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Fact Checking the Veep Debate

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As I did last week following the first Presidential debate, I’m reposting the Washington Post’s Wonkblog fact check of VP debate, Footnoting the Debate to serve as a reference of the actual facts rather than just accepting what was said.

2012 Veep Debate - Joe Biden and Paul Ryan

About those 20 million Americans who will “lose insurance”

Paul Ryan says that under the health care law about 20 million Americans will lose insurance coverage. The figure comes from a 2010 Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the impact of the health care law. There, the neutral agency estimates that the “ACA changes the number of people who will obtain health insurance coverage through their employer in by an amount that ranges from a reduction of 20 million to a gain of 3 million relative to what would have occurred otherwise.”

That’s a pretty decently-sized range and the CBO thinks the most likely situation is one where “about 3 million to 5 million fewer people, on net, will obtain coverage through their employer each year from 2019 through 2022 than would have been the case under prior law.”

It’s worth pointing out that not receiving insurance through an employer doesn’t necessarily mean losing insurance altogether. The CBO expects that many of those that no longer have employer sponsored insurance will obtain coverage on the federally-subsidized state health insurance exchanges.

A look at “Catholic social doctrine”

Biden made reference to “Catholic social doctrine” to care for the needy as being part of his religious faith.

He’s not the first liberal Catholic to do so: A group of Catholic nuns have crusaded across the country against Paul Ryan’s budget, and the US Conference of Bishops argues that it “fails to meet” the Church’s moral principles.

Ryan has defended himself by saying his small government outlook is informed by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity:

    To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principle of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good.

“No religious institution…has to pay for contraception.”

That was Joe Biden, talking about the health care law’s requirement that employers provide no co-pay birth control. He’s referring there to a compromise that the Obama administration worked out earlier this year, for religious institutions that oppose that provision, where the insurance company – rather than the religious employer – pays for contraceptive costs.

Religious institutions have argued that that isn’t a strong enough protection. Since they pay into the the insurance plan, by contributing to employer premiums, these employers argue that their funds could potentially end up being used to cover the contraceptives they oppose. The guidance from the Obama administration, issued in February, does not address this concern.

Would tax hikes on the wealthy hurt small businesses? Not many of them.

Biden said repeatedly that raising taxes on high-income Americans, as Obama has proposed, would hold 97 percent of small businesses harmless. As my colleague Glenn Kessler has noted, “The Joint Committee on Taxation has determined that only 3 percent of all ‘small businesses’ would be affected by Obama’s proposal,” which would let the Bush taxes on households with income more than $250,000 expire.

Can we close the deficit solely by taxing the wealthy? Doubtful.

At one point in his back-in-forth with the vice-president, Paul Ryan argued that it’s not possible to close the deficit simply by raising taxes on the wealthy—at least if we’re talking about politically realistic tax hikes. Ryan’s basically right about that.

Here’s one concrete way to look at this, courtesy of a Third Way paper, “Necessary but Not Sufficient: Why Taxing the Wealthy Can’t Fix the Deficit.” The study looks at what would happen if Congress let the Bush tax cuts expire for income over $250,000, pared back deductions on the wealthy, expanded the estate tax, boosted the capital gains tax by five percentage points, and adopted a Buffett Rule for incomes over $1 million. That’s slightly more in taxes than what President Obama has proposed. But, Third Way estimates, the national debt would still double as a share of the economy by 2035–not least because of the rising cost of Medicare.

Here’s the report’s bottom line: “Relying on taxes alone to hold long-term deficits at 3 percent of GDP would require phasing in a 60 percent tax increase on the median-income family, raising its annual tax burden by $6,200, in 2012 dollars.” So it’s technically possible. But not many people in Congress are proposing tax increases like that. The White House certainly isn’t.

On the other hand, Third Way also has a paper arguing that spending cuts alone can’t curb the deficit. “If we reduce deficits using only cuts, we will have, for example, 20,000 fewer FBI, DEA, and other federal agents and 50,000 fewer TSA screeners.”

That’s why most of these bipartisan deficit commissions tend to advocate a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts.

No, six studies did not debunk the Tax Policy Center’s finding on the Romney tax plan

Paul Ryan repeated his campaign’s talking point that six studies have debunked the Tax Policy Center’s claim that it is “mathematically impossible” for Romney to implement all his tax cuts, achieve revenue neutrality, not raise taxes on the middle class, and not raise taxes on investments.

I can’t believe we have to keep saying this, but no, six studies did not say that. One study, from Harvard’s Martin Feldstein, only found that the Romney plan is possible by fiddling with the definition of “middle class”, and confirmed TPC’s finding under the definition TPC used. Another, from AEI’s Matt Jensen, found that if you subject some investment income, namely interest on state and local bonds, to taxes, the plan need not raise middle class taxes. But that leaves TPC’s claim untouched. Another, from Princeton’s Harvey Rosen, relied on implausibly high estimates of the growth effects of the Romney tax plan, and even then confirmed the TPC finding when comparing the plan to a baseline where the Bush tax cuts expire. And another, from the Heritage Foundation’s Charles Dubay, is based on a misestimation of the cost of an obscure estate tax provision.

What’s more, not all of these are actual studies. Jensen’s critique, for example, came in the form of a blog post. That says nothing about its quality, just that the Romney campaign’s characterization is a bit odd. Only three working papers or studies – one from Rosen, one from Dubay, and one from Feldstein – attempt to rebut the TPC study, and none succeed in rebutting TPC’s actual points.

In short, the Romney plan is mathematically impossible. Biden is right. Ryan is wrong.

Ryan’s support of partially privatizing Social Security

The moderator mentioned that Ryan had supported Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security. In fact, Ryan originally had his own plan to create a voluntary private option, which “would have allowed workers to funnel an average of 6.4 percent of their 12.4 percent payroll-tax contribution to a private account,” as my colleague Dylan explained. Bush actually rejected Ryan’s plan, which was estimated to cost more than $2 trillion, for being too profligate. Ryan backed Bush’s own privatization push as well.

Will Medicare cuts drive ‘one-sixth’ of hospitals out of business?

That’s the charge Rep. Ryan made about the health care law’s $716 billion in Medicare cuts. He’s referring to this testimony from the independent Medicare actuary Rick Foster, where he said that his department projections could see 15 percent of hospitals becoming unprofitable:

    Providers for whom Medicare constitutes a substantial portion of their business could find it difficult to remain profitable, and, absent legislative intervention, might end their participation in the program (possibly jeopardizing care for beneficiaries. [Our] simulations…suggest that roughly 15 percent of [hospitalization] providers would become unprofitable within the 10-year projection as a result of the [spending cuts].”

It’s worth noting that the Medicare reform plan that he co-authored with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would have maintained these very same cuts.

Republicans wanted deficit-funded stimulus too

Paul Ryan accused Joe Biden and the Obama administration of increasing the budget deficit with the stimulus package. Whether the stimulus will end up increasing the deficit is an open question. Larry Summers and Brad DeLong have argued that the growth it caused could end up increasing future tax revenue enough to make it deficit-neutral.

But in any case, there was no disagreement about deficit-financed stimulus policy in early 2009. Republicans wanted it to. For example, arch-conservative Sen. Jim DeMint proposed making all the Bush tax cuts permanent, cutting the top rate to 25 percent, cutting the corporate tax to 25 percent, and almost eliminating the estate tax as a stimulus measure. That costs $3 trillion over ten years, four times the sticker price of the American Recovery and Reinvestment act. All but four Republicans in the Senate voted for that.

Further almost all Republicans voted for the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 when the recession was just getting underway in March, which increased the deficit by about $156 billion. Paul Ryan and all but 25 House Republicans voted for it. All but 16 Senate Republicans did.

Finally, Mitt Romney took to National Review in late 2008 to argue for a deficit-financed stimulus package, including tax cuts but also aid to renewable energy, infrastructure spending, and aid to states and localities, all of which ended up becoming key parts of the 2009 stimulus act. He acknowledged the deficit cost of this plan and proposed following up the plan with entitlement reform to blunt the impact on the deficit.

Death panels and vice presidential debates

Joe Biden quipped that death panels seem to come up at each vice presidential debate he’s participated in. But death panels weren’t even an idea back in 2008, before the health reform law even existed. They’re usually traced back to 2009. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin started talking about the idea that summer, as the health reform debate was heating up.

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Written by Valerie Curl

October 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

Who’s Really Better on Your Taxes?

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ezra_klein_redo-tax-chart Naomi Robbins/Forbes

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein posted a revised tax comparison chart, created by Naomi Robbins of Forbes. According to Klein, the result is that the two candidate’s tax plans come through much more clearly.

Romney’s plan is a large tax cut for the top 60 percent, a huge tax cut for the top few percent, and a significant tax increase for the bottom few percent, as he permits a few temporary tax breaks that benefit low-income folks to expire. Obama’s plan keeps the current tax rates for almost everyone but the top few percent, who face a very large tax increase.

It’s also worth noting that these numbers only tell half the story: Romney has promised to offset the cost of most of his tax plan through spending cuts and tax reforms, and so any analysis of who pays is incomplete without those policies. But that information is impossible to graph, as Romney hasn’t released it yet. All we can say is that since Romney has promised to increase spending on defense and honor Medicare and Social Security’s scheduled benefits for the next decade, it’s hard to see how he makes good on that promise without cutting deep into programs for the poor and tax preferences that benefit the middle class, and if that’s right, then the poor and middle class are paying much more than you can tell from the graph above.

Written by Valerie Curl

July 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Real Cause of Deficit: Out of Control Spending or Another Great Depression

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US Debt vs CongressIt’s easy to blame President Obama’s Administration for the massively increased deficit and the lousy economy, but it’s much harder when faced with the recently revised data on the economy just before Obama took office.

I just finished reading an article in The Economist that puts the economic discussion occurring throughout the country in much greater perspective. The article discusses the revised economic data from just before Obama took office and the approximate total of stimulus that the Congress spent.

Here are the more relevant data points:

– In the three months leading up to Obama’s inauguration, the drop in employment was actually 2.2 million jobs lost as opposed to the 1.8 million jobs previous data showed.

– In Jan. ’08 alone – a year before Obama was inaugurated – the 820,000 jobs were lost according to revised data.

– In Jan. ’08, total employment was already 1 million workers below the level shown in the official data.

– In the three months before Obama took office, GDP dropped 8.9%, not the 3.8% previously thought. (I don’t have a calculator handy to determine what that means in dollar loss of economic activity; maybe someone can figure out the billions.)

– Approximate total stimulus amounted to $1 trillion, spread out over two years.

– The $827 Billion stimulus package was barely enough to stop the economic slide but not enough to jump start the economy. Had the economic data been more accurate, a larger stimulus package probably would have been approved by Congress, along with corresponding monetary policy, that might have jump started the economy.

For me, these are the obvious conclusions:

– By the time Obama took office, employment loss was already at 3.2 million minimum.

– The loss of economic activity and job losses, as noted above, reduced all federal revenues to such a degree that the resulting loss accounts for most of the increase in the deficit, not the stimulus.

– The Obama Admin is not a big spender, but rather the economy was and remains so bad that the deficit is a result of lost revenues rather than big spending.

– I don’t have the data to compare the Great Recession to the Great Depression in terms of GDP loss and unemployment, but my guess is that they’re pretty close. (The government did not keep this kind of accurate data in the ’30s.)

– DC and the public at large continue to misunderstand how extraordinarily deep the economy was hit; therefore, they misunderstand both the causes of the rising deficit and why it’s been so difficult to pull out of this recession.

As both PIMCO’s CEO El Erian and Nourial Robini (aka Dr. Doom) stated in their Financial Times Op-Eds, the US needs more fiscal stimulus in the short term combined with a long term deficit reduction plan, starting in two years, to bring down the debt. Moreover, that plan must include both spending cuts and increased revenues.

Furthermore, US political leaders must put political agendas and ideology aside to focus on jobs creation and economic growth. Winning elections, as noted in the Washington Post article today regarding the rise of the “Young Guns” and their Tea Party compatriots, is far less important than saving the US economy and the millions of American families struggling to survive without a job.

Wall St dreams up a new speculation: Hollywood Stock Exchange

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Wall St. just can’t get over its addiction to speculation, regardless of the recent financial crisis that directly was caused by their speculation. Now, they’ve dreamed up another game of “roulette.”

Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post writes today:

Investors learned this week of Wall Street’s latest attraction — a new “futures” market where anyone from casual moviegoers to Hollywood moguls would be able to wager on the success of upcoming movies.

In many ways, the Hollywood Stock Exchange is simply the logical extension of the recent trend in financial markets, which have long since outgrown their original purpose — to raise capital for real businesses — and have now turned themselves into high-tech casinos offering endless opportunity for speculation.

The rationale for this market in movie futures is roughly the same as the one offered for stock and commodities futures, or credit-default swaps or even the market in “synthetic” CDOs, those securities designed to mimic the performance of the real-life packages of mortgages and other debt instruments. Apologists talk about how much “liquidity” they bring to these markets, magically lowering costs and moderating price swings while allowing all manner of businesses to hedge their risks. And because these markets can accomplish these things with absolutely no unpleasant side effects, it is folly to even consider regulating them and stifling this wealth-producing innovation.

To understand what hogwash this all is, take a closer look at the Hollywood Stock Exchange, which the New York Times reported will soon be launched by Cantor Fitzgerald.

A growing number of leading economists are sounding a warning that banks are not as sound as their public relations pronouncements state. They still have all those millions, if not billions, of dollars of worthless securities on their balance sheets, but they’ve been assiduously ignoring them. Rather than embrace yet more speculative ventures, Wall St. needs to figure out to clean up their balance sheets. Any additional losses – or even higher interest rates – could lead to another bank collapse. If Wall St. is betting that the American taxpayer will open their collective wallet again, they’re in for a rude surprise.

Today only about 39% of investments go to providing capital for new business ventures. The rest goes towards one form of speculation or another. Yet, America and Congress are still enthralled with Wall St. which is why the Street has been able to thwart any meaningful regulation this long after the world financial collapse that led to the Great Recession. Already, Europe and Asia are pushing the U.S. government to restrict derivatives, CDOs and other speculative instruments because of the harm they’ve already caused.

So, when will the U.S. finally begin to realize that Wall St. isn’t that much different anymore than a Vegas casino? A clear message, through tough reforms, needs to be sent to Wall St.: clean up your house of cards or die; you won’t gamble with our money any more.

Media talks panic: Swine Flu

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Over my morning cup of coffee, I turned on the TV to see what was going on in the world. The big news of the day – and apparently the only story of the day – was the swine flu. Even CNBC asked, “Will Swine flu derail the global economy?” The Swine Flu story leads the Washington Post and the Financial Times.

So, what happened in the markets? A drop. Nothing like a good panic to cause a sell off!

Reporters even non-stop peppered Robert Gibbs at the morning’s White House Press Briefing, asking if Pres. Obama was sick, and complaining that they weren’t getting enough information on the President’s health. A simple “the docs say he’s healthy and fine” wasn’t good enough. The flu became the only topic discussed.

The U.S has a population of over 300 million people. 40 cases of flu have been reported. Yet, one would think from the media hype that thousands of cases have been reported in the U.S.

Pardon me, but I’m getting just a bit sick of the “one topic” media story. Especially the non-stop, endlessly detailed reporting of stories such as this one which appears designed to cause as much panic as possible.

Yes, there is cause for concern and caution. But really now, fostering a panic? The media definitely has lost its way. The job of the media is to report the news, not create the news…which is exactly what the media has been doing for the last couple of years.

What would Cronkite or Brinkley say about the over-hyping of one story, the endless reporting of every minute or associated detail, as if that one story was the absolute only thing occurring on the planet?

Enough already.

Written by Valerie Curl

April 28, 2009 at 12:55 AM

Son of William F. Buckley, Conservative founder of the National Review magazine, says…

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“So, to paraphrase a real conservative, Ronald Reagan: I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.”

While I often disagreed with William Buckley, one of the founders of the Conservative movement, I respected him and his opinions. Bill Buckley was on of the most well read, most learned, most intelligent men ever to grace the political scene. Listening to him gave me more than food for thought, his arguments required me to think question and about my own positions. His arguments required more of me than ideology, they required deep thought.

This week Chris Buckley, the son of Bill Buckley, resigned his position with the National Review, the Conservative magazine his father founded, and endorsed Senator Obama.

In Chris Buckley’s online explanation of his actions, he said:

I seem to have picked an apt title for my Daily Beast column, or blog, or whatever it’s called: “What Fresh Hell.” My last posting (if that’s what it’s called) in which I endorsed Obama, has brought about a very heaping helping of fresh hell. In fact, I think it could accurately be called a tsunami.

The mail (as we used to call it in pre-cyber times) at the Beast has been running I’d say at about 7-to-1 in favor. This would seem to indicate that you (the Beast reader) are largely pro-Obama.

As for the mail flooding into National Review Online—that’s been running about, oh, 700-to-1 against. In fact, the only thing the Right can’t quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.

I had gone out of my way in my Beast endorsement to say that I was not doing it in the pages of National Review, where I write the back-page column, because of the experience of my colleague, the lovely Kathleen Parker [of the Washington Post]. Kathleen had written in NRO that she felt Sarah Palin was an embarrassment. (Hardly an alarmist view.) This brought 12,000 livid emails, among them a real charmer suggesting that Kathleen’s mother ought to have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a dumpster. I didn’t want to put NR in an awkward position.

Since my Obama endorsement, Kathleen and I have become BFFs and now trade incoming hate-mails. No one has yet suggested my dear old Mum should have aborted me, but it’s pretty darned angry out there in Right Wing Land. One editor at National Review—a friend of 30 years—emailed me that he thought my opinions “cretinous.” One thoughtful correspondent, who feels that I have “betrayed”—the b-word has been much used in all this—my father and the conservative movement generally, said he plans to devote the rest of his life to getting people to cancel their subscriptions to National Review. But there was one bright spot: To those who wrote me to demand, “Cancel my subscription,” I was able to quote the title of my father’s last book, a delicious compendium of his NR “Notes and Asides”: Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription.

Within hours of my endorsement appearing in The Daily Beast it became clear that National Review had a serious problem on its hands. So the next morning, I thought the only decent thing to do would be to offer to resign my column there. This offer was accepted—rather briskly!—by Rich Lowry, NR’s editor, and its publisher, the superb and able and fine Jack Fowler. I retain the fondest feelings for the magazine that my father founded, but I will admit to a certain sadness that an act of publishing a reasoned argument for the opposition should result in acrimony and disavowal.

My father in his day endorsed a number of liberal Democrats for high office, including Allard K. Lowenstein and Joe Lieberman. One of his closest friends on earth was John Kenneth Galbraith. In 1969, Pup wrote a widely-remarked upon column saying that it was time America had a black president. (I hasten to aver here that I did not endorse Senator Obama because he is black. Surely voting for someone on that basis is as racist as not voting for him for the same reason.)

My point, simply, is that William F. Buckley held to rigorous standards, and if those were met by members of the other side rather than by his own camp, he said as much. My father was also unpredictable, which tends to keep things fresh and lively and on-their-feet. He came out for legalization of drugs once he decided that the war on drugs was largely counterproductive. Hardly a conservative position. Finally, and hardly least, he was fun. God, he was fun. He liked to mix it up.

So, I have been effectively fatwahed (is that how you spell it?) by the conservative movement, and the magazine that my father founded must now distance itself from me. But then, conservatives have always had a bit of trouble with the concept of diversity. The GOP likes to say it’s a big-tent. Looks more like a yurt to me.

While I regret this development, I am not in mourning, for I no longer have any clear idea what, exactly, the modern conservative movement stands for. Eight years of “conservative” government has brought us a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance. As a sideshow, it brought us a truly obscene attempt at federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case.

Over the last fifteen years, I have witnessed the conservative movement stray from its original mandate, espoused by Bill Buckley, of fiscal conservatism, cautious foreign intervention policy, and rights to privacy to a profligate spending policy, wildly interventionist foreign policy, and a policy of ignoring civil and personal rights (i.e., illegal wiretapping).

The conservative movement which Bill Buckley helped found, along with Ronald Reagan, no longer exists except in the memories of us few older people who allowed Bill to challenge our thoughts and ideas. Modern Conservatism is controlled by the religious far right whose only agenda is overturning Roe v Wade, delegitimizing solid science, and controlling the actions of their neighbors both within and without our national borders. This ideology is completely antithetical to Bill Buckley’s idea of Conservatism.

Modern conservatism has evolved to embrace the “Joe six-pack” mentality as qualified to run our fiscal and foreign affairs, rather than choosing the best and brightest as Thomas Jefferson sought. Within modern conservatism, the great idea promulgated is hiring the most average, middling guy or gal around. One whom you’d want to have a beer with, rather than one with the education and intellect to deal with the enormously challenging issues of the day. As Kathleen Parker wrote in her National Review column:

The well-fed Right now cultivates ignorance as a political strategy and humiliates itself when its brightest sons seek sanctuary in the solitude of personal honor.

The truth few wish to utter is that the GOP has abandoned many conservatives, who mostly nurse their angst in private. Those chickens we keep hearing about have indeed come home to roost. Years of pandering to the extreme wing — the “kooks” the senior Buckley tried to separate from the right — have created a party no longer attentive to its principles.

Bill Buckley would be appalled. The conservative movement Bill Buckley sponsored, indeed, has been hijacked as many true Conservatives admit.

It is for these reasons, amongst many others, that I know I am on the right track in my endorsement of Sen. Obama.

Written by Valerie Curl

October 18, 2008 at 4:32 AM

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