Stating the obvious


Will Durst, via Cagle Post:

Will DurstAt this point, you can’t even accuse the Democrats of being afraid of their own shadow because they don’t cast one. Besides, it’s hard to see your shadow when your head is so far up your butt you can tickle your spleen with your elbow. And if they expect any chance at all in 2012, they’d be wise to invest heavily in stem-cell research in hopes of regenerating their spine.

Exartly.

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Republicans and Jobs


Brief notes worth remembering:

Paul Krugman, shortly after the midterm election:

Eric CantorSo what’s really motivating the G.O.P. attack on the Fed? Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues were clearly caught by surprise, but the budget expert Stan Collender predicted it all. Back in August, he warned Mr. Bernanke that “with Republican policy makers seeing economic hardship as the path to election glory,” they would be “opposed to any actions taken by the Federal Reserve that would make the economy better.” In short, their real fear is not that Fed actions will be harmful, it is that they might succeed.

Hence the axis of depression. No doubt some of Mr. Bernanke’s critics are motivated by sincere intellectual conviction, but the core reason for the attack on the Fed is self-interest, pure and simple. China and Germany want America to stay uncompetitive; Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.

GOP stalwart Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and Poppy Bush administrations, as well as former aide to Reps. Jack Kemp and Ron Paul:

Deficits and thh Economy During the Great DepressionIt is starting to look like 1937 all over again. As the table below indicates, the economy made a significant recovery after hitting bottom in 1932, when real gross domestic product fell 13 percent. The contraction moderated considerably in 1933, and in 1934 growth was robust, with real G.D.P. rising 11 percent. Growth was also strong in 1935 and 1936, which brought the unemployment rate down more than half from its peak and relieved the devastating deflation that was at the root of the economy’s problems.

By 1937, President Roosevelt and the Federal Reserve thought self-sustaining growth had been restored and began worrying about unwinding the fiscal and monetary stimulus, which they thought would become a drag on growth and a source of inflation. There was also a strong desire to return to normality, in both monetary and fiscal policy.

On the fiscal side, Roosevelt was under pressure from his Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, to balance the budget. Like many conservatives today, Mr. Morgenthau worried obsessively about business confidence and was convinced that balancing the budget would be expansionary. In the words of the historian John Morton Blum, Mr. Morgenthau said he believed recovery “depended on the willingness of business to increase investments, and this in turn was a function of business confidence,” adding, “In his view only a balanced budget could sustain that confidence.”

Roosevelt ordered a very big cut in federal spending in early 1937, and it fell to $7.6 billion in 1937 and $6.8 billion in 1938 from $8.2 billion in 1936, a 17 percent reduction over two years.

At the same time, taxes increased sharply because of the introduction of the payroll tax. Federal revenues rose to $5.4 billion in 1937 and $6.7 billion in 1938, from $3.9 billion in 1936, an increase of 72 percent. As a consequence, the federal deficit fell from 5.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1936 to a mere 0.5 percent in 1938. The deficit was just $89 million in 1938.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve was alarmed by inflation rates that were high by historical standards, as well as by the large amount of reserves in the banking system, which could potentially fuel a further rise in inflation. Using powers recently granted by the Banking Act of 1935, the Fed doubled reserve requirements from August 1936 to May 1937. Higher reserve requirements restricted the amount of money banks could lend and caused them to tighten credit.

This combination of fiscal and monetary tightening – which conservatives advocate today – brought on a sharp recession beginning in May 1937 and ending in June 1938, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Real G.D.P. fell 3.4 percent in 1938, and the unemployment rate rose to 12.5 percent from 9.2 percent in 1937.

And then there is this, from John S. Irons of the Economic Policy Institute:

The agreement to raise the debt ceiling just announced by policymakers in Washington not only erodes funding for public investments and safety-net spending, but also misses an important opportunity to address the lack of jobs. The spending cuts in 2012 and the failure to continue two key supports to the economy (the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed) could lead to roughly 1.8 million fewer jobs in 2012, relative to current budget policy.

Economic Policy Institute Debt Ceiling Jobs Outlook

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Here is her spout ….


If there is one thing Americans should remember after this debt ceiling debate is over—accepting, of course, that we won’t remember anything important—it ought to be this bizarre yet apt cartoon from Rainer Hachfeld, via Cagle Post:

Rainer Hachfeld, "Republican Descent to Hell"

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Robert Reich on credit ratings, debt ceiling


Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich offered his thoughts this week on the debt ceiling and the spectre of a credit downgrade:

Robert Reich, October 31, 2010Now I don’t mean to be impertinent, but as long as America pays its debts on time, who is Standard & Poor’s to tell America how much debt it has to shed and by when?

Until the eve of Wall Street’s collapse in late 2007, S&P gave triple-A ratings to what turned out to be some of the Street’s riskiest packages of mortgage-backed securities.

Had S&P done its job, we wouldn’t have had the debt and housing bubbles to begin with. That means taxpayers wouldn’t have had to bail out Wall Street. We probably wouldn’t have had a Great Recession. Millions of Americans wouldn’t be jobless and collecting unemployment benefits. There’d be no need for the stimulus that saved 3 million other jobs. And far more tax revenue would have been pouring into the Treasury.

In other words, had S&P done its job, the federal budget deficit would likely be far smaller than it is today — and S&P wouldn’t be threatening the United States with a downgrade if we didn’t come up with a plan for shrinking it.

Unfortunately, while he has a point, it doesn’t really seem to matter. These are the rules of the game, and they’re not there for sake of anything or anyone other than the people who hope to run it.

On debt and deficits


The costs of two presidencies, juxtaposedJames Fallows of The Atlantic calls it, “The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling“:

It’s based on data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its significance is not partisan (who’s “to blame” for the deficit) but intellectual. It demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about a structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was largest single contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts.

An additional significance of the chart: it identifies policy changes, the things over which Congress and Administration have some control, as opposed to largely external shocks — like the repercussions of the 9/11 attacks or the deep worldwide recession following the 2008 financial crisis. Those external events make a big difference in the deficit, and they are the major reason why deficits have increased faster in absolute terms during Obama’s first two years than during the last two under Bush. (In a recession, tax revenues plunge, and government spending goes up – partly because of automatic programs like unemployment insurance, and partly in a deliberate attempt to keep the recession from getting worse.) If you want, you could even put the spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in this category: those were policy choices, but right or wrong they came in response to an external shock.

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More on compromise


E. J. Dionne is not so concise as his Washington Post colleague, but equally apt:

[Obama] summarized his approach this way: “[L]et’s live within our means by making serious, historic cuts in government spending. Let’s cut domestic spending to the lowest level it’s been since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Let’s cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars. Let’s cut out the waste and fraud in health care programs like Medicare — and at the same time, let’s make modest adjustments so that Medicare is still there for future generations. Finally, let’s ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”

That’s four sentences on cuts and barely one sentence on taxes, and not even tax increases as such — just a request that the privileged “give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”

On the other side are “a significant number of Republicans in Congress [who] are insisting on a cuts-only approach — an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all.” He went on: “And because nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scales, such an approach would close the deficit only with more severe cuts to programs we all care about — cuts that place a greater burden on working families.”

That happens to be true. The most remarkable thing about this whole debate (other than the dangerous foolishness of one side holding the nation’s credit standing hostage to get what it wants) is that Republicans have defined their party as being committed to low taxes for the wealthy above everything else. If anything good can come out of this strange episode, it is that no one will ever be able to doubt that proposition in the future.

GOP priorities ought to be perfectly clear:

  1. Defeat Obama.
  2. Appease the rich.