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Tag Archives: Congressional Budget Office

An Opening for Republicans? Obama’s “Deficit Neutral” Health Care Reform Will Cost Twice As Much, Just As We Figured It Would

Back in 2009, when President Obama took advantage of Democrat control of the House and Senate and pushed through so-called healthcare reform, he assured the American people that the plan would be paid for and wouldn’t add to future deficits.  There were many people, especially those like myself who are familiar with health care costs and how health insurance works, were quite skeptical.  The plan did nothing to address rising healthcare costs.  Instead, it was nothing more than the opportunity Democrats had been waiting for get health insurers to change their rules for coverage and to get government-subsidized health insurance in the hands of Americans.  But to quote a popular line from “Thomas and Friends,” one of my toddler’s favorite shows, “then there was trouble.”

First, the administration can’t even get their act together regarding the mandate in the plan.  The White House said it isn’t a tax, but someone from within the administration testified on Capital Hill that it is.  Then, the CLASS act, which was a plan to tackle long term care, came under fire.  And for good reason–one of the accounting gimmicks used to make CLASS work was to make people pay premiums for the plan for years before the plan actually came into play.  Congress voted to remove it from Obamacare.

But the ultimate slight-of-hand used in getting the bill passed was to convince people the reform act would not add to future deficits, and in turn, to the national debt.  President Obama assured us that the plan would cost about $900 billion, and that the cost would be offset by money taken from Medicare savings and from revenue grabbed from insurers, medical device makers, etc.  Like Theo Huxtable in the episode of “The Cosby Show” when Bill tried to tell him it’s expensive to live on his own, President Obama deflected criticism by saying “noooo problem!”  What wasn’t apparent to average americans is that the cost projection used included years during which the plan would barely be implemented.

Now, the CBO has released projections on how much Obamacare will actually cost over the next 10 years, when fully in place.  The cost?  $1.76 trillion over the next decade.  And that number is expected to increase to $2 trillion next year.

On the one hand, the CBO also predicts that the government will increase revenue from taxes and penalties over those years so that *may* offset the additional costs.  But most people realize that while cost estimates typically run lower than actual, revenue estimates also tend to run lower, because as new taxes kick in, people tend to change their habits, which leads to lower revenues taken in by the government.  People will find ways to avoid paying additional taxes.

What we have here is another government implented program that is going to run over budget and need bailing out at some point in the future.  Maybe around that time people will finally realize that government can’t be trusted to be good stewards of our money.

Related link:
Obamacare to cost $1.76 trillion over 10 years

Do Politicians Understand What “Stimulus” Means? I Think Not.

Is it so difficult that the idea behind a “stimulus” package, or “stimulus” spending, or “stimulus” funding would be to stimulate the economy via job creation?  Somehow, politicians aren’t getting this.  The suggestions made by them aren’t ones that include a job multiplying effect.  In other words, for stimulus to be effective, it has to go towards something that creates a job, which directly creates a need for additional jobs, and so on.

Earlier this week, during a press conference, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked how extending unemployment benefits creates jobs.  His reply?

“There are few other ways that can directly put money into the economy than applying unemployment insurance,” Carney said.

Carney answers the question: “It is one of the most direct ways to infuse money directly into the economy because people who are unemployed and obviously aren’t running a paycheck are going to spend the money that they get. They’re not going to save it, they’re going to spend it. And with unemployment insurance, that way, the money goes directly back into the economy, dollar for dollar virtually.”

This is similar to a comment made by former Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

Economists will tell you this money is spent quickly. It injects demand into the economy, and is job creating. It creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name because, again, it is money that is needed for families to survive, and it is spent. So it has a double benefit. It helps those who have lost their jobs, but it also is a job creator.

Back when Pelosi made the comment, as you can see from the feedback on the Media Matters page, they were more than happy to show how economists backed up what she said, while right-leaning critics were going nuts and criticizing her.

Regardless of the economists that affirmed her statement (and even the CBO), we can now agree that the assertion was wrong.

Maybe I’m out in left field here, but I am willing to wager that the majority of people who are collecting unemployment benefits are spending the money on necessities–food, power, gas, phone, ect.  While the money is technically going into the economy, its not going in for things that will create more jobs.  Listening to Carney, Pelosi, and those who agree with them, it’s as if the unemployment benefits are disposable income.  Paying the bills is not a job multiplier.

Likewise, the expressed opinion of the Left is that the stimulus was a success.  Even a CBO report says that it had some success. From Factcheck.org:

As we have written before, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report in August that said the stimulus bill has “[l]owered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points” and “[i]ncreased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million.”

Simply put, more people would be unemployed if not for the stimulus bill. The exact number of jobs created and saved is difficult to estimate, but nonpartisan economists say there’s no doubt that the number is positive.

But the key words are “created and saved.” Many of the jobs that received stimulus money were to maintain exisiting positions, not create new ones. Much of the money went to states to help prevent them from firing government workers. Not to mention, as the President himself said not too long ago, some of the shovel-ready jobs were “not so shovel-ready.” (Sidenote: he chuckled after cracking this joke. Looking at the cost of the stimulus, and how those shovel-ready projects were talked about ad nauseum to get the bill passed, its not very funny.) Again, in the end, for the section of the stimulus intended to create jobs and stimulate the economy, based on the unemployment rate since then, there was no multiplier effect.

So, with calls coming for another stimulus, we should be afraid.  Be very afraid.

The President and the False Blame Game

This article was brought to my attention by a friend of mine (shoutout to Kovarik Glasco, fellow Georgia Tech grad and fellow fan of the “Song of Ice and Fire” series).

There is a narrative that President Obama and many on the left engage in when discussing the economy.  Even two-plus years into the new presidency, the “blame Bush” technique is still used.  In this narrative, the picture painted shows runaway spending and runaway deficits during the Bush years.  And the main point he uses is that the year he entered office he inherited a deficit of nearly $1 trillion.

But in an article found on the Huffington Post, Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, shows how this narrative just isn’t true:

This is simply not true. In its budget projections from January 2008, the last set before the impact of the collapse of the housing bubble was clear, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a deficit of just $198 billion for 2009. This is less than one-fifth of the “on track to top $1 trillion” figure that President Obama gave in his speech. This is a serious error. One trillion is a much bigger number than $198 billion.

This difference is central to the budget debate. People can argue that the $198 billion deficit projected for 2008 was too large. But it would be absurd to claim it was out of control or represented any remotely serious threat to the nation’s solvency. In fact, over the five years 2003-2007 the country’s debt to GDP ratio was virtually unchanged, meaning that the country could run deficits of the same size (relative to the economy) literally forever.

This changed with the recession caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. It was the recession, and the response to it, that pushed the deficit in 2009 from the $198 billion projected by CBO to the over $1 trillion noted by President Obama in his speech.

Further, Dick Morris explains where the President is getting his numbers from:

In 2008, George W. Bush ran a deficit of $485 billion. By the time the fiscal year started, on Oct. 1, 2008, it had gone up by another $100 billion due to increased recession-related spending and depressed revenues. So it was about $600 billion at the start of the fiscal crisis. That was the real Bush deficit.

But when the fiscal crisis hit, Bush had to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the final months of his presidency, which cost $700 billion. Under the federal budget rules, a loan and a grant are treated the same. So the $700 billion pushed the deficit — officially — up to $1.3 trillion. But not really. The $700 billion was a short-term loan. $500 billion of it has already been repaid.

So what was the real deficit Obama inherited? The $600 billion deficit Bush was running plus the $200 billion of TARP money that probably won’t be repaid (mainly AIG and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). That totals $800 billion. That was the real deficit Obama inherited.

Then … he added $300 billion in his stimulus package, bringing the deficit to $1.1 trillion. This $300 billion was, of course, totally qualitatively different from the TARP money in that it was spending, not lending. It would never be paid back. Once it was out the door, it was gone. Other spending and falling revenues due to the recession pushed the final numbers for Obama’s 2009 deficit up to $1.4 trillion.

One important note that both writers mentioned: the important thing being missed is JOBS. Job creation will create income earners, which will boost the economy and help revenues. This is what the debate in Washington should be all about.

White House Disputes the Findings of Their Own Economic Advisors

Earlier I posted about how a group of economists picked by President Obama issued a report that showed the stimulus saved or created 2.4 million jobs at a cost of $278k per job.  Evidently the White House disagrees with those findings:

“That’s a cost to taxpayers of $278,000 per job,” according to the Weekly Standard, a Washington, D.C.-based magazine. “In other words, the government could simply have cut a $100,000 check to everyone whose employment was allegedly made possible by the ‘stimulus,’ and taxpayers would have come out $427 billion ahead.”

But the White House said that study is based on “partial information and false analysis.”

“The Recovery Act was more than a measure to create and save jobs; it was also an investment in American infrastructure, education and industries that are critical to America’s long-term success and investment in the economic future of America’s working families,” White House spokeswoman Liz Oxhorn said in a statement to FoxNews.com.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/07/05/white-house-disputes-study-saying-stimulus-cost-taxpayers-278000-per-job/#ixzz1RGDNjWuj

The story goes on to say that the WH points at a CBO report that says the number is closer to 3.6 million jobs, that the stimulus lowered unemployment, and helped spark economic growth. Republicans point out that unemployment is higher than it was, in addition to a substantial increase in the national debt. Still another person quoted says that there is no point in measuring effectiveness based on “cost per job.”

Whether or not the stimulus was effective will continue to be debated, it seems.

 

Uncle Sam Wants to Tax You…By the Mile

In the US there is always the need for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  Unfortunately, funds are short these days.  So, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has floated an idea for a new tax to raise funds.  What’s the new tax?  Simple.  Drivers would get taxed for every mile they drive:

The report discussed the proposal in great detail, including the development of technology that would allow total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to be tracked, reported and taxed, as well as the pros and cons of mandating the installation of this technology in all vehicles.

CBO’s report stressed it was making no recommendations but seemed to support a VMT tax as a more accurate way of having drivers pay for the costs of highway maintenance. The report said miles driven is a larger factor in highway repairs than fuel consumption and suggested that having drivers pay for the real costs of highways “would involve imposing a combination of fuel taxes and per-mile charges.”

On the one hand, funds have to be raised somehow, and this may be a viable option. However, it also would penalize folks who got more fuel efficient vehicles (less gas purchased at the pump means less gas tax revenue). Also, for folks like me, who are in sales, we would bear a disproportionate share of the tax bill.

We will see how this one pans out.

See, It’s Not Just the “Tax Cuts for the Wealthy” That Are Adding to the Deficit!

As mentioned here before, arguments complaining about how the “tax cuts for the rich” are unpaid for and adding to the deficit is disingenuous without an accompanying argument about the similarly “unpaid for” tax rate cuts for everybody else–which cost three times as much.  Somehow, no one wants to talk about that.

Today the CBO released an analysis of President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal.  According to the analysis, while the Obama administration predicted $7.2 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years, the CBO stated that the number is more like $9.5  trillion.

Nine-point-five.  Trillion.  With a “T.”

But what also jumped out of the analysis is that the CBO predicts that tax rate cuts for the middle class will be made permanent–and the cost of that cut is going to help increase the deficit:

CBO said the biggest reasons for the deficits, compared to the status quo, are the permanent extension of the Bush-era tax rates for the middle class and changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax that Obama favors in this budget. As a result of the tax policy, there is a $2.7 trillion net increase in the deficit over the next 10 years.

There you have it, folks. criticizing the rich may be en vogue, but if there is to be honesty in this, all tax rate cuts must be discussed.

And then, rolled back.

Doom and gloom for Social Security, but folks aren’t serious about a fix

The latest report out regarding the fiscal health of Social Security is out:

New congressional projections show Social Security running deficits every year until its trust funds are eventually drained in about 2037.
This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.
Read more: Social Security fund will be drained by 2037

The problem is, agreement on a fix is a hard thing to pin down. Democrats want to fix the problem by simply eliminating the top end contribution cap. Currently, 6.2% of an earner’s income is deducted for Social Security until that person reaches $106,000 in income. Republicans (as well as members of the Debt Commission) recommend increasing the retirement age for future beneficiaries. Previous proposals from Conservatives involved privatization of a portion of Social Security. The concept had promise–an individual would have the choice (emphasize choice to put 3% of their Social Security contribution into a private account–but it never gained traction with the American population, due in no small part to the left painting a picture of a poor individual losing their entire Social Security account to a market crash or due to some unscrupulous bankers.
Even with the warning sounded of rough seas ahead for Social Security, I predict finding common ground between the two parties on the issue will be difficult. As it stands, the Social Security trust fund is nothing more than a myth, a figurative box of IOUs from the government to the tune of $2.5 trillion. And since the government is already borrowing money (to the record tune of $1.5 trillion projected in 2011), paying those back will be challenging.
President Obama stated in his State of the Union Address that he wanted “strengthen the program while protecting current retirees, future retirees and people with disabilities,” which seems to translate to “find some more money from somewhere but don’t touch benefits.” With ideas like that, it’s no wonder there are countless Americans who figure the return on investment made into Social Security from their paychecks will end up being a big fat zero.

Tax shenanigans, or why $700 billion is unaffordable, but $3 trillion is affordable

The level of back-and-forth over the extension of tax rate cuts enacted under Bush 43 has reached a fever pitch.  From the right, we get “all or nothing!” or “no one should have a tax increase in this economy!” or, to borrow from a classic hip hop song by the one-hit-wonder group, The Double XX Posse, “not gon be able ta do it!”  From the left, we get “no tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires!” or “tax cuts for the rich” and “no subsidizing the rich” or “they don’t need it.”  But my favorite is that, in essence, we can’t afford the $700 billion cost (CBO projected).

For the life of me, I could not figure out how anyone would have the nerve to specifically talk about the $700 billion that extending the current rates for high-income earners may cost (remember, they are projections, so its only a guess), but not talk about how the cost of the rest of the cuts.  After all, the same CBO that produced the $700 billion number also stated that the TOTAL cost of extending ALL current tax rates would be $3 trillion.  So what gives?

Just more political shenanigans.

Let’s step back for a moment to 2007.  From wikipedia:

The PAYGO system was reestablished as a standing rule of the House of Representatives (Clause 10 of Rule XXI) on January 4, 2007 by the 110th Congress:

It shall not be in order to consider any bill, joint resolution, amendment, or conference report if the provisions of such measure affecting direct spending and revenues have the net effect of increasing the deficit or reducing the surplus for either the period comprising the current fiscal year and the five fiscal years beginning with the fiscal year that ends in the following calendar year or the period comprising the current fiscal year and the ten fiscal years beginning with the fiscal year that ends in the following calendar year.

Less than one year later though, facing widespread demand to ease looming tax burdens caused by the Alternative Minimum Tax, Congress abandoned its pay-go pledge.

So, to set themselves apart from the previous congressional crew, the swept-into-power Democrats in the House re-enacted a rule that makes a lot of sense–if we are gonna spend it, we are going to pay for it. Tub notice the next next line: it lasted less than a year. PAYGO was shelved, allowing major pieces of legislation, like the Bush Stimulus package in 2008 and Obama’s Stimulus package in 2009, to be passed without the rules applying. Then, new statutory PAYGO rules were again passed in February of 2010.
In addition, Obama signed new budget rules. From Businessweek:

Under the budget rules, any tax cuts benefitting individuals earning more than $200,000, or couples earning more than $250,000, must be offset with new tax revenue or spending cuts elsewhere.

Apparently, the tax cut line-in-the-sand was drawn long ago. After bucking the PAYGO rules, now the rules must apply and for those high-income earners, tax cuts aren’t affordable.
Here’s what’s missing.
Lets be honest. If there is an argument to be made, its that NONE of the tax rate cuts are affordable. But let’s stick to the current discussion. The reason that Democrats are saying we can’t afford the $700 billion is not because we can’t afford it. That can’t be the case, since evidently, financing $2.3 trillion via debt is not a problem (and allowed under the rules!). The real problem is that offsetting spending cuts would have to be made. History has shown that Democrats are not big on cutting spending (unless its Defense related). Any mention of cutting programs, especially entitlement programs, is met with more resistance than a goalline stand in the national championship game. Any other arguments, like referring to lower tax rates as a “subsidy” (how can the government grant or gift a person their own money) or “welfare for the rich” (once again, its their money) just distracts from the true discussion.

Don’t worry, my Dem friends, I’ll tackle the Repubs too.