Paul Ryan to cut social services to protect the military’s budget

Congress Ready to Start Work on Budget – NYTimes.com:

Mr. Ryan is also likely to propose cuts to many programs unaffected by the automatic reductions, like food stamps, Medicaid, social service block grants and farm subsidies. He would use those savings to reduce some of the automatic cuts, including in the military.

Farm subsidies I get. But are F-35s really worth cutting off food and health care from the poor? 

Also, if you think the sequester cuts are bad, wait until you see the cuts Ryan would need to pull off to balance the budget in 10 years:

To bring the budget to balance, Mr. Ryan will need at least $4.6 trillion in new savings over the next decade, on top of nearly $3.6 trillion in deficit reduction enacted over the last two years. By excluding defense and shielding Medicare and Social Security for the rest of the decade, the Ryan budget would need to cut remaining programs by nearly 23 percent, the memo concluded.

Compare that to the cuts coming due to the sequester:

  • $42.7 billion in defense cuts (a 7.9 percent cut).
  • $28.7 billion in domestic discretionary cuts (a 5.3 percent cut).
  • $9.9 billion in Medicare cuts (a 2 percent cut).
  • $4 billion in other mandatory cuts (a 5.8 percent cut to nondefense programs, and a 7.8 percent cut to mandatory defense programs).

Berkeley economist Christina Romer on increasing the minimum wage

Christina Romer Berkeley economist

Timothy Noah, for The New Republic:

In a March 3 New York Times op-ed laying out her objections, Romer began by dismissing some of the more familiar conservative arguments against the minimum wage. It isn’t true, she pointed out, that the beneficiaries would mostly be burger-flipping teenagers; half would be families now earning less than $40,000 a year. It also isn’t true that raising the minimum wage is a job-killer; “the overall adverse employment effects are small.” (In the online version, these words link to a recent literature review from the nonprofit Center For Economic Policy Research that states the case more bluntly: “the minimum wage has little or no [italics mine] discernible effect on the employment prospects of low-wage workers.”) One reason a minimum-wage increase doesn’t kill jobs is that the increase in the price of labor is balanced out by reduced turnover and a general increase in productivity.

After dismissing these arguments, Romer goes on to say that she thinks the Earned Income Tax Credit is a better instrument for helping the poor because it would boost overall employment. In response, Noah reminds us that the political climate in Washington doesn’t allow for stimulus at the expense of reducing the deficit:

Say it with me: The minimum wage can be boosted without costing the Treasury a dime. The GOP may not go for this argument, but it’s an easier sell than asking Congress to spend money.

What makes a President successful? Controlling Congress

The Powerless Presidency : The New Yorker:

The boring fact of our system is that congressional math is the best predictor of a President’s success. This idea is not nearly as sexy as the notion that great Presidents are great because they twist arms in backrooms and inspire the American people to rise up and force Congress to bend to their will. But even the Presidents who are remembered for their relentless congressional lobbying and socializing were more often than not successful for more mundane reasons—like arithmetic.

Lyndon Johnson’s celebrated legislative achievements were in reality only a function of the congressional election results—not his powers of persuasion. In 1965 and 1966, after the enormous Democratic gains of the 1964 election, Johnson was a towering figure who passed sweeping legislation. In 1967 and 1968, after he lost forty-eight Democrats in the House, he was a midget.

The President does not have some magical power that allows him to change the mind of his political opponents. President Obama’s record of compromising with Republicans during the first term shows that he understands this. Pundits who claim that Obama has somehow failed to show “leadership” by being unwilling to work with the other side are simply ignoring reality:

And Obama most certainly did try to keep that promise — to the deep annoyance of his base. To entice Republicans to a deal, the president included tax cuts in the stimulus package; he dropped the public option during negotiations of the health-care bill, and he kept all of the Bush tax cuts in 2010. This penchant for compromise continues to drive Democrats and liberals nuts and makes them wary. Former labor secretary Robert B. Reich told the New York Times last month that Obama is “still the same President Obama who wants a deal above all else and seems willing to compromise on even the most basic principle.”

Pundits like to make the point that maybe Republicans would go along with Obama on fiscal matters if he were willing to follow a “balanced” approach – improving the state of the budget through both revenue increases and spending cuts. The only problem with their argument is that Obama has been pushing for that exact approach: 

The claim that Obama campaigned “on poll-tested tax hikes alone” is just flatly false. In February of 2012, Obama submitted a budget that contained hundreds of billions in spending cuts — including cuts to Medicare. The nonpartisan Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget analyzed Congressional Budget Office numbers and concluded that Obama’s budget proposed nearly $480 billion in spending cuts — several hundred billion of which were to Medicare.

In the link above, Greg Sargent goes on to give further examples to the present day of Obama advocating for both more tax revenue and spending cuts over time. What we see is that the opposition has time and time again rejected Obama’s offers of compromise.

If the President can’t force the other side to work with him, what can be done? As Obama said during his speech on March 1st, the day the sequester went in place, the American people can tell Congress that they don’t approve of constant obstructionism:

The question is can the American people help persuade their members of Congress to do the right thing, and I have a lot of confidence that over time, if the American people express their displeasure about how something is working, that eventually Congress responds. Sometimes there is a little gap between what the American people think and what Congress thinks. But eventually Congress catches up.

How to get a job in the White House

Want to Work in the White House? – By Rosa Brooks | Foreign Policy:

“Sad fact: Sucking up helps get jobs more than credentials or ability do,” says a former State Department official. That’s why there are plenty of political appointees out there who — while undoubtedly smart and capable — don’t necessarily have the most relevant background for the work they’re doing. They didn’t have to be the most qualified of all the possible applicants out there — they just had to be the most qualified of the well-connected applicants.

Do not waste time sulking about this. (“I can’t believe they appointed Joe Schmo to be deputy assistant to the deputy assistant for Nagorno Karabakh affairs just because he used to be an intern for Senator Moneybags! That idiot can’t tell the Karabakh from a calabash, whereas I’ve written six policy reports and five scholarly articles on gender issues in Nagorno Karabakh!”) It is what it is. Get over it.

This doesn’t mean you have to be super-connected to get a job — really, truly, you don’t have to be rich or famous — but it does, unfortunately, mean that it’s very hard to get a job if you have no connections at all. And it’s virtually impossible to get a political appointment without putting in some significant effort. Unless you’re already prominent and well-connected, no one’s going to seek you out.

Being a wealthy donor, connections, and old-fashioned sucking up are your best bets for getting a job with a presidential administration. Maybe that’s why so many parts of government seem to be managed incompetently – the process has almost nothing to do with whether or not you’re actually qualified.

Swiss ‘fact cat initiative’ goes after excessive executive pay

daniel vasella Novartis

BBC News:

Support for the plans – brain child of Swiss businessman turned politician Thomas Minder – has been fuelled by a series of perceived disasters for major Swiss companies, coupled with salaries and bonuses staying high.

Our correspondent says the main example is banking giant UBS, which wrote off billions in the wake of the 2007 sub-prime mortgage crisis, and then had to be bailed out by the Swiss government.

A further incident came in February when it was announced that the outgoing chairman Novartis’, Daniel Vasella, would be receiving a 72m Swiss francs (£51m; $78m) “non-compete” pay off over six years, designed to stop him working for other related industries.

Going after the people who profit from wrecking the economy isn’t “class-warfare” or “socialism.” It’s making sure that no one in the system is able to stack the deck in their favor at the expense of everyone else. It’s the same as going after trusts, cartels, and monopolies. We figured this out a century ago.

Spaniards trust the police more than journalists

spanish police

The Christian Science Monitor:

It’s not just the expected result of citizens’ loss of institutional trust amid the grueling global economic crisis. Increased politicization and institutional weakness are making journalists easy prey to government and corporate pressure, experts say, leading to blatant cases of political and corporate manipulation and serious editorial mistakes in even the most reputable publications and broadcasters.

In fact, Spaniards trust journalists just a sliver more than lawyers, according to a poll released Feb. 20. Only 53 percent of Spaniards say journalists are honest, compared to 51 percent for lawyers, 80 percent for police, 88 percent for teachers, and more than 90 percent for health professionals. Bankers and members of parliament came in at 12 percent and 11 percent respectively.

[…]

To make things worse, media companies in Spain are either controlled by the government, or corporately owned by banks, large corporate tycoons, and even the Catholic Church. “From that point of view, [society] feels media companies lack independence of vested interests, and respond to ideological and economic clientlism.”

I spend a significant amount of time complaining about the state of journalism here in the US – yet, as this article shows, it could be a lot worse.

Sequestration: Not such a bad idea

Sequestration: Not such a bad idea.:

The key reason is that fully half the cuts are cuts to “defense” spending, and yet nobody from either party is seriously trying to maintain that America will be left defenseless in the wake of this reduced military spending. The specific sequestration mechanism is clearly awkward and clumsy, but again nobody’s saying the Mexican army is going to come swarming over the border to reconquer Santa Fe, that the Taliban is now going to be able to outspend the Pentagon, or that America’s NATO allies are now left unable to fend off a Russian invasion. That’s half the cuts with basically zero real public policy harm.

If I had to choose one thing that surprised me the most about this whole sequestration situation, it’s how little the “cutting defense will make us vulnerable!” line has influenced the discussion. If there’s anything that Republicans hate to cut, it’s defense spending – Paul Ryan’s budget proposal even calls for increasing Pentagon funding while eliminating Medicare as we know it. And yet, unless some alternate deal is arranged sometime in the next few months, defense funding will fall by over $40 billion, putting it somewhere in between 2010 and 2011 spending levels.

75 prominent Republicans come out in support of gay marriage

The New York Times:

The Proposition 8 case already has a powerful conservative supporter: Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under Mr. Bush and one of the suit’s two lead lawyers. The amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief is being filed with Mr. Olson’s blessing. It argues, as he does, that same-sex marriage promotes family values by allowing children of gay couples to grow up in two-parent homes, and that it advances conservative values of “limited government and maximizing individual freedom.”

Legal analysts said the brief had the potential to sway conservative justices as much for the prominent names attached to it as for its legal arguments. The list of signers includes a string of Republican officials and influential thinkers — 75 as of Monday evening — who are not ordinarily associated with gay rights advocacy, including some who are speaking out for the first time and others who have changed their previous positions.

The times are certainly a-changing. The Republican Party needs to keep moving in this direction if it’s going to stay relevant – as the article mentions, roughly 70 percent of voters under 30 believe that gay marriage should be legal.

Republicans could even use this tactic to undermine Democrats on key youth issues, like the War on Drugs. I’m willing to bet a lot of people would be swayed by a small government argument: the government shouldn’t be interfering with what people do with their bodies, we should cut wasteful DEA spending on less harmful drugs like marijuana, etc.

These next few years are going to be very interesting.

Enough with the sequester, let’s talk about the long-term

On March 1st, the Obama administration will be forced to institute an $85 billion across-the-board cut to spending on military and domestic programs in the United States. This cut is the result of the summer 2011 standoff over raising the debt limit. Like the debt limit and the fiscal cliff before it, the sequester is only a problem because Washington made it a problem – there is no reason that spending should have to fall immediately other than politicians said it must happen. It’s certainly not because the bond markets think the government is in trouble: as of the time this article was written, two- and five-year US Treasuries have a yield of less than 1%. That means that investors and other nations are essentially paying the United States to keep their money safe for the next few years once inflation is factored in. 

So the market isn’t freaking out about our debt and deficits now. That’s not to say that the bond vigilantes might not come out and demand higher rates over the next few years, right? That would seem likely if it appeared that the United States’s fiscal situation was getting worse, but according to the latest report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it seems that deficits are going to become less of a problem over the next few years:

With revenues expected to rise more rapidly than spending in the next few years under current law, the deficit is projected to dip as low as 2.4 percent of GDP by 2015. In later years, however, projected deficits rise steadily, reaching almost 4 percent of GDP in 2023. 

Essentially, this means that we don’t really need to worry about the deficit for the next decade because, as a percentage of gross domestic product, the debt will be remain roughly where it is today. In other words, compared to the economy as a whole, the debt will stay relatively the same size. To better illustrate this point, here’s a graph from the CBO report showing the debt as a percentage of gross domestic product over the last 70 years and the projected debt through the net decade:


Screen Shot 2013 02 25 at 1 47 04 PM

So what should policymakers focus on over the next decade? According to the CBO, the most pressing issue in the coming decades is going to be our aging population and the effect that will have on entitlement spending:

After 2017, if current laws remain in place, outlays will start growing again as a percentage of GDP. The aging of the population, increasing health care costs, and a significant expansion of eligibility for federal subsidies for health insurance will substantially boost spending for Social Security and for major health care programs relative to the size of the economy.

Anyone who has even a slight interest in politics knows that entitlement spending is one of the touchiest subjects in Washington and has been for decades. Any attempt by either Republicans or Democrats to make Medicare and Social Security more fiscally sound is met with hyperbolic criticism. With that said, some plans hurt recipients more than others: raising the eligibility age of Medicare from 65 to 67 would cost patients twice as much as it would save the government, for instance. The safest bet seems to be the fabled “balanced approach” put forward by those on the left and in the center of the political spectrum: use spending more effectively so as to minimize the pain felt by those who rely on the safety net to get by, and increase revenue via closing tax loopholes and raising the percentage of earnings subject to tax to historical levels. Back in early January, Henry J. Aaron wrote a piece for The Atlantic proposing policies that would do just that, including:

  • Boosting the payroll tax rate from 6.2 to 7 percent
  • Taxing currently-exempt cash compensation
  • Raising the cap on earnings that are exempt from the payroll tax (in 2012, payroll taxes were only applied to incomes under $110,100)
  • Reducing benefits for high earners who claim them early
  • Replace Medicare Advantage plans with a more affordable and more efficient “super-Medicare” with slightly higher premiums for those who want more benefits
  • Spending more money to police Medicare fraud
  • Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in 2014

Any combination of these policies would have a major impact on the long-term budget while causing as little pain as possible on either those who rely on Medicare and Social Security and the tax payers paying for them. Implementing them would reduce government spending by trillions of dollars over the next several decades while preserving the safety net Americans have come to expect from their government.

Update: This article has also been syndicated over at A New Take. The edits they’ve done make it look much nicer, so go check it out!

The mainstream media treated Bush better than it does Obama

sean hannity asshole

Hey, Sean Hannity, here’s what a “lapdog” press really looks like – Salon.com:

Complaining about the “liberal media” has been a running, four-decade story for conservative activists. But what we’re hearing more of lately is the specific allegation that the press has purposefully laid down for the Democratic president, and that it’s all part of a master media plan to help Democrats foil Republicans.

The rolling accusation caught my attention since I wrote a book called Lapdogs, which documented the Beltway media’s chronic timidity during the previous Republican administration, and particularly with regards to the Iraq War. I found it curious that Hannity and friends are now trying to turn the rhetorical tables with a Democrat in the White House, and I was interested in what proof they had to lodge that accusation against today’s press.

It turns out the evidence is quite thin. For instance, one never-ending partisan cry has been the press has “ignored” the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year; that they’re protecting Obama. Yet the New York Times and Washington Post have published nearly 800 articles and columns mentioning Benghazi since last September, according to Nexis.

What the lapdog allegation really seems to revolve around is the fact that conservatives are angry that Obama remains popular with the public. Rather than acknowledge that reality, partisans increasingly blame the press and insist if only reporters and pundits would tell ‘the truth’ about Obama, then voters would truly understand how he’s out to destroy liberty and freedom and capitalism.

I used to occasionally listen to a couple of minutes of Sean Hannity on my commute home from school each day. The amount of time that I could tolerate it for varied widely, but generally I would get sick of his misrepresentation of reality after three to five minutes.

I don’t understand how people can watch hours of Hannity and the other liars/idiots on Fox News day in and day out without their brains turning to mush. If you honestly believed these people, you’d think that the United States is led by Emperor Obama and his Consulates, Pelosi and Reid. Never mind the fact that Republicans have effectively brought responsible governing to a halt since 2010.

Bush got away with invading a country without good reason or declaring war. Obama gets called out on basically every misstep he takes. A shame the truth doesn’t make for a very good story.