The Facts About the Deficit and Obama…

October 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

While it is true that we have added a little under $5 trillion to the debt since Obama took office, it is important (and fair) to remember that most of the massive spending policies implemented by the previous administration did NOT cease to exist the day Obama was inaugurated. The wars, the ridiculous tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Medicare Part D (boondoggle for Big Pharma) all continue to contribute to the debt to this day, while adding to the amount of interest that has to be paid on the debt.

The fact is, as a percentage of GDP, new spending by the Obama administration is actually lower than it has been since World War II — lower than the rate of inflation for the past two years. Obama’s actual “new” spending has amounted to about $900 billion over the last 3 years. This, despite the fact that government spending routinely goes up during economic downturns regardless of who is in the White House because more people have to depend on unemployment benefits, welfare, food stamps and Medicaid in order to survive.

According to CNN.Money, it has now been determined that more jobs have been created since the economy tanked than were lost. Obama has managed to achieve this net gain in jobs since 2009, despite having to deal with the lowest rated, least productive and most obstructive Congress since the Civil War, not to mention the fact that this country lost more than 50,000 factories between 2000 and 2009.

Mitt Romey’s and Paul Ryan’s plan would cut taxes 20% and allegedly keep those cuts “revenue neutral” by eliminating loopholes and certain deductions which they have both refused to identify. Most economists agree that their tax cuts would cost about $5 trillion over the next 10 years, and they also agree that eliminating every single loophole and write-off would NOT pay for them. In other words, they are making stuff up as they go along, refusing to provide any details because those details would expose the problems with their ideas.

Romney and Ryan also say that they want to “widen the tax base”. There is only one way to interpret this: they want families to start paying federal income tax who have, until now, made too little money to pay any federal income tax. So, according to Romney and Ryan, low income families would be subject to paying taxes they’ve never had to pay before, while the wealthy would get an average of a $250,000/year tax cut.

Obama 2012 –– Because the alternative is UNTHINKABLE!

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What Romney and Ryan are really planning to do…

October 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Both Romney and his running-mate have repeatedly stated that their intent is to cut taxes 20% for everybody who pays federal income tax. The cost of such a cut over a ten-year period is approximately $5 trillion, yet Romney now denies having ever said anything about this tax cut.

Both Romney and Ryan say that these cuts would be deficit neutral because, at the same time, their plan would eliminate certain unspecified loopholes and write-offs currently in the tax code. The problem is, even if they eliminated every single write-off, including charitable donations and home mortgage interest, it still wouldn’t come close to covering the cost of the $5 trillion tax cut.

HOWEVER, they also say that they would increase revenue by “broadening the tax base”. The only way to interpret this is that they intend to tax low and middle income families who, until now, have no earned enough to qualify for paying federal income tax. Therefore, their stated intent is to cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans and raise taxes on the middle class. You can’t get around that.

By the way, cutting taxes does NOT stimulate economic growth. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Low taxes encourage profit-taking. Periods of higher tax rates show more re-investment. Business owners take less profit out of their companies if they know they’re going to pay higher taxes on that income. In any case, the last eleven years has provided ample proof that tax cuts boost nothing but the wealth of the top 1% of the population. 93% of all gains in the economy over the last two years have accrued to that small group of highly fortunate people.

Romney has also stated numerous times that he wants to increase defense spending by a $1 trillion over the next ten years and $2 trillion over the next 20 years. He would also add more than 100,000 more personnel to the armed forces. He has vowed to do this despite the fact that the Pentagon has said it doesn’t need the additional people or extra money. Romney just wants to be seen as a pro-military leader by his right-wing base. It is a completely disingenuous position.

All that said, I also have doubts about President Obama’s debating skills (although I don’t know what that has to do with being President of the United States). I wish he had been more energetic and assertive in the debate. I also wish that he called Romney on all of his lies and half-truths. That was a major mistake.

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Paul Ryan : A radical ideologue or just plain stupid?

May 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

In a recent CNN interview, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) accused opponents of his alleged “Path to Prosperity” of being “willing to lie and demagogue Medicare and scare seniors”. This is the same man who has been screaming the sky is falling for the last two years and that we have to radically reduce the deficit RIGHT NOW, or the country will suddenly fall into an economic abyss. He doesn’t see the content of his plan as being the cause for resistance. He claims that it’s a “marketing problem”. To clarify things, he says, “Our budget’s so clear. It doesn’t change benefits for people over the age of 55 and it saves Medicare for the next generation”. Clearly, his plan does not “save” Medicare for anybody. It is a classic example of privatization.

Let’s first examine what Ryan claims to be his primary motivation: the deficit crisis. We should not allow Ryan’s alarmist rhetoric to panic us. We have some economic problems, but we’re not Greece. Deficits should decline markedly over the next few years, and Social Security and Medicare will not devour us. Over the last 3 years, the federal deficit has been about 9% to 10% of GDP. By historical standards, that’s very large, but it wasn’t the result of profligate spending. It was caused by the worst recession in +70 years. While it is happening slowly, the economy has been steadily recovering since June 2009. Barring some catastrophe, the effects of recession should fade and the economy should start showing more robust growth. (Certainly, we’ve already seen this in the American auto industy). This means greatly increased revenues and less spending on things like unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid rises and financial bailouts. Plus, we have the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to look forward to, as long as Republicans don’t try to extort another extension.

The bottom line is that, if we do NOTHING, the deficit as a percentage of GDP should go from 10% to about 3% by 2014. Using Medicare as an instrument of fear to justify radical change, which is what Ryan has been doing, is more than a little dishonest. In 2010, Medicare spending (less premiums paid by beneficiaries) was 3.1% of GDP. In 2021, the CBO projects it will be 3.6%, an increase of only 0.5 percent. In other words, this budgetary “monster” which Ryan claims is going to ruin the American way of life will increase its share of the national economy by about 1%. This amounts to less than half the cost of the Bush tax cuts.

This is not a long-term fiscal emergency; it’s what you’d expect after the deepest recession since the Great Depression. So Rep. Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare is not only extreme, it is wholly unnecessary. Ryan’s Medicare plan would force those who become beneficiaries starting in 2021 to more than double their out-of-pocket spending. Some estimates for this out-of-pocket increase are as high as $7,500/year. But that’s not the worst thing about his plan.

What congressional conservatives have wanted to do for decades is wipe out the entitlements: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They don’t view these programs as vital safety nets for seniors which have helped lift them out of poverty over the last 70 years. They see them as evil ideology; socialism.; an obstacle to states’ rights, which they have been fighting for since the mid-19th century. They know that the quickest way to kill these programs is to privatize them. Put for-profit companies in charge and let the so-called free market do the rest. They realize that Medicare, as a government program, operates on about 6% overhead, while private insurance companies have overhead costs which are six times that. On top of that, private insurers have to show their investors a profit every year. So, what we’re looking at here is a plan that will drastically reduce coverage, while allowing premiums and deductibles to continue to escalate at warp speed. Medicare, as a vital service to seniors, will become a shell of its former self. All the money people have paid into Medicare during their working years will now be handed over to private insurance companies, with more than 1/3 going to pay for corporate overhead. Then, insurance companies will fight tooth & nail to hold onto the other 2/3s by denying claims and greatly reducing coverages. That’s how for-profit companies work.

So, the question remains: Is Paul Ryan consciously trying to destroy Medicare in order to satisfy his ideologically-driven hatred of the federal government, or is he just an ignoramus who actually believes the growth predictions that his plan borrowed from The Heritage Foundation? Does he actually believe that he’s saving Medicare for the next generation? From what I can tell, Paul Ryan is not a stupid man. But his common sense and humanity are definitely being held hostage by his extreme right-wing ideology. I don’t think he really cares about the deficit at all. If he did, he wouldn’t be so dead set against letting the Bush tax cut for the wealthy expire, and he certainly wouldn’t have opposed ending subsidies for Big Oil. Ryan has also opposed allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma, which could save seniors billions of dollars, and such a proposal is nowhere to be seen in his plan. I believe Ryan and the GOP are trying to manufacture hysteria over the deficit, then use that fear to gain support for dismantling vital federal programs and, more importantly, to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.

I think the funniest thing I ever heard was Mitch McConnell on a recent Sunday morning news program, defending Ryan’s plan for Medicare. McConnell said it would “empower Grandma, by giving her the power to shop for the best policy for her”. He went on to say this “shopping would create competition and drive down costs.” He conveniently leaves out that Ryan’s plan would be giving her a fixed “premium assistance” check which would end up covering less than half what her new private insurer would charge for adequate coverage. This also begs the question as to whether or not insurance companies are going to be lining up to insure people in their 70’s and 80’s. Doesn’t sound very realistic to me.

At the end of the day, Ryan’s plan destroys Medicare by privatizing it, and leaves a new program in place which would be more aptly named Mini-Care.

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How to Slash the Deficit Without Slashing Our Own Throats

April 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Making large spending cuts while the country is still struggling to climb out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression is NOT a smart idea. Here’s what I would do:

1. Cut defense spending immediately by 5%, and 10% over the next 5 years, by closing a few bases in Europe and Asia. Make all defense contracts subject to mandatory competitive bidding, and empower the OMB to audit all defense expenditures. Eliminate the development and production of out-dated weapons systems. (Secretary Gates has already endorsed most of this).

2. Institute means-testing for all Medicare recipients. Benefits should decrease as our income increases. Giving free medical care to a millionaire who makes almost $3,000 per day is obscene. Everybody should get some benefits, but we have to stop throwing money at people who are made of money. (Leave Medicaid alone! The poor, low-income families and the elderly are having a difficult enough time already). Finally, empower Medicare administrators to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. This would save seniors and the Medicare program billions of dollars, yet Republicans in Congress are obstructing any move to do this.

3. Raise the retirement age for Social Security to 68, not 70. The current retirement age is not reflective of the world we live in, with people living and working longer. Payroll deductions for Social Security should NOT have a cap for wage earners. Lower the annual tax to 5% from 6.2%, but remove the wage base cap (currently at $106,000) for employees. Retain the wage base cap for employers so that their matching contribution requirement ends when the employee reaches $110,000 in gross wages. Finally, take Social Security out of the General Fund, so that it can’t be stolen from again.

4. Do not touch discretionary spending, which only accounts for about 16% of the budget. I would actually increase this percentage, so that it includes infrastructure projects that would create jobs. All programs should, however, be subject to annual audits to ensure money is being spent where it’s supposed to be spent and there is no fraud or waste.

5. Implement a transactional tax on hedge fund managers and Wall Street speculators that will bring their real tax liability up to the top bracket where they belong. Some of these people are earning 12-figure incomes, contributing nothing to the economy but higher costs for commodities, and their current tax rate is about 11%.

6. Eliminate the tax loophole created by George W. Bush in 2005 which allows corporations to write-off the cost of training foreign workers in this country, as they out-source American jobs to foreign countries. This loophole actually incentivizes out-sourcing.

7. Keep current individual tax rates where they are for people earning between $50,000/year and $300,000/year. Those earning less should also be given a ‘payroll tax holiday’ for the next two years. Those earning more than $300,000/year should see an increase in their tax rate from 35% to 39%. (These rates can all come down over the next 10 years if we’re serious about ending many of the tax avoidance loopholes in the tax code).

8. Leave corporate taxes where they are, but provide some tax incentives for companies who move their manufacturing facilities back into the US. We have lost nearly 60,000 factories in the last decade and our economy will not fully recover until we can get manufacturing back on its feet in this country.

9. Raise the Estate Tax on estates valued in excess of $10 million. Estates valued at less than $2 million should pay no Estate Tax.

10. End the subsidies to the wealthiest industries on the planet — big oil and big agra. It is absurd that US tax payers are helping to finance the operations of these mega-businesses).

None of these ten ideas alone is perfect, but we have to do something. I believe that taking the above ten steps would drastically reduce our deficit with the least amount of pain for everybody. More importantly, it would serve to buttress the middle class, which is the engine that drives our economy.

In concert with these ten steps, we need to address the trade imbalance and its underlying causes. India and China in particular, need to implement worker protections and an acceptable minimum wage. China needs to stop manipulating the value of its currency and subsidizing its so-called ‘private industry’, so the playing field is more level. Otherwise, their exports should face tariffs.

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