Let’s see how today went, shall we? We got our debt ceiling deal, but the Dow dropped 266 points, and the S&P 500 fell 33 points, so it’s now negative for the year. The yield on the 10-year T-note dropped to 2.61%. Gold, meanwhile, hit a fresh record high of $1,644.50/oz. So, I guess this year’s Recovery Summer is over.
None of this, by the way, has anything to do with the debt limit battle in DC. No one on Wall Street really thought a deal wouldn’t be struck. At the end of the day, everybody was pretty confident that the debt ceiling would be raised, and a default avoided.
Stock prices are volatile, of course, so one day’s movement doesn’t mean much, but we have lost about 800 points on the Dow since 22 July, so the trend isn’t good. What’s worse is the steady decline on treasury yields and the climbing price of gold. When you couple that with the 0.4% 1Q GDP increase, and the danger of downward revisions to the lackluster 2Q GDP over the next two months, the evolving picture doesn’t look pretty. We’ve also has a few weeks of unremittingly bad economic releases, showing the economy might be heading back towards recession, and unemployment getting closer to 10% than 8%.
So then what’s the problem? I mean, we’ve had our big stimulus, and our TARP and our Quantitative Easing I and II, and we’re still not only barely budging into positive GDP territory, but now all the signs are showing the economy slowing. What’s happening? Why isn’t any of this working?
I think the answer can be found in what I wrote in my previous post about debt levels, and how over the last several years…
…a body of peer-reviewed work has been developed (PDF) that shows that an excess of government debt serves as a drag on the economy, shaving at least a full percentage point off of annual GDP growth. And we’ve learned that this negative economic effect has a non-linear effect on economic growth as debt increases.
What seems to happen is that, as you begin to approach a debt-to-GDP ratio of 100%, economic growth slows. As you add debt, there’s a non-linear decrease in economic growth. and each additional increment of debt slows growth more than the last. As I also pointed out, this has some pretty scary implications for Keynesian policies, because as you add debt, you’re no longer stimulating growth, you’re hindering it ever more strongly.
That puts policy makers in a pretty bad spot. For instance, right now, real short-term interest rates are effectively zero, so the interest rate tool is no longer of any use to the Fed. You can’t lower rates below 0%. With that tool gone, the only thing left to try and stimulate the economy is to add more debt. Conversely, cutting spending will result in more government workers and contractors being moved over to the unemployment line, and the economy still slows. It’s a trap, where all the standard policy moves result in a slowing economy.
Back in the 80’s my fellow Econ and Business undergrads would debate about all the debt Reagan was adding, and trying to figure out when all that debt would begin crowding out private investment and slowing economic growth. As it turned out, it took far longer than any of us believed it would, but I think we finally have the answer.
The really scary this is that, if we decided that we had to bite the bullet, and impose some austerity, it really wouldn’t help much. We could cut discretionary spending by half, and all it would do is gain us a few years of breathing space before the coming explosion in Social Security and Medicare entitlements—about $60-76 trillion worth of them—eat up any short-term savings and debt reduction we might acquire. After all, discretionary spending—including defense—is only about 39% of the current budget anyway.
What part does economic growth play in all this? Well, it’s clear that 2% per year isn’t going to help much.
It is a generally accepted truism that the trend rate of growth in a mature economy is 3%. There are a lot of reasons given for this; slower population growth in developed countries, large sunk costs in plant and capital, blah, blah, blah. But why should any of that matter? Just because population growth is slow, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the growth of wealth or human ingenuity is hampered.
Here is a reason for that slow growth that’s almost never given. You see, one of the things that mature economies all seem to have in common is large government expenditures, extensive entitlements, massive regulatory oversight, and increasing debt. All of that is financed by taxation to remove money from the productive portion of the economy. So, one of the primary reasons we have slower economic growth is because we trade it for public goods.
Now, we may love these public goods. And they are certainly nice to have if you can afford them. But the evidence is increasingly that we cannot. if we could, we wouldn’t be racking up a level of peacetime debt that’s nearly 90% of GDP. Not only do we give up a lot of economic growth to sustain these public goods, but, apparently, we eventually give up all of it…at which point, we have to give up the public goods as well.
If we really want to climb out of this hole, then what we really need to do is to radically rethink what government should be, what it should be allowed to do, and how it’s funded. It’s not enough any more to cut budgets, while leaving the regulatory, entitlement, taxation, and spending structure intact. A truly radical solution would be to limit government spending and revenues to no more than 10% of GDP in peacetime. Replace the income tax with a 10% VAT. Eliminate the departments of Education, Commerce, Labor, Transportation and Agriculture. Repeal most Federal criminal laws. Privatize social security. Enforce free markets, rather than the crony capitalism we have now.
No one in our current political class has the slightest interest in any of those suggestions. Drastically reducing the size and scope of government is the only solution that can possibly increase economic growth substantially, and give us a shot at paying off our ever-increasing debt, but our current political class will never embrace that.
The thing is, reality doesn’t care what the political class—or anyone else for that matter—wants. It just is what it is. So, no matter what happens, we won’t have to worry about the deficit or government spending for much longer. Either we’ll fix the problem by electing a political class that’s devoted to cutting government across the board and paying down the debt. Or we won’t fix the problem, and the resulting bankruptcy and hyperinflation will allow us to monetize our debt, wipe out the life savings of every person in the country, and we will start over from scratch with a bright shiny new currency!
But the problem will get solved. The only question is how much control we’ll retain over the process, and how much government we’ll retain at the end of it.
Paul Krugman leads the “reaction” brigade with a lament that says cutting government spending while the economy is deeply depressed is a mistake. I have to say, that is not “unexpected”. Krugman has been a one-trick-pony ever since this recession/depression began. Spend, spend, spend – spend more, spend it even if you don’t have it and keep spending until we spend ourselves out of a recession/depression. For most that simply is counter-intuitive.
Krugman also does another thing that is not unexpected. He attempts to blame all of this turbulence on the Republicans while claiming the Democrats got rolled:
It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.
In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.
The Republicans called “our whole system of government into question?” No overstatement there. Actually I saw it as more as the Republicans calling attention to the fact that this spending spree and expansion of government intrusion is anathema to “our whole system of government” as first envisioned and then founded. I think what Krugman really means is the GOP has laid claim to the narrative that the current size and cost of government isn’t at all what the founders established and it is time to get back to that vision.
Wow … terrible, huh?
Then there’s the NY Times editorial page. It too laments the deal. More so it laments the fact that Republicans used the crisis to push their election promise to cut spending. Apparently never letting a crisis go to waste only is good for one side. You have to love the phrasing of the editorial – Democrats apparently held out for a few principles while Republicans were simply political barbarians out to loot, plunder, kill and maim (politically speaking, of course):
For weeks, ever since House Republicans said they would not raise the nation’s debt ceiling without huge spending cuts, Democrats have held out for a few basic principles. There must be new tax revenues in the mix so that the wealthy bear a share of the burden and Medicare cannot be affected.
Those principles were discarded to get a deal that cuts about $2.5 trillion from the deficit over a decade. The first $900 billion to a trillion will come directly from domestic discretionary programs (about a third of it from the Pentagon) and will include no new revenues. The next $1.5 trillion will be determined by a “supercommittee” of 12 lawmakers that could recommend revenues, but is unlikely to do so since half its members will be Republicans.
The only somewhat good thing that came out of it, says the NYT, is the ability to continue to spend on entitlements even though we can’t afford them. And note too, the NYT is certainly not for any sort of a balanced budget. And trying to make government smaller, less intrusive, less costly and to have to live within its means makes the Speaker of the House and the rest of the GOPers who committed to all of that “radicals”. Goodness, if that’s how a radical is now defined, count me in.:
Democrats won a provision drawn from automatic-cut mechanisms in previous decades that exempts low-income entitlement programs. There is no requirement that a balanced-budget amendment pass Congress. There will be no second hostage-taking on the debt ceiling in a few months, as Speaker John Boehner and his band of radicals originally demanded. Democratic negotiators decided that the automatic cut system, as bad as it is, was less of a threat to the economy than another default crisis, and many are counting on future Congresses to undo its arbitrary butchering.
Sadly, in a political environment laced with lunacy, that calculation is probably correct. Some Republicans in the House were inviting a default, hoping that an economic earthquake would shake Washington and the Obama administration beyond recognition. Democrats were right to fear the effects of a default and the impact of a new recession on all Americans.
Well of course they were since they were primarily responsible for doubling the national debt in a few years and adding trillions upon trillions of dollars to it. It is they who ran it up against the debt ceiling in record time and now they want to claim that the GOP held the country hostage instead of letting them again have their way with spending money in the trillions of dollars that we don’t have? Balderdash.
Meanwhile, here is how some Democrats reacted:
* Representative Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri: “If I were a Republican, this is a night to party,” he said to MSNBC.
* Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona: “This deal trades people’s livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it. This deal weakens the Democratic Party as badly as it weakens the country,” he added. “We have given much and received nothing in return. The lesson today is that Republicans can hold their breath long enough to get what they want.”
* Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader: “I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide.”
* Donna Brazille, Democratic strategist, via Twitter: “Fellow citizens, good night. The debate was one sided – so no winners, no losers. Claim your JOY! No whining because we’re in this together.”
“The GOP won the debate by playing quick & loose w/the truth. Bullyingeveryone, incl media. Stonewalling. Arrogance. This was unnecessary.”
* Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, via Twitter: “The heinous deal is preferable to economic catastrophe. The outrage and shame is it has come to this choice.”
“The radical right has won a huge tactical and strategic victory. Democrats have proven they have no tactics and no strategy.”
“It is not the case that ‘both sides’ gave up ’sacred cows.’ Rs linked the debt ceiling to their demand for smaller govt. They’ve got it.”
Got that folks – the “radical right” linked the debt ceiling increase to a demand for smaller government and got it. Isn’t that what they’d said they’d do? Had something like that have occurred on the left, of course, it wouldn’t have been “radical” and people like Reich would be calling it brilliant politics. Of course in this hyper-partisan atmosphere it mostly comes down to whose ox is being gored to understand which side is the radicals are on and which side has the brilliant politicians (well, at least situationaly brilliant).
Some Republican reactions:
* Representative Allen West of Florida: “At this time I believe this is a good plan for the American people.”
* Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and presidential candidate: “While some of my opponents ducked the debate entirely, others would have allowed the nation to slide into default and President Obama refused to offer any plan, I have been proud to stand with congressional Republicans working for these needed and historic cuts. A debt crisis like this is a time for leadership, not a time for waiting to see which way the political winds blow.”
* Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a presidential candidate: “Throughout this process the President has failed to lead and failed to provide a plan. The ‘deal’ he announced spends too much and doesn’t cut enough. This isn’t the deal the American people ‘preferred’ either, Mr. President. Someone has to say no. I will.”
* Representative Connie Mack, Republican of Florida, On MCNBC: “I don’t think the American people are looking for a deal or a compromise, they are looking for a solution to the problem. At the end of the day, I can’t vote for something that is going to ensure that we have over $17 trillion in debt.”
So, reading most of this, it would appear we can safely conclude no one is satisfied with the deal although given the spin coming from both sides, that most think the GOP got most of what it wanted. OK. And the Democrats are supposedly willing, at least for the most part, to sign on.
That’s “compromise” in today’s politics isn’t it? After all, when the “health care crisis” was upon us a little while back, Democrats certainly weren’t at all concerned with compromise or, for that matter, Republicans in general. Now they have to deal with the pesky bastards and their radical brethren and suddenly life is no longer good or simple.
Tsk, tsk (cue world’s smallest violin).
Oh, and I did love this, speaking of trying out a narrative:
The White House is straining to make the case that they’re playing a long-game. David Axelrod: “In the short term, everyone suffers politically. In the long term, I think the Republicans have done terrible damage to their brand. Because now they’re thoroughly defined by their most strident voices.”
Is that right, Mr. Axelrod? Well this little debacle has also “thoroughly defined” the Democrats and the President, and in a most unflattering light. Spendthrifts with no problem whatsoever in piling mountains of debt on future generations being “led” by an empty suit. Yeah, it’s really hurt the Republican brand to actually try to stand up for the principles they were sent to DC to uphold. They won’t be judged as Axlerod would hope they’ll be judged, but instead on how effective they were in accomplishing those principles
I offer the following:
President Obama, warning that time is running out to lift the federal debt ceiling, said Friday that a House GOP plan has “no chance of becoming law,” and he urged Senate Democrats and Republicans to come together on a “bipartisan compromise.”
Compromise? Where? This isn’t about compromise, this is about political timing. And apparently Obama is willing to see the default deadline pass because a short-term debt limit increase would put him at a political disadvantage next year (I don’t think he realizes what a default will do coupled with a dismal economy and high unemployment rate).
Meanwhile the Democrats still haven’t offered anything concrete. They seem content with the role of feces throwing monkeys. Perhaps they could dump the donkey and adopt that as their party symbol?
This isn’t leadership, it’s simply saying “no” without offering a viable alternative. But that’s nothing new with this president or the Democrats.
Of course what I’m about to cite is an anecdote. It is hard to claim there’s a trend. And we don’t even know if the threat was carried out. On the other hand, we also don’t know how many times the thought process and decision voiced here have been silently made by people who have the ability to hire and expand, but just don’t see the hassle being worth it. And, of course, it doesn’t help that what they’re trying to do is demonized at every step.
The story told below takes place in Birmingham, AL. I love B’ham – spent years and years doing business there. It’s like a second home. Birmingham was once the “Pittsburg” of the South, with a huge and flourishing steel business. Of course that’s gone now, at least most of it. One of the reasons Birmingham was the Pittsburg of the South was because the state had both iron ore and coal deposits. And one of the major coal mining regions is a county just north of Birmingham named Walker County.
He operates coal mines in Alabama. I’d never heard of him until this morning, but after what I saw and heard from him, I’d say he’s a bit like a southern version of Ellis Wyatt from Ayn Rand’s novel. What I saw made an impression on me.
I was at a public hearing in an inner-city Birmingham neighborhood for various government officials to get public input on some local environmental issues. There are several hot topics, but one of the highest-profile disputes is over a proposal for a coal mine near a river that serves as a source of drinking water for parts of the Birmingham metro area. Mine operators and state environmental officials say the mine can be operated without threatening the water supply. Environmentalists claim it will be a threat.
I’m not going to take sides on that environmental issue, because I don’t know enough to stake out an informed opinion. (With most of the people I listened to today, facts didn’t seem to matter as much as emotional implications.) But Ronnie Bryant wasn’t there to talk about that particular mine. As a mine operator in a nearby area, he was attending the meeting to listen to what residents and government officials were saying. He listened to close to two hours of people trashing companies of all types and blaming pollution for random cases of cancer in their families. Several speakers clearly believe that all of the cancer and other deaths they see in their families and communities must be caused by pollution. Why? Who knows? Maybe just because it makes for an emotional story to blame big bad business. It’s hard to say.
After Bryant listened to all of the business-bashing, he finally stood to speak. He sounded a little bit shellshocked, a little bit angry — and a lot frustrated.
My name’s Ronnie Bryant, and I’m a mine operator…. I’ve been issued a [state] permit in the recent past for [waste water] discharge, and after standing in this room today listening to the comments being made by the people…. [pause] Nearly every day without fail — I have a different perspective — men stream to these [mining] operations looking for work in Walker County. They can’t pay their mortgage. They can’t pay their car note. They can’t feed their families. They don’t have health insurance. And as I stand here today, I just … you know … what’s the use?
I got a permit to open up an underground coal mine that would employ probably 125 people. They’d be paid wages from $50,000 to $150,000 a year. We would consume probably $50 million to $60 million in consumables a year, putting more men to work. And my only idea today is to go home. What’s the use? I don’t know. I mean, I see these guys — I see them with tears in their eyes — looking for work. And if there’s so much opposition to these guys making a living, I feel like there’s no need in me putting out the effort to provide work for them. So as I stood against the wall here today, basically what I’ve decided is not to open the mine. I’m just quitting.Thank you.
Whether Ronnie Bryant actually did what he said isn’t known – but his frustration is clear and his decision as stated, warranted.
The question is how many Ronnie Bryant’s are out there right now? How many are tired of the demonization, the taxes, the hassles, the bars government and environmental groups erect that make business difficult if not impossible to conduct? How many have faced men and women with tears in their eyes because they can’t pay the mortgage or feed their family, but know that hiring them would actually be more difficult and costly than just continuing as they are now, or, as Bryant claims, just decide not to open a business because of the intrusion, over-regulation, demonization and the increasing level of obstacles put in the way of business?
That story, at least to me, is a stunning and telling example of the anti-business culture that has been created and nurtured within this country. This isn’t some apocryphal or fictional example to demonstrate a point. This is a man listening and deciding that it just isn’t worth it to open a business that would bring in 125 jobs, consume 50 to 60 million in consumables a year (downstream jobs) and, of course, mean tax revenue to both the city, county and state.
But coal is unpopular. It is demon coal. So an industry that powers the nation and generates the electricity that the complainers in the audience and the government bureaucrats there will use when they go home is trashed in a meeting along with business in general. And a man who could offer something critically needed – jobs – makes the decision that in the climate he observed, it’s just not worth it to open a business up.
How many times in how many local meetings like the one described in Birmingham is there a Ronnie Bryant who just says, after listening to all the trash talk, ‘screw it, I’m not going to bother to open a business’?
Atlas Shrugging – something our lefty friends said was fiction.
Given today’s business climate, it seems more like a self-fulfilling prophesy, doesn’t it?
Apparently the responsibility to save the Republic’s financial ship has fallen to the First Mate, not the Captain. It appears that he and only he is required to come up with plans (this one Boehner is talking about now is the second after “Cap, Tax and Balance” was rejected by the Democratic Senate) so the Democrats and White House can reject them.
With Speaker Boehner lining up his second attempt (and this isn’t about whether or not the attempt is worthwhile, it’s about the narrative and reality) Sen. Democrats have again decided they’ll scuttle any plan he puts forward:
Fifty-three Democratic senators have signed a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner saying they intend to vote against his plan for an increase in the debt ceiling, virtually assuring its defeat in the Senate even as the speaker lines up Republican votes to pass it in the House on Thursday.
Votes are not final until they are cast. But if the Democrats hold to their promise in the letter, Mr. Boehner’s plan for a six-month increase in borrowing authority will not make it to President Obama’s desk.
“We heard that in your caucus you said the Senate will support your bill,” the senators say in the letter. “We are writing to tell you that we will not support it, and give you the reasons why.”
In the letter, the senators argue that a short-term extension of the debt ceiling would “put America at risk” and “could be nearly as disastrous as a default.”
The Senate Democrats, like the president, have offered nothing in terms of a plan (heck, why would they offer a plan when they’ve never even acted on a budget for two years). Instead we get this – who again is the party who won’t say “yes”? And, as is obvious, the primary reason, hidden in this rhetoric, is not that a “short-term extension” of the debt ceiling would put “America at risk”, but that it would put Obama and the Democrats at risk politically since they’d have to act again prior to the 2012 election. The compromise they’re seeking here has nothing to do with the debt ceiling. It is mainly to have any extension of the debt ceiling at least fall on the other side of November 2012.
That said, again it should be emphasized that the only group among the players in this political theater who’ve actually offered anything of substance that can actually be scored by the CBO is the GOP.
That brings us to an interesting exchange between Ed Henry of Fox News and that huckster the White House uses as a front man, Jay Carney. This one followed a similar exchange the day before between NBC’s Chuck Todd and Carney:
Henry asked at the briefing when Obama’s plan might be submitted to the Congressional Budget Office.
"Ed, I understand, we can do this again, OK?" Carney said. "Has the speaker of the House shown you the positions he took in detail in the negotiations that were designed actually to achieve a compromise, as opposed to having a show vote?"
"We put forward a budget, we put forward a framework," Carney said.
Questions about Obama’s plan — where is it, what’s on it — are proving tricky for the White House, because the omission is suddenly getting traction.
"Both leaders, the senior-most Republican in the land, third in line, OK? A powerful figure with great authority sat on a room with the president of the United States and worked out a detailed compromise," Carney said.
"It is the nature of these kinds of difficult things that you do that in a way so that you agree on the tough choices, you come out together and announce them, and you begin to make the argument," he said. "A hard argument from each person to his party, that this is what we need to do for the sake of the country."
Carney’s explanation was once again that these deals have to be worked out in secret. But Henry pressed on — why not have a senator take up Obama’s detailed plan and introduce it as a bill?
"We are six days away," Henry said.
"Chuck — I mean Ed, you know, the speaker walked away from this deal," Carney said.
"You say it’s a great deal so put it out there," Henry said. "Let the American people – "
"I think I’ve answered the question," Carney said. "I mean, I know you’re creating a thing here for Fox…"
Henry, who hardly pulled punches when he sat a few seats over for CNN, chided Carney, "That’s not what I’m doing. You know better than that."
Note the final attempt to distract from the main point that there is no White House plan. Also note that Carney tries to lecture Henry about how the process works (apparently in secret with the WH offering only “frameworks”) and Henry rebutting with how it really works (a Senator takes the “framework” one supposes, puts it in writing and introduces it). Carney is reduced to taking a shot at Fox as a distraction from the fact that the White House still has not offered a plan.
Meanwhile the president is again seen as a spectator in the process:
Having already deployed the heavy weapons from the presidential arsenal, including a national address on Monday night and a veto threat, Mr. Obama is in danger of seeming a spectator at one of the most critical moments of his presidency. Having been unable to get the grand bargain he wanted — a debt limit increase and up to $4 trillion in debt-reduction through spending cuts and taxes — Mr. Obama’s challenge now is to reassert himself in a way that produces the next-best outcome, or at least one that does no harm to his re-election hopes.
Of course the New York Times piece claims that Obama’s “plan” is much more popular among the public than the Boehner plan. But again, there is no plan.
What the Times talks about is Obama’s $4 Trillion dollar “Grand Bargain” in which he essentially stated he’d trade some entitlement cuts for about $2 trillion in increased taxes. In the middle of a recession. And that’s popular? Only among the elite media and members of the public that don’t really know the details of his offer. The public has not endorsed raising taxes that I know of and certainly not to the extent Obama wanted.
So here we sit, six days away, the Speaker already on notice from Senate Dems that his bill will be DOA there, Harry Reid’s attempt yet to find its way to paper and Jay Carney trying to divert attention from the fact that there really is no White House plan and that’s not really as important as the supposed intransigence of Republicans and Fox trying to “create a thing”.
We’re being led by idiots folks. Well, that’s not true – the president isn’t leading at all. Never has and I think after almost 3 years it should be obvious we shouldn’t expect leadership from him (btw, the White House comms folks should pass along that petulant pressers where he whines about his inability to reach a compromise and speeches in which he attempts to shift the blame do not impress people that he’s much of a leader).
Debt limit talks — DC Math and political theater mask the lack of seriousness concerning out-of-control spending
Speaker of the House Boehner’s plan for deficit and debt reduction was shown to be an exercise in “DC Math”. The CBO scored the proposal and determined that the 1.2 trillion “savings” over 10 years actually cut only $1 billion in actual spending next year.
The first installment of $900 billion is contingent on enacting 10 year caps on annual appropriations which the leadership had hoped would save well over $1 trillion. But CBO late Tuesday came back with a report showing the legislation would reduce deficits by $850 billion when measured against the agency’s most current projections for spending.
Yeah, I think we want significantly deeper cuts in spending than that. And of course, keep in mind most Democrats were even opposed to that.
But at least Boehner actually had a plan CBO could score. From Jim Geraghty’s “Morning Jolt” we learn of this conversation in the White House press room (Weekly Standard):
[Chuck] Todd asked Carney about the White House’s reluctance to release its plan to deal with the national debt and raising the debt ceiling. Carney acknowledged the White House was playing games. "We’re showing a lot of leg," he said. When Todd pressed for details — "Why not just release it?" — Carney seemed surprised. "You need it written down?"
What a difference two years makes. In the spring of 2009, with Republicans in the minority in the House of Representatives, the White House and its Democratic allies were demanding specifics. The House GOP had to produce an alternative budget, the White House demanded, in order to show that they were serious about governing.
Geraghty also points to a wonderful rant by Guy Benson over at Townhall concerning the demand for an actual plan:
Yes, actually, we do need "something printed." Since his unmitigated failure of a budget was unanimously defeated in the Senate, this president has refused to offer a specific plan of his own on virtually anything at all. Instead, he talks about "visions" and "contours" and "frameworks" — and tries to blame his opponents when his poor leadership is exposed. Over the last five days, the president has (a)undermined a bargain with John Boehner by introducing an unacceptable eleventh-hour condition, (b) rejected "out of hand" a bipartisan compromise that he found to be politically unpalatable, and (c) delivered a speech that painted his opponents as the intractable extremists. In light of this behavior, it’s entirely reasonable for Americans to wonder what, precisely, Barack Obama’s proposed solution might be. Today, the White House dismissively waived off that question as a GOP talking point and condescendingly inquired if the journalist who dared to ask it was capable of taking notes.
I’ll close with an unsolicited word of advice, and a friendly reminder from the CBO director. The advice: When you’re already plumbing new depths of unpopularity, dialing up your arrogance isn’t a winning strategy. Even David Brooks finds it unseemly.
By the way, Harry Reid’s plan is purported to show about $2 trillion plus in savings by assuming the wars we’re involved in will cost hundreds of billions a year for 10 years, knowing full well that those wars are wrapping up and wrapping up soon (well except for Libya which seems to have shifted from “weeks not months” to “months not years” at this point).
In other words the usual nonsense from Washington DC. Math tricks which say to anyone who is on to them, “these guys aren’t serious”.
Obama is prone to liken himself to Ronald Reagan at times (and Abe Lincoln at others). If you remember the Reagan/Carter race, the question in the title is a paraphrase of the question Reagan rhetorically ask of voters during the campaign. Obama is definitely on the wrong side of that Reagan question. You can expect a resurrection of that question (if the GOP has any sense at all) in the 2012 election.
The answer to the question manifests itself in a recent poll and it is not very encouraging for the incumbent president. An NBC/Washington Post poll just released gives the latest “atmospherics”:
Despite those hundreds of billions of blown stimulus dollars and almost as many upturn promises from Joe Biden, 82% of Americans still say their job market is struggling. Ninety percent rate the economy negatively, including half who give it the worst rating of "poor."
A slim 15% claim to be "getting ahead financially," half what it was in 2006. Fully 27% say they’re falling behind financially. That’s up 6 points since February.
A significant majority (54%) says they’ve been forced to change their lifestyle significantly as a result of the economic times — and 60% of them are angry, up from 44%.
So, you say, doesn’t it depend on who voters blame as to who this poll negatively effects? Well, yes, of course. And here’s an indicator of who that might be:
Strong support among liberal Democrats for Obama’s jobs record has plummeted 22 points from 53% down below a third. African Americans who believe the president’s measures helped the economy have plunged from 77% to barely half.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the fact that independents have been deserting Obama for quite some time. We just had a Pew poll that said many whites that previously supported him have left him. And it gets worse for Obama:
Obama’s overall job approval on the economy has slid below 40% for the first time, with 57% disapproving. And strong disapprovers outnumber approvers by better than two-to-one.
That prompted Bernie Sanders, Socialist – Vermont, to exclaim the other day:
"I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition."
He’s not the first to float that heretical idea either. And that sort of talk is a sure sign of crumbling support within one’s political base. When even the “homers” aren’t happy (and the reason really doesn’t matter) then you can be assured most of the rest of the voters aren’t happy either. Obama is trying desperately to run to the center and all he’s really accomplishing by that run is to lose base support. It doesn’t appear the big middle is warming to his attempts to woo them as support for him in all areas continues to drop.
Standard disclaimer applies – in political terms it is still light years to November 2012. That said, these are trends we’re talking about here. They’ve been developing over quite some time. Looking into the future, and given the economic reports we’re seeing, it’s hard to see how this all improves enough for Obama to offset the high negativity that is building right now.
And despite continued efforts to push this off on Bush, this is now considered to be Obama’s economy, whether he likes it or not. The excuse was good for a year or so as many were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that. However, now it’s considered whining. Obama ran for the job, got it and is now expected to perform up to the standards or expectations he established in his campaign. On all fronts, he’s falling woefully short and most people have no patience for the continued attempts to pass his failure off on someone else.
So …. are you better off than you were in January, 2009?
Very few Americans find themselves able to answer “yes”, at least at this point.
The latest reports on the economy is due out this week and it doesn’t appear they will contain much good news:
Economists have been insisting for months that the economy is poised to lift off into a self-sustaining orbit, only to be forced to scrub the launch date several times.
Thus the repeated “unexpected”.
The way the economy works is that it takes growth higher than a 3% rate before good things, like a sustained decline in unemployment, even start to happen. Anything in the 2.5%-to-3% range is just treading water.
Growth has averaged 2.8% over the past seven quarters. And at this point, economists would welcome a 2.5% growth rate.
Economists polled by MarketWatch now expect growth to actually decelerate to a 1.6% annual rate in the second quarter from a tepid 1.9% rate in the first quarter.
Those are some pretty shocking numbers when you consider all the political hype that’s been flying around lately about the “vastly improved” economy. I’ve put in bold type the numbers you need to know to be able to analyze the numbers thrown around as these reports come out. As you can tell, we’ve been in the treading water stage for quite some time.
We’ve covered many of the reasons. One is the administration’s war on carbon-based fuels – an sector that could be creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, revenue and growth if not essentially shut down by bureaucratic foot-dragging and stifling regulation. ObamaCare is another reason we see blamed because it has thrown thousands of new regulations about health care at businesses.
Those and other factors have led to extraordinary caution on the part of business about expansion and hiring. So where are the profits these companies are enjoying coming from?
The sluggish pace of hiring may be hobbling the US economy, but it’s not been holding back big US companies’ profits thanks to growth overseas and cost controls at home. And that’s bad news for the more than 14 million Americans without jobs.
Big businesses would normally be desperate for surging job growth as it would feed into domestic demand but these aren’t normal times. Massive growth opportunities overseas, especially in China and other buoyant Asian economies, have some of the largest American companies on track for record profits, even if they’re businesses are mostly treading water in the US.
The message last week from the chief financial officer of one of the nation’s industrial giants couldn’t be clearer.
"We’ve driven all this cost out. Sales have come back, but people have not," said Greg Haynes, chief financial officer at United Technologies Corp. "It’s the structural cost reductions that we have done over the past few years that have allowed us to see strong bottom-line results."
The company, the world’s largest maker of air conditioners and elevators, said second-quarter profit rose 19 percent, and it is doing most of its hiring in emerging markets where demand for its products is growing fastest. It isn’t alone in seeing profits climb in the current earnings reporting season.
They’ve learned to do more with less, thus their cost cutting measures in the really bad times are now beginning to pay off. The easiest and quickest way to cut costs, of course, is reduced headcount. They’ve also identified new markets that aren’t as onerous or unsettled to do business in – so their hiring – what hiring they’re doing – is overseas. And given all that, it’s unlikely to change anytime soon:
Employers added fewer jobs in June than at any time in the past nine months, and the jobless rate rose to 9.2 percent, higher than when the recession ended in early 2009.
"We’ve never seen the kind of shedding of jobs that we saw in this recession. America’s corporations have never been running so efficiently," said Ellen Zentner, senior US economist at Nomura Securities in New York.
An example of that is the car industry:
With the economy still struggling to regain momentum after the financial crisis of 2007-09 and 14 million Americans out of work, the planners at GM and a host of corporations across America are in no rush to make big new investments to ramp up output and hiring.
The world’s second-biggest carmaker has not re-opened its idled plants or built new ones as Americans rein in spending.
Like many US manufacturers, it is squeezing more from existing factories and using time-honoured efficiency boosts such as adding to overtime and eliminating plant bottlenecks.
‘Our manufacturing folks have been tremendous at squeaking out extra units through improving line rates, adding on extra shifts,’ GM’s US sales chief Don Johnson said.
That, of course, means a long recovery period for employment. Here’s a rather startling “did you know” fact for you:
Has anyone in Washington noticed that 20% of American men are not working? That’s right. One out of five men in this country are collecting unemployment, in prison, on disability, operating in the underground economy, or getting by on the paychecks of wives or girlfriends or parents. The equivalent number in 1970, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, was 7%.
That’s neither a good cultural or economic trend and certainly not a trend that we want to see continued into the future. It has a tendency to have a negative effect that can be profound. It also tends to see incidents of criminal activity rise.
So what is government to do? Follow policies that will encourage businesses to expand and hire. Exploit those sectors that have low hanging fruit like the carbon-based energy sector.
Instead, what do we get? Thousands of pages of new regulations and laws. More and more government intrusion. A further and artificial stifling of the economy.
Well read those bold numbers again and ask yourself if that’s what you’re willing to live with – because as it is going now, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, it is that with which this administration seems to be content to live.
And that is unacceptable – or should be.
A little reminder:
We are currently in the middle of a war against carbon based energy being waged by the current administration to do precisely what Obama promised as a candidate. Raise energy prices. The method is irrelevant to him. No “cap and trade”? Fine. He’ll find other ways. And that’s exactly what is happening as we speak.
For instance, via the EPA. Background – apparently the EPA released its new proposed “Cross-state Rule” on July 7th – a couple of weeks ago – after previously sending it around for comment. The rule is scheduled to go into effect on January 1st of 2012. It is 1,323 pages long. It seems they threw a new requirement into the mix that was not in the original proposed rule and that none of the energy generating owners knew was coming. It would require many to shut down. The Electric Reliability Coalition of Texas picks it up from there:
ERCOT’s May11 report to the Public Utility Commission on the impact of the proposed environmental regulations did not address the impact of SO2 restrictions on coal plants in ERCOT because these restrictions on Texas were not included as part of the EPA’s earlier rule proposal. We have not had time to fully analyze the entire 1,323-page Cross-State Rule released July 7 or to communicate with the generation owners regarding what their intentions will be. However, initial implications are that the SO2 requirements for Texas added at the last stage of the rule development will have a significant impact on coal generation, which provided 40 percent of the electricity consumed in ERCOT in 2010.
Our concern is that the timing of the new requirements – effective Jan. 1, 2012 – is unreasonable because it does not allow enough time to implement operational responses to ensure reliability. We fear that many of the coal plants in ERCOT will be forced to limit or shut down operations in order to maintain compliance with the new rule, possibly leading to inadequate operating reserve margins with insufficient time to reliably retrofit existing generation or build new, replacement generation.
So the EPA pushes out a new reg with drastic limits on SO2 that were not in the original draft of the regulation. If left unchanged it will, per ERCOT, cause many coal-fired plants to shut down or limit their generation. And with 40% of electricity generated by coal in Texas, that will be a significant loss of generating power. Texas will then have to buy what it can’t generate itself and consumer prices will do precisely what candidate Obama hoped – and planned- for them to do. Now think of this and its effect across the country.
Right in the middle of a recession (he’s not the only one trying his best to shut down coal).
Of course that isn’t the only facet of the war on carbon based energy being waged by this administration. Oil and gas also have seen what has now become to be called a “permatorium” on offshore drilling enforced by the administration. Using the Deepwater Horizon blowout as its excuse, the administration has slowed permitting to a crawl and is dragging its feet as slowly as possible to, one suspects, fulfill Obama’s desire.
Study after study have shown that opening the process back up to at least the speed in which it was previous to the accident could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue. A real step toward jumpstarting the economy. Just yesterday another study made that very point:
Faster permitting of offshore oil and gas projects could create nearly 230,000 new jobs in 2012 and boost the economy by $44 billion, including a surge in tax revenue, according to an industry-funded study released Thursday.
The report by IHS CERA said job growth would extend beyond the Gulf Coast states, boosting employment indirectly as far away as California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Georgia.
The study, funded by the Gulf Economic Survival Team, a group of largely Louisiana-based energy and business interests, looks at data on the pace of permitting by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement through April 30.
That’s six months after the end of a federal moratorium on offshore drilling, which the government imposed after last year’s Deepwater Horizon accident killed 11 workers and triggered a 5 million-barrel oil spill.
Permit approvals take 95 percent longer now than before the spill, the study says.
You can read the study for yourself here [pdf]. But that last number is telling. There’s no reason for it. The industry has stepped up and raised the bar significantly on safety. The numbers quoted in the study projecting jobs and revenue are for 2012. What administration concerned with jobs wouldn’t leap at such low hanging fruit? This one. Compared to historical trends, pending exploration plans are up by nearly 90%, approvals are down by 85% ,and the approval process has slowed from an average of 36 to 131 days.
And there’s no reason for it.
Meanwhile, what we have is tough to get to market. Take West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil.
As for WTI, inadequate pipeline infrastructure makes it difficult to get the stuff out of North America — and that depresses its price, especially when demand is also weak. Its problems could also get worse before they get better. Output from North America is growing faster than expected. Canadian producers, for example, recently said output will grow from 2.7 million barrels a day to 3.4 million by 2014 and North Dakota production is surging. Meanwhile efforts to build new pipelines are mired in political controversy.
And they’ll remain mired in political controversy as long as this administration is in power. Slowly, but surely, a nation with huge energy resources is being strangled by a government and President who want to intentionally raise energy prices. Inadequate pipeline infrastructure means less product makes it to market. Less product in the market place means higher prices for what does make it there. Who pays? Consumers.
However, proposals and applications to build pipelines, submitted in 2008, still await action:
In September 2008 TransCanada applied to build a new pipeline — the Keystone XL — to bring diluted bitumen from the oil-rich tar sands of Alberta to thirsty American refineries on the Gulf Coast. It is hardly a radical proposal. Canadian crude has been flowing to the U.S. for decades. Another Canadian company — Enbridge — operates the Clipper pipeline across the Canadian border to Chicago. In July 2010 TransCanada began operating its Keystone pipeline from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma, which is a major storage and pricing depot…TransCanada estimates that building the pipeline will mean more than $20 billion — $13 billion from TransCanada itself — in investment and 13,000 new American jobs in construction and related manufacturing. The company also expects more than 118,000 "spin-off" jobs during the two years of construction. TransCanada says it has signed building contracts with four major U.S. unions. It projects that construction will generate $600 million in new state and local tax revenue and that over its life the pipeline will generate another $5.2 billion in property taxes. The Energy Policy Research Foundation in Washington estimates that by linking to the XL, oil producers in North Dakota’s Bakken region will enjoy efficiency gains of between $36.5 million and $146 million annually. Lower transport costs will mean savings for Gulf Coast refiners of $473 million annually if the pipeline meets conservative expectations of shipping 400,000 barrels per day.
Jobs and revenue (in addition to those previously cited in the study), there for the taking, and this administration sits and waits.
And of course, the newest controversy to hit the energy community as to be used as an excuse not to act has to do with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. This is a 64 year old technology that has been used in the US on over a million wells. Suddenly, after news of massive new findings of natural gas in shale formations, it is a problem. And, of course, once it can be officially designated as a problem area, it must be investigated and regulated by the federal government. Complaints of ground water contamination have derailed the exploitation of these energy assets while the politicians argue, dither and delay. With those delays, again, go thousands upon thousands of potential jobs for Americans.
Name a reason for the sorry shape our economy is in and the government’s apparent refusal to aggressively move to help the energy industry create hundreds of thousands of jobs? Review that video again. It’s not long, but it plainly gives you the reason.
Is that what your government is there to do?
This has been a week for CEOs speaking out against the Obama administration. This time it’s someone I actually admire. Bernie Marcus, co-founder and CEO of Home Depot, has given an interview to Investors Business Daily and it is a pretty frank denunciation of the policies this administration has followed since coming into power. It’s one of the things I admire about Marcus – he pulls no punches:
IBD: What’s the single biggest impediment to job growth today?
Marcus: The U.S. government. Having built a small business into a big one, I can tell you that today the impediments that the government imposes are impossible to deal with. Home Depot would never have succeeded if we’d tried to start it today. Every day you see rules and regulations from a group of Washington bureaucrats who know nothing about running a business. And I mean every day. It’s become stifling.
If you’re a small businessman, the only way to deal with it is to work harder, put in more hours, and let people go. When you consider that something like 70% of the American people work for small businesses, you are talking about a big economic impact.
Remember that Home Depot was launched during the then worst recession in 40 years and Marcus took it public 3 years later. He’s built a business from the ground up and created thousands of jobs. He actually understands what it takes. He also clearly understands what will kill it.
Here is one of the key points one has to understand about this administration and Marcus is on it:
IBD: President Obama has promised to streamline and eliminate regulations. What’s your take?
Marcus: His speeches are wonderful. His output is absolutely, incredibly bad. As he speaks about cutting out regulations, they are now producing thousands of pages of new ones. With just ObamaCare by itself, you have a 2,000 page bill that’s probably going end up being 150,000 pages of regulations.
We’ve been warning you from the beginning to pay no attention to the man’s words and instead scrutinize his deeds. Often they are the opposite of what he has said he’d do. For example:
In January, however, he issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to review their regulations, looking for rules that are inefficient or outdated. His aim, he explained on The Wall Street Journal‘s op-ed page, was to "root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb."
But there’s a catch: All those new regulations Obama put in place will not be subject to review. Just days after the president issued his order, an anonymous administration official conceded to the Journal that "new regulations will not be priorities for the look back." Meanwhile, more than a dozen federal bureaucracies—including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board—are exempt from the review because they are independent agencies.
That’s another in a long list of many examples of him saying one thing and doing something else. His speeches are politically driven and designed to give him political cover while his actions are ideologically driven and part of an agenda.
Marcus is then asked about the debt talks:
IBD: Washington has been consumed with debt talks. Is this the right focus now?
Marcus: They are all tied together. If we don’t lower spending and if we don’t deal with paying down the debt, we are going to have to raise taxes. Even brain-dead economists understand that when you raise taxes, you cost jobs.
With all the talk about tax increases it means we have a lot of zombie politicians who haven’t a clue, unfortunately. I mean how difficult is this? When you raise taxes in a recession, many businesses are going to have to make a decision aren’t they? Use the money to pay the tax or hire. Any guess which will win out? You can’t go to jail for not hiring.
Finally, and this one is devastating in its forthrightness, Marcus is asked what he’d tell Obama if he could sit down with him and talk about job creation. His answer is a classic:
IBD: If you could sit down with Obama and talk to him about job creation, what would you say?
Marcus: I’m not sure Obama would understand anything that I’d say, because he’s never really worked a day outside the political or legal area. He doesn’t know how to make a payroll, he doesn’t understand the problems businesses face. I would try to explain that the plight of the businessman is very reactive to Washington. As Washington piles on regulations and mandates, the impact is tremendous. I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I just think he has no knowledge of this.
One can only wish Contessa Brewer was around to ask about economic degrees. Marcus is right about Obama’s lack of knowledge. He’s surrounded by a lack of knowledge in this area if his policies are any indication. As has been pointed out repeatedly, a president who was really concerned about jobs would be green lighting oil and gas exploration as fast as he could make it happen. And he’s certainly made speeches about doing just that, but as usual, his actions betray his words.
Marcus has got a bead on this administration and this president. As long as they are in power and continue with the course of their regulatory policies, the economic malaise that has settled over this country will continue.