Entries Tagged as 'Economy'

Economic Stimulus

It amazes me how the United States Government can make simple things so complicated… and that it always seems that laws to benefit the greater good cannot be passed without benefiting special interests.

I say this is a very simple thing to handle.

The House and Senate need to approve an appropriation bill which allocates a given amount of money to an economic stimulus effort.  With that they can define the types of spending (broadly) that are acceptable.  Further, they can designate that government entities (federal, state, local, etc) can submit a request to a panel composed of four Representatives (two Republican, two Democrat), two Senators (one Republican, one Democrat), and the Vice President to review and approve.

Further, they could specify that each and very request must be for a single project; well specified with goals and measurable objectives.  That each and every proposal submitted must be acted on within ninety days, and that all actions and meeting of the committee must be open to the public (and news media, complete with cameras and microphones).

Congress could allocate more funding to the program as needed, or elect to stop funding it at any point in the future (but couldn’t pull back funds once granted).

Additional there should be a requirement on any entity that receives funds that they will abide by the letter of Federal law in allocating work which is wholly or partially paid for by the funds, and that any failure to use the funds as specified will require repayment with interest.

Look here, in a few hundred words I’ve outlined a framework that is totally transparent, highly adaptable, and fully accountable…

The whole problem is that we’ve changed nothing in Washington.  While I believe that Barrack Obama wants to change the way government governs, most of the individuals in Washington only wish to benefit themselves.

We gave Barrack Obama an overwhelming charter to change America for the better, and if each and everyone of us doesn’t stand up now and tell our Representatives and Senators that they are either part of the solution, or they are part of the problem and will be dealt with severely.

One thing is for sure, things will change — we will either choose to make the changes, or the changes will be the result of social and economic upheaval.  But if we’re going to have the choice, it has to be soon.

Originally posted 2009-02-08 01:00:01.

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.

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.

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.

Tea Party

The Tea Party has been holding a number of rallies to make people aware of how government is misusing their tax dollars…

Damn straight!

Remember, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not in the budget; the wars were entered into based on lies told to the American people (and the House and Senate — which you would have hoped would have been a little more savvy than the average taxpayer and ask for proof).

So let’s start by getting that nearly trillion dollars that was misappropriated ack; from the defense budget (after all — gotta cut to pay, right Tea Party — and best to cut from the same programs that used misappropriated money than a program that didn’t).

Am I serious… well, I’m as serious as the Tea Party.

If you want to look for places to get money to help this country make ends meet; here’s the short list.

  • Wall Street
  • Banking
  • Oil & Gas Industry
  • Defense

Seems like these are the areas which have taken far more than they have put in for the past several years…


And honestly, no, this isn’t the way I’d try and balance the budget.

I’d look at fixing what’s broken…

Health Care — the Obama health care plan is a waste; let’s move to a single payer system (much like our neighbors to the North) that _all_ US citizens are a part of; and that government employees and elected officials have no option but to use (and have no special access).  Of course any business or individual could elect to pay for private insurance, but that would be using after tax dollars.  Medicare and medicaid would simply be a part of the national health system; and the only difference would be that very low income individuals would get at least some number of co-pay waivers per year.

Social Security — definitely needs to be looked into, but a program that many Americans over 50 have been expecting to be there when they retire cannot continue to change…  I’m not sure how to fix this, but we probably need to view all the different parts of the Social Security system separately and deal with solutions based on the needs of each.

Defense — definitely needs to be trimmed.  We simply cannot spend 20% of every tax dollar for defense (40% of what the world spends on arms — six times that of China)… and that money doesn’t need to be wasted on weapons programs that aren’t needed (or wanted by most Americans).  Let’s keep it in perspective, military spending is what caused the implosion of the Soviet Union, the US need not continue to escalate the arms race.

Taxes — there’s a simple solution, throw out the old tax code (and the IRS) and institute a simple code.  Something like: no tax on earnings to poverty level,  5% on everything above poverty level to say 2x poverty level; add 5% percent on each 1x poverty level beyond that to a maximum rate of 50%.  That’s it, no other Federal tax (everything comes out of one tax stream).  No American entity pays 50% of their earnings in tax; and very few pay anywhere near that.  If the tax rate is too high, just adjust the single 5% number on each band, and instantly the earnings amount the cap applies to goes up.  Plus, as poverty is eliminated, the tax bracket broadens.

Term Limits — any elected official needs to be bound by the same term limits as the President; no more than two terms in the same office.  And we need to make sure that these officials are paid the US median salary — after all, they should represent the views of an average American, and that they have the exact same safety net as the rest of America (Social Security)… no special retirement plan.  Now I would certainly agree that they could be considered government employees, and count their time in office toward a retirement — the same as the clerks in their offices do.

Education — we definitely need to consider education as a national issue, not a local one.  Standards need to be more consistent and graduates need to be functional in our society (if you don’t think education is closely tied to economics, you’re living in a cave).


None of this is what’s being talked about — the Tea Party is completely politically motivated, and are only interested in imposing their regressive (misguided) Christian ultra-right views on the process; and don’t want to work towards any real solution since they view failure as the way to gain control.

The first step to fixing the problem is change — and I subscribe that change starts by sending the signal that we as Americans just won’t put up with the way in which business has been done too long.

Perhaps the American Spring isn’t far off.

Originally posted 2011-09-26 02:00:49.

Spending chill…

Obama may propose a discretionary spending freeze for three years.

Hopefully he’ll fully define what discretionary means; I remember the budget surplus (you know, “extra” money when the country had a trillion dollar debt) so I don’t make any assumptions what politicians in Washington mean by any term that they don’t have a clear track record using.

Of course, he’s already exempted the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs (sound like he’s playing to the political right) from the freezes.

I think it’s great to implement “new” ideas to reign in government spending — of course I’d like to see some the “old” ideas (you know — those campaign promises Obama made that got him elected) implemented.

In the back of my mind I see this a yet another failure looming for the Obama presidency.

Originally posted 2010-01-25 20:00:46.

The Nightmare Continues…

With the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continuing to drain tax coffers, the first quarter 2010 reported a substantial increase in home owners who missed at least one mortgage payment.

Below are three articles by The Associated Press (with complete links to NPR).


Mortgage Delinquencies, Foreclosures Break Records
by The Associated Press

The number of homeowners who missed at least one mortgage payment surged to a record in the first quarter of the year, a sign that the foreclosure crisis is far from over.

More than 10 percent of homeowners had missed at least one mortgage payment in the January-March period, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. That number was up from 9.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year and 9.1 percent a year earlier.

Those figures are adjusted for seasonal factors. For example, heating bills and holiday expenses tend to push up mortgage delinquencies near the end of the year. Many of those borrowers become current on their loans again by spring.

Without adjusting for seasonal factors, the delinquency numbers dropped, as they normally do from the winter to spring.

More than 4.6 percent of homeowners were in foreclosure, also a record. But that number, which is not adjusted for seasonal factors, was up only slightly from the end of last year.

Stocks slid Wednesday as investors remain concerned with the European debt crisis. The rising number of mortgages also drew some attention. The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 160 points in early trading.

Jay Brinkmann, the trade group’s chief economist, said the foreclosure crisis appears to have stabilized. Seasonal adjustments may be exaggerating the change from the previous quarter, he added.

“I don’t see signs now that it’s getting worse, but it’s going to take a while,” he said. “A bad situation that’s not getting worse is still bad.”

The number of American homeowners who have missed at least three months of payments or are in foreclosure has surged to around 4.3 million, Brinkmann estimated.

The Obama administration’s $75 billion foreclosure prevention program has barely dented the problem. More than 299,000 homeowners had received permanent loan modifications as of last month. That’s about 25 percent of the 1.2 million who started the program since its March 2009 launch.

About 277,000 homeowners, or 23 percent of those enrolled, have dropped out during a trial phase that lasts at least three months.

Economic woes, such as unemployment or reduced income, are the main catalysts for foreclosures this year. Initially, lax lending standards were the culprit. But homeowners with good credit who took out conventional, fixed-rate loans are now the fastest growing group of foreclosures.

Those borrowers made up nearly 37 percent of new foreclosures in the first quarter of the year, up from 29 percent a year earlier.

The risky subprime adjustable-rate loans that kicked off the foreclosure crisis are making up a smaller share of new foreclosures. They made up 14 percent of new foreclosures in the January-March period, down from 27 percent a year earlier.


Fannie Mae Seeks $8.4B From U.S. After $13B Loss
by The Associated Press

Fannie Mae has again asked taxpayers for more money after reporting a first-quarter loss of more than $13 billion.

The mortgage finance company, which was rescued by the government in September 2008, said it needs an additional $8.4 billion from the government to help cover mounting losses.

Fannie Mae says it lost $13.1 billion, or $2.29 per share, in the January-March period. That takes into account $1.5 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $23.2 billion, or $4.09 a share, in the year-ago period.

The rescue of Fannie Mae and sister company Freddie Mac is turning out to be one of the most expensive aftereffects of the financial meltdown. The new request for aid will bring Fannie Mae’s total to $83.6 billion. The total bill for the duo will now be nearly $145 billion.

Late last year, the Obama administration pledged to cover unlimited losses through 2012 for Freddie and Fannie, lifting an earlier cap of $400 billion.

Fannie and Freddie play a vital role in the mortgage market by purchasing mortgages from lenders and selling them to investors. Together the pair own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That’s about half of all mortgages.

The two companies, however, loosened their lending standards for borrowers during the real estate boom and are reeling from the consequences.

With the housing market still on shaky ground, Obama administration officials say it is still too early to draft any proposals to reform the two companies or the broader housing finance system.

But Republicans argue the sweeping financial overhaul currently before Congress is incomplete without a plan for Fannie and Freddie. They propose transforming Fannie and Freddie into private companies with no government subsidies, or shutting them down completely.

The legislation “touches nearly every corner of the economy,” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said in the GOP weekly radio and Internet address over the weekend. “But these major contributors to the crisis are left unscathed,” he added, singling out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


Freddie Mac Seeks $10.6B In Aid After 1Q Loss
by The Associated Press

Freddie Mac is asking for $10.6 billion in additional federal aid after posting a big loss in the first three months of the year. It’s another sign that the taxpayer bill for stabilizing the housing market will keep mounting.

The McLean, Va.-based mortgage finance company has been effectively owned by the government after nearly collapsing in September 2008. The new request will bring the total tab for rescuing Freddie Mac to $61.3 billion.

Freddie Mac said Wednesday it lost $8 billion, or $2.45 a share, in the January-March period. That takes into account $1.3 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $10.4 billion, or $3.18 a share, in the first quarter last year.

The company, however, cautioned that new accounting standards make it difficult to compare the most recent quarter with the year-ago period. In the first quarter of this year, Freddie Mac was forced to bring $1.5 trillion in assets and liabilities onto its balance sheet, causing the company’s net worth to plunge by $11.7 billion.

Nevertheless, the company’s CEO Charles Haldeman said, “We are seeing some signs of stabilization in the housing market, including house prices and sales in some key geographic areas.”

He cautioned, though, that the housing market “remains fragile with historically high delinquency and foreclosure levels, and high unemployment among the key risks.”

Created by Congress, Freddie Mac and sibling company Fannie Mae buy mortgages from lenders and package them into bonds that are resold to global investors. As the housing bubble burst, they were unable to raise enough money to stay afloat, and the government effectively nationalized them.

Freddie’s new request will bring the total taxpayer tab for both companies to about $126 billion.

With the housing market still on shaky ground, Obama administration officials argue that it is still too early to draft any proposals to reform the two companies or the broader housing finance system.

But Republicans argue that the sweeping financial overhaul currently before Congress is incomplete without a plan for Fannie and Freddie. Senate Republicans propose transforming Fannie and Freddie into private companies with no government subsidies, or to shut them down completely.


The deficit was $1.2 – $1.3 trillion when Obama took the reigns; some projections put it to be as high as $10 trillion in 2020… and while I’m not a fan of Obama, much of that was set in motion before he tripped over his own feet.

Originally posted 2010-05-20 02:00:51.