The Republicans are determined to pass some form of health care bill by the end of this week when the time runs out to pass it with 51 votes. In a desperate move to get the needed votes from two of the three hold outs, Senators Lisa Murkowsky (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), revisions were …
Donald Trump really wants you to die so he can give his billionaire buddies tax cuts. The failure of the Republican lead congress to come up with a plan to kill the Affordable Care Act really put a crimp in that plan. After their bill couldn’t even make it to the House floor, Trump decided …
Cities spend massive amounts of public money on privately-owned stadiums. Cities issue tax-exempt municipal bonds that – wait, don’t fall asleep!
About now there are hundreds of thousands of people hunched over their computers, sitting with tax preparers, searching through files and boxes of receipts, standing on a line or hanging on hold waiting to ask a question which may not have answer or, at least, one they will like. It’s Tax Day in America.
Everyone hates the IRS but it’s not their fault, as John Oliver explained on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” Blame congress for the recent budget and staff cuts have made it increasingly difficult for the department to do its very important job.
Think of our government as a body. The IRS is the anus. It’s nobody’s favorite part, but you need that thing working properly or everything goes to shit real quick. [..]
The fact is, blaming the IRS because you hate paying your taxes is a bit like slapping your check-out clerk because the price of eggs has gone up
Humor and History on Tax Day
Joel Fox, Fox and Hounds
“April is the month when the green returns to the lawn, the trees, – and the Internal Revenue Service.” So observed Evan Esar, a collector of humorous sayings who understood that humor is the ultimate therapy. All of us need this therapy now that tax time is here.
Fortunately, a rich vein of humor and wry observations exist about taxes to help us through this time.
When tax day comes, most citizens pay what they owe … or what they think they owe. Discovering what you owe can be a challenge. Even one of the century’s greatest geniuses, Albert Einstein said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
Humorist Will Rogers put it this way: “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Even when you make a tax form out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through if you are a crook or a martyr.”
So, grin and bear it, “You never miss your anus till it’s gone.”
A two year budget deal was reached yesterday with congressional leaders announcing the deal that would to replace $63 billion in sequester cuts, a very small part of the $180 billion in cuts that will occur over the next two years. The deal will restore defense cuts by funding from a tax on airline travel and cuts to federal pensions. The budget does not include extension of unemployment funds to the millions of workers who are about to lose their benefits the end of December. There will be no changes to Medicare or Social Security but none of the tax loop holes were closed.
As Ezra Klein puts it:
Whether this deal can be a model for future deals is an open question. The core principle of this deal is that Democrats didn’t have to touch entitlements and Republicans didn’t have to touch taxes. But a lot of the policies that made that possible got used up in this deal. It’s not clear that another deal like this would work in 2016.
DSWright at FDL News Desk notes:
The Republicans got everything they wanted. They get more cuts while none of their friends in the defense industry get hurt – actually they even got to do some damage to the federal pension system. All that while avoiding another shutdown that killed their poll numbers before the 2014 elections. Christmas came early for the GOP.
The Democratic Party, on the other hand, sold out its own base to help Republicans maintain power. Why? Who knows? The only thing that is clear is this is an awful deal for majority of Americans.
Once again, the majority of Americans get screwed by their elected representatives.
At a recent hearing before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Apple CEO Tim Cooke testified how the company managed to evade paying billions in taxes using tax loopholes particularly and overseas subsidiaries, like Apple’s subsidiary in Ireland.
Apple’s massive cash hoard, and the danger of soaring corporate profits
by Steve Gentile, Up with Steve Kornacki
The major flaw of our recovery has not been the pace, although certainly it could have been much faster. Instead, the major flaw is distribution. The economy is growing, but corporations and the richest Americans are capturing the lion’s share of the proceeds from that growth. You’ve likely heard a lot about the one percent-in the first year of the recovery, they captured 93% of the income gains – but the story of America’s corporations is even more troubling.
We’ve seen systemic inequality in our country growing for decades, even before the latest financial crisis. Between 1979 and 2007, income for the top 1% grew by nearly 300%, while it grew by just 18% for the bottom quintile of earners. [..]
Apple argues that its off-shore profits should only be subject to off-shore taxes. As if those off-shore profits had nothing to do with America. Of course, they do. Apple may sell products across the world, but the company is based in America for a reason. Apple enjoys, indeed exploits, countless legal and economic benefits by operating in America, benefits Apple wouldn’t enjoy anywhere else: basic legal protections, a judiciary that safeguards and enforces the rule of law, an intellectual property regime that affords generous-in fact, overly broad-protections for new ideas and innovations, a world-class system of higher education, a (somewhat) open immigration policy, reliable security, an advanced infrastructure for business development, and countless other benefits from operating in a functional, developed society with a genuine social contract.
As Elizabeth Warren famously put it, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.” In the same way, there is no company in this country that got rich on its own. Corporations like Apple are hampering the economy and corroding our political system by hoarding hundreds of billions of dollars in cash. They owe the American people back payments.
On her May 25 MSNBC show, Melissa Harris-Perry exams corporate money tactics and tax codes with guests Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; Stephen Lerner, organizer of the Wall Street Accountability campaign; Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, author of The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” To Rob You Blind; and Yves Smith, the founder and creator of the blog Naked Capitalism.
Economist Richard Wolff discusses how austerity is making economic problems worse and the cure for these economic woes.
As Washington lawmakers pushes new austerity measures, economist Richard Wolff calls for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economic and financial systems. We talk about the $85 billion budget cuts as part of the sequester, banks too big to fail, Congress’ failure to learn the lessons of the 2008 economic collapse, and his new book, “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.” Wolff also gives Fox News host Bill O’Reilly a lesson in economics 101.
Full transcript here
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Wolff, before we end, I want to turn back to the crisis in Cyprus and relate it to what’s happening here. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News warned his audience last week that Cyprus and other European countries are facing economic hardships because they’re so-called “nanny states.”
BILL O’REILLY: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, now Cyprus, all broke. And other European nations are close. Why? Because they’re nanny states, and there are not enough workers to support all the entitlements these progressive paradises are handing out.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. Richard?
RICHARD WOLFF: You know, he gets away with saying things which no undergraduate in the United States with a responsible economic professor could ever get away with. If you want to refer to things as nanny states, then the place you go in Europe is not the southern tier-Portugal, Spain and Italy; the place you go are Germany and Scandinavia, because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what: Not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation. The unemployment rate in Germany is now below 5 percent. Ours is pushing between 7 and 8 percent. So, please, get your facts right, Mr. O’Reilly.
The nanny state, you call it, the program of countries like Germany and Scandinavia, who tax their people heavily, by all means, but who provide them with social services that would be the envy of the United States-a national health program that takes care of you, whether you’re employed or not, and gives you proper healthcare. In France, for example, the law says when you go to work, you get five weeks’ paid vacation. That’s not an option; that’s the law. You get support when you’re a new parent for your child care and so forth. They provide services. And they are successful in Germany and Scandinavia, much more than we are in the United States and much more than those countries in the south.
So they’re not broken, the south, because they’re nanny states, since the nanny states, par excellence, are doing better than everyone. The actual truth of Mr. O’Reilly is the opposite of what he says. The more you do nanny state, the better off you are during a crisis and to minimize the cost of the crisis. That’s what the European economic situation actually teaches. He’s just making it up as he goes along to conform to an ideological position that is harder and harder for folks like him to sustain, so he has to reach further and further into fantasy.
Capitalism efficient? We can do so much better
by Richard Wolff, The Guardian
For all its vaunted efficiency, capitalism has foisted wasteful inequality and environmental ruin on us. There is an alternative
What’s efficiency got to do with capitalism? The short answer is little or nothing. Economic and social collapses in Detroit, Cleveland and many other US cities did not happen because production was inefficient there. Efficiency problems did not cause the longer-term economic declines troubling the US and western Europe.
Capitalist corporations decided to relocate production: first, away from such cities, and now, away from those regions. It has done so to serve the priorities of their major shareholders and boards of directors. Higher profits, business growth, and market share drive those decisions. As I say, efficiency has little or nothing to do with it.
Many goods and services once made in the US and western Europe for those markets are now produced elsewhere and transported back to them. That wastes resources spent on the costly relocation and consequent return transportation. The pollution (of air, sea and soil) associated with vast transportation networks – and the eventual cleaning up of that pollution – only enlarges that waste.
Like the tale of the three bears, the congressional budget battle has three budget proposals one from the House Republicans penned by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee; another from the Senate Democrats that was worked out by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Budget Committee; and a third called the “Back to Work” budget presented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Each one has is proponents and opponents and, like that bear tale, it has one that’s too hard, one that’s too soft and one that’s just right.
Paul Ryan’s budget, which is getting the most press, the most negative reaction and is “dead on arrival” so to speak, is a rehash of his last two budgets only worse. The proposal would slash Medicare, Medicaid and repeals Obamacare, which even Fox News host Chris Wallace acknowledges, isn’t happening. It proposes balancing the federal budget with the usual draconian cuts to all non-defense spending and reduction of the already smaller federal work force by another 10%. The Ryan proposal would slash $4.6 trillion over 10 years. The budget plan includes no cuts in Social Security. Pres. Obama has suggested changing an inflation measurement to cut more than $100 billion from the program, which makes no sense since Social Security does not contribute to the debt or the deficit.
The there is the Senate Budget proposal which the Republican leadership insisted the Democrats produce even though, constitutionally, all budget and spending bills must originate in the House. That budget would seek $975 billion in spending reductions over the next 10 years as well as $975 billion in new tax revenue, which Sen. Murray said would be raised by “closing loopholes and cutting unfair spending in the tax code for those who need it the least.” It includes a $100 billion in spending on infrastructure repair and educational improvements and the creation of a public-private infrastructure bank.
Then there is that third budget proposal from the House Progressive Caucus that is just right balance of spending, revenue increases and spending cuts. The basic plan is the put Americans back to work, by as Ezra Klein explains fixing the jobs crisis:
It begins with a stimulus program that makes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act look tepid: $2.1 trillion in stimulus and investment from 2013-2015, including a $425 billion infrastructure program, a $340 billion middle-class tax cut, a $450 billion public-works initiative, and $179 billion in state and local aid. [..]
Investment on this scale will add trillions to the deficit. But the House Progressives have an answer for that: Higher taxes. About $4.2 trillion in higher taxes over the next decade, to be exact. The revenues come from raising marginal tax rates on high-income individuals and corporations, but also from closing a raft of deductions as well as adding a financial transactions tax and a carbon tax. They also set up a slew of super-high tax rates for the very rich, including a top rate of 49 percent on incomes over $1 billion.
But to the House Progressives, these taxes aren’t just about reducing the deficit – though they do set debt-to-GDP on a declining path. They’re also about reducing inequality and cutting carbon emissions and slowing down the financial sector. They’re not just raising revenues, but trying to solve other problems. But they might create other problems, too. Adding this many taxes to the economy all at once is likely to slow economic growth.
As for the spending side, there’s more than $900 billion in defense cuts, as well as a public option that can bargain down prices alongside Medicare. But this budget isn’t about cutting spending. Indeed, the House Progressives add far more spending than they cut.
On Sunday’s Up w/ Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes discussed the various budget proposals released by Republicans and Democrats in Congress this week with his guests Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ); Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Sam Seder, host of The Majority Report, co-host of Ring of Fire; and Heidi Moore, economics and finance editor for The Guardian newspaper.
The “comedy team” of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) and businessman Erskine Bowles trotted out their latest version of their unauthorized report from the “Cat Food Commission” that they co-chaired for President Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, the dynamic duo of austerity and cuts to the social safety net go even further with the 2.0 version of their solution for ending the mythical budget crisis calling for even greater cuts and less revenue all on the backs of those who have the least to contribute:
The corporate austerians released their ‘new’ Bowles-Simpson recommendations today (pdf). They claim that they are building upon their original plan, not replacing it. They framed their recommendations as the last two steps in a four step process. For Social Security followers, Step Three includes the chained CPI. And Step Four includes all of the previous cuts to Social Security which they recommended in their first plan. Raising the retirement age starting in 2022 slowly to 69, cutting benefits through re-indexing and flattening all future benefits for our recipients in 2050. [..]
The corporate austerians go for installing the chained cpi first. Why? It could be that they still think that most Americans do not realize that the chained cpi is a cut which keeps on cutting [..]
The language is a vague euphemism for cuts; code words to their rich buddies that the uploading of wealth will not be threatened with significant new taxes. No pesky new scrap-the-FICA cap income taxes which might be used to pay for under-funded social insurance programs.
Meanwhile, President Obama, seemingly ignoring his two side show buddies, called for tax reforms that would increase revenue and a more balanced approach to the looming sequestration that would impose draconian cuts to non-defense spending programs. Taking lessons from Bill Maher, the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), is having none of that and has proposed “new rule“:
“The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.”
At Maddow Blog, Steve Benen points out that Mr. Boehner may not have thought this “new rule” through and it could pose some problems in his caucus:
One of the details that often goes overlooked is that the House Republican budget plan from the last Congress — the one that included all the spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and tax breaks the GOP are desperate to have — didn’t bring the federal budget into balance until 2040. That’s not a typo — under the House Republican plan, written by Paul Ryan, the United States would run deficits every year for nearly three decades, and then might reach a balanced budget 27 years from now if optimistic projections are met.
And that plan included spending cuts so severe, GOP candidates were afraid to talk about them out loud in public.
This year, however, thanks to a new “rule” embraced by Boehner and his cohorts, the new House Republican plan intends to balance the budget by 2023, instead of 2040. Why does that matter? Because trying to eliminate the entirety of the deficit in one decade instead of three necessarily means ridiculously drastic cuts.
A plan from the House Progressive Caucus that presented the unique idea that creating jobs would bring down the already shrinking deficit. But, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post‘s “Plum Line“, notes it stands little chance of even being considered in the Republican held House:
Needless to say, this plan – the creation of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – has no chance whatsoever of passing Congress. Which is exactly the point: No plan that prioritizes job creation as the best means of reducing the deficit; no plan that cuts defense while determinedly avoiding any cuts that would hurt the poor and elderly; no plan that includes equivalent concessions by both sides – could ever have a prayer in today’s Washington. It’s yet another indication of how out of whack Washington’s priorities are.
Greg sums up the problem of the GOP’s approach in a nutshell:
So, Boehner says House Republicans are not only willing to let the sequester hit, but that the only acceptable replacement for it will be a plan that wipes away the deficit in 10 years – all without revenues. [..]
There’s simply no chance that House Republicans will produce such a budget by March 1st, which is the deadline for the sequester. If Boehner means any of this, he’s confirming that we’re getting the sequester, and it will remain in effect until it is replaced by a plan that is simply never, ever going to happen. Wiping out the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues would be at least as bad as the Ryan plan – probably worse – yet even that plan was loaded up with unspecified cuts and other big question marks. Republicans are never going to propose specific cuts that balance the budget in 10 years with no new revenues – ever. Boehner has, in effect, just taken ownership of the sequester.
No, Mr. Boehner has not thought this “boner” through.
Why was this not in the State of the Union address? The deficit is falling faster in the last three years than at anytime since World War II.
To be specific, CBO expects the deficit to shrink from 8.7% of GDP in fiscal 2011 to 5.3% in fiscal 2013 if the sequester takes effect and to 5.5% if it doesn’t. Either way, the two-year deficit reduction – equal to 3.4% of the economy if automatic budget cuts are triggered and 3.2% if not – would stand far above any other fiscal tightening since World War II. [..]
History suggests that there’s little good to be gotten from cutting the deficit much faster than 1% of GDP per year. That’s especially true at the moment, given the nature of our related demographic and budget challenges.
Both of those challenges suggest that growth should be our paramount concern, far ahead of near-term deficit reduction, even as we work to improve the intermediate-term budget outlook.
So the deficit falling too fast is bad? What Ezra Klein said:
And we may well have a coincident recession this time, too. According to the initial GDP numbers, the economy shrank slightly in the fourth quarter of 2012, largely because government spending fell. As federal spending continues to fall and the effects are compounded by new tax increases (the payroll tax cut expired in January, for instance), it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see more quarters of negative growth. So, given that the typical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters in which the economy shrinks, this drop in deficits might yet be accompanied by another recession.
Hence, two things to remember in the deficit conversation: First, the deficit is expected to fall faster in 2013 than at any time in the last 60 years. And second, that kind of austerity tends to be accompanied by recessions, and we’ve already seen evidence that the same might be true this time, too.
Austerity and sequestration are really bad ideas and that is what the President should have been hammering in the SOTU.
The U.S. economy contracted slightly in the fourth quarter of last year, shrinking by 0.1 percent. The main factor that is being blamed is cuts in government spending. The report, as Pat Garofalo at Think Progress notes, might have been worse but if the House Republicans let the sequester kick in, as they seem want to do, the US economy is in for another deeper dip:
Of course, scrapping the sequester – which includes equal cuts from defense spending and non-defense discretionary spending – does not mean the government simply has to plow that money back into the Pentagon. Domestic spending is headed toward historic lows. The country has a huge infrastructure gap that needs to be filled. And the American Jobs Act, which Republicans filibustered, would have significantly boosted growth according to several independent analyses.
Journalist and author, David Cay Johnston, a specialist in economics and tax issues, discusses why the Republicans keep pushing spending cuts.
Meanwhile, as Suzie Madrak at Crooks and Liars observed, hell may have just froze over at the conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute where conservative economist John H. Mankin just told the deficit hawks, in so many words, to “shut up about austerity”.
Japan’s lessons for America’s budget warriors
by John H. Makin, American Enterprise Institute
Lessons for the United States
Congress, take note. Although American deficits do need to be reduced and debt accumulation does need to be slowed and eventually reversed, cries of imminent disaster from “unsustainable” deficits and a supposed bond market collapse will not accomplish this goal. Persistently rising bond prices in Japan and the United States have undercut the “sky-is-falling” rationale for deficit reduction. [..]
If fiscal austerity is applied too rapidly, US growth will drop and the debt-to-GDP ratio will rise, boosting the nation’s debt burden. If the Fed tries to stem the rise with too much money printing, inflation could rise and drive up interest rates, exacerbating the US debt burden. [..]
Congress and the president need to avoid excessive austerity with respect to changes in fiscal policy this year. Over the past four years, on average, the fiscal boost applied to the American economy has been worth about 3 percent of GDP. This year, with tax increases and sequestration, fiscal drag will be about 1.5 percent of GDP. [..]
The lessons from Europe and Japan are that austerity, per se, is not the way to move to a sustainable fiscal stance. Rather, the US economy needs a combination of tax reform to boost growth and legislation enacted now to stabilize the future growth of outlays on entitlement programs.
Economist Paul Krugman, at his NYT blog, Conscience of a Liberal, talks about “incestuous amplification” which happens when “a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group“.
Which brings me to the fiscal debate, characterized by the particular form of incestuous amplification Greg Sargent calls the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. I’ve already blogged about my Morning Joe appearance and Scarborough’s reaction, which was to insist that almost no mainstream economists share my view that deficit fear is vastly overblown. As Joe Weisenthal points out, the reality is that among those who have expressed views very similar to mine are the chief economist of Goldman Sachs; the former Treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council; the former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve; and the economics editor of the Financial Times. The point isn’t that these people are necessarily right (although they are), it is that Scarborough’s attempt at argument through authority is easily refuted by even a casual stroll through recent economic punditry.
Will AEI’s resident economics scholar, John Mankin’s warnings be heeded? Or will the “incestuous amplification” continue?