions from seniors to both insurers and the government.
Romney-Ryan are also major proponents of massive reductions in the Medicaid program, proposing to cut federal and state Medicaid costs by turning it into block grants to the States—many of which would refuse to participate or would take the money in the block grant and spend it elsewhere.
SOCIAL SECURITY
Proposals by both candidates are almost identical with regard to social security. Both are purposely saying little before the election about how they would address social security. Romney proposes vaguely that the age for eligibility for retirement benefits should be raised, as does Obama. Neither say raised to what or how quickly. Both suggest cost of living adjustments annually should be lowered. Obama implies by changing the way the consumer price index is applied. Romney goes further and recommends the creation of a ‘two tier’ system in the future (similar to Medicare) in which seniors with a certain level of retirement income would receive less social security benefits. What’s left unsaid by both is their agreement to target social security disability benefits for major reductions.
HOUSING CRISIS
OBAMA
Apart from the failure to create jobs, the next greatest economic policy failure of Obama’s first term has been his reluctance to direct confront the housing crisis. The housing sector has languished in a veritable depression for three and half years, with home building and jobs stuck at only a third to half of pre-recession levels. More than 12 million of the 54 million mortgaged homeowners in the US have been forced into foreclosure, often illegally by the banks. More than 8.5 million on Obama’s watch, while than 10 million similarly languish with mortgages in ‘negative equity’.
From the beginning in 2009 Obama’s policies have focused on subsidizing mortgage lenders and mortgage servicers (big 5 banks), to help them move foreclosed homeowners out of their homes and to resell to new buyers. Early 2009 Obama programs like HAMP (Home Affordability Modification Program) are acknowledge failures, providing tens of billions of dollars of subsidies to banks and homebuilders and token assistance to homeowners.
In 2010 Obama then ignored the ‘robo-signing scandal’ that broke that summer, leaving it to state attorneys general to deal with. However, when it appeared legal suits would cost the banks potentially hundreds of billions of dollars, only then did the Obama administration intervene in 2011. That intervention was designed to help the banks—not homeowners—by limiting banks’ liability to homeowner and state legal suits. As part of that compromise, banks’ liability from legal suits arising out of robo-signing illegal foreclosures was capped at a mere $25 billion. Payments to homeowners illegally foreclosed have averaged only $1,500 each in the settlement and less than a billion of the $25 billion. Recent reports are that the $20 billion is not going to reducing loan balances for homeowners in ‘negative equity’ but is being deducted by banks against the $25 billion in the form of charges against short sales of homes in negative equity. In other words, homeowners are not being assisted to remain in their homes, but assisted in vacating them—which the banks then resell to new buyers at still further profit.
In exchange for the limits on liability, the banks were ‘encouraged’ to participate in latest OBAMA housing recovery program, his 2012 program called HARP 2.0. The HARP program was a ‘quid pro quo’ for relieving from pending massive liability action by the States. But HARP 2.0 is, in final analysis, just another ‘banker subsidy’ program. Not only are the big mortgage banks protected from further legal suits, but they are profiting nicely from the program. In exchange for refinancing homeowners in negative equity, the banks involved receive a commission of 5 ‘points’ (each point=1% of the value of the mortgage) from the quasi government mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Five points on a $500,000 mortgage refinancing amounts to a generous $25,000 fee paid to banks by the federal government for each refinancing. In turn, these costs incurred by Fannie and Freddie will have to be restored with funding from Congress and thus the taxpayer. HARP 2.0 remains as Obama’s latest centerpiece program for rescuing the millions of homeowners illegally foreclosed or in negative equity.
ROMNEY
Romney’s program for ending the Housing crisis includes the following measures: first, to sell the 200,000 estimated local government owned homes. Somehow that is supposed to help raise home values, according to Romney, but will actually increase the excess supply of homes on the market and thus further depress home prices in most cases. Another Romney proposal is a vague demand to ‘restart lending’ to credit worthy borrowers. How to force banks to lend to homeowners, when they have been clearly reluctant to lend to small-medium businesses, is not explained in the Romney proposals. Romney’s Housing solution also calls for major reform of the Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac government mortgage institutions as well as still further deregulation of mortgage lenders and banks—i. e. two long time conservative demands designed to further privatize and deregulate the housing market.
CONCLUSIONS
While there are several dramatic differences between the Obama and Romney economic programs, there are also several almost identical programs shared by both. Both favor major reductions in corporate taxes. Both advocate hundreds of billions in social spending cuts, including entitlement programs. Both are almost identical in their positions on Free Trade.
Concerning tax policies, both propose to extend much of the Bush tax cuts—Obama suspending the cuts for the top 3% and Romney eliminating tax credits for the working poor and lower middle class. Obama has proposed some minor tax loophole closings, while Romney proposes additional, massive tax cuts for investors and businesses on top of the Bush tax cuts. Obama’s deficit over the decade amounts to a sizeable $4-$6 trillion but Romney’s more than $10 trillion. Both mean massive cuts in social programs coming immediately after the November elections, with Romney requiring major middle class tax hikes as well. Obama’s budget is very generous to Defense, and Romney’s even more so. A big difference between the two exists with regard to healthcare programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. Romney wants to destroy Obama’s ACA immediately and Medicare eventually. Both appear quite willing to gut Medicaid spending, with Romney cutting other discretionary spending by additional trillions over the decade.
These comparisons mean that, regardless who is elected president, an historic reduction in social program spending is on the agenda for the weeks immediately following the November 2012 elections. Defense spending will be either totally or partly protected from the cuts. And taxes will be further reduced for corporations, tokenly raised for wealthy individuals, and most likely significantly raised for middle class and the working poor. Nothing of any significance will be done to address the Housing crisis and programs to create jobs will continue to fail to have much impact.
It is this scenario that has prompted this writer repeatedly to predict the likelihood of a double dip recession in 2013, especially if the Eurozone crisis continues to deteriorate and China and the rest of the global economy continue on a path to an economic ‘hard landing’. It is possible, if Obama is re-elected, the fiscal austerity coming in early 2013 may be delayed a year and effectively ‘back loaded’ to start taking its greatest effect a year later in 2014. But if Romney is elected and Republicans control either, or both, houses of Congress the more draconian austerity programs will take effect earlier in 2013. That alone will ensure a double dip recession. And if the Eurozone slides deeper in recession and banking instability, virtually guarantee a double dip.
Dr. Jack Rasmus
Jack is the author of the new book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”, April 2012, and host of the radio show, ALTERNATIVE VISIONS, on the Progressive Radio Network, PRN.FM, in New York, on Wednesdays at 2pm. His website is http://www.kyklosproductions.com and blog, jackrasmus.com. Copies of the book can be purchased at the website or blog bundled with a DVD and a 66 slide powerpoint slideshow on the current state and future direction of the US economy.

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