Debt Ceiling Deal Light on Cuts and Sets Stage for Future Taxes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 1st, 2011

$2.4 Trillion Debt Ceiling Deal may spend $96.68 for each Dollar Cut

Everyone seems to hate the budget deal to raise the debt ceiling.  Conservatives are saying they’ve been screwed.  Liberals are saying they’ve been screwed.  Interesting.  So exactly what did they agree to in order to hike the debt ceiling $2.4 trillion?  Which, incidentally, is the largest increase in history (see Small spending cuts to have little economic impact by Christopher S. Rugaber, Associated Press, posted 8/1/2011 on Yahoo! News).

Discretionary spending, which excludes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, would be cut by only $7 billion in 2012 and $3 billion in 2013, according a summary by Senate Democrats. That’s a tiny fraction of the nation’s $14 trillion economy…

The independent Congressional Budget Office offered its own analysis Monday. It said the agreement would reduce government spending by $25 billion next year. That’s compared to current law, which factors in a projected increase in spending.

The first phase of cuts would reduce spending by $917 billion over 10 years. A congressional committee would decide on a second phase of cuts totaling $1.5 trillion.

Whoever’s numbers you believe one thing is sure.  That’s not a lot of cuts.  The cuts are dwarfed by the amount of new spending the $2.4 trillion debt ceiling increase will give.  In fact, if you use the high $25 billion number, one could say these cuts are negligible.  For if they spend that $2.4 trillion next year, the cuts will only be 1.03% of the new spending.  Or an additional $96.68 spent for each dollar cut.  Now, granted, my math skills may be outdated, but I think if you spend more than you cut while you already have a $1.6 trillion deficit, I don’t think you’re going to reduce the deficit.  But that’s just me using arithmetic.

$7 Billion is a little shy of the $4 Trillion in cuts S&P said would prevent Credit Downgrade

And this is what was important.  Deficit reduction.  To stop spending money we don’t have.  So the debt doesn’t rise so high that it threatens the full faith and credit of the United States.  As S&P warned would happen if we don’t make some serious spending cuts (see FreedomWorks Opposes Budget Control Act of 2011 by Jacqueline Bodnar posted 8/1/2011 on FreedomWorks).

“The deal has few immediate cuts totaling one half of one percent of the budget, with most savings coming in the later part of the decade,” commented Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks. “How can we be serious about reducing the debt limit when we are not even talking about cutting programs like AmeriCorps and agricultural subsidies? This is not the serious reform Tea Partiers demanded last November.”

Standard & Poor’s has stated that anything less than $4 trillion in cuts will lead to an inevitable downgrade from the United States’ current AAA credit rating. “The ‘Cut, Cap, Balance Act’ is the only option on the table that would preserve the nation’s AAA credit rating and secure our long-term economic future,” added Kibbe. “

So S&P will downgrade the full faith and credit of the United States despite this deal.  So it doesn’t appear that the Republicans got much for that additional $2.4 trillion of spending.  So it would appear that the Democrats screwed the Republicans.  But that sure isn’t how some see it.

Ruthlessly dictating Terms to the Opposition is Okay as long as Liberals are doing the Dictating

In fact, some are spitting mad (see The President Surrenders by Paul Krugman posted 7/31/2011 on The New York Times).

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

Come on, Paul, tell us how you really feel.

And then there are the reported terms of the deal, which amount to an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction — and if these recommendations aren’t accepted, there will be more spending cuts…

And even now, the Obama administration could have resorted to legal maneuvering to sidestep the debt ceiling, using any of several options. In ordinary circumstances, this might have been an extreme step. But faced with the reality of what is happening, namely raw extortion on the part of a party that, after all, only controls one house of Congress, it would have been totally justifiable…

In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.

I don’t recall any such concern about the Democratic process that rammed Obamacare through the Congress along strictly party lines.  As bad as it is, the current deal was bipartisan.  Which is more than you can say about what Pelosi, Reid and Obama did with their health care bill.  Even the polls showed the people didn’t want it.  And many who voted for it paid the ultimate price at the next election. 

Apparently, ruthlessly dictating terms to the opposition is okay as long as liberals are doing the dictating.  In fact, liberals would be fine with doing away with the Democratic process if they held full power.  Let’s just hope they don’t resort to any legal maneuvering to make that happen.

The Sneaky Little Bastards are going to Escape those Spending Cuts and get their Tax Hikes

Liberals aren’t idiots.  They are very pragmatic.  And they’re liars and sneaks.  I think all this protesting is just smoke to make all the Tea Party Republicans think they’ve come out as winners in this deal.  Just take a closer look at the deal.  Negligible spending cuts up front.  A panel to determine future spending cuts (probably more heavily weighted on cuts that matter like out of control health care spending).  And a trigger for when that panel fails.  Which will make half of those future spending cuts come from defense.

And it gets better.  As this last round of negotiations has shown agreeing on spending cuts is next to impossible.  Even with the trigger those Medicare spending cuts are not likely to happen.  And with Obama just getting another $2.4 trillion to spend, that deficit isn’t going to get any smaller.  In fact, it’ll only get bigger.  Which means, of course, they will have no choice but to talk about revenue again (i.e., new taxes).  Say goodbye to the Bush tax cuts.  For they will let them expire next time.  Also, Obamacare kicks in after the 2012 election.  As do all those new taxes to pay for it.  More taxes upon more taxes.  Which is a lot of new taxes.

The sneaky little bastards are going to escape those spending cuts.  And get their tax hikes.  The Great Recession will linger on.  Or fall into full blown depression.  So it’s really clear who the winners and losers are in this debate.  The Ivy League liberal ruling elite are the winners.  And the American people are the losers.  As their country is transformed into a third world banana-republic.  Where the ruling elite at the top live very well.  And everyone else is poor and oppressed.  

Viva la Revolucion, El presidente.  Viva la Revolucion.

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LESSONS LEARNED #76: “You know they’re governing against the will of the people when they play with the meaning of words to fool the people.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2011

When is a Spending Cut an Increase in Spending? 

I have a riddle for you.  When is a spending cut an increase in spending?  “Well, that’s when…, hey, wait minute,” you say.  “That’s not a riddle.  That’s a paradox.  It’s like saying draw a square circle.  Or a name an objective journalist.  You just can’t do these things.  Just as a ‘cut’ can’t be an ‘increase’.  They are the very opposite of each other.”

Yeah, you would think.  Not that much of a riddle, then, is it?  For a true riddle is solvable.  Or should be.  Like, say, I have two coins that add up to thirty cents.  One of them isn’t a nickel.  What are they?  You’re a bit stymied, aren’t you.  Because a quarter and a nickel are the only two coins that add up to thirty cents.  So what’s the answer?  A quarter and a nickel.  “But you said one of them wasn’t a nickel,” you say.  “Right,” I say.  “One of them isn’t a nickel.  But the other one is.”

Now that’s a riddle.  Clever.  But solvable.  So now back to my first riddle.  When is a spending cut an increase in spending?  The answer is when you use baseline budgeting.

The Power of Baseline Budgeting

Politicians lie.  And they love to spend our money.  Put the two together and what do you get?  Baseline budgeting.   Which in a nutshell is government spending on autopilot.  Next year’s spending is this year’s spending plus a little extra.  That ‘little extra’ is the amount in all budget negotiations. 

For example, let’s say there is an item in the budget with a billion dollar budget amount this year.  That’s the baseline.  That’s where we start budgeting for next year.  Next year’s budget will be one billion dollars plus or minus that ‘extra amount’.

Typically they set this ‘extra amount’ to be equal to or greater than the rate of inflation.  And/or changes in legislation for that budgetary item.  Let’s say there is no change in the program legislation.  And they set the program’s budget so that next year’s budget equals this year’s budget plus 10%.  So this budget item will be $1 billion this year.  And $1.1 billion next year.  Projecting this out for 10 years, this will automatically add $1.36 billion to this budgetary item.

In Baseline Budgeting a Spending Cut is an Increase in Spending

A couple of things should jump out at you.  For one you see why government programs never die.  Once they add them to the budget they stay in the budget.  And grow.  Always.  Forever.  And the bigger the starting budget amount the bigger the program will grow over time.  Again, automatically.  So you can see why baseline budgeting has been a godsend to Big Government.  It guarantees the growth of government.  Now.  And forever.

Now let’s look at a spending cut.  Let’s say spending is getting out of control.  Deficits are growing.  (As hard as that is to imagine.)  So there’s a budget deal to ‘cut’ the budget by 2%.  But this is a 2% cut in baseline budgeting.  So we’re not reducing the budget amount.  We’re only reducing the amount above the baseline.  Spending was going to increase 10% the following year.  But with this 2% cut, that 10% increase becomes only an 8% increase. 

This is where the language play comes in.  The budget is increased by 8%.  But in baseline budgeting it is a 2% decrease.  Instead of increasing the budget by $100 million, they only increase it by $80 million.  The budget is increased by $80 million but they count it as a $20 million cut.  Because future spending was cut $20 million.  So it’s a cut even though no spending was actually cut.  Spending still increases.  Just not as much as previously budgeted.  And that’s the wonderful world of baseline budgeting.  Where a spending cut increases spending.

The Government Shutdown of 1995 and 1996 

When CBO takes these projections out to 10 years it makes these spending ‘cuts’ look draconian.  As originally budgeted, this item would have been increased by $1.36 billion over 10 years.  Because of the reduction in the size of future spending, it will only increase $1 billion over 10 years.  But instead of calling this a $1 billion increase (which it is), they will call it a draconian cut of $359 million (which it isn’t).  Instead of saying this budget item will increase by 99.9% (which it will), they say it will be cut by 26.4% (which it obviously won’t).  Now politicians understand this baseline doublespeak.  But the average American doesn’t.  They hear ‘26.4%’ cut in some program for single mothers or hungry children and think what vicious, heartless bastards Republicans are.

And this was the stage for the government shutdown of 1995 and 1996Bill Clinton campaigned as a moderate in the 1992 presidential election.  After winning, though, he governed as a tax and spend liberal.  The people expressed their disapproval and gave both houses of Congress to the Republicans in the 1994 midterm electionsNewt Gingrich became Speaker of the House.  Gingrich and the Republicans saw their election as a mandate to stop the out of control government spending.  And that’s what they were trying to do in the budget battles beginning in 1995.

The Republicans were trying to reduce the rate of growth of government spending per the will of the people.  Spending would still increase.  But at a slower rate.  Clinton, though, fought against the will of the people.  Using baseline budgeting newspeak to mislead the people.  Clinton called these reductions in growth rates draconian spending cuts.  Even though there were no real cuts in spending.  But being a tax and spend liberal, he wasn’t about to cut the rate of growth.  So they squared off in budget battle.  It all came to a head when the government hit its borrowing limit.  The Republicans tried to get some spending cuts in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.  Clinton refused.  Unable to pay its bills, the government shutdown.  And the United States collapsed.

Baseline Budgeting helps you Govern against the Will of the People

Not really.  Few people even noticed the shutdown.  Everyone still went to work.  Collected their pay (unless you worked in a national park).  And life went on.  Social Security checks went out.  Interest on the national debt was paid.  The credit rating on U.S. sovereign debt remained AAA.  So there was little damage.  Clinton came out okay from the crisis.  Newt Gingrich not so well.  Many believe that this helped Clinton’s reelection in 1996.  Of course a lot of that had to do with Dick Morris.  Who pulled Clinton to the center.  And became the moderate the people thought they elected.

Clinton may have won reelection, but he paid a price.   Republicans still held both houses of Congress.  Who ultimately won in the long-run.  Their Balanced Budget Act of 1997 did cut the growth rate of government spending.  And then the dot-com boom of the late Nineties produced a windfall of tax revenue that, with the ‘spending cuts’ of the Balanced Budget Act, actually balanced the budget.  For a few years.  But it turned out that the dot-com boom was actually a dot-com bubble.  Thanks to a lot of irrational exuberance.  And the bubble popped.  With the resulting recession tax revenue fell.  And those balanced budgets were no more.

Unwilling to concede to the will of the people, Clinton played with the meaning of words.  Called a spending increase a spending cut.  Because he knew the average American didn’t understand baseline budgeting.  And politicians continue to this day scaring people about draconian spending cuts where there are no spending cuts.  Not in the world of baseline budgeting.  Which makes it easy for them to continue to govern against the will of the people.  As they continue to do.  As they always have done.  Because nothing is more important than growing government.  And spending as much of our money as possible before we get a chance to spend it ourselves.

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A Neutered American Lapdog is Advancing Agenda, not Reporting News

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 22nd, 2011

Dirty Journalists keep Politicians Clean

Poor Rupert Murdoch.  He’s getting no love from the British Establishment over the phone hacking scandal.  Those who once courted the “feral beast” (British tabloids) are turning against it.  Probably because the other political party wooed them more successfully.  And if you’re in politics, you want them on your side.  Because they’re good at their jobs (see In Defense of Hacks by Toby Harnden posted 7/21/2011 on Foreign Policy).

Whereas our American counterparts have long viewed themselves as comparable to lawyers and doctors, we British hacks still see ourselves as practitioners of a grubbing craft rather than members of an upstanding profession. (The public, which views us as on a par with real estate agents, prostitutes and perhaps even criminals, tends to agree.)

Yes, they’re less Walter Cronkite and more Louie De Palma (a character on the American sitcom Taxi).  For a good journalist knows how to get dirty.  Like Louie, a good journalist is born dirty.

While the American press has certainly had its share of similar disgraces, it is true that American newspaper articles are in the main more accurate and better-researched than British ones; the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal was not wrong when it ventured that Fleet Street has “long had a well-earned global reputation for the blind-quote, single-sourced story that may or may not be true.” But stories in the American press also tend to be tedious, overly long, and academic, written for the benefit of po-faced editors and Pulitzer panels rather than readers. There’s a reason a country with a population one-fifth the size of that of the United States buys millions more newspapers each week.

For all their faults, British “rags” are more vibrant, entertaining, opinionated, and competitive than American newspapers. We break more stories, upset more people, and have greater political impact.

That’s the way American journalism was before the Political Class co-opted it.  And why ordinary Americans once read newspapers.  To keep an eye on the scoundrels we put into elected office.  It was one of the few things that kept our elected officials somewhat honest.  Or, at least, honest enough not to lose the next election.

In fact, for the British press, the most damaging revelation of the phone-hacking scandal is the degree to which it shows that journalists — or, to be more precise, News International executives — breached the inner sanctums of the British Establishment. A breed that had always taken pride in being made up of grubby outsiders was allowed in and made the most of the opportunity.

In the United States, journalists are already on the inside: Witness President Barack Obama’s private chats with op-ed columnists, the Washington Post and Time magazine types who effortlessly segue into White House press secretaries and the cozy consensus of Washington’s political-journalism-industrial complex. All too often, American editors, perhaps mindful of their future cocktail party invitations, would prefer their reporters stroke rather than stick it to authority. British journalistic excesses can rightly be condemned, but the American media could use a few more of them. It took the National Enquirer to bring Senator John Edwards to book — and Fleet Street would not have stood for the credulous U.S. reporting on the Bush administration that characterized the run-up to the Iraq war.

That’s the last thing you want.  Your journalists getting all warm and cozy with the people they’re supposed to keep honest.  You don’t want the media to be an adjunct of one party, following orders to advance an agenda while launching personal attacks on the other party.  A good journalist should hate all political authority equally.  And show no favoritism when destroying political careers.  

It is the very politicians who used every opportunity to ingratiate themselves with Murdoch and his acolytes who are now those calling for News International to be broken up — and for the media as a whole to be called to account. Their aim? A regulation system — probably headed up by new a government-appointed “independent” body — that produces a neutered press close to the American model. Having visited Washington and seen reporters stand up when the American president enters the room (British hacks do no such thing for the prime minister) and ask respectful, earnest three-part questions, no wonder our politicians would want more of the same.

The danger of the fevered atmosphere in Britain — where justified outrage over tabloid tactics is fast leading to a hasty public inquisition, with 10 official inquiries or investigations underway at last count — is that what Prime Minister Tony Blair once termed the “feral beast” of the media might be tamed and muzzled. Perhaps the worst outcome of all would be for it to be turned into an American-style lapdog.

If you want to learn about American politics (or journalism) read a British newspaper.  The British Establishment hates and fears them.  Because they do their job.  Whereas in America, the Political Class only hates and fears FOX NEWS and talk radio (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc.).  Which tells you where to go to get your news.  Because if you want objective reporting, you have to go where they dare to be unflattering.  Unlike the sycophants in the ‘mainstream’ media.  For an unneutered feral beast is the only thing that will go for the political jugular.  And restrain the excess of our elected scoundrels.  I mean representatives.

And sometimes you need to get dirty.  Because getting dirty is sometimes the only way to keep politicians clean.

Good Journalism is more Reporting and less Stroke

If you watch FOX NEWS or listen to talk radio you’ll hear a different ‘version’ of the news than that on the mainstream media.  For example, the mainstream media has reported repeatedly polls citing that Americans want the Republicans to stop being intransigent and raise taxes already so the budget deal to raise the debt limit can move ahead.  Interesting how that ‘report’ meshes perfectly with the Obama administration policy agenda.  And yet Rasmussen reports a completely contrary poll finding (see Most Voters Fear Debt Deal Will Raise Taxes Too Much, Cut Spending Too Little posted 7/22/2011 on Rasmussen Reports).

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 62% of Likely U.S. Voters are worried more that Congress and President Obama will raise taxes too much rather than too little in any deal to end the debt ceiling debate. Just 26% fear they’ll raise taxes too little. Twelve percent (12%) aren’t sure. (To see survey question wording, click here…)

There’s a wide difference of opinion, however, between the Political Class and Mainstream voters. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of the Political Class is worried the deal will cut spending too much, while 63% of Mainstream voters fear it won’t cut spending enough. Those in the Mainstream worry more than Political Class voters by a near two-to-one margin – 70% to 37% – that the debt deal also will raise taxes too much.

It sounds like ordinary Americans don’t want higher taxes and more spending.  In fact, they are worried that any deal may raise taxes too much or cut spending too little.  Now this opposes the Obama administration policy agenda.  So I wonder which journalism is more reporting and less stroke?  And which is truer?

Entitlement Spending is the Cause of all our Budget Woes

Americans should be worried about raising taxes instead of cutting spending.  Because there is a much bigger problem out there (see Missing the Debt by Yuval Levin posted 7/21/2011 on The Corner).

…starting in the 2050s, CBO projects that health-care spending will be greater than all other non-interest spending combined, and the federal government will basically be a health insurer with some unusual side ventures like an army and a navy.

…health-care entitlement spending is basically 100 percent of our medium and long-term debt problem.

That thing that Obama and the Democrats refuse to put on the table?  Entitlement reform?  Especially all the health care programs (Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare)?  They’re the cause of all our budget woes.  Ignoring this fact makes the budget debate pointless.  It’s just political theatre.  Fiddling while America burns.  Pity we don’t have an unneutered feral beast to put this issue front and center.  Besides FOX NEWS and talk radio, that is.

FOX NEWS will Report what the Political Class rather you not Hear

Interestingly, FOX NEWS is part of the Rupert Murdoch Empire.  And those on the left viciously belittle it as not being ‘real’ news.  But they sure incur the wrath of the Political Class.  Which should tell you a thing or two.  Because when it comes to news organizations, they only hate those who report things they’d rather you not hear.

Of course there is a chance that the FOX NEWS isn’t a legitimate news organization.  And that they are only reporting inflammatory pieces to make a buck.  And that the Political Class is pure and innocent as the winter’s snow.  That everything they do is for our own best interests.  Being the honest public servants that they are.

Yeah, right.  Pull the other.

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