Entries Tagged as 'Economy'

Bye-bye, tax breaks?

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer CNN
October 26, 2010: 2:05 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Who says there’s no bipartisanship? Democrats and Republicans running for Congress are finding every way possible to assure voters they will keep Americans’ taxes low forever.

But those will be hard promises to keep after the economy recovers. Tax experts almost uniformly say the next Congress should rethink the more than 200 tax breaks in the federal code that cost more than $1 trillion a year. And, yes, that includes even the really, really popular ones.

Lawmakers may be presented with the idea as early as December, when President Obama’s fiscal commission issues its report. There is a possibility the commission may recommend curtailing or eliminating some tax breaks.

Commission co-chairman Erskine Bowles has publicly expressed support for the idea. So has commission member Alice Rivlin, former White House budget director. Another member, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who coauthored a bipartisan plan for tax reform, supports curtailing some breaks but only to lower marginal tax rates in the context of broader reform.

The $1 trillion-plus in forgone revenue is close to the amount allocated for defense and discretionary spending in 2010, or the equivalent of nearly a third of the latest federal budget.

Cutting back on tax breaks can be a more efficient way to bring in revenue than raising income tax rates because it would subject more work and business income to taxation. If done right, it also promises to make the tax code fairer and simpler.

For years, leading tax experts and economists from the left and the right have contended that tax breaks are, in reality, a form of spending. The cost of tax breaks is mostly invisible, since there’s no formal accounting of them on Uncle Sam’s books. And once passed into law, they are rarely scrutinized.

“[Tax breaks] are styled as tax savings, but really function as replacements for explicit government spending. Some make sense, but a great many are poorly targeted and would never pass Congress if presented as an outright spending proposal,” tax expert Edward Kleinbard wrote in an article this summer called, “Sacred Cows: It’s Them or Us.”
Popular tax breaks: Dogfight ahead

A disproportionate amount of the lost revenue from tax breaks comes from just five of them.

Not surprisingly, those five are also among the most popular:

  • mortgage interest deduction;
  • tax-free income workers get from employers to pay for health insurance;
  • deduction for state and local taxes;
  • deduction for charitable contributions;
  • and myriad tax breaks for retirement savings.

Many of those breaks are only available to the roughly one-third of taxpayers who itemize deductions on their returns.

There have been a number of proposals over the years for how the biggest breaks might be modified.

Most recently, the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget put out a paper highlighting many possibilities that combined could raise $1.7 trillion in additional revenue over a decade.
Think you’re smart about deficits? Try this

For instance, consider the money that workers receive when their employers contribute to their health insurance costs. That subsidy is currently treated as tax-free income to the worker and is unlimited.

The subsidy could instead be converted to a credit, which is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of one’s tax bill. The credit would be phased out for higher income taxpayers and it would be refundable for low-income workers who don’t make enough income to owe any federal income tax.

“This strategy would reduce the incentive for employers to offer ‘gold-plated’ insurance plans,” the budget watchdog group wrote.

The mortgage interest deduction — currently available on up to $1.1 million of borrowing — could be gradually reduced so that it only applies to loans on up to $500,000. And the option tax filers get to deduct interest on their second homes could be eliminated.

“[Today’s] policy is regressive (providing larger tax breaks to those well off enough to purchase more expensive homes), promotes homeownership over other productive investments and costs the government roughly $100 billion a year in lost revenues,” the committee noted in its paper.

Since everyone in Congress can identify and vilify what they see as “tax breaks for special interests,” curbing tax breaks has a lot of bipartisan support. The problem, of course, is that there’s less agreement on just which tax breaks deserve the ax or at least a haircut.

And, of course, since politicians much prefer to hand out tax breaks to voters and financial backers, it may be hard for them to muster the mettle required to reverse gears.

How hard? Bowles put it plainly at the fiscal commission’s public meeting in September.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s not going to be fun, and in many cases, it’s also not going to be popular. It is going to require sacrifice on the part of all Americans to get there.”

Original Article on CNN.com

Originally posted 2010-11-06 02:00:55.

US Auto Makers

The “Big Three” US automobile manufacturers are quick to tell you they’re not looking for a bail out, they’re looking for bridge loans.

Well… what’s the difference between a bridge loan to a business that’s likely to fail and giving them money for bad assets?

NADA!

It really doesn’t matter what the wording is, bail out, bridge loan, give away… it’s all the same.  The money from hard working American tax payers being given to companies that have made bad decisions and are looking for someone else to pay the price.

And why isn’t part of the $700B we’ve already approved being used?

Why are we gutting a fund that’s been setup to help create automobiles that move us toward energy independence?

Like so many Americans are asking — Where’s my bail out?

It’s great the congress is grilling the auto makers before they hand out more money — but why didn’t they hold Wall Street to the same standards?

This whole thing is very suspect… I mean all the American who are out of work, are we going to extend unemployment benefits for as long as it takes to turn the economy around?  They certainly didn’t contribute to these short sighted decisions… they don’t get $15 million in compensation per year…

I think before any more of the $700B is handed out, or before we approve more money for short sighted businesses we need to lay down a road map that helps us understand how the average American who’s been hit hard by these events is going to survive.

Maybe we need Twisted Sister to sing “We’re not going to take it…” at the opening of ever congressional hearing and session!

Originally posted 2008-12-10 12:00:05.

New Year – Same Down Economy

Retailers started releasing fourth quarter earning reports yesterday.

There’s no surprise here — Target, the number two retailer in the US, announced on Christmas Eve that sales would not meet there expectations; and Master Card also indicated that spending (via credit card) was down.

Wal-Mart, of course, tipped everyone off that they expected a bad retail season when they started their “Black Friday” sales three weeks before Thanksgiving and most retailers followed suit with deep discounts through out the retail season.

While a bad retail season doesn’t by itself mean that the economy will continue to slump, there are certainly enough signs to that effect (personally I’m ignoring the US Department of Labor’s unemployment numbers… they simply don’t make sense, they don’t seem to reflect reality, and they are designed to be misleading).

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but the long the economy continues the slide downward the harder it will be to revive.  My instinct tells me that this downturn, like The Great Depression, will not be ended by planning and programs — but by aggression, greed, and exploitation.

Originally posted 2010-01-13 01:00:13.

Economic Recovery

The Fed is telling us that we’re on the road to recovery… that economic activity improved across all 12 regions tracked, and have reminded us that the last time all regions were in a growth mode was prior to December 2007.  Remember, though, the Fed told us all several months ago that economic activity improved in all regions except for St Louis (which was marginal).

The Fed chairman was upbeat in a report to congress that the economy is likely to expand, though slowly – and we needed to be weary of the European debt crisis (and slipped in warnings about high unemployment and a fragile housing market here at home).

But we’re also told by the Labor Department that job openings in April rose to the highest level in 16 month to 3.1 million (from 2.8 million in March).  Remember, these are openings advertised, not necessarily openings filled… and even with those statistics there are 5 unemployed people for each job opening.

I think it’s great to paint a positive picture — but I also think it’s important to keep people well grounded in the reality that the economic down turn is far from over; and while the Fed might like to encourage increased spending to speed a recovery — that’s more of a chicken-and-egg problem than they’re willing to admit… after all nearly 20% of this country is unemployed (though the government clever fuzzy math makes that number out to be much lower), and most of those people aren’t independently wealthy!

Originally posted 2010-06-23 02:00:48.

ROWE

No, not Rowe vs Wade (but I’m sure I’ll have a rant on that if the current court hears a case that could reverse that land mark decision)… but Result Only Work Environment; essentially a version of “Flex Time” that is focused on increasing productivity by avoiding “presenteeism” (where someone is physically in the office, but mentally somewhere else).

You can read about an article on NPR about the Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County (Minneapolis, MN).

The End Of 9-To-5: When Work Time Is Anytime

Originally posted 2010-03-29 02:00:45.

This is a mistake that we will pay for for years to come!

Yes, today is Pearl Harbor day, but the title isn’t what Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto said after the attack (that was in fact, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping tiger and filled it with a great resolve”) — it’s actually what Richard Gephardt (of Missouri), then Democratic House Leader, said about the $1.6 trillion in tax cuts that then President George W Bush singed into effect after stepping into the presidency in January 2001.

Georgie and his buddies the conservatives taunted that the huge surplus amassed under the eight years of prosperity of President Bill Clinton was the result of the American government overcharging the average person in taxes.  So they concocted a tax cut (40% of which was targeted at the wealthiest 1% of Americans) which would reverse the projected $5.6 trillion surplus over the next ten years.

Well, ten years later this country is in the worst economic condition since the great depression — unemployment (even by government figures) is in double digits, and there’s really no sign of substantial improvement on the horizon and there’s a debate about renewing those tax cuts…

For the average American the tax cuts makes no difference; even for fairly wealthy Americans they don’t make much difference — it’s really only for the wealthiest of the wealthy that they tax cuts make a substantial difference; or put plainly, it benefits those who are doing fine — and in the long run may harm those who are barely hanging on.

We don’t have a budget surplus any longer (in fact, I’d argue we never had a budget surplus — we had a debt that we could have, and should have, paid down).

President Obama has proposed a tax plan that will give most Americans the same tax savings that the old Bush plan did, but it will remove the tax cuts that the richest Americans got… but I’m not sure we shouldn’t be finding a more equitable way to tax rather than continuing to convolute the tax laws so that those with wealth and power can twist the law to serve their needs.

Originally posted 2010-09-07 02:00:43.

$100 Bill

There’s a new fancy high-tech $100 bill that will be hitting the streets.

Made for the US Treasury Department by Crane & Co, Dalton, MA, US (who also makes paper currency for a number of other world governments), the new bill features a number of new security innovations; amount them are a 3-D ribbon, an image of an inkwell that changes to a Liberty Bell, as well as other features introduced on earlier denominations.

Originally posted 2010-10-27 02:00:07.

Banks spend big to sell credit cards to students

By Amy Haimerl, personal finance editor CNN
October 26, 2010: 4:27 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The U.S. Marines recruit college students to become one of the few, one of the proud.

Bank of America just wants their financial future.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank spends exponentially more money than any other bank to recruit students for credit cards.

In 2009, Bank of America unit FIA Card Services paid colleges and alumni associations $62 million for the rights to market cards to students and members, according to a report from the Federal Reserve.

The second biggest spender, Chase, dropped $13.8 million to recruit new borrowers, while U.S. Bank forked over $2.5 million.

When the Credit Card Accountability and Responsibility and Disclosure Act — better known as the CARD Act — went into effect in February, it required credit card companies to disclose how much they pay colleges for the right to set up on campuses — plus how many new borrowers it racked up. On Monday, the Federal Reserve made its first report.
College degrees that don’t pay

In total, the report showed that credit card companies spent $82.4 million to net 53,164 new student accounts.

The University of Notre Dame got the biggest payment of any school: Chase paid the school $1.8 million and in the end got 77 new borrowers. The school used the funds exclusively for financial aid, according to university spokesman Dennis Brown.

Meanwhile, Bank of America spent $1.5 million on the University of Southern California campus to sell 659 new accounts.

“If you look at how much is being paid per account, the numbers vary wildly,” says Josh Frank, senior researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending.

In pre-CARD Act year, Frank estimates that 200,000 to 600,000 new accounts were opened on college campuses and through alumni and other organizations.

“But even in a normal year,” he said, “this seems like a lot of money to pay per account. But it’s possible that they just value those accounts more highly and that they’re more profitable for them.”

One major change from the CARD Act is that students under 21 can no longer obtain a credit card without a co-signer — something that could severely limit new accounts. Credit card companies also can’t entice new borrowers through T-shirts and other giveaways — unless they are 1,000 feet (about three football fields) away from the campus.

“Anecdotally, it does seem to be a different environment on college campuses,” Frank said. “Banks are still on campus, but their presence is lower.

Chase paid the University of Notre Dame $1.8 million for the right to market credit cards on the Indiana campus.

Original article on CNN.com

Originally posted 2010-11-08 02:00:40.

Stuck in the toilet…

If the economy stays stuck in the toilet, I have a shot at beating Obama...
by Mike Luckovich

Originally posted 2011-07-06 02:00:52.

Mr President, now is the time to be a president.

There is a good article on CNN.com by Donna Brazile on what President Obama could (and should) do to get the economy back on track.

I think she’s got the right idea, but I think she really stops short of just outright saying that the problem isn’t necessarily Obama’s failed programs, it’s his failed leadership.

Now is not the time to sit on the fence Mr President; you’ve tried to build a consensus with congress (you failed to do that when your party had control of both houses, and you’ve continued to fail to do that now that your party doesn’t)… it’s time for you to lead — or to step aside and let someone else do so.

The problems this country has are solvable; but every day we wait to start moving down a path that is likely to put us on the road to get American’s working and to pay down the enormous debt that Republicans and Democrats alike have saddle the current (and future) generation(s) with we simply make the problem harder — and at some point there will not be a solution, the US will simply drift into the fray of third world countries never likely to regain it’s position as a real world leader again.

So, Mr President — be the president; make the hard choices; and move this country forward… it’s not the time to be a politician or a two term hopeful, it’s time to be a president.

 


4 ways Obama can take control to get America back on track by Donna Brazile on CNN.com

Originally posted 2011-08-17 02:00:42.