Saturday, December 08, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Theater

As the fiscal cliff looms, there is intense debate in Washington about striking a deal to avert the automatic spending cuts and automatic tax increases that will go into effect otherwise. The debate has boiled down to an increase of a few percentage points of tax on the top two percentage points of income owners. The Republicans claim to want to maintain the current tax rates on all income earners, and the Democrats claim to want to maintain the current tax rates on the bottom ninety eight percent of income earners. The offer from the Democrats is that if this tax increase is granted, then there will be unspecified spending cuts at some future date.

Both sides are lying so badly that it is surprising anyone is able to take their claims seriously. It is even surprising that the major media outlets, paid to believe the claims of politicians, are able to do their job and keep the American public sufficiently worried.

According to Wikipedia for the 2012 Federal budget, the combined federal outlays were $3.795 Trillion and the combined federal revenues were $2.469 Trillion, leaving a deficit total federal deficit of $1.327 Trillion. There appears to include off budget spending. That means that tax revenue accounted for 65% of the total spending.

If the goal is to balance he budget, which is what is being claimed, then there are three options. Using the figures from 2012, analysis of these three options reveals the lies coming from both sides of the debate.

The first option is to raise taxes sufficiently to balance the budget. This means raising taxes by a significant amount on everyone, not just a few percentage points on the rich. Anyone who proposes merely raising taxes on the rich as a solution is lying. Anyone who proposes raising those taxes just a few percentage points as a solution is lying. President Obama is telling the truth about his desire to raise taxes on the top two percent, but lying when he claims that this will have any impact on the budget deficit. The total tax burden would have to be increased by 54% to cover spending. There is no way to increase tax revenue by that amount by increasing taxes only on the rich, even if there is a top rate of 100% on income over $250,000. All taxes would have to go up, which means personal and corporate income taxes and tariffs and excise taxes, and the personal taxes would have to be raised on all brackets. There is some room to try to juggle the burden away from lower incomes and towards higher incomes, but not much, meaning that even lower income earners will feel the effect.

The second option is to cut spending sufficiently to balance the budget. Spending will have to be cut by 35%. This means real cuts, not "Washington cuts." This is where the Republicans are shown to be lying to the American public. Every cut proposed is a reduction in the rate of increase, a “Washington cut”. Moreover, these cuts are delayed in implementation, a second lie by the Republicans. It has often happened in the past that a budget deal would be made with front loaded tax increases and several years later there would be accompanying spending cuts. Every time that deal was allegedly made the spending cuts did not happen. Only one person in the Senate proposed a budget with real cuts, and his cuts only came to $500 billion, and he admitted that his cuts did not go far enough. The rest of the political class thought he was crazy and instead looked at the Ryan budget, with no actual cuts, and talked about what a fiscal hawk Representative Paul Ryan was.

The third option is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Meeting half-way this means increasing tax revenue to 82% of 2012 expenditures and reducing spending to 82% of 2012 expenditures. This would require a total revenue increase of 26%. It will be easier for those who favor taxing the rich for the crime of being rich to be able to adjust the burden away from the lower incomes, but it will still be necessary to increase taxes on the middle class as well as excise taxes and tariffs. Spending cuts also have some interesting implications as this will require a total spending cut of 18%.

Social Security, unemployment, and labor are 34% of the budget. Medicare and health are 24% of the budget. The military is 18% of the budget. Debt financing are 7% of the budget. Food and Agriculture, Veterans Benefits, Transportation, Education, Housing and Community, International Affairs, Energy and Environment, Science, and Government (everything else) are 18%. If a policy of peace were to be adopted, the military budget can be cut in half easily, saving 9% and leaving another 9% to cut. Perhaps a percentage point can be cut from "everything else." That leaves 8% remaining to cut, which means that either Social Security or Medicare will have to be cut, perhaps both. Any plan which doesn’t include cutting Social Security or Medicare is not an honest plan.

Nobody in Washington is discussing anything close to any of those three proposals, except for Senator Rand Paul. Therefore nobody in Washington except for him is doing anything about the crisis that the Fiscal Cliff discussion was supposed to try to avert.

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