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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Will Dems Counter the GOP’s Plan to Cut Social Security?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Paradise Valley, Yellowstone NP – photo by Annie Griffiths

The mid-terms are coming, and we are having difficulty focusing on some important issues, because America has a short attention span, and we’ve been Kavanaugh ‘ed and Khashoggi ‘ed so much lately.

Two issues that are linked are the amazing deficit caused by the Trump tax cuts, and the moves being plotted by Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and others to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Let’s start with tax revenues. It was clear to critics that the 2017 GOP tax cut was going to quickly increase the budget deficit and add $ trillions of the national debt, and here it is:

The federal deficit grew by nearly $800 billion over the first fiscal year of Trump’s presidency, during which the Republican Congress passed a tax cut targeted mostly to corporations and the wealthy, which is projected to add more than $1 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

And it didn’t take long for Republicans to insist that the deficits were actually caused by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, not their tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. From Vox:

Fresh off the news that the deficit is increasing under President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Bloomberg News that Congress should target Social Security and Medicare for cuts to address the growing federal debt.

The White House and GOP leaders promised America that the tax cuts would pay for themselves, but they haven’t. The growing federal deficit hasn’t caused Republican leaders to reconsider their tax policy. Instead, they argue that entitlement reform — Republican-speak for cuts to social safety net programs — is what’s really needed to address the federal deficit. From McConnell’s interview with Bloomberg this week:

It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem….It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.

Republicans have opposed Social Security and Medicare since they were created. But because these programs enjoy overwhelming support from the American people, they would not normally talk about their plans for benefit cuts three weeks before an election.

But, they are doing just that.

This is a real issue, since those programs make up a large share of federal spending: Medicare was 15% of the federal budget in 2017, and it’s projected to grow to 18% by 2028. Social Security is a bigger chunk of the budget (24% in 2016), and our aging population will put a greater strain on the program. Here is the budget breakdown:

Democrats want to expand, not cut these programs. Republicans may see their last, best chance to cut them slipping away with the mid-terms. They seem determined not to let that happen, so this will be a big issue in the lame duck sessions. The GOP will use the cost of their tax giveaways as the excuse to do what they have wanted to do to social programs all along.

If the GOP is talking like this before the mid-terms, imagine the carnage if they keep control of both Houses of Congress!

People who want to defend Social Security and Medicare better work hard to get out the vote in November. And the latest news about the House isn’t encouraging. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball reports that Democrats aren’t there yet:

A race-by-race analysis of Democratic House targets shows the party is close to winning the majority, but they do not have it put away, in our judgment, with Election Day less than three weeks away.

Barring a big, positive late change in the political environment in favor of Republicans, the bare minimum for Democratic House gains is in the mid-to-high teens. The needed 23-seat net gain is not that far beyond that and there are many different paths Democrats can take to achieve it.

He says Dems can count on 18, but need 23…

Assuming that the Dems won’t go along with the GOP’s planned social spending cuts, Republicans will try to blame Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, assuming their cuts to social programs fail.

Republicans will say “Democrats plan to raise taxes on tens of millions of middle-class Americans” to cut the deficit, and that’s true. But, it would be just a part of the package of fiscal moves to cut the deficit, with the primary focus on clawing back some of the massive Republican corporate tax cuts.

Democrats need to talk this up in the next three weeks to counter the GOP’s clearly articulated game plan.

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Saturday Soother – February 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Lighting the Olympic torch – photo by Chang W. Lee

Did anybody see the bus that ran over Wrongo’s 401k?? It was a tough week on the retirement savings front for anyone who uses the capital markets to bolster their net worth. Retail investors are trapped – they can’t sell their holdings quickly, and there doesn’t seem to be a safe haven for their cash if they manage to get out of the markets only slightly bruised. Fear seems to be guiding Mr. Market.

Also, Washington finally passed a bi-partisan budget deal, but only after a brief shutdown. Sadly, it adds more than $1 Trillion to the national debt. It’s hard to square the Republicans’ deficit hawk ideology with their sudden willingness to spend whatever it takes to give the military whatever it wants.

During the recession, (Obamatime) the Republicans argued that responsible people tighten their belts when times are bad, just like people do with their household expenses. Now, we really shouldn’t use that argument for governments who can create their own currency. Despite that, if you really think the government should be run like a household, wouldn’t a responsible family increase their savings and pay down their debts when times are good? That would give them a “rainy day” fund that they could dip into when times were bad. Or, they could then go back into debt to get through the rough patch.

But today’s Republicans are saying: “Times are great! Let’s max out the credit card”. This will soon be followed by: “Oh shit, now I have to starve the kid so I can make the payments on my student loans”.

They won’t even follow their own dumb rules.

That was the week that was. A stomach-churning, no sleeping, hot steaming pile of anxiety. You need a real break.

To help you forget about your financial losses and your government’s foolishness, settle into a comfortable chair with a Vente cup of Volcanica Coffee’s Blue Mountain Peaberry coffee from the Clydesdale estate in Jamaica (only $89.88/lb.). You can’t afford it after what happened on Wall Street, but like Congress, you have a credit card. So go for it!

The Clydesdale coffee region is near the center of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee area. The Clydesdale Estate was founded in the 1700’s.

Now, listen to a throwback to the 2012 Olympics in London. Here is the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with a performance of “Chariots of Fire”. The performance includes physical comedy by Mr. Bean (the British comedian Rowan Atkinson):

This isn’t high art, but it is fun, and tangentially relevant to the Olympics.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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What Will Dems Do When The GOP Says: “The Deficit Matters”?

The Daily Escape:

Big Ben being cleaned. In order to clean the four clock faces, every 5-7 years, skilled climbers hang down from the belfry on ropes, and they clean the front of each clock face. There is one removable panel of glass on each face, which is removed during the cleaning so that the clock maintenance staff can talk to the cleaners while they’re working. (“you missed a spot?”) Hat tip to Wrongo’s friends at the Goodspeed Opera House!

Yesterday we pointed out that there is a very large program that the country needs to fund if we are to maintain our position in the global superpower competition. The issue at hand is the stunning thought that we might lose up to 75 million jobs to automation in the next 13 years, and that we need to train the out-of-work unfortunates for new jobs in a different economy.

It’s highly unlikely that we would need to train that many, but it could be 25 million Americans. And we have no idea where the money would come from to accomplish that. After all, the Republicans now plan to reduce tax receipts bigly, thus adding to the deficit and thereby, to the total debt of the country.

We know that as soon as the new tax cuts begin accruing to their patrons, the GOP will start talking about reducing the budget deficit by cutting non-military expenses. Ron Brownstein conceives the Republican tax plan correctly:

Gaius Publius observes: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

As they did in the 1980s, Republicans are laying a “deficit trap” for Democrats. As they did before, they’re blowing up the budget, then using deficit [fear] to force Democrats to “be responsible” about cutting social programs — “because deficits matter.”

In the 1980s Republicans ran up the deficit, then insisted that Democrats work with them to raise taxes on the middle class to over-fund the Social Security (SS) Trust Fund. This converted SS from a pay-as-you-go system that increased revenues as needed via adjustments to the salary cap, to a pay-in-advance system. That allowed any excess SS money to be loaned back to the government, partially concealing the large deficits that Reagan was running up.

Today, Republicans are expanding the deficit again, and are already starting to talk about deficits to argue for cuts in what they call “entitlements” — Medicare, Medicaid, and eventually Social Security, even though Social Security can be self-funding.

Fear of deficits is the go-to Republican ploy to try to maim or kill the FDR and LBJ-created social safety net. To the extent that Democrats are willing to accept the GOP’s argument that both parties need to be responsible to decrease the deficits, they will support cuts in social services. Even Obama was willing to consider doing just that in the name of “bipartisanship”. More from Gaius:

The reality — Deficits aren’t dangerous at all until there’s a big spike in inflation, which is nowhere near happening and won’t be near happening for a generation…

Do we want the US government to shrink the money supply year after year after year, by running budget surpluses, or do we want to grow the amount of money in the private sector, making more available for use by the middle class?  The trillions spent on the current GOP giveaway to the already-rich could have been given to college students in debt, or people still underwater in their mortgages since the Wall Street-created crash of 2008. It could have been used to build better roads, airports, seaports or a national high speed internet backbone.

What would be the effect of that re-allocation of money?

Back to Gaius Publius for the final words. Which of these three options would you rather the government choose:

  • Spend money on the already-rich?
  • Spend money on you and the country’s needs, ignoring the pleas of the already-rich?
  • Hoard as much money as possible in a vault and spend the least possible?

The first is the GOP’s current tax plan. The second is a plan for the many, an FDR-style economic policy. The third is the GOP’s wet dream, one that they will ask Democrats to help them accomplish once the already-rich have banked their share of our tax money.

Wrongo’s fear is that at some point down the road, a compromise will be offered up: Cuts to social programs in exchange for a repeal of some of the more onerous tax cuts. The only issue will be the extent of the cuts to social programs.

It will be celebrated as bipartisan sanity returning to Washington.

Our system is revolting. Why aren’t we?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 30, 2017

It only took 100 days for Donald Trump to reduce the office of the presidency to the point of near-zero credibility. Unfortunately, it appears as though his base and Republicans in Congress remain very accepting of him as president. In Twitter speak, #So Sad.

Back to the administration’s one page tax plan: The plan works if we assume 6% annual GDP growth for the full 8 years of a Trump presidency. Since the end of the Great Recession, annual GDP growth has been about 2%. More to the point, we now have a 3.5% (of GDP) budget deficit, and we are at the top of the current business cycle, with a 75% debt-to-GDP ratio.

Republicans used to refer to that as being broke.

Mostly, what has been accomplished in the last 100 days are a blizzard of executive orders and proclamations. We all remember when executive orders like Trump’s were considered tyranny by Fox News. On to cartoons. The GOP walks out on its long-term companion, the deficit hawks:

Trump’s first 100 days did NOT include tons of winning:

The clown show about trickle-down economics continues:

Trump explains his new tax brackets:

Arkansas needs help after botching another execution:

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Trump’s Tax Proposal Silences the GOP’s Deficit Hawks

The Daily Escape:

African Elephants – photo from Nature Photography

African Elephants clearly are not deficit hawks. But, neither are most Republicans in Congress, despite all their complaining about spending that adds to the deficit. Trump’s tax proposal is out. It’s interesting that the administration decided it was a good idea to put a vague blueprint laying out big tax cuts on a single sheet of paper.

It could take some time to process Trump’s “proposal”, but as the NYT says, it will bring a reckoning for Republican deficit hawks:

As President Trump’s top economic advisers faced a barrage of questions on Wednesday about the tax plan they had just unfurled, there was one that they struggled most to answer: how to keep the “massive tax cuts” they proposed from ballooning the federal deficit…Republican budget hawks will need to decide whether they want to stick to the arguments of fiscal responsibility that they used to bludgeon Democrats during the Obama era.

More from the NYT: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, who was a fierce critic of deficits when he was a member of Congress, offered a glimpse of the rationale his former colleagues might embrace. “As a conservative, that bothers me a little bit,” he said Tuesday on CNN of the possibility that Mr. Trump’s tax plan would increase the deficit. “But we also look at deficits through sort of a different lens.”

While we haven’t yet seen definitive estimates of the cost of Trump’s one-pager, it will certainly add to the deficit, and the negative numbers range up to an additional $6 Trillion over the next 10 years.

And when Treasury Secretary Mnuchin says that Trump’s tax plan “will pay for itself,” he isn’t credible. He also told ABC News that he couldn’t guarantee that middle-class families wouldn’t pay more under the proposal:

I can’t make any guarantees until this thing is done and it’s on the president’s desk. But I can tell you, that’s our number one objective in this…

Word salad. Helping the middle class is the furthest thing from their minds. Trump, Mnuchin, Ryan and the rest want to give a targeted stimulus to the rich and corporations.

They disguise tax cuts by calling them “tax reform”. Whatever they call it, they want the biggest tax cut for rich people that they can push through the House and Senate. Calling it “tax reform” is useful because “yuuge tax cuts for the rich” won’t be all that popular politically.

It’s inevitable that “middle class families” will end up paying more. Somebody’s got to pay for that massive military buildup. And the GOP cries of deficit piety are a shell game. Here is Kevin Drum:

When does this nonsense stop? Republicans aren’t deficit hawks. They haven’t been since the Reagan era. Republicans used to be deficit hawks, but the whole point of the Reagan Revolution was that tax cuts were more important than deficits. Their only concern about the deficit these days is as a handy excuse for opposing any increase to social welfare programs.

Trump’s tax plan is the same old Republican orthodoxy that has been around for decades.

Wrongo recommends this article from Fortune Magazine in 1955: “How Top Executives Live”. The GOP constantly says that if the 1% are forced to pay high taxes, they won’t work as hard to innovate and create jobs. This article, from the time when personal tax rates went from 40%-75%, shows they didn’t need low taxes back then to work hard:

The successful American executive, for example, gets up early–about 7:00 A.M.–eats a large breakfast, and rushes to his office by train or auto. It is not unusual for him, after spending from 9:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. in his office, to hurry home, eat dinner, and crawl into bed with a briefcase full of homework. He is constantly pressed for time…

Wrongo is cranky about the GOP’s desire to always shift the tax burden downward, and about their success in doing it. What Trump will get passed is another round of debt-financed upper-class tax cuts.

That will suit Trump and Ryan just fine.

Let’s go out with some music that references the life and times of Jonathan Demme, director of “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”, who died on Wednesday. Demme also directed the best Rock movie ever made, “Stop Making Sense” featuring the Talking Heads. Here is “Life in Wartime” live, and that’s Parliament – Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell on keyboards. This isn’t the first time Wrongo has posted this video:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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February 23, 2018

The Daily Escape:

(Yukon Bear before hibernation)

From the WSJ:

The Trump administration has drafted preliminary economic growth forecasts for its federal budget planning that rely on assumptions that are far rosier than projections made by independent agencies and most private forecasters, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

Imagine. The Trump Team ordered government economists to cook up rosy economic forecasts upon which to base the latest Republican fantasy sales pitch about trickledown economics.

Trump’s “the economy will be great” promises made during the election are now turning into policy and legislation. The problem is that the future they are cooking up for us is most likely unobtainable. Consider that recent GDP growth has been around 2%, while Trump is telling us to expect growth of between 3.0% and 3.5% for the next 10 years. But the Trumpets have a plan:

Trump officials believe a regulatory rollback and a tax-code revamp will unleash growth that drives a recovery in productivity, sends business investment higher and draws idled workers back to the labor force. They also assume interest rates would remain low because the US would become a more attractive place to park money.

Most economists believe sustained growth at more than 3% will be difficult to achieve unless there is a sharp rebound in productivity growth, while the US labor force also grows. Few are projecting that both of those will happen. Worker productivity growth has slowed to 0.7% a year since 2010, a sharp slowdown from rates exceeding 3% in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

So the simultaneous equations to achieve growth include increased spending on military and infrastructure, tax reform, cuts in regulations, and not touching granny-starver Paul Ryan’s favorite target of cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The WSJ says that the Trump team gave the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) staff the growth targets that their budget should produce, and asked them to backfill other estimates to justify those numbers.

Business school logic says that could work if the baseline target is realistic. Matt Yglesias at Vox points out that under Trump’s budget, the deficit would be larger; but the economy would be 17% larger and therefore, the deficit as a percentage of GDP would be smaller (perhaps small enough for the GOP to again say “deficits don’t matter?”).

So, Trump has an overly optimistic budget based upon phenomenal growth which no one else believes will happen, and he will hand off this budget grenade to Congress. If Congress balks, or does not find a way to make Trump’s budget happen, accusations will be tweeted from The White House regarding how Congress can’t get anything done.

It will be everybody’s fault except the Donald’s.

This reminds Wrongo of his days in the Fortune 500. Corporate HQ orders an extremely aggressive budget number. The number is missed, and people are terminated. Things continue to slide, and a new CEO is hired, who gets another “stretch” budget that is again missed.

How many times do we need to watch this movie? Trump has declared bankruptcy six times.

Will this make seven?

Here is Alex Dezen with “A Little Less Like Hell”:

Lyric:

Tell me who I gotta talk to
Tell me who I gotta kill
Just to make this place
Feel a less like hell

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Congress Returns to Do (Not) Much

From Roll Call:

After the longest summer break in modern times, lawmakers are required to accomplish a single legislative task before leaving again. But it’s a job far more politically fraught than it is procedurally simple: Assuring normal government operations continue through the end of this budgetary year and into the new one.

That’s right, once again, it’s time to fight about funding the government. And as Booman says,

This ridiculous election season would not be complete without the threat of another government shutdown, and how much money would you be willing to risk betting on Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to find a way to pass a continuing resolution that either the majority of their own caucus would support or that relies (again) on mostly Democratic votes?

The potential stalemate over spending is a headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) who would like to avoid a shutdown threat just weeks before the election.

The Tea Party and GOP conservatives want to kick the can ahead for six months with a temporary resolution. But Democrats and some Republicans want to finish the annual budget work in the lame duck session after the election.

Both sides are digging in for a fight.

This could become an object lesson on why Republicans shouldn’t be in the majority. The party with the majority in the House is supposed to produce the bills and along with the Senate, supply the votes to pass appropriations. But, John Boehner couldn’t do it, because the Freedom Caucus and the other conservative R’s wouldn’t work as a coalition with other Republicans and/or Democrats to actually pass spending bills.

Ryan was able to do it last time, but it isn’t looking like those Republican factions will roll over again.

If Ryan and McConnell want to buck their own members on the length of the continuing resolution, the Dems are free to refuse to provide any votes. And the Democrats do not have to protect the sitting president, so they can watch as the GOP twists in the wind.

Fun times on Capitol Hill!

Here are a few links to news you may have missed over the holiday:

Experimental new opioid blocks pain without being addictive or deadly in primates. In monkeys, the drug is a highly effective pain reliever without downsides. It needs more trials, including in humans. Meanwhile, the DEA is attempting to ban a natural, safe herb which has been used for thousands of years to do the same thing.

Holy Labor Day: On Friday, an estimated 150 million workers refused to show up for work in India and instead took to the streets to demonstrate against labor conditions. The unions involved issued 12 demands to Prime Minister Modi, including raising the minimum wage, introduction of universal social security, and a minimum pension.

Is an end to the Asian sweatshop in sight? A recent report from the International Labor Organization found that more than two-thirds of Southeast Asia’s 9.2 million textile and footwear jobs are threatened by automation. Here are the numbers: 88% of those jobs in Cambodia, 86% in Vietnam, and 64% in Indonesia. Will this be good for the workers? Doubtful.

13 Tips for reading election polls like a pro. After Labor Day, the polling deluge will begin. A guide to making sense of it all.

Boeing gets $2B in bonuses for flawed missile-defense system. From 2002 through early last year, the Pentagon conducted 11 flight tests of the nation’s homeland missile-defense system. The interceptors failed to destroy their targets in six of the 11 tests — a record that has prompted independent experts to conclude the system can’t be relied on to foil a nuclear strike by North Korea or Iran. Yet the Pentagon paid Boeing, the prime contractor, $1,959,072,946 in performance bonuses for a Job? Well? Done?

Maybe we shouldn’t complain: The US government is spending money. Money = jobs. Of course, money also = corruption. And isn’t it a good deal if Boeing’s shit doesn’t work?

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The Pant Suit vs. The Pant Load – Budget Edition

Now that both presidential conventions are history, the real discussion about the merits of the candidates and their programs begins. The first question to answer is: What are the costs of the promises made to America by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?

Both candidates have made political promises that, if implemented, have both costs and benefits to the nation. While the analysis of benefits may be difficult to assess, the costs are not.

The Committee for a Responsible Budget (CRB) has issued a report, “Promises and Price Tags: A Fiscal Guide to the 2016 Election” that estimates how our national debt would rise under the programs of both presidential aspirants. It shows that gross debt held by the public would rise from about $19 trillion today to $23.9 trillion by 2026 under Hillary Clinton’s plan and to $35.2 trillion under Donald Trump’s plan.

They based the estimates on the public positions taken by each campaign as of June 24, 2016. They also generated a low, central, and high cost estimate of the fiscal implications of Trump’s and Clinton’s proposals.

We need to stop and say that our gross debt will rise no matter who is elected, since under existing law, gross debt is projected to rise from about $19 trillion today to about $29.1 trillion by 2026, about a 50% increase. With that in mind, here is CRB’s summary of the impacts of both candidate’s plans on the national debt:

Debt Under Candidates Proposals

Donald Trump has expressed concern about the dangers of our current $19 trillion debt. Yet his plan would increase that number significantly. Under CRB’s central estimate of Trump’s plan, gross debt would more than double from $19 trillion today to $39.5 trillion by 2026.

The increase in gross debt under Clinton’s plan would be smaller but still significant. Under the central estimate of Clinton’s plan, gross debt would rise by more than 50%, from $19 trillion today to $29.6 trillion by 2026, in line with the current law. So, her promise to pay for new spending seems to be true.

Digging a little deeper, here is CRB’s breakdown of both candidates’ plans by revenue, costs and spending. Most of Hillary Clinton’s increased costs come from spending in non-health, non-retirement programs:

  • She would spend $350 billion more on college education, $300 billion more on infrastructure, another $300 billion on paid family leave, and nearly $500 billion on a variety of other initiatives.
  • Clinton would also make several health-related changes that would cost about $150 billion.
  • To offset these costs, Clinton proposes a variety of tax increases – mostly on higher earners and businesses – totaling $1.25 trillion.

The largest share of Trump’s deficit impact comes from his proposed individual and business tax reforms, which would reduce revenue by about $9.25 trillion:

  • His plan to reform the veteran’s affairs system and increase veterans’ access to private doctors would cost about $500 billion.
  • And his plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and reduce illegal immigration would cost about $50 billion each.

So, what happens to the total amount of our national debt?

Donald Trump wants to dramatically reduce taxes for most Americans while maintaining spending relatively near its current levels. As a result, under CRB’s central estimate, he would add $11.5 trillion to the debt through 2026.

Hillary Clinton wants to increase both spending and taxes, adding about $250 billion to the debt over 10 years under CRB’s central estimate. Under their low cost estimate, Clinton’s plan would reduce 10-year deficits by $150 billion.

Increases in debt are not always a bad thing, particularly in times of economic slack, if the debt accumulation is driven by stimulative fiscal policy. But a 40 percentage point of debt to GDP increase, from 87% of GDP to 127% of GDP, seems unlikely to give us a positive outcome.

But, if we elect The Pant Load, that’s what we will get. Trump said to the WaPo in May:

I am the king of debt. I do love debt. I love debt. I love playing with it.

This should worry you. Trump went on to say:

Look, I have borrowed, knowing that you can pay back with discounts. And I have done very well…I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal, and if the economy was good, it was good, so, therefore, you can’t lose.

So, Trump would stiff the nation’s creditors. Haven’t we had enough of Republican mis-leadership on the nation’s finances?

Haven’t we had enough of Republican tax cuts for the most comfortable among us at a cost to the least comfortable among us?

Remember that it was the GOP-led Congress that threatened not to raise the debt ceiling in 2011. That led to the Standard & Poors rating agency’s lowering of the US credit rating.

Think carefully about what Trump’s glib plans imply for America.

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How Not to Cut the Deficit

Congress returned from the Independence Day break on Monday. They will leave again on Friday, and won’t return until after Labor Day. From The Hill:

Congress is poised to leave Washington…without passing funding to combat the Zika virus or completing work on spending bills to avoid a government shutdown.

One bill that might get passed is the re-authorization for Federal Aviation Administration programs that expire on Friday. Since Congress likes to fly, most think they will pass an extension that will last through September 2017.

If you’ve taken a flight this summer, you’ve likely been tied up in long TSA security lines. But you may not have focused on the real reason: Funding for the TSA has been sliced by 8.5% over the past five years, leading to a 5.5% drop in the number of screeners.

Yet, in the same period, the number of air travelers has increased by more than 15%. And those business wizards in Congress should be forced to tell the rest of us how a labor-intensive business can successfully process increasing numbers of customers with a smaller work force.

Steven Rattner in the NYT:

This year, discretionary spending — which encompasses airport security, infrastructure, education, research and development and much more — will be lower than it was in 2005. (Adjusted for inflation.

The discretionary portion of the federal budget, including education, research, infrastructure and other programs, has been falling, while spending on mandatory programs (including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) has been going up. Rattner reports that total government spending is up by 23% since 2005, while mandatory spending is up 45% in the same period, and discretionary spending is down 3%.

Here are some examples:

  • Since 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have seen their funding fall by 23%, forcing an 8% reduction in grants to researchers even as grant applications were rising by 50%.
  • In the past 10 years, spending on all education has fallen by 11% percent.
  • Since 2010, the IRS’s budget has been slashed by about 18%, even as the IRS was given new duties in connection with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The result: The enforcement staff has shrunk by 23%, leading to a similar reduction in the number of audits. Fewer audits have meant additional uncollected taxes, estimated at $14 billion over the past two years. And almost a million pieces of unanswered correspondence from taxpayers need responses.
  • The EPA’s budget has been cut by an enormous 27% — about $3 billion since 2010. As a result, the agency had to eliminate more than 2,000 workers, bringing its staffing to the lowest level since 1989.

Last fall, a bi-partisan group added $80 billion in new discretionary spending over the next two years. Then, Congress doubled the cost of the deal by giving more money to the military and to Medicare, taking the deal to $154 billion while paying for about half the tab with legitimate savings.

A few months later, Congress retroactively extended a raft of expired tax provisions — without even a pretense of paying for them.

As a result of Congress’s fudging, the projected 2017 deficit rose to $561 billion, from the $416 billion that was estimated just six months earlier.

We shouldn’t expect that Congress will make any big decisions involving taxes or spending in an election year. But at the least Republicans need to stop using the appropriations tool to take aim at agencies such as the IRS and the EPA, whose missions they reject.

In the case of the TSA, Republicans want it privatized. Not because privatizing will save any money or make the TSA more effective, but to help a few of their corporate sponsors have another feed at the government trough. Republicans want to see schools, prisons, and the postal service privatized. The people who are employed by these private, profit-making companies will not be paid as well, and will not receive benefits they have today.

This is what you get when you believe that government should be “run like a business.” Certainly, we need a more efficient, better managed bureaucracy, but the deficit-cutting value of their fix is peanuts compared with the simple act of generating revenue.

You know, that would be raising taxes sufficient to pay for the critical tasks we require of the government.

The GOP would like you to think that Donald Trump represents a threat to Republican tax and deficit-cutting orthodoxy. To the extent Trump has revealed his thinking on tax policy, it looks consistent with the Republican Party. Trump’s grand accomplishment is to create an alliance between the true economic interests of the Republican Party and that segment of the American electorate largely marginalized and displaced by the actions of that same elite.

Welcome to the Republican paradise.

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 20, 2015

You are not going to read the entire 2000 page Omnibus Budget Bill, but you don’t have to. The thing that you need to know is that despite years of preaching budget austerity, and preaching that expenses must be paid for, the GOP-controlled House passed nearly $700 billion in unpaid-for tax cuts, none of which were paid for by budget cuts or other tax offsets.

Now, get it out of your head the GOP is fiscally responsible. Remember that Reagan quadrupled the Debt. Bush cut taxes while we went to war. Obama has run up the debt as well, but if ANYONE tells you the Republicans are fiscally responsible, laugh in their face.

In other news, the GOP really needs Santa’s help:

COW GOP List for Santa

Terror is driving the season:

COW Bearded Foreigner

 

Terror is driving the season Part II:

COW Fear of Terrorism

 

And Grinches are multiplying:

COW Grinches

 

Star Wars franchise wants to sell merchandise:

COW Starwars Xmas

 

And the Fed raised interest rates for the first time in seven years:

COW Janet Rides Again

 

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