James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Silicon Valley getting no love from Obama White House

Nov 18, 2009 20:24 UTC

Peter Thiel, billionaire founder of PayPal who now operates a hedge fund and a VC fund:

My observation on it is that it’s striking how few people from Silicon Valley are represented in the Obama administration in any sort of capacity. The only cabinet level person who is even remotely from Silicon Valley is the secretary of energy, who i guess was a physicist at UC Berkeley.  People supported Obama over Hilary Clinton in the primary in Silicon Valley in a big way and in a weird way its translated into like no influence at all.

Kudlow: Saving vs. consumption is a phony choice

Nov 18, 2009 19:47 UTC

The Great One has little use for the zero-sum politics (and economics) of false choices:

Before getting into the currency question, let me say this: I think more saving (and investment) by U.S. citizens is a great idea. But this need not come at the expense of consumption. In a prosperous free economy, people should be able to save, invest, work, and spend as much as they like. More is better than less in each case. Grow the pie larger.

Of course, if the president and his team want more saving and investment, they should end the multiple taxation of saving and investment. Unfortunately, our system taxes saving as income, capital gains, dividends, and inheritance.

Team Obama also intends to tax wealth more by raising the top personal tax rate from 35 to 40 percent. And they apparently don’t object to Nancy Pelosi’s plan to slap another 5.4 percent tax on the incomes and capital-gains of successful earners in order to finance a government takeover of health care.

Wealth is a crucial form of saving. And the investment that comes from extra saving is used to finance the entrepreneurial start-ups that create the jobs and incomes that allow families to spend. However, by creating a zero-sum game between saving and spending, the Obama planners are falling into an austerity trap — one that would hand the American economy a second-place finish in the global race for capital and growth.

COMMENT

James might be correct if the “free market” were limited to areas that are not central to human development and well being.

If the free market were put in its place then perhaps there would be more money for consumption. But when citizens have to choose between basic needs and shiny wants, the needs will win every time.

If education, health care, and housing were socialized just like our military, police, and fire protection, then perhaps there would be some money left for consumption. But you can’t expect consumers to carry the economy if the economy is not taking care of its consumers. You can’t get life from what is lifeless. The American consumer is tapped out. Give something back and we will see growth.

Healthcare reform update: It’s all about 60 votes

Nov 18, 2009 19:37 UTC

My sources tell me that reconciliation — pushing through HC in the Senate with 51 votes with a special parliamentary procedure — isn’t going to happen. So the big votes will need 60, including just opening debate. And rest assured that if Reid thinks he has 60 to pass, the debate will immediately come to an end.

Keith Hennessey gives his odds update:

I am lowering from 60% to 50% my projection for the success of comprehensive health care reform.

  1. Pass a partisan comprehensive bill through the House and through the regular Senate process with 60, leading to a law; (was 40% –> 30%)
  2. Pass a partisan comprehensive bill through the House and through the reconciliation process with 51 Senate Democrats, leading to a law; (steady at 20%)
  3. Fall back to a much more limited bill that becomes law; (was 20% –> 15%)
  4. No bill becomes law this Congress.  (was 20% –> 35%)

I think there is zero chance a bill makes it to the President’s desk before 2010.  If a bill were to become law, I would anticipate completion in late January or even February. …

I have lowered my projection of Leader Reid succeeding for three reasons:  Pretty much everything has to go right for him to win on cloture in mid-December. He has no more wiggle room on the schedule, and new intra-Democrat policy fights are popping up.

I think his members are going to get beat up about health care and jobs over Thanksgiving recess, then return to Washington to face another bad jobs day Friday the 4th. If moderates demand large substantive concessions for their votes, liberals like Senators Rockefeller and Boxer may refuse. They may tell Reid they will oppose cloture if the bill moves toward the  center, and instead advocate abandoning regular order and starting a clean reconciliation process in January. House liberals might join this effort.

COMMENT

I’m hopeful this thing will get killed in the Senate, but have big doubts. The fact that Reid included a public option in the Senate bill suggests to me he has more confidence in getting those 60 votes than the critics are suggesting. Without a public option he could still armtwist liberals by saying it would be restored in conference. But including the public option suggests his fears of losing centrists over that issue may be overblown. For my money, Leiberman is the last best hope of sanity in this matter and his could be the key vote.

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Why cap-and-trade is ‘dead policy walking’

Nov 18, 2009 14:02 UTC

Carbon cap-and-trade legislation appears to be Dead Policy Walking in Washington. The devaluation of the Copenhagen climate summit – now the goal is a “politically binding” rather than a “legally binding” agreement — reflects the emerging political reality in the United States. Yes, a bill did pass the House of Representatives in June. Also, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee passed a version earlier this month. So President Barack Obama won’t go to the talks in Denmark with empty pockets next month.

Publicly, Senate Democratic leaders say they are only pushing off debate and consideration of a comprehensive climate change bill until spring. But it is hard to get a major bill passed in a Democrat-controlled Senate when the Democratic majority leader of the Senate wants the bill to go away. And have no doubt that Senator Harry Reid would like to see cap-and-trade go away — or at least disappear until after 2010.

This explains why six different Senate committees will consider the bill, the same recipe for legislative inaction that bogged downhealthcare reform. It’s pure politics. The 2010 midterm elections are shaping up to be tough contests for many Democrats thanks to the anti-incumbent mood of a recession-weary electorate. And most signs point to a sustained level of high unemployment.  As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a recent speech, “The best thing we can say about the labor market right now is that it may be getting worse more slowly.”

A new Gallup poll finds that 51 percent of Americans see the weak economy or high unemployment as their biggest concerns. Barely 3 percent mention the environment. And Democrats have been unable to sell cap-and-trade as a job creator. At worst, the public sees it as a jobs killer or a costly energy tax. That charge has particular weight in Reid’s home state, Nevada, a high energy-use state. (All those air conditioners!) So Reid doesn’t want to have to vote for it, which he would be compelled to do as majority leader. And neither do moderates like MaryLandrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Debbie Stabenow and Jim Webb. They noticed the heat that centrist House members who voted for cap-and-trade took from constituents during Congress’ summer break.

Webb of Virginia may point to one path forward with a new bill he is co-sponsoring with Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican. It would spend $20 billion on five mini-Manhattan Projects to study various clean energy technologies, including nuclear.

It’s a plan that seems more likely to create jobs, grow the economy and help the environment — at least more so than one completely out of sync with the electorate. And it is one also more likely to make it into law. Despite being subjected to years of hectoring from the media, entertainment industry and government, the American public clearly has no appetite for any climate-change plan that involves more taxes, more regulation and a possible lower standard of living.

And if cap-and-trade is dead for 2009 and 2010, it probably has little hope of reviving in 2011 or beyond when Congress is unlikely to be as Democratic or as green.

COMMENT

Carbon cap-and-trade legislation appears to be Dead Policy Walking in Washington. The devaluation of the Copenhagen climate summit – now the goal is a “politically binding” rather than a “legally binding” agreement — reflects the emerging political reality in the United States. Yes, a bill did pass the House of Representatives in June. Also, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee passed a version earlier this month. So President Barack Obama won’t go to the talks in Denmark with empty pockets next month.

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Afternoon speed round

Nov 17, 2009 21:34 UTC

Some of the best things I read today:

1) Tyler Cowen gives his version of healthcare reform. Ideas 3-10 are particularly strong.

2) Noam Scheiber agrees with Summers that budget deficits are not a big deal since less private borrowing mean no crowding out. I wouldn’t get too satisfied with this explantion.

3) IBD’s Jed Graham has  great post that speculates “come 2013, we might begin to see help wanted ads that emphasize the lack of employer-provided insurance as a perk.”

4) Matthew Yglesias looking how Republicans will try to roll back HC reform if it ever passes. The delayed-start will make this easier.

5) Joel Kotkin again show how California is doing everything wrong to boost growth. Just look at Northern California:

Indeed by some accounts, most embarrassingly in a recent Time magazine cover, the shift to green technologies has already created a “thriving” economy.

Time extols Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and the other Silicon Valley companies as exemplars leading to a glorious prosperity; somehow the article missed the empty factories, vacant offices and abandoned farms across the state.

For Apple’s Steve Jobs, Google’s Eric Schmidt and venture capitalists connected to Al Gore, these could well be the best of times. Fed policy prints money for investment bankers to speculate; stock prices rise as people have nowhere else to invest. And for the much celebrated venture community, there’s also an Energy Department that pours hundreds of millions into “green” start-ups that build things like expensive electric cars.

California’s high-tech greens may talk a liberal streak in terms of diversity and social justice, but their prescriptions offer little for those who would like to build a career and raise a family in 21st century California. Their policies in terms of land use regulation and greenhouse gas emissions will make it even harder for existing factories, warehouses, homebuilders and other traditional employers of the middle- or working class.

Yet the “greenest” parts of the country–places like the northern end of the Bay Area–are among the toughest places to build or manufacture anything, without huge public-sector subsidies. Indeed, California’s new green requirements, compared with places like Texas or China where manufacturing has other advantages, would further undermine an already struggling sector. Few businesspeople see much growth in the near future in office or residential construction.

How about some healthcare federalism?

Nov 17, 2009 20:06 UTC

From the astounding Arnold Kling:

The bill I would propose would be one that encourages experimentation at the state level. Offer to support an experiment that allows an individual state to adopt single-payer, while allowing another state to offer deregulated insurance and medical practice.

What is frustrating to me is that many people would agree that the Massachusetts health experiment failed, and yet that is the experiment that is being used as the model for the current bill. The original promise in Massachusetts was that by eliminating the “free-riding” of the uninsured and by setting up an efficient government insurance exchange, insurance costs would go down. Instead, insurance costs there soared.

The current health care bill is viewed skeptically by every reputable health care economist. My guess is that even someone like Peter Orszag, who obviously is not free to speak his mind, is somewhere between disappointed and appalled at what is coming down the pike.

It would make sense to try more state-level experiments before choosing a model for a national system.

COMMENT

I am tired of this administration feeling like they have a blank check book that they can utilize whenever they feel the need to without accountability to the ones paying the bill…” The Taxpayers”

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Is Obama planning a $3 trillion income tax increase?

Nov 17, 2009 19:51 UTC

Did I just see a trial balloon launched? Over at a Wall Street Journal conference, Christina Romer, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers had this to say about deficit reduction:

But the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers admitted that health reform and a growing economy isn’t enough to bring down the deficit. She did mention one other place that revenue could come from: letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

Me: Since Obama already wants to get rid of the income and capital gains tax cuts for wealthier Americans that expire at the end of 2010, clearly what Romer is referring to is the rest of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. Letting all the 2001 cuts — rate reductions, child tax credit marriage penalty relief — expire would raise tax revenues by $2.5 trillion through 2019. (These CBO numbers assume no negative economic feedback impact from higher taxes.) And letting the 2003 tax cuts on capital gains and dividends expire would be tantamount to a $350 billion tax increase through 2019. And none of this includes possible plans for a VAT that could raise $400 billion a year more to close the huge projected gap — maybe 7 percentage points — between spending as a percentage of GDP and revenues as a percentage of GDP.

COMMENT

[]Income Tax Return Rebate Tips for your accounts and return filling help.For more information visit http://www.incometaxreturnrebatetips.com

On gold and asset bubbles and inflation

Nov 17, 2009 18:56 UTC

The great David Goldman. First on the US asset bubble:

BOTH bond and stock prices are driven by the dollar. 17.5% unemployment by the broad measure keeps wages down and keeps the CPI low, despite the surge in commodity prices, while the cheap dollar makes US assets a bargain. Well, not exactly: the enormous reserve growth on the part of Asian central banks means that the Treasury’s debt-buying program has been outsourced to America’s Asian trading partners! No-one dares pop the bubble. It’s like what Woody Allen said about death. He wasn’t afraid of it; he just didn’t want to be there when it happened.

Now on gold:

What’s the price of the last ticket on last train out of Paris on the night the Germans march in? Whoever is carrying the most cash will get it, and that will be the price.  … As I have tried to show in several recent articles, most recently this Sept. 15 essay at Asia Times, gold is a hedge against the collapse of America’s central role in world affairs.

What is the correct price? Central banks alone own about 4.8 million tons of gold. The world produces about 2,200 tons. Suppose that central banks wished to increase their gold holdings by 1 percent. That’s 48,000 tons or so, or more than 20 times annual mining production. What’s the price elasicity on that sort of thing?  How badly do you need that ticket out of Paris? … If the whole world, including the Asian central banks, man the bucket brigade–except with kerosene in the buckets rather water–the prices of real assets are going to rise. The best real assets to hold are the ones most sensitive to the degradation of the dollar.

Senate prepares cap-and-trade obituary

Nov 17, 2009 18:32 UTC

Carbon cap-and-trade legislation appears to be Dead Policy Walking in Washington.The devaluation of the Copenhagen climate summit reflects the emerging political reality in the United States. Yes, a bill did pass the House of Representatives in June. And the Senate Environment and Public Works committee passed a version earlier this month. So President Barack Obama won’t go to the talks in Denmark with empty pockets next month.But it is hard to get a major bill passed in a Democrat-controlled Senate when the Democratic majority leader of the Senate wants the bill to go away. And have no doubt that Senator Harry Reid would like to see cap-and-trade go away — or at least disappear until after 2010.This explains why as many as five different Senate committees will consider the bill, the same recipe for legislative inaction that bogged down healthcare reform. It’s politics. The 2010 midterm elections are shaping up to be tough contests for many Democrats thanks to the anti-incumbent mood of a recession-weary electorate. And most signs point to a sustained level of high unemployment.A new Gallup poll finds that 51 percent of Americans see the weak economy or high unemployment as their biggest concerns. Barely 3 percent mention the environment. And Democrats have been unable to sell cap-and-trade as a job creator. At worst, the public sees it as a jobs killer or a costly energy tax.That charge has particular weight in Reid’s home state, Nevada, a high energy-use state. (All those air conditioners!) So Reid doesn’t want to have to vote for it, which he would be compelled to do as majority leader. And neither do moderates like Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Debbie Stabenow and Jim Webb. They noticed the heat that centrist House members who voted for cap-and-trade took from constituents during Congress’ summer break.Webb of Virginia may point to one path forward with a new bill he is co-sponsoring with Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican. It would spend $20 billion on five mini-Manhattan Projects to study various clean energy technologies, including nuclear.It’s a plan that seems more likely to create jobs, grow the economy and help the environment — at least more so than one completely out of sync with the electorate. And it is one also more likely to make it into law.

6 reasons healthcare reform might fail in the Senate

Nov 17, 2009 18:05 UTC

“We no longer expect Congress to pass impactful health reform legislation this year, or even in this political cycle.” That is the opinion of Sector & Sovereign analyst Richard Evans:

1. Voter attitudes are shifting away from both Democrats and health-reform; placing the considerable number of Dems from conservative states and districts in increasingly untenable positions.

2. Substantial time should pass before a vote on final legislation; the Senate is unlikely to vote on a bill by year end, and a final vote on a conference bill is virtually impossible before late January. If trends in voter opinion continue, this is almost certainly too late.

3. On top of this, efforts to keep abortion as a neutral issue have failed. 20 pro-life House Dems have put the issue ahead of health reform, refusing to support legislation that does not completely bar abortion coverage in plans that receive Federal funding.

4. Pro-choice House Dems outnumber their pro-life House Democratic peers nearly 8 to 1. As any final legislation will certainly be well to the right of the House bill, this means House progressives may be asked to support a final bill whose healthcare provisions they find lacking in appeal, and to surrender ground on choice in the process. We bet at least a few refuse.

5. Immigration is a less potent but still meaningful wild-card; 20 House votes rely on the Senate ultimately agreeing to loosen its language and let illegal immigrants purchase coverage on the exchanges with their own money, and to extend subsidies not only to citizens, but to anyone who is in the US legally. 15 Senate Democrats hail from states that Obama either lost, or carried with a 5 percent margin or less. These swing-votes hold inordinate power, and are much more conservative on immigration than their blue-state peers; we believe they may balk at these House provisions.

6. The House bill’s largest source of funding is an incremental tax on the wealthy, which the aforementioned 15 Democratic Senators from red- or swing-states cannot support. The Senate Bill’s largest source of funding is taxes on relatively more expensive ‘Cadillac’ health plans, which the union friendly House cannot support. In effect, each has settled on a plan that the other cannot pass.

Me: Never underestimate the power of numbers. And the Ds do have a big majority in the Senate. And what do they fear more, passing the bill or not passing it? Obama might still sign something, but it might not resemble comprehensive healthcare reform anymore. We await the CBO score ….

COMMENT

Defeat of the anti-heathcare people control bill is essential for the defeat of the collectivist liberals in 2010 who have killed the once great democratic party and now occupy it’s corpse like some demon Parasite in a B grade SI-FI movie. This an attempt to take over another one sixth of the American ecconomy. Make no mistake about it, this is a full blown coup in progress to distroy the American economy and force the transformation the United States into a Fabian Socialist/Communitarian Totalitarist State. The don’t give a damn about people, just power. As Cicero said “Power Corupts, Absolute Power Corupts” Absolutely… The sad thing is that they are not truly dedicated social revolutionary cadres, just corrupt evil people. Real revolitionaries don’t try to make themselves rich on the backs of the people as Al Gore is! They are behaving just like the Laissez-faire Capitalist they want to replace!

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