James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

That $250 check for seniors is a bad idea

Oct 15, 2009 17:56 UTC

The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities comes out against that $250 payment to seniors:

Under current law, there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in Social Security in 2010 — the first time that has happened since automatic cost-of-living adjustments began in 1975. Several bills before Congress would grant a special increase in Social Security payments for 2010.

The inflation data, however, do not support an increase: overall consumer prices have fallen significantly in the past year and are not expected to return to their earlier peak until mid-2011. In addition, when no Social Security COLA is provided, Medicare Part B premiums — which are deducted from Social Security checks — are frozen for most beneficiaries so that the Social Security checks do not drop (see the box on page 5).

If policymakers nevertheless choose to act, they should grant a flat, one-time payment as an economic stimulus measure rather than an across-the-board percentage increase that undermines the mechanics and purpose of Social Security’s indexing provisions.

Me: I think that $250 actually depresses me more than the $1.5 trillion spent over the past year to deal with the downturn.  A total lack of willingness to be straight with America about its fiscal situation.

Stan Collender has some thoughts on this:

My recollection is that the automatic cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security was put in place so that members of Congress would not be tempted to adopt legislation that provided a larger-than-inflation increase every year.  That temptation proved to too much for most members so the “look ma no hands” approach was adopted.

Does anyone think that this won’t be the most bipartisan vote of the year in the House and Senate?

I’m guessing 430 to 5 in the House and 96 to 3 in the Senate.


Something is better than nothing right. As pointed out here, http://www.savingtoinvest.com/2009/10/ex tra-250-for-social-security.html , the new benefit would be $250 – or equivalent to a 2 percent increase in benefits for the average Social Security retiree beneficiary

Kudlow: Enjoy the recovery while it lasts

Oct 15, 2009 17:41 UTC

The Great One opines thusly:

But storm clouds are gathering. And a big one is the sinking dollar. No one in the Obama administration or at the Fed seems to care about it. In fact, they are probably applauding the lower dollar as a sort of 1970s way of boosting exports and the manufacturing heartland in the Midwest. But the falling dollar is bad for consumers. And it ultimately will cause higher inflation, as signaled by the rising gold price. There also are future tax hikes and the explosion of spending and debt. All of this is why it’s hard for me to be a long-term bull.

The great market boom of 1982 to 2000 was basically characterized by low marginal tax rates and King Dollar. Unfortunately, the 21st century has seen a weak dollar and more recently rising tax rates that are coming due in 2011 (if not sooner). In other words, the prosperity-inducing Mundell-Laffer supply-side model is being reversed.

As Art Laffer put it to me, we are stealing demand and production from the future. So even as we get a V-shaped recovery now and into next year, 2011 may pay the piper for both low growth and higher inflation.

Me:  That is the whole plan here, steal growth from the future. It is the ultimate in wealth redistribution.


Jimmy keep harping on the fact that the govt and FED caused the crisis so how can they possibly be expected to solve anything…it all comes down to TOO BIG TO FAIL really, we need to break up the banks into smaller entities like the 1990s which both DEMs and REPUBs do not want because it it more work fundraising and less easy money for both party campaigns…K street and DC are sick and caused this together with the banks…

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Actually, you don’t have to raise taxes to pay for healthcare

Oct 15, 2009 17:37 UTC

Great piece of analysis from the Tax Foundation:

A new analysis by us finds that over a 20-year period, the health care bill written by Sen. Baucus and passed Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee includes enough spending cuts in Medicare and other current government health programs to reduce the budget deficit over the long term, even without a proposed excise tax on “Cadillac” health plans.

CBO projects that cuts in Medicare and other health programs would save $404 billion between fiscal year 2010 and 2019. Assuming the savings from Medicare cuts continue growing at the same rate beyond 2019, savings could reach a total of $1.8 trillion over the next 10-year period, 2020-2029, for a total deficit reduction of up to $988 billion over 20 years. If Congress were considering a 20-year budget window instead of ten years, Chairman Baucus’s proposed excise tax on Cadillac health plans would not be necessary to pay for the plan.

Me: Of course the spending may not happen, while the tax increases most assuredly will. Such is the way of Washington.

Would Obama’s new regulator ban ObamaCare?

Oct 15, 2009 16:57 UTC

Would the Baucus healthcare reform plan pass muster with the Consumer Financial Protection Agency? That’s the new regulator the Obama White House wants to create to protect Americans from deceptive or confusing mortgages, loans and credit card agreements that contain hidden fees, costs, rates or other time bombs potentially harmful to one’s financial health.

Good thing for Democrats that the proposed consumer agency — some incarnation of which will almost certainly make it into law — won’t have health insurance  as part of its regulatory portfolio. If it did, it might ban BaucusCare.

Its cost structure, for instance, is reminiscent of a teaser-rate mortgage. The whole deal seems affordable at first — but then costs skyrocket.

The Congressional Budget Office assigned a 10-year cost estimate  of $829 billion to the preliminary version of the Baucus bill. As such, it meets the president’s goal of a bill of $900 billion or less – and avoiding a $1 trillion price tag sure to cause sticker shock among voters.

It accomplishes this financial feat, however, through budgetary trickery. The plan includes a start year of 2010, even though no money is spent that year and just $14 billion through 2013. Cost the plan out from 2011 through 2020 and it suddenly morphs into a trillion-dollar plan. Indeed, the average annual cost from 2015 through 2019 is $150 billion a year

Democrats, to be sure, have powerful rejoinder: the bill may cost a lot, but it actually saves moneycompared with  doing nothing. The CBO projects $81 billion in savings over the first decade and then “the added revenues and cost savings are projected to grow more rapidly than the cost of the coverage expansion.”

Great news. But those savings will materialize only if Congress actually cuts a projected $400 billion in government healthcare spending — including Medicare reimbursements to hospitals, doctors and other providers –  over 10 years.

Skepticism here is warranted. Previous congressional promises to cut reimbursements haven’t panned out. And Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, has just introduced a bill that would actually increase Medicare fees to doctors by $247 billion over the next decade  That $247 billion should, by all rights, be added to the cost of the Baucus bill. (Interestingly, if Congress actually stuck to the cuts, the tax increases would not be necessary, according to the Tax Foundation.)

Then there are the hidden fees. The Baucus bill imposes a $200 billion excise tax on expensive insurance plans. That’s a cost insurers will certainly pass onto consumers, nearly 90 percent of whom would make under $200,000, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.  That kind of sounds like a stealth middle-class tax increase.

And you can be sure few taxpayers understand that a catch accompanies new government subsidies to cover the cost of private insurance. Those subsidies phase out as incomes rise. The result is a huge effective tax increase. As the CBO puts it: “Marginal tax rates would go up by about 22 percentage points for all families whose income was between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level.”

Understated costs, hidden fees, deceptive advertising – why, there ought to be a law!

Actually, the flawed Baucus bill just needs to be prevented from becoming law.