Tag Archives: government shutdown

Amodei at the Alamo

Amodei 3Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) issued the following statement after casting a vote to keep the federal government closed and to default on our national obligations:

“During two campaigns, I told Nevadans I would give my full attention to such issues as reining in runaway federal spending, debt, and the harmful aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Unlike many in this town, I will not test your memories and hope you have forgotten. I will continue to pursue these necessary goals. Nothing in this legislation changes the real threats to our country’s economy. It does provide an earmark for a dam in Kentucky, though. Really?

“In this job, I’ve met many people I respect and admire. But it saddens me to see such important matters decided by the political box score instead of what really matters – getting the policy right for the people who are impacted, which, in the case of our economy, federal spending and debt, and health care, is all Americans.”

“This has been quite an education serving Nevada for the past 25 months. We have turned over every rock and undertaken this latest effort against the Senate, the Administration, the national media, and the other side of the aisle in the House. My conscience is clear with respect to an all-out effort in a four against one fight. I now know how those folks at the Alamo felt.”  [Amodei]

Really? Threats to our national economy?  (1) Runaway federal spending? (2) Debt? and (3) The Affordable Care Act?  While these are the three main Tea Party talking points, they aren’t anymore accurate than they are rational.

Politifact checked the assertion that federal spending has actually been reduced and found:

“Between 1953 and 1955, federal spending fell each year, from $76.1 billion to $70.9 billion to $68.4 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. By 1956, spending had edged up again, to $70.6 billion.

After that, spending almost always went up every year, at least until recently. It fell for one year between 1964 and 1965, and then once again between 2009 and 2010.

But the only time it fell two years in a row was between 2011 and 2013. In 2011, federal outlays were $3.60 trillion. Outlays fell to $3.54 trillion in 2012, and the Congressional Budget Office projects the figure to fall to $3.46 trillion in 2013.”

What’s “runaway” about spending that has declined for two years in a row?   Let’s take this information and add it to the obvious about the budget deficit: The last Republican President to cut the deficit was…. Dwight David Eisenhower.

Once more here’s the graphic from Forbes magazine:

Obama spending forbes chart

Evidently, Representative Amodei hasn’t tested his memory in any search for accurate information when the prescribed Tea Party talking points will suffice. In spite of:

CBO says deficit problem is solved for the next 10 years: …according to the Congressional Budget Office, the debt disaster that has obsessed the political class for the last three years is pretty much solved, at least for the next 10 years or so.

The last time the CBO estimated our future deficits was February– just four short months ago. Back then, the CBO thought deficits were falling and health-care costs were slowing. Today, the CBO thinks deficits are falling even faster and health-care costs are slowing by even more.

Here’s the short version: Washington’s most powerful budget nerds have cut their prediction for 2013 deficits by more than $200 billion. They’ve cut their projections for our deficits over the next decade by more than $600 billion. Add it all up and our 10-year deficits are looking downright manageable. … [Klein/EconomistV]

First the House GOP + Cruz go down in flames on the House floor, and now their favorite topic — the Horrible Terrible No Good Awful Spending — is under control!

However, all this pales in comparison to Representative Amodei’s newly discovered empathy for — the defenders of the Alamo?  Here we have Representative Amodei mounting the ramparts, fighting to keep people from getting health care insurance because they have pre-existing conditions, fighting to allow insurance corporations to spend more than 80% of their premiums on executive compensation and advertising, fighting to prevent the closing of the infamous dough-nut hole in Medicare Part D, fighting to allow insurance corporations to discriminate against women, fighting to prevent elders from getting affordable cancer screenings, fighting to prevent children from receiving inoculations against communicable diseases…

There is one point of comparison. The Texans occupying the Alamo lost.

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Five Reasons Senator Heller’s Vote Is No Surprise

Heller 2Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of 18 members of the United States Senate to vote against a bill to end the government shutdown, and to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of default. [roll call 219] This comes as no surprise. Absolutely no surprise.

For all of Senator Heller’s posturing as Mr. Moderate, his voting record has been indicative of a banner representative of Tea Party America.

#1. NO on the bill to avoid default and end the government shutdown. (H.R. 2775)  Roll Call 219.  Why would anyone be  surprised? Senator Heller also voted against the bill to end the 2011 stalemate.  [RGJ 8/11] In the 2011 vote Senator Heller was one of 26 members voting to dive over the edge; in 2013 he was one of 18.

#2.  NO on the TARP bill.  Otherwise known as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, and perjoratively called the Bank Bail Out, there were two votes on this measure in the House.  After it failed on the first attempt the stock market tanked. [roll call 674] Thus advised of the economic and financial consequences of a failure to put some props under the financial sector, the House held a second vote.  Once more, then Representative Heller voted against the measure. [roll call 681]   If there has been a bit of campaign material I’ve received from Mr. Heller that has not reminded me that he was “against the bank bailout” I must have missed it.

There was much to despise about the TARP bill, however, the hard sad unavoidable fact was that our credit markets had ground themselves into a solid freeze in October 2008.  While this isn’t a particularly good analogy — think of an engine which has run out of oil — at some point the lack of liquidity creates a seizure.  There was an appalling lack of liquidity, and we were in the midst of an equally appalling seizure in capital markets.  Representative Heller voted not to add any oil to the motor.

#3. Senator Heller has been a consistent proponent of the so-called Balanced Budget Amendment.  Of all the naive and misleading proposals offered to the American public, this ranks among the most egregious.  In 2011 he joined Senator Jim DeMint (R-Heritage Action) to introduce this bit of fiscal insanity. [DB]  A “balanced budget amendment” would do nothing to help state governments, it would do nothing to promote tax equity, and nothing to make the federal government operate like the state governments. [DB] And, NO, this is NOT like your family budget! as explained here, and here.

#4. He co-sponsored S. B. 712 with Senator Jim DeMint which would have summarily  repealed all of the provisions of the financial regulation reform enacted in the Dodd-Frank law. [DB]  Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.  Under the ubiquitous heading of “gettin’ rid of guv’ment regulation,” Senator Heller would have undone every effort made by the Dodd-Frank Act to rein in corporate greed, require banks to maintain adequate capital, require financial institutions to adopt plans for unwinding failed banks, and protect consumers from mortgage and other financial frauds.

What doesn’t say “Tea Party” better than teaming up with former Senator DeMint and Representative Bachmann?

#5 Senator Heller has taken a consistent position in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

“Senator Heller would gladly allow the insurance industry to continue to offer those junk  “defined benefits” plans, to exclude infants and children with “pre-existing conditions,” to spend less than 80-85% of the premiums they take in on actual medical treatment and services.   He would repeal the tax cuts available to small businesses which offer health care insurance to their employees, and would allow the infamous “Do-nut Hole” in prescription medication coverage to reopen.”  [DB]

All the benefits of the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding, Senator Heller would happily vote to repeal the ACA.

The titans of the financial sector and the major insurance corporations haven’t been Senator Heller’s only concern, he’s also taken the side of Big Oil, voting in July 2010 to protect BP from oversight in the wake of the Gulf Oil Spill, and voted not once but 8 times to protect tax breaks for the big oil corporations.  [DB] See votes 153, vote 78, vote 80, vote 1140, vote 835, and vote 40.

Still wondering where Senator Heller stands in relation to what remains of the Republican Party?

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What If the GOP produced Coriolanus?

CoriolanusLet’s assume for the sake of Happy Clappy Optimism, that the deal brokered in the U.S. Senate will hold and the United States has avoided pureeing  international markets into glop sauce, what have we learned?

Not all that much about the Democratic Party.  The Affordable Care Act repeal was never negotiable.   Going over the fiscal cliff was never an option.  Shutting down the Federal government was not appealing.  However, we seem to have been treated to a full dress rehearsal of the GOP’s version of Coriolanus.

According to Caius Martius those plebians bellowing in the streets about the lack of bread are not worthy of grain because they haven’t volunteered for military service.  Evidently, Americans who can’t afford health care insurance are unworthy because they are Lazy Takers, although often working two jobs.

We might imagine a production of  this lesser known play as imagined by the current Republican Party?  The Patricians keep upstaging their cohorts, while Coriolanus and his contingent eat the scenery.  Act I, Scene 1: It was about Obamacare! It was NOT about Obamacare?

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ): “They may try to throw the kitchen sink at the debt limit, but I don’t think our conference will be amenable for settling for a collection of things after we’ve fought so hard,” says Representative Scott Garrett (R., N.J.). “If it doesn’t have a full delay or defund of Obamacare, I know I and many others will not be able to support whatever the leadership proposes. If it’s just a repeal of the medical-device tax, or chained CPI, that won’t be enough.” [Dkos]

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA): “America is going to be destroyed by Obamacare, so whatever deal is put together must at least reschedule the implementation of Obamacare,” he says. “This law is going to destroy America and everything in America, and we need to stop it.” [Dkos]

Enter the Tribunes (and the Chronicles, and the Gazettes, and the Bugles):

“You guys in the media continued reporting that what the conservatives were asking for was the full repeal of Obamacare. That’s absolutely false,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a member of the Republican Study Committee and the point person during the Wednesday briefing. [TPM]

Interesting, since the the Republican Study Committee, of which Rep. Labrador is a member, opened with these lines on the House version of the Continuing Resolution (H.J.Res 59):

“The amendments made in order would make a number of changes to the Senate passed continuing resolution. The House passed continuing resolution that was amended by the Senate was passed on September 20, 2013 and included language that funded the government through December 15, 2013, at current operating levels (discretionary spending of $986.3 billion), permanently defunded the Affordable Care Act, and incorporated a modified version of the Full Faith and Credit Act (H.R. 807)”  [RSC pdf] (emphasis added)

Perhaps this production has too many writers? Directors?  Then there was thenot-s0-helpful amendments from the  choragus maximus of the Tea Party plebians —

“Although he vowed to continue his fight against the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Wednesday that he has no intention to block or delay a vote on a proposal to raise the debt limit and reopen the shuttered government.  Cruz told a gaggle of reporters that he has “no objections” to the Senate holding a vote on the proposal Wednesday, and that a delay on such a vote would be moot.”  [TPM]

And, so they troop about the stage, seeking the microphones, missing their cues, and stepping on each others’ lines.

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Pushing Their Buttons: Then and Now

Socialism Buttons

Watching the Republicans marching carefully in the footprints of their fore-bearers makes for interesting television, and bad governance.   It doesn’t appear to matter to the Anti-New Dealers still among us that Social Security (and cuts thereto) is the Third Rail of American politics, and it’s instructive that the Tea Party Lady held up her sign reading: “Keep the Government Out of My Medicare.”    Their logic is simplicity itself: If it’s about the collective welfare of the United States and its citizens it’s Socialism.  If it’s Socialism then it must be Anti-American.

100% Americanism

Return with us now to the Red Scare — not the McCarthy Era, the first Red Scare.  The groundwork was laid by George Creel, President Wilson’s chairman of the United States Committee on Public Information, who was tasked with encouraging a reluctant nation into World War I.  [PBS] Americans were listening to the Four Minute Men in their movie theaters, some 7,555,190 speeches between April 1917 and November 1918.  They read some 6,000 press releases, and perhaps saw about 200,000 slide shows.  [SW] The Chambers of Commerce were recruited to help distribute the materials, as well as the Boy Scouts and various fraternal societies.  All the speeches, press releases, periodicals, and propagandizing had one point: Hate The Hun.

And then the war ended.  The Russian regime crumbled, and the Communists installed a new government. In the U.S. returning soldiers had trouble finding work, farmers who had been encouraged to plant fence to fence during the war found themselves with surplus crops and declining prices.   During this unstable period Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and other interested officers formed the American Legion at the “Paris Caucus.” Subsequent organization of the modern version of the Grand Army of the Republic, lead to the adoption of its promotion of 100% Americanism at its 1919 convention.  The events in Centralia, Washington, November 1919, helped change the conversation.

The Centralia American Legion organized a parade for Armistice Day 1919, while members of the IWW worried that their headquarters were going to be raided, as had been the case with other IWW offices since August 1917.  There continues to be controversy about who shot first, who shot whom, and why anyone was shooting at all, but the result was that four people were dead, and the American Legion’s notion of 100% Americanism was attached in popular imagination with anti-IWW sentiment.  In this milieu it didn’t take too much imagination to substitute “Bolsheviks” for “Huns,” and associate Labor with Bolsheviks.  1920 was a turbulent time, with Red Hunting Results:

As a result of the strikes and unrest, the strikers were branded as “Reds” and as being unpatriotic.  Fear of strikes leading to a Communist revolution spread throughout the country.   Hysteria took hold.  “Red hunting” became the national obsession.  Colleges were deemed to be hotbeds of Bolshevism, and professors were labeled as radicals.  The hunt reached down to public secondary schools where many teachers were fired for current or prior membership in even the most mildly of leftist organizations. [UMKC]

That some opinion leaders tried to differentiate between socialism and communism didn’t substantially alter the ideological landscape or still some of the more radical rhetoric.   Anarchy, socialism, communism, even support for organized labor was “Left” and bad, conservatism and the “Right” was 100% American.

Fast forward to the late 20th century, after the enactment of Social Security and Medicare, and we have Rand Paul, then of  Kentucky Taxpayers United, explaining why Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme and Medicare is … (you guessed it) … Socialism. [TPM]


Since there are 57,469,232 Social Security beneficiaries as of June 2013, of whom 40,298,999 are retired persons, 6,216,500 are survivors, and 10,953,733 are disabled individuals and their dependents [SSA] it’s no longer politically expedient to speak of repealing Social Security.   The modern opponents instead talk about privatizing the system.  Their “free market” solution to a non-existent problem involves transforming the Social Security program into “private individual accounts” to be invested in Wall Street.   Failing that, the opponents would like very much to have access to the Special Issue securities, which are held in the Social Security Trust Funds and are currently not available to the public.

The last serious attempt at Privatization came in President George W. Bush’s February 5, 2005 State of the Union speech the details of which changed as the President was buffeted by political winds.  The final gasps included private accounts, reduced benefits, clawback provisions, and limited investment in unspecified index funds. [CAP] By the end of 2005 the President’s proposal was DOA.   In fact, as of March 2005 about 58% of our “100% Americans” were opposed to the proposal.  [WaPo]

The privatization of Medicare isn’t meeting with much more enthusiasm, polling conducted in 2011  found 58% of Americans opposed the GOP plan to replace the Medicare program with private health policies for seniors  subsidized with coupons from the federal government.  [TPR]

In short, when faced with a choice of privatization or the “socialism” of the Social Security and Medicare, the American public prefers a little “socialism” in its political mix.

And now we come to the third button.

Republicans did a good job of associating the provisions of the “Obamacare” law with socialism, but perhaps not so much when the actual name of the law is put forward.  A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll in March 2013 found a majority favorable rating for the major elements of the Affordable Care Act, except for the individual mandate.   In short, people liked the tax credits for small business owners, closing the infamous dough-nut hole in Medicare Part D, creating insurance exchanges or marketplaces, extending coverage for dependents, subsidy assistance for those purchasing health care insurance, expanding Medicaid, etc… they liked the parts but not the demagogued whole.

The irony is that a minority in the House of Representatives, still held in thrall by the antiquated sloganeering of the early 20th century anti-Left siren songs, could bring down the economic system they purport to espouse — turning their paeans into a eulogy for the free market system.

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Heller’s Horrors vs. The Constitution

ConstitutionIt seems there are some “Constitutional conservatives” who haven’t perused that august document, and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) is one of them?  His response to the shutdown of the Federal government? Enact his “No Budget No Pay” bill. [Heller]  Lovely — there’s just one little problem with not paying members of Congress until the houses pass a budget — it violates the 27th Amendment.  “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”  The Amendment was among the original ideas from the Founders, finally enacted in 1992, and it was intended to prevent members of the House and Senate from jacking up their salaries right before elections.

Then there’s the matter of raising the debt ceiling:

“Without a serious discussion about reducing our debt, I have to agree with then Senator Obama, who called an increase in the debt ceiling a ‘sign of leadership failure’ and a move that shifts the ‘burden of bad choices’ to future generations. Our nation cannot afford to continue raising the limit on our nation’s credit card without making the difficult decisions that prevent the country from incurring even more debt,”said Senator Dean Heller.”  [KRNV]

Oh, here we go again! The Think Of The Children Argument.  News Flash for the Junior Senator — raising the debt ceiling has NOTHING to do with incurring debt.  It has everything to do with paying the debts we’ve already racked up.   Senator Heller appears to believe this debt magically increased during the incumbency of President Obama.

“When President Obama came to office, our nation’s debt was more than $10 trillion. Five years later, our debt is nearly $17 trillion and growing fast. Democrats and Republicans must come together and agree on a long-term solution that places our nation on the path to fiscal solvency. Reducing wasteful spending and reforming the tax code are good places to start. As Senator Obama said in 2006, ‘Americans deserve better,’” said Senator Dean Heller.” [KRNV]

There was no magic involved. There is, however, some magical thinking.   First, when the Obama Administration took over in January 2009 it assumed the costs of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Since the costs of these efforts are no longer glossed into “supplemental appropriations,” we’re going to have to look at the $800 billion gorilla in the room — the outright cost of operations in Iraq.   Then there’s the not-so-small matter of paying the veterans’ benefits to those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total expense involved in these military efforts is projected to cost about $4 trillion. [Marketwatch]

Secondly, the United States (including Senator Heller) decided it was a dandy idea to cut taxes in war time — a reversal of what had been previously considered fiscally responsible thinking.  Let’s look at the elements driving the current level of debt one more time:

Source of National Debt

Thus, about 50% of the national debt which concerns Senator Heller so profoundly is a result of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush Era tax cuts (supported by Senator Heller.)  The darker blue segment of the graphic indicates the lost revenues from the Recession created by the collapse of the Housing Bubble.

Senator Heller would prefer not to compare the Bush and the Obama Administrations when it comes to policies which “place our nation on a path to fiscal solvency.”  If he did, he’d be highlighting the following information:

Bush Obama SpendingAnd here we have the answer to the question: Whose new policies created more federal spending? Was it Bush’s $5.07 trillion, or was it Obama’s $1.44 trillion?

As for which side of the aisle was more attentive to future spending levels, the staff of the Washington Post analyzed FY 2014 budget proposals and published the results:

Budgets Compared 2014Whose spending levels were lower over the next decade?

None of these analyses will prevent Senator Heller from continuing to bleat out the same talking points the GOP has been promoting with consistent enthusiasm — The Debt Is Rising! The Debt Is THE Problem!  Equally consistent has been the Republican demand that the social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, TANF) be the target for cuts — not the Department of Defense; unless of course we’re speaking of increasing educational, housing, and health benefits for members of our military and veterans.

Now the Republicans threaten to shove the nation over the fiscal cliff, to which Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) responded:

“A vote to avert default is simply a vote to pay the bills. It’s not a vote to spend more money, to authorize new programs or to buy new things and more. It’s a vote to pay the bills the federal government has already incurred – bills for roads and bridges we’ve already built and warships we’ve already commissioned, as well as wars we’ve waged with borrowed money and tax breaks we’ve charged on the national credit card. A vote to avert default is a vote to pay the bills for all those things.”

That pretty much sums it up: (1) Pay the bills… (2) Pay the bills… (3) Pay the bills… as the Constitution says in Amendment 14 section 4.

*For the wonks in the audience, there is an excellent summary of debt ceiling legislation from the Congressional Research Service available in PDF.

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The Word That Almost Dropped From The News

TantrumThe last few weeks of the news has been replete with Buzz Words: Shutdown, Default, Debt Ceiling, Affordable Care Act… The word that’s been lost in the shuffle is the S Word — Sequester.

Remember when Nevada Governor said the Sequester wasn’t going to be a necessarily bad thing? On February 28, 2013 Governor Sandoval assured residents of the Silver State the sequester wasn’t going to have any immediate impact:

“The federal “sequester” cuts begin Friday in what Sandoval described as a “gradual slowdown” of federal government.  “It’s not like we’re going to wake up tomorrow and the money won’t be there,” he said at a briefing to the press at the capitol.

He said his administration has prepared for the cuts beginning this past Fall, when Congress began to address the potential for mandatory federal budget cuts. Sandoval said the state has more than $15 million set aside to mitigate the budget cuts.” [LVSun]

However, by July 2013 some cracks were beginning to show.  It seems Nevada and Louisiana were reported as not having made preparations for the evaporation of federal funds to support the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program.  States contribute to the unemployment benefits through their unemployment insurance programs for the first 26 weeks a person is unemployed, with the EUC kicking in for a total of 47 weeks.  [Pew] The other shoe dropped in August:

“More than 20,000 Nevadans will see a 59 percent reduction in their federal extended unemployment benefits beginning the week ending August 31 because of federal budget cuts known as sequestration, the state’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reports.

The federal sequestration cuts will only affect federal extended benefits, also known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which begins after a claimant has exhausted their regular unemployment benefits which typically last up to 26 weeks, according to a news release.” [CarsonNow]

Perhaps the state could adapt to losing $9 million in funding for elementary and secondary schools, and $3.8 million in support for Special Education services.  Maybe the state could keep Head Start programs from eliminating some 300 youngsters from their rosters?  Could the state adjust to cover $1,156,000 from the Clean Water funding? Or, $764,000 in grants for Fish and Wildlife programs? Could the state adapt to the loss of $12.1 million in defense spending?  The furloughing of some 3,000 jobs in defense related employment?

The sequester also imperiled $258,000 in funding for Nevada’s efforts to upgrade its planning to address public health emergencies, another $78,000 for children’s vaccinations, and $$690,000 for sustaining programs to treat drug and alcohol abuse.  [SeqFacts.pdf]

In the meantime, Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation launched a “calculator” to assist the long term unemployed calculate the reduction in their unemployment insurance benefits.   As of September 5, 2013 benefits for those unemployed longer than 26 weeks were cut by 59%. [TP]

On September 20, 2013 Governor Sandoval was happy with the employment numbers.

“I am pleased to see that August brought with it the strongest month to month job gain since April 2005,” Governor Brian Sandoval said. “After all of the monthly ups and downs, we appear to be on track to add approximately 20,000 jobs in 2013, on top of the combined 30,000 created in 2011 and 2012. While recent evidence suggests that we are headed in the right direction, our stubbornly high unemployment rate illustrates that much room remains for improvement.”  [DETR pdf]

However, things didn’t look quite so rosy from the U-4 and U-5 perspectives, those euphemistically referred to as “discouraged workers” — translation: I’ve stopped looking for work because there’s nothing out there for me.  Nevada’s U-4 rate was 11.3% and the U-5 rate was 12.5%.  [BLS] That was then, now we have Sequestration on Steroids.

The federal government shutdown means that support for tribal members will diminish, 5% of VA employees in Washoe County have been furloughed, the federal courts have enough money to keep going until October 15. [RGJ] By October 8, 2013 Governor Sandoval wasn’t quite so optimistic about the effect of slimming down the federal government.

His  list of agencies and programs on the chopping block included SNAP, WIC, both of which would be out of money by November 1.  The Nevada National Guard and the Unemployment Insurance Benefits program would be looking at furloughs, and the Governor wasn’t pleased about having to choose between funding milk for infants and toddlers and paying for the National Guard. [LVRJ]

The Governor may not be getting much assistance from the House Republican caucus and their shutdown proposal:

“Many House Republicans, leaving a closed-door party caucus earlier Thursday that at times grew contentious, said they would support their leadership’s short-term debt limit proposal. But they said they would do so only if Mr. Obama agreed to negotiate a broader deficit reduction deal, with big savings from entitlement programs.” [NYT]

There are strings on this package.  The first thread is that the Republicans are demanding that the Treasury Department’s authorization to apply extra-ordinary measures to prevent a federal default be stripped.  We should note that for all intents and purposes the Treasury has kept the default at bay since September 25th.  [HuffPo]  The second thread is permission from the Obama Administration to “negotiate a broader deficit reduction deal, with big savings from entitlement programs.”   This could make sequestration look like child’s play.

We know what the House Republican Sequester on Steroids might look like, we can look to the original demands made by their caucus when the current deadlock started. [TP]  These five will suffice to indicate the direction the House Republicans intend to take:

1. A balanced budget amendment — one of the sillier ideas ever proposed by any political entity, if for no other reason than every family budget includes debt (cars, houses, student loans).  2. Medicare Privatization.  The GOP ran this idea up the flag pole, only to have it flap in a gale of opposition from people who don’t want the Medicare program to be transformed into a coupon project.  3.  Means tested Social Security — an exceptionally unpopular idea.  4. Eliminating Social Service Block Grants — which would leave the Sandoval Administration in a bind tighter than the one in which it finds itself at the moment.   5. The restriction of the Child Tax Credit — a proposal guaranteed to draw fire from families with children. (More here.)

If we thought the sequester was a bad idea — this list of bargaining points is, indeed, Sequester on Steroids, and like those rather dangerous drugs, it should be avoided.

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Amodei, Heck, Right Face, Left Face, Backwards, March

Joe HeckRepublican members of the Nevada Congressional delegation Joe Heck (R-NV3) and Mark Amodei (R-NV2) are following the Tea Party script in the ever evolving rationale for the impasse created when the House passed a Continuing Resolution (defunding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act).  The Senate received the CR, stripped out the defunding section, voted on the clean version, and sent it back to the House.  The House has yet to vote on this measure.

Remember when, not so long ago that the House version of the CR was all about repealing “Obamacare?”  That horrible no good terrible job killing freedom smashing liberty restricting socialist communist anti business law of the land to allow people to buy private health insurance policies in a competitive marketplace?  Well, no longer — NOW the House refusal to bring a clean CR up for a vote is all about — The Debt and The Deficit.

Representative Heck tells the Las Vegas Sun his views on a clean Continuing Resolution:

“It would have to be a bill, and I don’t comment on hypothetical bills,” Heck said when the Sun asked if he might consider signing on.

But in theory, Heck is not on board.

“What is there associated with the clean (budget resolution)?” he asked. “How are we going to address our debt and our deficit?”

How are the debt and deficit to be addressed in the Senate version of the Continuing Resolution?  How about like this?

Clean CR Senate

What we have here is another instance of the Republicans refusing to take “YES” for an answer.  The Clean CR is $217 billion less than the Obama Administration’s proposed budget.  It is $109 billion less than the previous incarnation of the Ryan Budget.  The Senate CR is $80 billion less than the 2011 Budget deal, and only $19 billion more than the proposed 2014 Ryan Budget.  Is Representative Heck saying that he’s in favor of allowing the federal government to go into default for $19 billion?   Just to put that number into perspective, the blundering F-35 program has cost the U.S. taxpayers some $400 billion since 2001, [Time] a number which comes down to about $30.76 billion per year.

Amodei 3Nevada District 2 Representative Mark Amodei, has also changed the marching tune, offering this variation:

“We ain’t repealing Obamacare, we ain’t defunding Obamacare, we get that,” Amodei said. “It’s not just health care. It’s $2 trillion more in debt. If you get policy concessions in order for having more debt, what’s the matter with that? What’s the evil in that?”

Amodei may not have as purple a district as Heck, whom, he surmised, has “gotta be mindful of who his folks are.”  [Las Vegas Sun]

Herein, Representative Amodei engages in a bit of obfuscation.  Where did that $2 trillion more in debt come from? It may be the total of all federal debt.  It might be the number being bandied about in right wing circles for the national debt, or it might refer to the number the Congressional Budget Office projected as necessary to begin reducing the national debt in relation to the Gross National Product to 31% (below the 40 yr. average.) [Reuters] However, no matter the origin of the number, it represents long term budgetary goals and figures — and only tangentially relates to the Continuing Resolution to keep the government floating for the time remaining until the next GOP tantrum.

Bottom Line: IT, if by IT Representative Amodei means the Senate’s version of the Continuing Resolution, doesn’t add $2 trillion to the national debt.

Evidently, NOW the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act is reduced in GOP parlance to the status of a “policy concession.”

For the sake of clarity in this squabble, which threatens to take the United States of America into a default, let’s review some basic points:

(1) The raising of the debt ceiling has NOTHING to do with increasing the national debt.   President Obama isn’t the first President to ask for a “clean CR,” President Reagan wanted one in a 1986 battle with a Democratically controlled Congress in 1986. [NYT]  What President Obama understands now, and President Reagan understood then, is that a Continuing Resolution merely authorizes the Treasury to pay bills we have already incurred.  It doesn’t increase the amount of future appropriations.  Representative Amodei’s and Representative Heck’s concerns notwithstanding — the CR doesn’t add to the debt — it authorizes the payment of current debts.

(2) The Senate version of the Continuing Resolution IS a compromise between the Administration’s budget proposal, the Senate budget, and the House budget.  In a normal environment, after the two versions of the budget were passed by the respective houses in March, a conference committee would have been appointed to work through the differences and to bring a compromise budget to the original houses.  Senate Budget Chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has asked 19 times for the Senate to appoint conferees to a budget compromise conference committee and has been rebuffed by Republicans each time.  The House has not appointed any of its members as conferees to such a committee.

(3) We have been on a trajectory to significantly reduce the federal debt.   IF we accept that $4 trillion target for budget reductions over the next ten years, then the Obama Administration has been remarkably well focused.  There’s good news and bad news with this target, summarized as follows concerning the President’s budget:

“Cutting an additional $1.5 trillion would indeed stabilize the debt, leaving it growing at about the same rate as the broader economy for the rest of the decade, the CBO said. However, the debt would remain above 73 percent of gross domestic product — the highest level in U.S. history except for the period after World War II. [WaPo]

However, someone needs to ask the question: Is debt reduction an appropriate focus during a recessionary period or exceptionally slow recovery?  It’s important to notice at this point that Austerians focus on cutting government spending — even though government spending is part of the GDP formula — to the exclusion of consideration of the possibility of tax increases, and the increased revenues available when wages and salaries are also increasing.  This position is analogous to expecting a camp stool to balance on only one of its three legs.

Meanwhile back in the real world, Governor Sandoval is already feeling the bind:

“… the consequences have already started. In a meeting with his cabinet, Sandoval warned that Nevada would soon run out of money to process unemployment benefits or cover food stamps, and that National Guard vehicles had already been grounded because of a lack of funds to pay for basics, such as gas.”  [LVSun]

So, Representatives Heck and Amodei continue their forward, backward, left face, right face, backwards march in step with the Tea Party leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, while the Nevada National Guard isn’t going anywhere…

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Back Pay For Whom?

Joe HeckRepresentative Joe Heck (R-NV3) released this statement yesterday concerning back pay for furloughed federal employees:

“Our hard-working civil servants did not ask for this partial shutdown,” Rep. Heck said. “No one would wish the difficulties they are facing during this uncertain time upon anyone, especially not on those men and women who serve our country as federal employees. This bill will allow furloughed workers to receive their back pay once a compromise can be reached on our spending and debt issues and they return to work. I remain committed to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to resolve this matter and end the current impasse.”

There are a couple of quibblies which come to mind.  First, this entire mess didn’t have to happen in the first place.  If there aren’t enough votes to pass a clean continuing resolution in the House of Representatives — then why not vote and demonstrate this as a fact, rather than continue to use it as a talking point without substantiation?

Secondly, this largess ignores some people who will likely not get back pay from this debacle — they are employed by contractors and sub-contractors who work for various federal departments.  From a report on DoD spending:   “In the past 10 years, the federal government has increasingly relied on the private sector for the provision of services. Since 2003, federal spending on services has consistently represented about 25 percent of the total federal discretionary budget, reaching a record high (in dollar terms) in 2009 at $343 billion. Every area of services analyzed in this report exhibited mid-single-digit compound annual growth during the past decade.” [HuffPo]  Thus much for supporting private enterprise?

As of 2012, the Federal government was spending about 14% of the budget ($500 billion) on private contracts – or double the percentage in 2000, with 80% of all IT work being conducted by private firms.  [CNN]  So, while the Republicans appear to want to hammer Pennsylvania Avenue, the blows are landing on Main Street.

For a party which touts itself as the Pro-Business, Pro-Private Enterprise outfit — they’ve got a funny way of showing it.

Other bits:

** The fight over the Nevada GOP chairmanship at their latest convention illustrates the split in the GOP generally?  The Money Men vs. the Tea Party?  John L.  Smith has some interesting observations.

** Think Progress takes the Debt Ceiling Truther time line back to 2010.  This is a good chronological report of general maneuvers by the Republicans on government spending and the debt ceiling.  And, from Talking Points Memo we learn that the shut down may have taught the GOP to like Big Government.

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Recommended Reading Roundup: Faults and Defaults

CrashThere are some conservatives who have taken to calling a breach of the U.S. debt limit a “serious, but not all that serious” potential problem. They’re wrong.

One of the best general articles explaining the consequences of a default on the banking sector comes from Karen Brettell, writing for Reuters News.  Her article includes not only the  consequences for U.S. Treasuries, but money market accounts as well.  Hint: Money markets cannot hold defaulted collateral.  If you are wondering why that’s important — Money markets hold about $1.3 trillion in one of a couple of forms (1) government securities, and (2) repo loans they’ve made  made using government securities as collateral.  If a person wanted to be more precise, the full name of a repo loan when it’s at home is a Repurchase Agreement.  These “repo loans” are made to raise short term capital.  Repurchase agreements work like this:

Repo Loans are: A form of short-term borrowing for dealers in government securities. The dealer sells the government securities to investors, usually on an overnight basis, and buys them back the following day. For the party selling the security (and agreeing to repurchase it in the future) it is a repo; for the party on the other end of the transaction, (buying the security and agreeing to sell in the future) it is a reverse repurchase agreement. [Investopedia]

Now, after reading the Reuter’s article, take a look at RepoWatch’s post on what the rating agency Fitch has to say about the three big threats to the Repo/Money Market from a possible default.  Why worry? Because there are three major forms of short term investment in this country: Savings accounts, Money market funds, and CDs.  Nothing like kicking one leg off the short term investment stool, and then expecting it to stay upright?

I’ll keep saying this until someone can convince me otherwise:  Any politician who doesn’t understand the term “Risk Premium” AKA “Default Premium” has no business talking about a default being a tool to bargain for lower government spending.  So, the next highly recommended article is by economist Jared Bernstein, writing for the New York Times. You can’t say why  a default is dangerous any more simply than this:

“Why?  Because I believe — and again, I’m far from sure about this — the costs of default are large enough to wake up the grown-ups.  Interest rates would soar and not just on government debt but on all the securities out there that are tied to Treasuries.  Even with just the shutdown, we’re already seeing short-term lenders to the Treasury demand a risk premium: there’s been a mini-spike in the yields on one-month T-bills. Our stock of national debt is $12 trillion.  That means a 1-percent risk premium raises debt service by $120 billion.”

Again, from Investopedia, a risk or default premium is defined as:

“The additional amount a borrower must pay to compensate the lender for assuming default risk. A default premium is generally paid by all companies or borrowers indirectly, through the rate at which they must repay their obligation.”

And, there we have it. Should the U.S. default, even temporarily, on its obligations the financial sector will factor in a higher risk premium and a 1% increase in that premium will cost U.S. taxpayers another $120 billion in debt service.  It is impossible to “curb government spending” and default at the same time.  One or the other — pick one — because there’s no way to have both.

There are some other sources of information, and from the conservative side there’s the “Gee Whiz The US Won’t Miss Any Payments” argument from Forbes Magazine.  Evidently, the author assumes that if no payments are missed there will be no factoring in of an increased default or risk premium — that’s an assumption, not a fact. (And, one not substantiated by the 1979 experience discussed below.)

After complaining about the lack of “numbers” because the Administration is just being being a Green Meanie, the author has another out of hand dismissal saying that even though the Treasury has no way to prioritize payments, it’s “doable.”  On what planet is left to our imaginations.   However, don’t stop reading after the first “talking points” paragraph, because the author does describe the financial positions of major U.S. banks in regard to the holding of our public debt.   Let’s play with that “Gee Whiz” argument for a moment.

The government will, indeed, have revenues being taken in, and yes, these could be used to cover debt service. So, all will be well and rosy?  Not. So. Fast.

This is yet another demonstration that running the federal government is NOT like operating with a family’s household budget.

“Normally the way things work is that the Treasury Department cuts the checks Congress has told it to cut, collects the taxes Congress has told it to collect, and borrows to cover the difference. But the statutory debt ceiling also instructs Treasury not to borrow more than a certain amount of money. When we hit the debt ceiling on Oct. 17, Treasury will lack the legal authority to borrow any more money to close the gap between spending and tax revenue.” [Yglesias] (emphasis added)

The “it’s doable” argument offered by the Forbe’s article ignores the structural reality of our financial operations.  To better understand this go to Matthew Yglesias’s contribution to Slate.  Yglesias, in turn, refers to a Financial Times article (subscription required) with this core statement:

    “The Treasury’s systems do not clearly mark what scheduled payments are for what reasons, so it is impractical to try to prioritize payments. And clearing systems like Fedwire do not allow defaulted securities to flow, so the system would seize. In order for the clearing systems to work, the Treasury would need to notify the market of a default almost a day before the default happened (to give everyone time to modify payments), and that is not going to happen because the Treasury will not want to declare default while Congress still has time to pass a bill.   Also the Fed does not take defaulted securities as collateral at the discount window, even if those securities are still trading at par.”

In short, what the dreamers would have us believe is that the Treasury can (1) take action before a default having no precedent whatsoever to guide it, on (2) a prioritization scheme it has not pre-determined, nor has Congress legislated, and (3) do all this before the defaulted securities jam up the Fedwire, and all the institutional investors and pension funds which do not allow investment in defaulted securities.

And that’s DO-ABLE??  Not if we look at what that “Fedwire” does:

“The Federal Reserve Banks provide the Fedwire Funds Service, a real-time gross settlement system that enables participants to initiate funds transfer that are immediate, final, and irrevocable once processed. Depository institutions and certain other financial institutions that hold an account with a Federal Reserve Bank are eligible to participate in the Fedwire Funds Services.” [FedRes] (emphasis added)

There’s a reason we don’t have a “prioritization” scheme.  It’s quite simply because NO ONE EVER SERIOUSLY THOUGHT THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT WOULD DEFAULT ON ITS DEBTS — EVER.  So, are we to happily assume that all those Fedwire transactions will be in real time, immediate, final and irrevocable — while the Treasury Department figures out who gets paid in the gap between what has been taken in as revenue and what is owed to our investors?

“But!” Cry a few voices — the U.S. had a “default” in 1979 and it didn’t really hurt us — again, not. so. fast.  First, remember that even the threat of a default a couple of years ago toppled our AAA credit rating, and that 1979 glitch caused a spike of 60 basis points (0.6%) that lasted for about six months, and was rolled into all manner of related financial transactions.  [CBS, Barrons] The current situation is such that we aren’t talking about a small 1979 style glitch in the works — but a full on default.   There’s another myth gathering momentum in chain e-mails: “The U.S. has defaulted FOUR times! And we’re still here so what’s the big deal?”

Fact checking time — The first was 1790 in the “Funding Act” when the U.S. government absorbed the debts from the Revolutionary War — this was the reverse of a default! The U.S. didn’t default on debts it picked them up to make sure creditors were paid.  Then the e-mail artistes cite 1841-42 (all state defaults, the federal government wasn’t involved), and 1873-1884 (again, all states and local governments, with no federal involvement). Finally, there’s the 1933 currency law — which was more like monetizing our national debt than defaulting on it.  [More at CNBC] We can’t honestly add in the 1979 “computer glitch + short term investor stampede,” because there was no declaration of a default by Congress, or anyone else for that matter.

Therefore, the uninformed attempting to assert that the Debt Ceiling isn’t a really big no good horrible problem — (1) Did not pass Economics 101, or possibly High School General Business; (2) Has not taken a Finance 101 course, or slept through it in its entirety; or (3) Lives in a Wonderland in which nothing bad happens to assault the hypothetical underpinnings of their ideological visions… or (4) All of the above?  For the informed, the economists who dismiss the severity of the situation, they need to stop bemoaning the Ivory Towers in which some of their liberal arts colleagues are supposed to live, and climb down out of their own.

There are some other articles, not in this Highly Recommended List, but which help explain the reasons the financial sector is not enamored of a debt ceiling debacle — “The Battle In Congress on Spending and Debt,” New York Times.   “Will the U.S. default?” Barrons.  “Treasury warns of Debt Ceiling Crisis Economic Impact,” Time.

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The GOP suddenly gets generous: Piecemeal Bills and Sequestration Pain

In one chart — here’s a quick list of the measures for which there are recorded votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, an institution  suddenly discovering that more government programs are “essential.”  Funny, they didn’t notice that during the last manufactured “debt and budget crisis.”

Sequestration cuts

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