Archive for July, 2011

Debt-ceiling deal: An incremental but indisputable win for GOP

The details are still rolling in, and probably will be for the better part of Monday. But based on what we know now, House Republicans drove the harder bargain on the debt-ceiling deal. (See the White House’s talking points here and Speaker John Boehner’s, via Hot Air, here — and note right off the bat a discrepancy in how they’re describing the stages in which the ceiling will rise.)

There was a lot of hand-wringing over the past couple of weeks that the federal government might default. For the most part, I think it was overblown. And that’s not just because a failure to reach a deal probably would have resulted in something more akin to a partial government shutdown than an actual default. I just don’t think there were enough members of Congress prepared to take the chance of finding out exactly how that result would have played out. (Here, a knock-on-wood acknowledgment the House and Senate rank and file still have to ratify this deal struck by their leaders.) Nor do I …

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To get Georgians moving, get Washington out of the way

Tens of millions of dollars generated from Georgia’s roads wind up in other states’ coffers. And a whole lot more is spent at the whim of Washington bureaucrats.

No wonder our transportation funding seems so bad.

As Georgians next year face a referendum on a 1 percent sales tax to fund new roads and mass transit, they could be forgiven for wondering why roughly $2 billion a year of gasoline tax revenues don’t suffice.

The answer is all too familiar:

We are taxed here. The money goes up to Washington. Not all of it comes back.

And we aren’t even allowed to decide how to spend most of the money we do get back.

There are a number of reasons this situation is no longer tolerable, if it ever was (it was hatched in the 1950s to create our interstate highway system). But first, let’s get specific, with some figures from the Georgia Department of Transportation:

  • Each year, Georgia levies about $2 billion of gas taxes.
  • About two-thirds of the money, some $1.3 billion, is …

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Two words to describe the Obama era: Downward revision

If it feels like the recession never ended, that’s because economic growth is so low we’re practically in a recession right now.

The Commerce Department this morning reported its initial estimate for economic growth from April to June: an annualized rate of 1.3 percent, which is still less than half the long-term trend, two years after the recession officially ended.

But what shouldn’t be overshadowed by that poor number is the downward revision of growth from January to March to a paltry annualized rate of 0.4 percent — from an earlier estimate of 1.9 percent, which was bad enough but now seems like President Obama’s version of the Roaring Twenties. There were also smaller downward revisions to figures for the last two quarters of 2010, and four of the last six quarters overall.

In short, even the meager growth previously reported has been revised downward to the less-rosy reality Americans have been experiencing all along.

These figures represent inflation-adjusted growth. …

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Poll Position: Should gay marriage be left up to the states?

Rick Perry, the three-term Texas governor and somewhere-between-rumored-and-announced GOP presidential candidate, raised some social conservatives’ eyebrows last week with this comment about New York’s new gay marriage law:

Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.

The remark to a gathering of Republican donors came as a surprise to many social conservatives because Perry is regarded as one of their own. Asked about the comment in a radio interview with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Perry drew a distinction between it and his personal beliefs: “It’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue. Obviously, gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.” He also said he …

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ICYMI: Purple states, razing homes and the UAW heads south

Response to this feature last week was pretty good, so I’m trying it again today: a rundown of articles, essays, graphs, etc. from this week that are interesting but haven’t made it to my blog until now.

  • Polls from so-called battleground states suggest President Obama’s re-election chances are worse than the national surveys would indicate.
  • All the talk about spending cuts in the debt-ceiling debate ignores the fact that neither side is talking about anything more than slowing the growth rate of spending. And here’s a useful graph comparing the two plans by Speaker John Boehner and the one by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
  • An astonishing chart showing the price of the average U.S. house in ounces of gold. It’s enough to make one consider selling gold and buying real estate — so long as you do it before banks reduce a lot of the housing stock by tearing down unwanted, foreclosed homes.
  • Someone else argues the higher tax rates of yesteryear won’t solve Washington’s budget …

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For transportation tax, keep projects doable and affordable

We’re beginning to get an idea of how metro Atlanta’s transportation network might change — and how it won’t — if voters next year approve a 1 percent sales tax to pay for new infrastructure.

First, how it won’t change. The $6.1 billion in projected revenues from the tax would not contribute to a bypass to divert freight traffic around Atlanta as it moves between Savannah’s port and the rest of the country. Nor would the money expedite a regional network of variable-toll lanes so motorists can move from A to B quickly if they’re willing to pay a premium.

And, as my more transit-oriented friends note, the money would contribute little to (relatively) low-cost bus rapid transit and nothing to (potentially) high-use commuter rail.

In other words, there are few things on the lists that advocates of either roads or rails would consider game-changers.

Instead, we might fulfill some basic needs: e.g., new interchanges at such bottlenecks as I-285 and Ga. 400 and the …

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The debt-ceiling deadline gets an extension

It turns out that the Obama’s administration’s self-imposed Aug. 2 deadline for reaching a debt-ceiling deal isn’t as drop-dead as we’ve been told. From the New York Times:

Thanks to an inflow of tax payments and maneuvering by the Treasury Department, the government can probably continue to pay all of its bills for several days after Aug. 2, providing potentially critical breathing room for Congress to raise the debt ceiling, according to estimates by several Wall Street banks and a Washington research organization.

The consensus is that the government will not run short of money until Aug. 10, when it would be unable to cut millions of Social Security checks without borrowing more money.

Note that, while some of us have observed in the past that the Treasury could continue making interest payments on the debt and meet its obligations on Social Security and essential defense even past Aug. 2, this report is talking about continuing to pay all the bills after Aug. 2.

Having a …

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On debt crisis, the rating agencies show up late — again

At the risk of establishing a precedent for fortnightly references to Robert Reich, I was intrigued by another piece the former labor secretary wrote for the Huffington Post. But unlike last time, I actually agree with much of what Reich says about the credit-rating agencies, the financial collapse and the current national-debt crisis.

In particular, Reich blasts Standard & Poor’s, which is warning it may downgrade Washington’s credit rating if Congress and the White House can’t agree to $4 trillion in deficit reduction:

Who is Standard & Poor’s to tell America how much debt it has to shed in order to keep its credit rating?

Standard & Poor’s didn’t exactly distinguish itself prior to Wall Street’s financial meltdown in 2007. Until the eve of the collapse it gave triple-A ratings to some of the Street’s riskiest packages of mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations.

Standard & Poor’s (along with Moody’s and Fitch) bear much of the responsibility for what …

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2012 Tuesday: This week, it’s all about Obama

There’s not much percolating in the GOP presidential race right now besides the same old, same old: Texas Gov. Rick Perry all but saying he’s running, just not yet; Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty sniping at one another in what may turn out to be an elimination contest between them in Iowa; Herman Cain still trying to explain his various comments about Muslims as he fades from real contention.

If they’re smart, Republican candidates are letting this week in 2012 politics be about Barack Obama and the nation’s debt.

The president spent weeks insisting it was up to Congress to solve the debt-ceiling problem — which is technically true, although the reality that he has to sign any legislation Congress passes suggests it’s not crazy of the leaders on Capitol Hill to think they should have buy-in from the White House beforehand. Then Obama did get involved, repeatedly describing himself as the only responsible person in Washington and talking about the leaders of a co-equal …

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The ‘rich’ don’t pay their ‘fair share’? What is their ‘fair share’?

One of the most persistent talking points on the left is that “the rich” — and sometimes “corporations” — don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes. While my views on this topic are pretty well-known among regular readers, I want to ask a question as neutrally as I can:

Exactly how much is their “fair share”?

You may present data to explain how much high-income Americans and corporations currently pay in taxes, and then argue for how much would be more “fair.” You may make more emotional appeals, although I’ll go ahead and tell you I won’t find such arguments very persuasive. Heck, you can even answer “however much it takes to pay for all the things we want government to give us.” (Oops, there I go being not-so-neutral again.)

But seriously: How much is enough? What’s fair?

And if you don’t have a credible answer to these questions, maybe you should stop using the “fair share” line.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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