Boom, boom, boom, boom – the US deficit and debt continue to explode

In honor of John Lee Hooker’s famous lyric, which is played at the beginning of “NCIS – New Orleans” and in the movie “Blues Brothers,” a good wake-up call for our US deficit and debt is “boom, boom, boom, boom.” Please note, this is not the trade deficit, which is overblown as a problem as we are more of a consumer nation. This is due to our government spending far more than they take in revenue.

Per the following introduction in a Bloomberg News article, “U.S. Budget Gap Balloons to $739 Billion Despite Tariff Revenue,” we have an escalating problem.

“The U.S. budget deficit widened to $738.6 billion in the first eight months of the fiscal year, a $206 billion increase from a year earlier, despite a revenue boost from President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported merchandise.

The shortfall was 38.8% more than the same period a year ago, the Treasury Department said in its monthly budget review released on Wednesday. So far in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, a revenue increase of 2.3% hasn’t kept pace with a 9.3% rise in spending.”

Right now, our US debt tallies more than $22 trillion and was expected to increase by $10 trillion over the next ten years, before the tax cuts in December, 2017. Our fiscal year runs October through September, so this is the first fiscal year with full benefit of the tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office forewarned the tax cuts would increase the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years over the already projected $10 trillion. That will put us closer to $34 trillion at that time.

Yet, Americans were told by the president and favorable politicians that the CBO was wrong and growth would accelerate enough to pay for the debt using the assertion “the tax cuts will pay for themselves.” Per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, tax cuts do not pay for themselves, with the best historical result being in the neighborhood of 30%, but usually much less. That leaves 70% of the revenue reduction adding to the deficit in the best of times.

The reasons for the increase in deficit are increases in military, healthcare and interest cost spending, which have overshadowed the revenue increases due to the longest running economic growth period in the US. Even the worst budgeter amongst us knows, we should be paying down debt when times are good, not increasing it. Sadly, the economy has begun to slow some, so the tax cutter’s rosy projections of 4% and above growth have not materialized (except in an isloated quarter) and economists are expected  lower growth rates than the current 3% per annum the rest of the year.

Per The Concord Coalition, the above Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan from December, 2010, we must solve our deficit and debt problem through spending cuts and revenue increases (tax increases) both. The math will not otherwise work. If any politician, no matter how smugly, tells you otherwise, they are not be honest with you or are misinformed themselves.

To be brutally frank, I said so then, but the tax cuts passed in December, 2017 were malfeasance in my mind. We borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better. It was also hypocritical. Former Freedom Caucus members got elected saying the previous $5 trillion, then $8 trillion, then $13 trillion debts were abhorrent. Now, when it is just below $22 trillion, they pass a bill that increases it even more.

When I raised this with a Freedom Caucus staff member, he curtly told me the CBO is often wrong and they are wrong on this. My push back was simple. These folks do their homework to try and get it right. And, what I have found in my 40 years of adult life, is politicians hail the CBO when their number agree with their decision and call them on the carpet, when they don’t. Yes, it is a projection, but these folks try to be apolitical.

Folks, we have a problem that is not getting talked about enough. We must cut spending and raise revenue. My GOP friends have ceded their fiscal stewardship mantra – that is highly unfortunate. My Democrat friends need to question every candidate on how they plan to pay for their ideas and what they plan to do about the debt. We cannot have Medicare for all if we cannot pay for it.

So, let’s get real and ask politicians some pointed questions. If we don’t, John Lee Hooker will sing even more loudly. “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”

 

It is time to govern

Now that the elections are over, it is time to put away the rhetoric and focus on governance. This used to be how it was done, until we segmented the news into various markets. The past twenty years or so, we seem to govern off the campaign rhetoric rather than facts and collaboration has become a dirty word.

As an Independent voter, who has been a member of both parties, the governing off rhetoric and lack of collaboration need to stop. Neither side owns all the good ideas and both sides have some bad ones. And, we need to focus on the underlying truths and facts rather than tweets and who wins a public relations battle over an issue. Process matters – when politicians deviate from process, it is for political reasons.

In this spirit, here are the issues that this voter thinks we should focus on. Many voters have voiced agreement on some of these, but some issues just don’t get due attention.

– we should stabilize and shore up the ACA which most Americans favor: funding commitments to insurers will stabilize premiums, as will expanding Medicaid and considering the expansion of Medicare down to age 55, 60 or 62.

– we should ditch the harmful tariffs and work with our allies and the WTO to pressure China to stop the intellectual capital theft. Tariffs hurt consumers and producers, especially our farmers.

– we should address infrastructure needs which are many, doing so as we have done in the past with a blend of business, venture capital and federal, state and local government funding.

– we should recognize that the two biggest threats to our planet per the World Economic Forum are our water crisis and climate change, which exacerbates the first issue: strides have been made, but we need to reassume our global leadership role on climate change and focus on measures to address both.

– we should add more governance around gun control issues: Gun-owners and non-gun owners have voiced agreement on measures that would help. It should be noted most gun-owners do not belong to the NRA, so the NRA’s political activism against reasonable change should be noted, but not over-emphasized.

– The deficit and debt are building to a point of huge reckoning. It has been eight years since the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Resuction Committee report was shelved. It was shelved because it recommended $2 in expense cuts to every $1 in revenue increases. It was shelved because neither party had the political courage to roll up their sleeves and make tough decisions – we cannot get there with only expense cuts or revenue increases, needing both.

– We should stop the lack of civil discourse and beating up on the media. The media’s role is vital to our democracy. Pay attention to where your news comes from. Be wary of opinion disguised as news. Tweets are not long enough to show context or subtlety and are an easy way to misinform, as a result. To this end, it is vital for our democracy to return to appropriate Congressional oversight. We are not a kingdom.

If anything, we must have our politicians work together. The crime bill the President is pushing and that passed the House is not perfect, but is a bipartisan effort. It makes steps forward. Let’s make needed improvements and get something done. And, that is what Americans want most from our politicians – stop the grandstanding and get stuff done.

 

 

The sugar high is beginning to wane

The volatile and recent downward trend in the stock market is an indicator.The slowing of global growth, uncertainty over trade, increasing business costs due to tariffs and increasing interest rates are causing a dampening effect.

While the US economy had 3.5% annualized growth in the 3Q2018 following 4.2% in 2Q2018 (it was 2.2% in 1Q2018), imbedded therein are two numbers that should give pause. Business investment was much higher in 2Q2018 at 8.7%, partly due to getting stuff in the hopper before the tariffs started. Yet, business investment fell to 0.8% in 3Q2018. That is an ominous sign. This concern is also apparent in several third quarter earnings announcements by major corporations.

While we should finish 2018 with annual growth north of 3%, economists have predicted that 2019 will have 2.4% annual growth, falling to 2.0% growth in 2020. I should add they feel the impact of the tax cut for corporations is waning (which is sad because it is an imbedded profit margin increase). In other words, the companies view this tax reduction as a “sugar high” that won’t last.

When the tax bill was passed, the White House and Congress touted that it would take GDP growth to 4% and pay for itself. Tax cuts have never paid for themselves and the best they have done is abet the economy enough to save maybe 20% to 30% of the foregone tax revenue. But, the tax bill was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to increase the already $21 trillion in debt by $1.5 trillion over ten years. And, the tax bill did nothing to address the projection the debt would increase by $10 trillion by 2027. Absent any change, we are looking at debt of $33 trillion by 2027.

It should be noted the annual deficit increased in the government fiscal year just ended to $779 billion from $665 billion, partly due to foregone $166 billion in tax revenue. The deficit is budgeted to be $985 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year, on projected expenses of $4.407 trillion and revenue of $3.422 trillion. The deficit is expected to grow past $1 trillion in fiscal year 2019-20.

The US President has tended to be a short-term thinker. He is too focused on doing things that look good now. This is one reason he has had six bankruptcies. The problem is the sugar high is going to end. And, we spent $1.5 trillion to add more sugar to a pretty good economy. We are now beyond 9 years in economic growth (the second longest in US history) and 8 years in job growth, with a bull stock market dating back to March, 2009. Plus, we took one of our levers off the table with an unneeded tax cut. I was all for lower corporate tax rates, but we went well beyond deficit neutral.

This is not a new concern of mine, as I have been actively writing about our debt and deficit for several years, well before the current President took his oath. One of my concerns over Obama was his not doing anything with the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan. Both he and Congress just put a very good working draft on the shelf. Our building debt is a ticking time bomb that will cause a huge day of reckoning. And, one things politicians don’t talk about it, is it will take tax increases and spending cuts to get there. The math will not otherwise work. That is the conclusion of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Simpson-Bowles effort.

That nagging math problem

Dwarfed by other news yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated their budget projections reflecting the new tax law and spending plan. Over the next ten years, the just over $21 trillion debt is expected to increase by $11.7 trillion bringing it to about $33 trillion. Before these two changes, it was expected to increase to about $31 trillion.

The CBO also said the deficit should rise to $804 billion by 2018 fiscal year end. Last year it was $665 billion. Further, the annual deficit should pass $1 trillion by 2020 and stay there.

There are many in Congress today who have screamed bloody murder in the past over rising debt and got elected under the banner of the Tea Party. I have seen footage of members who called this a crisis when it was only $8 trillion and then $13 trillion. They were right then, but now debt and deficit don’t seem to matter as many voted for a law to increase it.

I have seen some recent discussion about the need for a balanced budget amendment. To be frank, that won’t do. We need more revenue than expenses. The tax law passed in December is projected to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion, but Congress knew that then and still passed it, even many of these Tea Partiers.

I said this before, but I believe the tax law passing is extremely poor stewardship, even malfeasance. We are borrowing from our future to try to make an economy, that was in a 103 consecutive month growth period with seven consecutive years of 2 million plus job growth, even better.

To be frank, we cannot cut our way out of this problem. The math will not work. We must also have more revenue than we had before the tax cut. At some point, a future Congress and President will get all the flak for abruptly addressing this problem. Yet, they will be the better stewards, far better than the current President, Congress and their predecessors have been.

Bill Clinton takes a lot of heat for his womanizing, rightfully so, but he handed a surplus budget and smaller debt to George W. Bush. Bush went against the advice of his Treasury Secretary and passed a tax cut and then we invaded two countries draining our budget. And, my biggest criticism of Barack Obama is he shelved the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee report failing to use it as very good starting point for change.

Folks, like climate change, this math problem is not going away. We must address our debt now or it will be much more severe later. And, if people think it does not matter, that country we are imposing tariffs on owns a lot of our treasury bonds, bills and notes. They have floated the idea of stop buying them even before the tariff war. That also makes it a security risk as well.

Tick, tick, tick – young folks please raise some holy hell on this

Tick, tick tick…the US debt of $20.7 trillion is expected to increase by $10 trillion by 2027 even before the December Tax Bill and last night’s Budget Bill were passed.

Tick, tick, tick…per the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Tax Bill is projected to increase the US debt by $1.5 trillion or so by 2027.

Tick, tick, tick…last night’s Budget Bill which has now been signed into law is expected to increase the debt by $400 billion over the next two years.

Tick, tick, tick…unless something is done about it, the debt will be close to $33 trillion in 2027. The scarier thought is that might be low.

Tick, tick, tick…the added dilemma we are facing is the interest rates are increasing, since we may have overheated a good economy. That will add further to the annual interest cost on the debt.

If I were in my twenties, I would be raising holy hell about this. I just called several members of the Freedom Caucus, telling them I am an Independent and former Republican voter. While they were right to raise issue with the $400 billion, I said it was hypocritical to vote for a Tax Bill that increases the debt by $1.5 trillion.

Invariably when I called I spoke with a nice young staffer in their twenties, because I asked them if they were. During our conversations I asked them “you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?”

In December, 2010, the US debt was over $13 trillion. The reason this date is important is the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee presented their findings and recommendations in that month. In essence, they recommended a series of changes that followed a ratio of $2 of spending cuts to every $1 of revenue increases. Since Democrats did not like the former and Republicans the latter, the Committee’s good work was shelved.

Fast forward to today and not only have we not done much about it, we have made the problem worse with these two bills. In Congress, it is both parties’ fault. It is President Obama’s fault for shelving the Simpson-Bowles study and it is President Trump’s fault for not making this an issue and promoting tax cuts. It is President Bush’s fault for passing tax cuts against the advice of his Secretary of the Treasury after being handed the baton on a balanced budget.

Our deficit was $666 billion in the last fiscal year. It will be over $1 trillion at the end of this one. This is not good. Please let your Congressional representatives, Senators and the President know we need to do something about this. We need revenue increases and spending cuts. The math will not work otherwise. Please check out the websites for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Fix the Debt and The Concord Coalition for more information.

 

 

Quick comparison of Trump and Clinton Tax Proposals

The Urban-Brookings Tax Center has provided two excellent comparative write-ups on the two proposed tax plans of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I will provide the links below. They also used three tax experts, whose credentials are noted below, that grade the two proposals on four key factors. Those factors and the average of these grades is noted below:

Factor                          Trump      Clinton

Legislative Feasibility         D                C

Economic Growth             C-               D+

Fiscal Responsibility          D-               B-

Impact on Tax Payers        D+              B-

Overall Average*                D+             C+

*My composite calculation using a four point scale (A = 4, B = 3, etc.) with 0.3 modifier for +/ – like colleges do in grading. Note, the articles did the composites of each factor.

The Urban-Brookings Tax Center found that the Trump plan was disproportionately beneficial to the wealthy, and would greatly increase the national debt.

“His proposal would cut taxes at all income levels, although the largest benefits, in dollar and percentage terms, would go to the highest-income households,” the TPC analysis found. “The plan would reduce federal revenues by $9.5 trillion over its first decade before accounting for added interest costs or considering macroeconomic feedback effects. The plan would improve incentives to work, save, and invest. However, unless it is accompanied by very large spending cuts, it could increase the national debt by nearly 80 percent of gross domestic product by 2036, offsetting some or all of the incentive effects of the tax cuts.”

“Looking at economic growth, Wiiliam Gale (see below) said that the Clinton plan “will probably be close to a wash in terms of economic growth over the medium term.” Gale also said that the increase in tax rates might hurt growth in the short-term. But he said that a reduction in debt under the plan “should help growth in the long-term.” However, the Tax Policy Center analysis of Clinton’s plan used by Gale doesn’t address Clinton’s long-term spending proposals and the effect they might have in raising the long-term debt.”

This is consistent with the measurement of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation that showed Trump’s plan would increase the $19 Trillion debt over the next ten years by approximately $12 Trillion. Clinton’s plan would reduce the debt over the next ten years by about $500 Billion. In my view, neither of these numbers is enough to reduce the debt, but at least Clinton’s is in the right direction.

Truth be told, there are not enough spending cuts to make up for Trump’s increase in debt and we need serious discussion on reducing the debt from both. And, per the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan and ideas shared by Fix the Debt and The Concord Coalition, we will need both revenue increases and spending cuts. To say otherwise, is misleading the American people.

 

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/taxes/experts-weigh-donald-trumps-tax-plan-and-find-it-wanting/ar-BBtatQD?ocid=spartandhp

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/taxes/grading-hillary-clintons-tax-plan/ar-BBtatQL

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The Fiscal Times convened a panel of experts in tax and fiscal policy to analyze the Clinton and Trump tax plans. Details of each plan were reviewed by three well-respected policy experts: William G. Gale, the Arjay and Francis Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Tax Policy Center; Doug Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum and a former Congressional Budget Office Director; and G. William Hoagland, a vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Republican Senate budget official.

A few ideas on the US deficit and debt

I have written in the past few years (and weeks) about the US deficit and building debt as it is a ticking time bomb. We failed to reach a grand bargain early in the Obama presidency after the marvelous efforts of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee. And, that is unfortunate as it was a terrific model to start legislative conversations. While I think the President has done a pretty good job, I see shelving the Simpson-Bowles work as his biggest failure.

Recently, I cited the sixteen myths about our deficit and debt problem in the US, that I gleaned from a bipartisan organization called Fix the Debt which can be found at http://www.fixthedebt.org. As with the efforts of Simpson-Bowles, reducing the debt cannot be done by panacea and will require bipartisan trade-offs that include a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts. The Simpson-Bowles recommendations blended about 1/3 tax increases with 2/3 spending cuts to make huge strides in reducing the debt.

It will definitely not be accomplished by tax cuts as proposed by the two leading GOP candidates for president, who former GOP Senator Alan Simpson said would so significantly increase the deficit, that there are not enough spending cuts to bring the deficit down. Both leading candidates tax proposals have been scored unfavorably by The Concord Coalition, another bipartisan deficit and debt reduction group in this regard, which is a concern, especially with one of the candidates touting how much of a deficit hawk he is.

Solving this problem will require trade-offs and both political parties will need to check their baggage at the door. From an exercise called “Debt Busters, An Interactive Budget Education Exercise by The Concord Coalition” which can be found at http://www.concordcoalition.org, here are few examples of what can be done. This is not a complete list, but is indicative of the kinds of options that could be considered. Note, the numbers reflect the impact on the deficit over the next ten years as measured by the Congressional Budget Office.

Spending Cuts

It should be noted the three largest areas of spending are Medicare/ Medicaid, Social Security and Defense.
  • Reduce healthcare spending by adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), limiting the subsidies to people making 3 x the poverty limit or less (it is currently 4 x)  and limiting malpractice suits = $327 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reform Medicare Part B premiums to be 35% of the cost (closer to the initial intent of 50%) and convert federal share of Medicaid payments to a fixed annual block grant = $749 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reduce specified defense spending deferring development of a long-range bomber and number of ballistic submarines = $41 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reduce domestic spending by reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition = $49 Billion deficit decrease
  • Increase Social Security retirement age gradually to age 70 and calculate cost of living adjustments based on consumer good price changes = $217 Billion deficit decrease

Revenue Increases

Increasing revenue is something that has to be considered. Strong opinions flavor this discussion, but this is where the exercise earns its keep, as it let’s folks consider the trade-offs and priorities.

  • Increase the Social Security Taxable Wage Base to $177,500 from its current limit of $118,500 which would draw in more FICA taxes = $672 Billion deficit decrease
  • Increase gas tax to 35 cents per gallon (or something equivalent in mileage tax) earmarked for Highway Trust Funding = $469 Billion deficit decrease

I purposefully stayed away from more tax increases, but reconfiguring our tax code to get more corporations to keep revenue taxed here and simplifying our individual tax code should be considered. Those ideas could be deficit neutral or deficit reducing, but we should think very hard about lowering tax revenue as we cannot afford it in my view and the view of the above bipartisan sources.

Please check out these websites and speak with your congressional representatives and senators. And, ask candidates pointed questions about their plans. Their failure to do something about an obvious problem, telling us what we want to hear via promised tax reductions, does not help us and is a reason our younger adults are frustrated. They will be the ones who have to bear the burden of our poor stewardship.