Tag Archive: Medicare

Oct 11 2013

Grand Bargain Circus – Red Clowns Wrangle

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_Duel_After_a_Masquerade_Ball

Greetings Circus fans!  Welcome back to the Circus that, like rust, never sleeps.  For the past couple of days the red clowns have separated into rival gang factions to fight out their final strategery.  Watching clowns enter into public backbiting and recriminations is always amusing for the audience and the pie has been flying.  

It seems that according to the folks at the  Beltway Bigtop Office of Promotions that the Hot Potato of Blame has fallen into Boner T. Redclown’s Ring 1 and cannot be returned to Harry T. Blueclown’s Ring 3 due to a preponderance of audience belief.  

The Beltway Bigtop Office of Promotions now says that this shutdown was planned, long in advance by a consortium of red clown groups and heavily funded by red clowns from the Koch Klowns organization:

The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight.

Great amusement for the audience has resulted!  While the Koch Klowns have been climbing the rigging and shouting that Kochs are not to blame, the rank and file red clowns have been quite agitated at each other due to the fact that their gambit to force the Ringmaster and the blue clowns to capitulate has failed to be an early success. The blue clowns and much of the audience have had many a moment of amusement as the red clowns have piled into a clown bus and have been chasing Cruz T. Redclown around the arena:

Clown Bus by guthrieschroederRep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) on Monday echoed Peter King’s statement that the person to blame for the current government shutdown is Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

“If I had to cast blame anywhere, I would say it was Sen. Cruz and those who insisted upon this tactic that we all knew was not going to succeed,” Dent told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

“What he did essentially, Sen. Cruz, basically, he took a lot of folks into the ditch. Now that we’re in the ditch, you can’t get out of the ditch, the senator has no plan to get out of the ditch, those of us who do have a plan to get out of the ditch and will vote to get out of the ditch will then be criticized by those who put us in the ditch in the first place.”

As one group of the red clowns played “chase the scapegoat,” other set to work on what the red clown leaders strategery:

Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the Rules Committee, tells us Speaker John Boehner doesn’t yet have his debt-ceiling proposal finalized. For now, no legislation is headed toward his committee, and it’s all about messaging. … “I’d say if you ran the clock on it, 48 hours,” Sessions adds, when asked how long it’ll take Boehner to unveil the leadership’s plan.

Scary Clowns at PDC2008 Party at Universal Studios by D.Begley

But even as Boner T. Redclown was busy juggling and formulating his strategery, out of a dark corner of Ring 1 came the nearly-famous Ryan T. Redclown who was once Mittens T. Redclown’s second in a clown duel with the Ringmaster.  It appears that Ryan T. Redclown has been working on a little strategery of his own as he loaded the cannon with an op-ed from the Clown Street Journal which he fired off at the Ringmaster and the blue clowns in Ring 3.

In an editorial voice sweeter than the Circus’ cotton candy, Ryan T. Redclown turned away from the stage and projected his message at the audience in calm and reasonable tones.  Why, his message was just like that of the Ringmaster:

obama ryanIf Mr. Obama decides to talk, he’ll find that we actually agree on some things. For example, most of us agree that gradual, structural reforms are better than sudden, arbitrary cuts. For my Democratic colleagues, the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act are a major concern. And the truth is, there’s a better way to cut spending. We could provide relief from the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act in exchange for structural reforms to entitlement programs.



Who knows what this means? But it’s interesting, especially when you compare it to what the president said today:

I’ve put forward proposals in my budget to reform entitlement programs for the long haul and reform our tax code in a way that would close loopholes for the wealthiest and lower rates for corporations and help us invest in new jobs and reduce our deficits. And some of these were originally Republican proposals, because I don’t believe any party has a monopoly on good ideas. So I’ve shown myself willing to go more than halfway in these conversations, and if reasonable Republicans want to talk about these things again, I’m ready to head up to the Hill and try. I’ll even spring for dinner again.

Why, it sounds like Ryan T. Redclown is eager for yet another round of Grand Bargain Fever with the Ringmaster!  Oh, wait, what’s that, oh my, I think there’s going to be music in the air…  Yes indeed!  The Grand Calliope is being drawn in by horses to play soothing music…

Yes, the Ringmaster is cautiously optimistic that a Grand Bargain short term deal can be made and a faction of the red clowns looks like they might go for it…

Calliope,_the_wonderful_operonicon_or_steam_car_of_the_muses,_advertising_poster,_1874The Obama administration on Monday indicated it could support a temporary increase to the nation’s borrowing limit to give Republicans and Democrats, locked in a bitter fight over funding government operations, more time to negotiate a longer-term solution. …

Other Republicans said the time had come for conservatives to relent in trying to link government funding with measures to dismantle the health law. Senate Democrats have rejected multiple bills approved by House Republicans to fund federal agencies while also delaying or scaling back the health law.

“The question now is whether the people who fell for the Cruz folly will recognize that it was built on a false premise,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), referring to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and other conservatives who pushed Republicans to call for defunding the health law as a condition of financing government operations. “The whole thing was a joke from the beginning.”

Oh, looky there!  The red clowns are admitting that the whole attack on the Ringmaster’s “One Big Accomplishment” was nothing but a clownish prank to start with!  The question that is being promoted is, on whose terms will the audience be robbed, the red clowns’ or the Ringmasters?  In point of fact, since the red clowns and the blue clowns and the Ringmaster are all in the pay of the Beltway Bigtop funders, it has always been the funder’s terms that will ultimately decide the terms of the robbery of the audience.
 

The Market That Didn’t Bark

Clown dog

Speaking of those Beltway Bigtop funders, many of the red clowns are at pains to assuage their fears about the possiblilty of a default, saying that a default wouldn’t be that bad:

“It really is irresponsible of the president to try to scare the markets,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. “If you don’t raise your debt ceiling, all you’re saying is, ‘We’re going to be balancing our budget.’ So if you put it in those terms, all these scary terms of, ‘Oh my goodness, the world’s going to end’ – if we balance the budget, the world’s going to end? Why don’t we spend what comes in?”

Many of the Beltway Bigtop funders, whose entire existence revolves around the stability of markets are suddenly less than thrilled with the red clowns’ strategery:

Veteran Republican fundraisers are increasingly alarmed by the defiant stance of hard-line conservatives amid the federal government shutdown, prompting fears that many key donors may be restrained in their giving going into the 2014 midterms.

The growing unhappiness among longtime GOP check-writers and party elders underscores the deepening divisions over the ascendant tea party wing, which fueled this past week’s shutdown and is demanding Democratic concessions in exchange for reopening the government and raising the nation’s debt limit.

While the funders are nervous, it appears that the markets themselves are not.  Perhaps it is a result of the intoxication that comes of having looted the economy, gotten away with it and still being left to run rampant, but the markets are not making movements commensurate with the dangers inherent in a default:

The paralysis in Washington continued to weigh on markets. Analysts have expressed particular concern that the fight over the budget will stymie efforts to raise the budget ceiling, resulting in a US default with damaging economic consequences.

However, the market still considers a US default unlikely, said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

“If the markets were really fearful of a default…. we wouldn’t be down a half a percent or three-quarters of a percent,” Cardillo said. “We would be down a heck of a lot more.”

vampire squid by snigl3tPerhaps the Titans of Wall Street  are feeling secure because they have been so amply provided for by the Circus and their appointed retinue of government lackeys.   Perhaps they feel that they can rely upon the safety net that bailed them in before:

What the Fed did with Bear Stearns was highly controversial. They utilized the [exigent circumstances clause] without technically breaking any laws. Are we saying that we will bailout a stupid investment bank, but we won’t bailout the US Treasury using the same clause? That would be madness.

Or perhaps they’re not worried because, well, they pay for the clown show as a distraction and they know that their hired clowns will fall into the roles that are assigned them.

The blue clowns will, rather than making their own demands and fighting for what 99% of the audience wants, claim to be battered spouses in a relationship with an awful abuser:

Remember how Republicans “won” the 2000 election? Remember how they tricked the country into going to war in Iraq? They used non-democratic means to get what they couldn’t get legitimately, and it worked, so they did it more. They got used to getting their way using bullying, so they did it more. Now it’s flat-out hostage-taking. And they’re doing it more.

Again and again, Republicans take a hostage and demand something they could not get through elections or the legitimate constitutional legislative process. … They continue these tactics because it is getting them what they – and the billionaires and giant corporations who fund them – want. They do it because it works. And then they do it again, because it worked.

But who do the blue clowns’ actions serve?  When time after time, they “compromise” with the red clowns, who are, after all, only doing what their funders demand, are they not giving the funders what they want, just more slowly than they want it?

Perhaps the market’s failure to react in horror to the horrors that are being presented is merely a reflection of the fact that they own the Beltway Bigtop and the clowns work for them.

Who should the audience root for, red clowns?

When Paul Ryan talks about “reforming” entitlements, he’s talking about eliminating them, because he does not now believe — nor has he ever believed — that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are legitimate functions of the national government. He will get rid of them piecemeal if he has to do so, but he is as dedicated to their elimination as he ever was when he was mooching off my money. When Paul Ryan talks about “reforming” the tax code, he doesn’t mean making sure the people to whom all the money has been shoved upwards over the past four decades start paying their fair share again. He means “broadening the base” — You pay more. Jamie Dimon doesn’t. — and he means “lowering the rates” — on the people who buy him his $4000 bottles of wine — and he means “simplifying the code” — eliminating loopholes for the 20 minutes it takes before tax lawyers open up a hundred new ones.

Or blue clowns?

“This is a confidential document, last offer the president – the White House made last year to Speaker Boehner to try to reach this $4 trillion grand bargain.  And it’s long and it’s tedious and it’s got budget jargon in it.  But what it shows is a willingness to cut all kinds of things, like TRICARE, which is the sacred health insurance program for the military, for military retirees; to cut Social Security; to cut Medicare. And there are some lines in there about, “We want to get tax rates down, not only for individuals but for businesses.”  So Obama and the White House were willing to go quite far.”

Colourful Clowns

Mar 06 2013

Yes, the Sequester is President Obama’s Fault. These are facts.

This won’t be FP material everywhere, but it’s the truth. That is, unless one just hasn’t paid attention to the events and Congressional deals facilitated by this administration in response to said events that led up to the sequester. If one did pay attention, this conclusion is undeniable. The sequester was basically an invention of Gene Sperling and Jack Lew.

In case we all need a refresher, Gene Sperling was and still is the Director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama. In case the denial is too thick with regard to Jack Lew, Jack Lew was head of Obama’s Office of Management and Budget when the first grand betrayal was written only to be fall apart by John Boehner’s doing in 2011. For that, and his time on Wall St helping Citigroup as OCC crash our economy while denying that deregulation was a problem, he is insultingly being rewarded with a post as our next Treasury Secretary.

These are the people that were hired by and work in the Obama administration that wrote the damn Sequester! It’s pretty hard to deny, but some will try.

This was during the debt ceiling debacle many of us warned about but were ignored in favor of 11th dimensional chess. In reality, this is a vile violent rigged chess game that makes seniors starve to death through lack of meals on wheels. This form of deficit terrorism also threatens many of my friends and their relatives through layoffs and furloughs while slowing all essential government operations down.

Feb 20 2013

Austerity, Sequester & Simpson – Bowles, Oh My!

The “comedy team” of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy) and businessman Erskine Bowles trotted out their latest version of their unauthorized report from the “Cat Food Commission” that they co-chaired for President Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, the dynamic duo of austerity and cuts to the social safety net go even further with the 2.0 version of their solution for ending the mythical budget crisis calling for even greater cuts and less revenue all on the backs of those who have the least to contribute:

The corporate austerians released their ‘new’ Bowles-Simpson recommendations today (pdf). They claim that they are building upon their original plan, not replacing it. They framed their recommendations as the last two steps in a four step process. For Social Security followers, Step Three includes the chained CPI. And Step Four includes all of the previous cuts to Social Security which they recommended in their first plan.  Raising the retirement age starting in 2022 slowly to 69, cutting benefits through re-indexing and flattening  all future benefits for our recipients in 2050. [..]

The corporate austerians go for installing the chained cpi first. Why? It could be that they still think that most Americans do not realize that the chained cpi is a cut which keeps on cutting [..]

The language is a vague euphemism for cuts; code words to their rich buddies that the uploading of wealth will not be threatened with significant new taxes. No pesky new scrap-the-FICA cap income taxes which might be used to pay for under-funded social insurance programs.

Meanwhile, President Obama, seemingly ignoring his two side show buddies, called for tax reforms that would increase revenue and a more balanced approach to the looming sequestration that would impose draconian cuts to non-defense spending programs. Taking lessons from Bill Maher, the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), is having none of that and has proposed “new rule“:

“The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.”

At Maddow Blog, Steve Benen points out that Mr. Boehner may not have thought this “new rule” through and it could pose some problems in his caucus:

One of the details that often goes overlooked is that the House Republican budget plan from the last Congress — the one that included all the spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and tax breaks the GOP are desperate to have — didn’t bring the federal budget into balance until 2040. That’s not a typo — under the House Republican plan, written by Paul Ryan, the United States would run deficits every year for nearly three decades, and then might reach a balanced budget 27 years from now if optimistic projections are met.

And that plan included spending cuts so severe, GOP candidates were afraid to talk about them out loud in public.

This year, however, thanks to a new “rule” embraced by Boehner and his cohorts, the new House Republican plan intends to balance the budget by 2023, instead of 2040. Why does that matter? Because trying to eliminate the entirety of the deficit in one decade instead of three necessarily means ridiculously drastic cuts.

A plan from the House Progressive Caucus that presented the unique idea that creating jobs would bring down the already shrinking deficit. But, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post‘s “Plum Line“, notes it stands little chance of even being considered in the Republican held House:

Needless to say, this plan – the creation of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – has no chance whatsoever of passing Congress. Which is exactly the point: No plan that prioritizes job creation as the best means of reducing the deficit; no plan that cuts defense while determinedly avoiding any cuts that would hurt the poor and elderly; no plan that includes equivalent concessions by both sides – could ever have a prayer in today’s Washington. It’s yet another indication of how out of whack Washington’s priorities are.

Greg sums up the problem of the GOP’s approach in a nutshell:

So, Boehner says House Republicans are not only willing to let the sequester hit, but that the only acceptable replacement for it will be a plan that wipes away the deficit in 10 years – all without revenues. [..]

There’s simply no chance that House Republicans will produce such a budget by March 1st, which is the deadline for the sequester. If Boehner means any of this, he’s confirming that we’re getting the sequester, and it will remain in effect until it is replaced by a plan that is simply never, ever going to happen. Wiping out the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues would be at least as bad as the Ryan plan – probably worse – yet even that plan was loaded up with unspecified cuts and other big question marks. Republicans are never going to propose specific cuts that balance the budget in 10 years with no new revenues – ever. Boehner has, in effect, just taken ownership of the sequester.

No, Mr. Boehner has not thought this “boner” through.  

Jan 26 2013

A Half Billion Dollar Tax Gift to BioTech Company

Unbeknownst to most of the legislators and public, tucked very neatly in section 632 (pdf) of the “fiscal cliff” bill, was provision that gave the world’s largest biotechnology firm, Amgen, a drug maker that sells a variety of medications, a half billion dollar gift that allows the company to evade Medicare cost-cutting controls by delaying price restraints on a class of drugs used by kidney dialysis patients for two years. Meanwhile in December, Amgen had been fined  $762 million in civil and criminal penalties for illegal marketing of one of its other drugs. This pricing break would wipe out two thirds of those fines.

This undercover handout of taxpayer’s dollars during a so-called “fiscal crisis” was reported in depth by The New York Times investigative reporters, Eric Lipton and Kevin Sack, who also revealed the “architects” of this giveaway, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and that committee’s ranking Republican, Orrin Hatch.

Amgen has deep financial and political ties to lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and Senators Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, who hold heavy sway over Medicare payment policy as the leaders of the Finance Committee.

It also has worked hard to build close ties with the Obama administration, with its lobbyists showing up more than a dozen times since 2009 on logs of visits to the White House, although a company official said Saturday that it had not appealed to the administration during the debate over the fiscal legislation.

The measure flies in the face of attempts to curb the enormous expense of dialysis for the Medicare program by reversing incentives to over-prescribe medication. But that didn’t deter the “three amigos” from sneaking in the provision to their generous benefactor:

Amgen’s employees and political action committee have distributed nearly $5 million in contributions to political candidates and committees since 2007, including $67,750 to Mr. Baucus, the Finance Committee chairman, and $59,000 to Mr. Hatch, the committee’s ranking Republican. They gave an additional $73,000 to Mr. McConnell, some of it at a fund-raising event for him that it helped sponsor in December while the debate over the fiscal legislation was under way. More than $141,000 has also gone from Amgen employees to President Obama’s campaigns.

What distinguishes the company’s efforts in Washington is the diversity and intensity of its public policy campaigns. Amgen and its foundation have directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable contributions to influential groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and to lesser-known groups like the Utah Families Foundation, which was founded by Mr. Hatch and brings the senator positive coverage in his state’s news media.

Amgen has sent large donations to Glacier PAC, sponsored by Mr. Baucus in Montana, and OrrinPAC, a political action committee controlled by Mr. Hatch in Utah.

Not surprisingly when the news of this giveaway hit the paper, it enraged a bipartisan group of legislators to repeal this section.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) filed legislation this week to eliminate the exemption for a class of drugs, including Amgen’s Sensipar, that are used by kidney dialysis patients. [..]

“Amgen managed to get a $500-million paragraph in the fiscal-cliff bill and virtually no one in Congress was aware of it,” Welch said. “It’s a taxpayer ripoff and comes at a really bad time when we’re trying to control healthcare costs. Amgen should not be allowed to turn Medicare into a profit center.” [..]

Other co-sponsors of the bill seeking repeal include House Republican Richard Hanna of New York and two House Democrats, Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Bruce Braley of Iowa.

Rep. Welch sat down with Bill Moyers on Moyers & Company to discuss Amgen’s “sweetheart deal”



The transcript can be read here

“When there is this back room dealing that comes at enormous expense to taxpayers and enormous benefit to a private, well-connected, for-profit company, we’ve got to call it out,” Welch tells Bill. “Those members of Congress who are concerned about the institution, about our lack of credibility, about the necessity of us doing things that are in the public good as opposed to private gain, we’ve got to call it out.”

Jan 03 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Round 2 of the Road to Austerity

Last night the House of Representatives voted to make permanent the Bush/Obama tax cuts on all but the top 1% of tax payers and increasing taxes on on 77.1 percent of U.S. households, mostly because of the expiration of a payroll tax cut. With the bill set to be signed by Pres. Barack Obama, Congress and the White House move to the next manufactured crisis that this bill set up, the draconian sequester cuts to defense and non-defense spending and the debt ceiling, also a manufactured “crisis.” The bill did hold off those draconian cuts for two months, just in time for spending to hit the debt ceiling.

Pres. Obama made it clear in his address after the passage of the “Fiscal Cliff” bill, that he would not allow the debt ceiling to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over spending.

“I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed. We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.”

“If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic – far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.”

This bill was not the best deal as this article on the behind the scenes Senate dealings by Ryan Grym at Huffington Post tells it:

The White House sent Reid a list of suggested concessions as his staff debated what to send back to McConnell. Reid looked over the concessions the administration wanted to offer, crumpled up the paper and tossed it into his fireplace. The gesture was first reported by Politico and confirmed to HuffPost by sources with knowledge of it, who noted that Reid frequently keeps his fire going and is fond of feeding a variety of proposals to it.

Reid’s staff then called McConnell’s office with a simple message: Our last offer stands. There will be no further concessions. McConnell took to the Senate floor, complaining that he had no “dance partner” in Reid, and called Vice President Joe Biden, a man he assumed would be more willing to give. McConnell was right.

Perhaps the most important concession he wrangled from the administration, which Reid had been unwilling to make, was a two-month extension of the sequester, automatic cuts to defense spending and domestic programs that were supposed to be triggered Jan. 1. Reid wanted much more, worried that the two-month period will simply set up another colossal showdown that will also rope in the debt ceiling and funding for the government. “The deal itself is OK, but sets up Democrats for [a] worse fight and strengthens Republicans’ hand for what they really want: cuts,” said a Democratic source close to Reid. “Biden gave away the store on timeline. Two months and we’re back at this and in worse shape.”

President Barack Obama has vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling, but Democrats in the Senate are worried that they’ve now lost their leverage. “Everyone knew taxes would be raised on high earners,” said the Democratic source. “So with that out of the way, what do we bargain with?”

All they had to do was let the tax cuts end and pass new tax bill that included extension of unemployment benefits, ended unconstitutional the debt ceiling nonsense and added some stimulus to really create jobs, since we all know that tax cuts don’t. But no, Pres. Obama had to have this done and kept backing away from his so-called “line in the sand.”

If anyone believes at this point that Obama stand up to the threats of a government shut down by Republicans refusing to raise the debt ceiling without serious concessions on Medicare and Social Security, consider these three reasons to doubt from Jon Walker at FDL Action

1) Failure to stick to previous lines in the sand – In past negotiations Obama has failed to stick to his previous lines in the sand. Obama did not stick to his demand that the Bush tax cuts end for income over $250,000. Similarly despite saying he would not play games with the debt ceiling, Obama seemed to treat it as just another bargain chip when trying to get a deal with John Boehner.

2) Dismissing unilateral action – The Obama administration has dismissed unilateral action to address the debt ceiling. Doing something like invoking the 14th amendment would probably be the easiest way to defuse the fight, but the administration has declared that “not an option.” Even if the Obama team didn’t think it was a legally viable solution by completely removing the threat it has weakened its bargaining position.

3) Allowing the creation of a new super cliff in two months – When WP Joe Biden took over the negotiations from Sen. Harry Reid the major concession he made was to have only a two month delay of the sequestration cuts instead of a one year delay.

Meanwhile the “irrational exuberance” of Wall St’s feral children over the tax deal abounds with the markets closing on a high. Let’s see what happens in two months when we sit on the edge of another cliff.

Jan 02 2013

It’s Not 11th Dimensional Chess. The President Wants Working People to Clean Up His Mess

Once we realize there is no fiscal cliff and the whole premise is a myth, you think about why it was created. It was created so we can mop up after the 1% which owns all three branches of government including the President. Obama didn’t add a raise in the debt ceiling to the Obama Bush tax cut deal he made in 2010 which created this political mess we are in right now.

Yet the poor and middle class are supposed to “stop whining and complaining” and just mop it up as if it’s one of the menial 60% of low wage jobs created that were part of this “recovery” where 93% of the income it went to the top 1%? I don’t think that’s fair. He needs to ask his Wall St buddies in his Treasury Department to share sacrifice. We have sacrificed enough in the name of the fantasy evil deficits from the land of Mordor causing fantasy default. Think about this when Nancy Pelosi was lying to you about this sellout ultimately helping the middle class last night.

From blatant robbery to money laundering, here are the biggest scandals of 2012 banking history.

#9. Middle-Class Wealth declines by 35 percent

On July 18, 2012, the U.S. Bureau of the Census made it official: The middle-class is getting poorer. The median family — that family exactly at the mid-point of the wealth ladder  — saw its net worth collapse. (Net worth is all assets minus all liabilities.) In 2005, the median family’s wealth was valued at $102,844 (in inflation adjusted dollars.)  By 2010, the latest Census figures showed a drop of 35 percent to $66,740.

And we’re supposed to celebrate this?  

Dec 12 2012

Obama and Boehner’s Grand Betrayal: Gullible Democrats Buy Into Good Cop, Bad Cop Theatre

Yes, we know what is driving the latest performance behind this fiscal sham.

It’s basically good cop, bad cop; or bad cop, worse cop theatre to get you to sign off on this grand betrayal as UKMC economist William K. Black aptly calls it.

Dec 11 2012

The Debt Ceiling Myth & the Platinum Coin

US Mint Platinum CoinOnce again the Republicans in Congress are threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling in order to get concessions from the Obama administration. Those concessions would involve severe cuts and changes to the social safety net that our most vulnerable citizens rely on to stay out of poverty but would not solve the so-called problem of the US debt obligations and deficit spending. We’ve been down this road before and it resulted in the extension of the Bush tax cuts and an increase in the deficit.

This could all be rendered irrelevant quite easily and very legally by the minting of one or more platinum coins in denominations determined by the Treasury Secretary. Here’s the law, 31 USC § 5112 – Denominations, specifications, and design of coins:

§ 5112. Denominations, specifications, and design of coins

(a) The Secretary of the Treasury may mint and issue only the following coins: [..]

(k) The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.

Those coins would be deposited with the Federal Reserve and used to make good on the obligated debt of the United States.  This is a legitimate option  for President Barack Obama and the argument has been made that it may be his duty to order the minting of Trillion Dollar Platinum Coins  to protect the US from failing to pay its obligations. Here is the explanation of what a trillion dollar coin does from blogger letsgetitdone at Correntewire:

If the Mint coins money in denominations appropriate for commonplace retail transactions than the coins involved can be exchanged among parties as needed. But what happens if the Mint coins platinum money with face values in the trillions of dollars? Then that money can’t be used for exchange as a practical matter, because there are no buyers who will accept the trillion dollar coins in exchange. So, if the Treasury wants to use such coins to fill the public purse with money it can later spend on debt repayment or Congressional deficit appropriations, it must transform high face value coins into divisible money; i.e. reserves in its Fed spending account. [..]

In the case of $One Trillion proof platinum coin, the profits are its face value minus a few thousand dollars. So that amount would be “swept” into the Treasury General Account (TGA), which is the account used by Treasury to perform Government spending.

A very good way to look at high value platinum coins is that they are legal instruments for the Treasury to use the unlimited “out of thin air” reserve creation authority of the Fed to fill the public spending purse, the TGA, for public purposes. In effect, platinum coin seigniorage involves the Treasury commandeering the power of the Fed to create reserves and place them in the TGA, perhaps, depending on what the Treasury chooses to do, in the many Trillions of dollars.

The coin’s value is not limited to one trillion dollars, according to the law, the Treasury Secretary sets the value. Letsgetitdone makes the argument for a $60 trillion coin that would be a political game changer:

{..} because it institutionalizes the idea that there is a distinction between appropriations, the Congressional mandate to spend particular amounts on particular goods and services, and the capability to spend the mandated accounts by having the funds (electronic credits) in the public purse (the TGA). In a fiat currency system, the capability always exists if the legislature provides for it under the Constitution, as it has under current platinum coin seigniorage legislation.

But the value of the $60 T coin, and the profits derived from it, is that it is a concrete reminder of the Government’s continuing ability to buy whatever it needs to meet public purposes, and its continuing ability to harness the authority of the Central Bank to create reserves to support the needs of fiscal policy. It demonstrates very clearly that the Government cannot run out of money, and that the claim that it can is not a valid reason for rejecting spending that is in accordance with public purpose.

So, please keep in mind the distinction between the capability to spend more than government collects in taxes, and the appropriations that mandate such spending. The capability is what’s in the public purse, and it is unlimited as long as the Government doesn’t constrain itself from creating credits in its own accounts. With coin seigniorage its capability could be and should be publicly demonstrated by minting the $60 T coin, and getting the profits from depositing it at the Fed transferred to the Treasury General Account (TGA).

On the other hand, Congressional appropriations, not the size or contents of the purse, but whether the purse strings are open or not, determines what will be spent, and what will simply sit in the purse for use at a later time. So there is a very important distinction between the purse and the purse strings. The President can legally use coin seigniorage to fill the purse, but only Congress can open the purse strings through its appropriations.

Is there anything congress could do to stop the president from issuing a coin like that? No, there isn’t. Could they impeach him? Well they could try, but I doubt they would get 67 votes in the Democratic held Senate. Nor would impeachment of a president who rescued the economy be very popular with the public.

Last year during the last budget hostage situation, Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale Law School, wrote this:

Like Congress, the president is bound by Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which states that “(t)he validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned.” Section 4 was passed after the Civil War because the framers worried that former Southern rebels returning to Congress would hold the federal debt hostage to extract political concessions on Reconstruction. Section 5 gives Congress the power to enforce the 14th Amendment’s provisions. This does not mean, however, that these provisions do not apply to the president; otherwise, he could violate the 14th Amendment at will.

Section 4 requires the president not to put the validity of the public debt into question. If the debt ceiling is not raised in time, there will not be enough incoming revenues to pay for all of the government’s bills as they come due. Therefore he has a constitutional obligation to prioritize incoming revenues to pay the public debt: interest on government bonds and any other “vested” obligations. [..]

An angry Congress may respond by impeaching the president. However, if the president’s actions end the government shutdown, stabilize the markets and prevent an economic catastrophe, this reduces the chances that he will be impeached by the House. (After all, he saved the country.) Perhaps more important, the chances that he will be convicted by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which has a Democratic majority, are virtually zero.

Since Pres. Obama is no longer faced with reelection and the Republicans in the House are again threatening to default on its obligations without deep cuts to the social safety net and protect the 1% from tax hikes, there is no reason for the President not to mint that coin.

These are the articles by letgetitdone that were referenced and are all well worth reading:

Coin Seigniorage: A Legal Alternative and Maybe the President’s Duty

Beyond Debt/Deficit Politics: The $60 Trillion Plan for Ending Federal Borrowing and Paying Off the National Debt

Origin and Early History of Platinum Coin Seigniorage In the Blogosphere

What Does The Trillion Dollar Coin Do?

The Trillion Dollar Coin Is A Conservative Meme

Dec 09 2012

The Great Debate on the Grand Sell Out of Medicare

Whether you voted for Barack Obama or not, the reality is he is on the same path he was on for the last four years and that is to sell out the majority of Americans to reach a “bargain” with Republicans, who lost the election, on the mythical “fiscal cliff” and the  unconstitutional “debt ceiling.” Part of that sell out is raising the eligibility age for Medicare recipients to 67. This little nugget has started a “great debate” and a bit of an internet dispute about whether or not this is a good, or even workable, idea.

In his article at AMERICAblog our friend Gaius Publius, who is just reporting it, quotes Paul Krugman’s reaction on his NY Times blog to Ezra Klein’s commentary in The Washington Post on Jonathan Chait’s article in The New Yorker, who thinks that raising the eligibility age by two years is an OK idea. What the Herr Doktor said:

Ezra Klein says that the shape of a fiscal cliff deal is clear: only a 37 percent rate on top incomes, and a rise in the Medicare eligibility age. [..]

First, raising the Medicare age is terrible policy. It would be terrible policy even if the Affordable Care Act were going to be there in full force for 65 and 66 year olds, because it would cost the public $2 for every dollar in federal funds saved. And in case you haven’t noticed, Republican governors are still fighting the ACA tooth and nail; if they block the Medicaid expansion, as some will, lower-income seniors will just be pitched into the abyss.

Second, why on earth would Obama be selling Medicare away to raise top tax rates when he gets a big rate rise on January 1 just by doing nothing? And no, vague promises about closing loopholes won’t do it: a rate rise is the real deal, no questions, and should not be traded away for who knows what. [..]

All that effort to reelect Obama, and the first thing he does is give away two years of Medicare? How’s that going to play in future attempts to get out the vote?

If anyone in the White House is seriously thinking along these lines, please stop it right now.

Meanwhile, Chait’s article, Go Ahead, Raise the Medicare Retirement Age, prompted David Dayen’s response at FDL and the Wanker of the Day Award from Atrios.

Dayen’s critique prompted some poutrage from Chait and Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly, who was more concerned about “tone” than the consequences of raising Medicare’s eligibiliy age.

Which resulted in Dayens’ response to Chait, the ill informed Ezra Klein comment agreeing with Chait that the Affordable Care Act would “blunt the pain,” and a hat tip to Kilgore’s pique about “tone.”

Meanwhile, Karoli at Crooks & Liars gets it in her response to Klein’s interview with Peter Orzag, former director of the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget, currently Vice Chairman of Global Banking at Citigroup:

Listen Up, White House! Take Medicare Eligibility Age Off The Table NOW.:

Raising the Medicare eligibility age is terrible, awful, horrible policy that plays right into the Republicans’ goal of killing Medicare altogether. Obamacare does not change that fact in substantive ways. Here’s why, in bullets:

  • Adverse selection – Obamacare or no Obamacare, raising the eligibility age means people enter the Medicare system with a higher likelihood of health problems. Even if they have health insurance before they’re eligible for Medicare, facts are facts: The older one gets, the more likely health problems become.
  • Administrative costs – Medicare’s administrative costs consistently come out to about 7 percent. Obamacare allows for administrative costs of 15 percent. Extending coverage via Obamacare means higher, not lower, costs to the government and the middle class. Subsidies will cost more for that older group as well as for the younger group, since insurers will set a higher baseline on young people in order to pad reserves for older people because of the 3:1 ratio requirement on rates between youngest and oldest.
  • Workforce phase-outs of older employees – This is the dirty little elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks about. Because of the high demand for jobs right now, older employees are being shoved phased out earlier. Beginning at around age 50 to 55, jobs become scarce for older workers, leaving them with a 10-15 year gap before they become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. That means they’re living on their savings, home equity, or odd jobs just to scratch their way to the social safety net. Moving that football means leaving them on the hook for 2 extra years, not only for living expenses, but also covering their health insurance, whether or not subsidized.

[..]I’ve been told by some pragmatic liberals who I usually agree with that I’m being unreasonable on this point. I beg to differ. It is not reasonable for Peter Orszag to say we’ve gotten a concession from Republicans because privatizing Social Security is off the table entirely. That’s a little like saying we’re really lucky that they’re holding the gun to our hearts instead of our heads. The impact of conceding any ground on Medicare eligibility is immeasurably negative for Democrats.

HELLO, Barack, raising the eligibility age for Medicare is a really bad idea.

Dec 07 2012

“Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare”

Where is the Tea Party now that the Republican Party wants to cut Medicare? Does anyone remember the 2010 election that gave the right wing extremists control of the House of Representatives and the disruption these Tea Partiers caused at Democratic Town Halls with their signs and demands that government keep their hands off Medicare? Anyone? Buehler?

So far not a peep from this vociferous crowd now that the Republicans are holding tax reform and budget negotiations hostage demanding major cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and raising Medicare eligibility age to 67 because wealthy white men are living longer.

The popularity for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the three programs that are the major components of the social safety, is overwhelming. According to an ABC News/ Washington Post Poll (pdf) 79% of Americans do not want Medicare cut at all. By a large majority (65%) they would prefer tax hikes on the wealthy than reduction of payments to hospitals and doctors. Meanwhile, the Republicans in the House and Senate, who still think they won in November, are demanding drastic cuts after they campaigned against those very cuts.

Subbing for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on her show, Chris Hayes talks about the effort to defend Medicare and making the program more efficient with Rep. Jan Schawkowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Budget Committee.

 

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