Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Shorter Mitch McConnell: “Zero Social Security COLA Too Generous”

Way to rally the base Turtle Neck!

NY Times: No Social Security Raises Even if Medicare Soars

WASHINGTON — The 60 million people on Social Security will not receive any cost-of-living increase in their benefits in 2016, the government said Thursday, but because of a quirk in federal law, nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries could have record increases in their premiums unless Congress intervenes.

CNN: Sources: McConnell floats entitlement changes in high-stakes fiscal talks

McConnell is seeking a reduction in cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security recipients and new restrictions on Medicare, including limiting benefits to the rich and raising the eligibility age, several sources said.

Now it is true that Social Security policy geeks like me and maybe some other readers/contributors to Angry Bear can have an informed discussion on the pro’s and con’s of CPI-U vs CPI-W vs CPI-E vs Chained CPI-W and their respective effects on Social Security “actuarial imbalance” and “unfunded liability over the infinite future horizon”. God knows I am up for that discussion any time and feel free to weigh in on the comment thread.

But you have to be pretty politically brain dead to propose holding the Debt Limit hostage to demands for COLA reductions in the same damn week that SSA announced that COLA would be zero for 2016. Boy that should rally seniors to the polls to vote Republican next year.

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What is the POINT of this?

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Tuesday put forward the outline of a response to a Senate proposal that would end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit into next year, but would also make some changes to the health care law.

Under their plan, members of Congress and the cabinet would be compelled to obtain health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, but would not receive the employer subsidy from the government. Further, the deal would suspend a medical device tax for two years, something that was dropped from a Senate compromise in the making.

House Outlines Plan on Spending and Debt Limit, Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times, 9:56 a.m.

Excuse me, but what is the point supposed be in compelling members of Congress and the cabinet to obtain health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act–which the law already requires–and removing their employer subsidy?  I mean, other than just showing yet again what jack asses they are.

By “the employer subsidy,” I guess they mean the money that their employer–the government–now pays toward their health insurance premiums.  So this would just be a reduction in their salaries.  What point are they trying to make by this?  How is this supposed to analogize to something that resembles anyone else’s situation?  I really don’t get this. At all.

These people are stupifyingly childish.

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A reminder from Obama’s February 2009 speech

By: Daniel Becker

In answer to the generic question regarding President Obama’s actions regarding the debt ceiling, I am re-posting this from 2/25/09.  In comments of the original I stated that cutting the deficit by 1/2 seemed to “optimistic” for me.

Ok, here are my basic issues with the substance of President Obama’s speech. First, may I remind everyone
that as of 11/08 I declared my divorce successful. Has it become my mission accomplish moment?

I heard this:

“And we will expand our commitment to charter schools. but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.”

And thought: 2 tier education system/vouchers, no thank you. Education begins at home when home means one parent has the time to spend at home oppose to both working.

I heard this:

“And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.”

And thought: Are you freak’n kidding me! In this time of financial collapse we’re still going to talk about turning an insurance for the masses against the follies of finance into some form to include finance? The entire reason we want to create jobs is because we have suddenly realized that the vast, vast majority do not earn their money from money. Tax free? Has he not heard of 401K, IRA and all it’s versions, HSA, higher education accounts? Italy?

I heard this:

“Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office.”

And thought: Yeah, how’d that work for the last administration who made such a declaration? Did he have to say “in half”? Has his advisors not taught him about the blip during the FDR recovery? Only one way I can think of doing this: Raise taxes where the money is and whack the defense budget in half and I mean take a swipe at all moneys related to security. Are we really $1 trillion dollars worth of paranoid?

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Screw Austerity, I have a new theme song

by Daniel Becker

Being that we’re about to experience austerity because we are convinced we can’t spend money properly such that we actually end up with more after rather than less …  which is very depressing to me and defeatist in presentation, I present my new theme song:  That’s how it goes.

I just find it fascinating that we will accept the argument that government needs to run as we run our own houses and thus need to not spend more than we have, blah, blah, blah yet we seem not willing to apply the concept that we apply daily in our own household to get ourselves an education, a house, our own business, improvement to our property and self.  We do this all the time because we understand it is building our wealth, and we do it even though we can’t print our own dollars like the government can.  (Yeah, we’re not Greece in that way.)

Really, just listen to both sides presenting the austerity program arguments.  Can’t you hear how disjointed the reasoning is?  Can’t you hear how selective they are in presenting examples of proof of their argument which is resulting is a totally disjointed line of reasoning.  Ask one question you are told we need to save to prosper.  Ask another question you are told we need to spend less just like you, to prosper.  Ask a third question and you are told we have no money, just like you.  Ask a forth question and we’re told the economy is growing (more money produced) NOT LIKE YOU.  Ask a fifth question and we are told to better yourself, NOT LIKE WE THE PEOPLE.  Ask a sixth question and we are told to get an education, NOT LIKE WE THE PEOPLE.  Ask a seventh question and we are told to…(fill in your own).

My favorite verses of the song and why it is my new theme song:

I help you and you help me
That’s the way the world should be
Tit for tat and give and take
Just be good for goodness sake
I’ll pick you up if you should fall
It works both ways if it works at all
Hold in your heart the people you love
Always thank the powers above
Everyone deserves a share
So keep your promise, fair is fair

So gather ‘round me people
And help me while I sing this song
I’d rather have you with me
Together as we travel along
It’s the feeling of the wind in your face
The sound of the music they play
The friends you make along the way
Don’t you know, that’s how it goes

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Push Him! Push Him!

I was taking the day off, but this is the best news the Obama Administration could get right now.* Wonder how they’ll screw it up?

I second the (self-)nomination of Dr. Black, on condition he commit to bringing me on as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Markets, which was held in its Glory Days by a former boss of mine.**

*It also stands as yet another reason for Republicans to delay any agreement on the debt ceiling, since he would likely be replaced by a Democrat.

**I, in turn, will promise to get my tax difficulties with NY State straightened out.*** Since the current T-Sec had much more recurrent and lasting issues, I don’t see this as a problem for confirmation, should such be required.

***They are the direct result on my current firm having accidentally, I presume, input my Social Security number into their system with “fat fingers.”

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Mark Thoma Has Become a Fiery, Liberal Spirit

Mark Thoma joins Dr. Black, putting him one-up on some Liberal Bloggers Who Should Know Better.* Thoma:

1. You have to make the Republicans pay in terms of eroded public support before they will agree to cooperate at all. The president in particular has not played a long-run strategy, the Republicans have, and the results reflect this.
2. “Let’s agree that what matters isn’t how many jobs you ‘get caught trying’ to create.” Why should I agree to take as given the point being debated here? When we need jobs as bad as we do right now, making it clear the other side is standing in the way of that goal, and fighting for the policies you’d like to enact has more value than it did in the past.

3. To me, this is about leaders and followers, and the administration is not the one leading policy right now.

4. The other side is not shy about going public, and that was also true when they controlled the White House. If this advice is correct, why didn’t it hurt Republicans when they were in power?

5. Yes, jobs at election time would be best. But if the other side is pushing policies that work against that goal so that it is unlikely to be attained…making that clear to the public would hurt. [slightly edited; emphases mine]

As Yves said, can Ezra Klein should stick to being (slightly less but still) wrong about health care?

At this point, the list of Obama Administration Unforced Errors—Summers, Geithner, John Walsh, lack of nominations, etc.; see here—is so long I would be willing to swear they put a one-armed man on the tennis court.

UPDATE: Contrast the Obama Administration statements (and lack of same) with today’s Press Release from CGI America:

Today, President Bill Clinton opened CGI America, hosting a plenary session on job creation and announcing new programs that will help foster economic growth in the U.S.

Speaking to more than 700 leaders from businesses, nonprofits, and government at the opening session, President Clinton announced three “Commitments to Action” that will be implemented by CGI America participants. These commitments, presented by Kiva, Visa, Onshore Technology Services, and the AFL-CIO, will expand access to microfinance, train workers, and fund infrastructure development.

“When these commitments are fully funded and implemented, 140,000 people will receive access to job training, 1,000 information technology jobs will be created in rural America, and $3.5 million will be loaned to small businesses in the U.S.,” President Clinton said. “Initiatives like these prove that organizations and individuals around the country have the power to take action to spur economic growth.”

CGI America is the first Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting focused exclusively on the U.S. The purpose of the event is to develop new ideas for spurring economic growth and to highlight existing programs that can be replicated and scaled.

Can’t anyone in the current Administration—Tim Geithner is attending CGI America—understand that Bully Pulpits are Meant to Be Used? The last Democratic Administration did.

*I should be fair to Bernstein, but he perpetuates the horse droppings about “people want to see spending cuts and see them they will.” The unemployed innumerate vote, sometimes, and they’re not going to cheerfully vote for someone who keeps them unemployed by doing what they said they want. That’s not leadership, as David Frum (whose ex-boss knew even less about leadership than BarryO does) noted.**

**Frum’s claim that Obama is not imaginative enough is clearly bollocks, and his toughness (as distinct from his determination) should be unquestionable too. But “not determined enough” has rung true since his Senate days, and the bad Gerald Ford imitation is wearing thin even with those who were originally nostalgic.

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I want spending, I want spending, I WANT SPENDING!

By: Daniel Becker
There is some new information from Adam Hersh of Center for American Progress showing what has happened in the states that have followed the conservative economic approach (yes, talking to you Obama, DLC, Clintonites).  Keep cutting at your own risk.

Here’s the thing.  Like the Wile E Coyote, we seem to have run off the cliff.  Our feet are still moving like we are running because we have not noticed we are off the cliff.   Or I should say those in the lofty parts of our power house and economy have not noticed.   Now, in cartoons, sometimes the charater makes the realization and can scramble back to safety at the edge of the cliff.  However,  Wile E never did get it and always fell.

I’m not interested in being taken down by Senator, Represenative, President, Chairman Wile E Coyote.  No thank you.  I know we’re off the cliff as do the vast majority of not only the USA but it seems the rest of the 1st world nations.  So listen up Wile E.  We’re not following you any more ( I hear you Greek patrons).  Not going to try to catch that road runner your way anymore.   And here is why:

Relative to national economic trends, states that increased spending enjoyed on average:
0.2 percentage point decrease in the unemployment rate
1.4 percent increase in private employment
0.5 percent real economic growth since the start of the recession.

In contrast, states that cut spending saw on average:
1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate
2.1 percent loss of private employment
2.9 percent real economic contraction relative to the national economic trend.

So, I hope the IMF is happy now.  I have to be honest, the study does note:

The three figures presented in the accompanying charts demonstrate that steep state government spending cuts have gone hand-in-hand with rising unemployment, falling private-sector payroll employment, and lower real growth in states’ gross domestic product, or GDP—the sum of all goods and services produced by labor and equipment in each state, minus imports. The analysis, however, does not tell us whether the spending cuts caused the negative economic outcomes. But in all three cases, steep spending cuts are statistically associated with markedly worse economic performance.

There are some nice charts at the linked article if you are more visual.  Personally, I feel this new info just further supports my position that people are not drowning (debt is not money and thus not water), they are dehydrating.  We need more of the water that already exists.  It’s the income inequality issue.  I am rather certain that more government cutting has no chance, zero chance of reversing the inequality. 

If we can’t reverse the inequality, then we’re going to continue with what I pointed out in 2008.  That is, the top is taking money from the economy as income faster than the economy can produce it.  Can you keep spending more than you make?  No, is the conservative answer.  Well, can you keep taking it faster than you can produce it?  No, is the liberal/progressive answer. 

The issue is not that we are spending too much via government because the government is not just another player in the economy.  As I have noted, as long as the government acts counter to the players in the economy and does so in a manor that assures equality and the reduction of risk in living, it is not a competitor.  It does not “crowd out” the private sector. 

This leaves the real issue of a stalling economy, and declining living security one of  to much money being taken out of the economy.  For decades as noted, one group has been taking too much money out of the economy and have been doing it at ever increasing rates: the top 1%.  They are doing it faster than the economy can produce it.  This, as far as I am concerned is no different than government cutting spending.  Either way, money is taken out.  Velocity is what we are talking; how much and how fast money is moving through the economy.   Of course to understand such, one has to appreciate that Wall Street, banks, and markets are not an economy.  This is why the government, acting to fulfill it’s prime purpose of equality of power is never a competitior in the economy.

So, how convienent the conservative issue is debt.  Too much of it they say.  Too much spending.  HA!  The real debt is in the lack of income to everyone other than those in the top 1%.  They took and are taking so much money out of the system in the form of income (decrease union membership, tax cuts, off shoring, financialization, consolidation) that they have damaged the machine which allowed them to have growing income.  This is the real debt.  It is the lack of economic growth.  And the rich have caused it.  Yet there solution is to cut government spending and further reduce the amount of money in the active (remember velocity) part of the economy all the while taking even more out as income in their pockets?

Do you see how nuts Wile E Coyote is?

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There’s a reason they talk about 2 August: What the Republican Mainstream Hath Wrought

Reuters reports that the mainstream Republican Party has decided to jump the shark admit it is insane:

David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a Republican advocate for raising the debt limit, said he holds regular question-and-answer sessions with Republican congressman over a beer.

“I have yet to meet one Republican who actually says a failure to raise the debt limit scares them,” Frum said. “It is deeply, deeply troubling the number of Republicans I now talk to – and I include the mainstream – who think a technical default is manageable.”

Many on Wall Street disagree.

They fear even the briefest default would cause a steep climb in interest rates worldwide and a tumbling U.S. dollar, which would tip a fragile economy back into recession and cause financial market upheaval on a scale not seen since the collapse of Lehman Bros.

Let us be clear: a “technical default” is manageable. It is being managed right now. We’ve been in “technical default” since around May 15th. Vendors are seeing payments delayed, contract signings are being put off, funding is being delayed. We can not pay soldiers, after all. They’re getting food and lodging in Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya anyway; they don’t need money.

Pat Toomey appears to believe that would be a good idea:

Republican Senator Pat Toomey has even introduced legislation directing the U.S. Treasury to prioritize debt service over other payments if the debt limit is not raised. It has 22 Republican co-sponsors in the Senate and 98 in the House of Representatives, although no members of the Republican leadership have backed it.

Good thing Toomey thinks those ungrateful Chinese bondholders are important. But who are they more important than?

Short answer: Republican voters.

Longer answer: Social Security recipients, who traditionally receive their checks and direct deposits on the 3rd of the month.

Which means the funding has to be available—to authorize scheduled ACH transfers, if nothing else—on the 2nd.

Which means— since for purposes of the “deficit,” Social Security is part of the “unified budget”—that Social Security’s EOD balance will decline on August 2nd, since there will be no coupon receipts or security redemptions that day.

In short, Toomey wants to pay bondholders and screw Social Security recipients. And he has at 110 Senators and Representatives who believe that is a good idea.

I want to see all 111 of them meet with all of their SocSec recipients on 3 August 2011 and tell them, “Well, we had to balance the suffering. And it was either you or the Chinese government. And they mean more to us than you do.”

UPDATE: Felix focuses on the same paragraph, reaching half of the same conclusion. Take the next step, mate.

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Social Security & the Debt Limit

{Crossposted from dKos Social Security Defenders Group}

Social Security has been off the radar this week for obvious reasons, progressives being more focused on efforts of Republicans to win the War on Women via the Continuing Resolution. Plus while Paul Ryan’s original Roadmap proposed privatization of Social Security his Budget proposal for next year left it mostly aside (except for an obscure ‘trigger’ mechanism for future cuts) in favor of a trillion dollar assault on Medicaid and a proposal to voucherize Medicare. Which only leaves one current assault vehicle, the pending bill to raise the Debt Limit which under current estimates needs to happen by mid May, and sure enough there are rumblings to this effect, no changes to Social Security, no votes to raise the Debt Limit from the Republicans.

So this seems an opportune time to explain the actual relation between Social Security and Public Debt and the paradoxical effects on debt from cuts to future benefits. Because all else held even all this does is increase real debt over the medium term (25 years) while reducing purely theoretical debt over the God help us Infinite Future Horizon. Conceptual unpacking in Extended.As usual a good starting point for the serious student is the Budget Concepts and Budge Process (pdf) section of the Analytical Perspectives of the Budget (html index) released each year by OMB to illustrate the President’s budget both conceptually and historically.

But even beofre citing definitions I would like to direct Kossacks (and any visitors-welcome!) to a very handy web tool maintained by Treasury called Debt to the Penny which true to its name will give you total federal debt to the penny at the end of any specified business day or over date ranges. For example as of close of business Thursday total ‘Public Debt’ was $14,264,245,526,311.58. This figure is the sum of ‘Debt Held by the Public’ at $9,652,195,544,012.12 and ‘Intragovernmental Holdings’ at $4,612,049,982,299.46 (‘debt to the penny’ meaning what it says).

Now ‘Intragovernmental Holdings’ is what OMB calls ‘Debt held by Government accounts’ which in turn “means the debt the Treasury Department owes to accounts within the Federal Government. Most of it results from the surpluses of the Social Security and other trust funds, which are required by law to be invested in Federal securities.” So the commonly expressed opinion that Social Security Trust Funds are not counted in that total $14 trillion of debt cited in the MSM is dead wrong, they constitute $2.6 tn of that $4.6 tn of ‘Intragovernmental Holdings’ or 18% of the total $14.3 tn in Public Debt. In fact Social Security is by far the biggest creditor the U.S. has, with Treasury holdings double those of the Fed and two and a half times that of our largest foreign lender the Chinese.

‘Public Debt’ is not precisely the same as ‘Debt Subject to the Limit’ but for all practical purposes it is the same $14 tn plus, for those interested Treasury supplies the following in their FAQ

What’s the difference between the Public Debt Outstanding and the Public Debt Subject to Limit?

The Public Debt Outstanding represents the face amount or principal amount of marketable and non-marketable securities currently outstanding. The Public Debt Subject to Limit is the maximum amount of money the Government is allowed to borrow without receiving additional authority from Congress. Furthermore, the Public Debt Subject to Limit is the Public Debt Outstanding adjusted for Unamortized Discount on Treasury Bills and Zero Coupon Treasury Bonds, Miscellaneous debt (very old debt), Debt held by the Federal Financing Bank and Guaranteed Debt

With the conceptual background set, lets see how Social Security Trust Fund Operations interact with the Debt Limit.

And the answer is simple, though a little counter-intuitive. If Trust Fund principal balances go up in any given year due to a surplus of income over cost adding new offsetting Special Treasuries then so does ‘Intragovernmental Holdings’ and so in turn ‘Public Debt’. On the other hand if in any year total cost exceeds total income including interest, the flow of offsetting Special Treasuries is reversed, then Trust Fund principal goes down and in turn so does Public Debt. In between those two outcomes is a series of years where income EXCLUDING interest trails cost, but the accruing interest covers the gap, in which case the rate of principal increase is slowed and so the rate of growth of total Public Debt due to increased amounts of Intragovernmental Holdings.

Put all of that together and what do you get? Short term cuts in Social Security benefits absent any changes in revenue INCREASE the rate of principal accumulations of Intragovernmental Holdings and so ADD TO DEBT SUBJECT TO THE LIMIT. And the same is true for any benefit change starting before the projected date the Trust Funds hit their maximum, which right now is about $4.2 tn in 2023.

Which is why holding Social Security hostage to this year’s Debt Limit is simple bullshit. one has nothing to do with the other, and any attempts to start phasing in benefit changes via changes in the index (as B-S would starting in 2012) makes total Debt Subject to the Limit HIGHER and not lower. In fact far from giving our children and grandchildren a break it would absent other changes just time shift debt repayment forward in time while making the principal balances and hence ultimate payment amounts larger. It is all more Bait and Switch, just sophistry using ideas about seeming fiscal rectitude to screw over worker-retirees starting ten years out.

(But such a move would reduce ‘Unfunded Liabilities’, which opponents of SS wrongly equate to ‘Debt’. They aren’t but that will be the subject of a later post.)

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