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Video: United States Budget Dilemma

Published on Mar 14, 2012 by Hal Mason

ALARMING! Washington’s Dilemma!. Soaring debt and a budget Congress can’t balance. This VIDEO explains WHY. Every person in AMERICA should watch this video! Over 2.7 million VIEWS! http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget

The Real Fiscal Cliff

By: Peter Schiff
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The media is now fixated on an apparently new feature dominating the economic landscape: a “fiscal cliff” from which the United States will fall in January 2013. They see the danger arising from the simultaneous implementation of the $2 trillion in automatic spending cuts (spread over 10 years) agreed to in last year’s debt ceiling vote and the expiration of the Bush era tax cuts. The economists to whom most reporters listen warn that the combined impact of reduced government spending and higher taxes will slow the “recovery” and perhaps send the economy back into recession. While there is indeed much to worry about in our economy, this particular cliff is not high on the list.

Much of the fear stems from the false premise that government spending generates economic growth (for stories of countries experiencing real growth, see our latest newsletter). People tend to forget that the government can only get money from taxing, borrowing, or printing. Nothing the government spends comes for free. Money taxed or borrowed is taken out of the private sector, where it could have been used more productively. Printed money merely creates inflation. So the automatic spending cuts, to the extent they are actually allowed to go into effect, will promote economic growth not prevent it. Even most Republicans fall for the canard that spending can help the economy in general. But even those who don’t will surely do everything to avoid the political backlash from citizens on the losing end of any specific cuts.

The only reason the automatic spending cuts exist at all is that Congress lacked the integrity to identify specifics. Rest assured that Congress will likely engineer yet another escape hatch when it finds itself backed into a corner again. Repealing the cuts before they are even implemented will render laughable any subsequent deficit reduction plans. But politicians would always rather face frustration for inaction than outright anger for actual decisions. In truth though, only an extremely small portion of the cuts are scheduled to occur in 2013 anyway. If it comes to pass that Congress cannot even keep its spending cut promises for one year, how can they be expected to do so for ten?

The impact of the expiring Bush era tax cuts is much harder to assess. The adverse effects of the tax hikes could be offset by the benefits of reduced government borrowing (provided that the taxes actually result in increased revenue). But given the negative incentives created by higher marginal tax rates, particularly as they impact savings and capital investment, increased rates may actually result in less revenue, thereby widening the budget deficit.

In reality, the economy will encounter extremely dangerous terrain whether or not Congress figures out a way to wriggle out of the 2013 budgetary straightjacket. The debt burden that the United Stated will face when interest rates rise presents a much larger “fiscal cliff.” Unfortunately, no one is talking about that one.

The current national debt is about $16 trillion (this is just the funded portion…the unfunded liabilities of the Treasury are much, much larger). The only reason the United States is able to service this staggering level of debt is that the currently low interest rate on government debt (now below 2 per cent) keeps debt service payments to a relatively manageable $300 billion per year.

On the current trajectory the national debt will likely hit $20 trillion in a few years. If by that time interest rates were to return to some semblance of historic normalcy, say 5 per cent, interest payments on the debt would then run $1 trillion per year. This sum could represent almost 40 per cent of total federal revenues in 2012!

In addition to making the debt service unmanageable, higher rates would depress economic activity, thereby slowing tax collection and requiring increased government spending. This would increase the budget deficits further, putting even more upward pressure on interest rates. Higher mortgage rates and increased unemployment will put renewed downward pressure on home prices, perhaps leading to another large wave of foreclosures. My guess is that losses on government insured mortgages alone could add several hundred billion more to annual budget deficits. When all of these factors are taken into account, I believe that annual budget deficits could quickly approach, and exceed, $3 trillion. All this could be in the cards if interest rates were to approach a modest five per cent.

If the sheer enormity of the red ink were to finally worry our creditors, five per cent interest rates could quickly rise to ten. At those rates, the annual cost to pay the interest on the national debt could equal all federal tax revenues combined. If that occurs we will have to either slash federal spending across the board (including cuts to politically sensitive entitlements), raise taxes significantly on the poor and middle class (as well as the rich), default on the debt, or hit everyone with the sustained impact of high inflation. Now that’s a real fiscal cliff!

By foolishly borrowing so heavily when interest rates are low, our government is driving us toward this cliff with its eyes firmly glued to the rear view mirror (much as the new French regime appears to be doing). For years I have warned that a financial crisis would be triggered by the popping of the real estate bubble. My warnings were routinely ignored based on the near universal assumption that real estate prices would never fall. My warnings about the real fiscal cliff are also being ignored because of a similarly false premise that interest rates can never rise. However, if history can be a guide, we should view the current period of ultra-low rates as the exception rather than the rule.


Peter Schiff’s new book, The Real Crash: America’s Coming Bankruptcy – How to Save Yourself and Your Country is now available. Order your copy today.

For in-depth analysis of this and other investment topics, subscribe to Peter Schiff’s Global Investor newsletter. CLICK HERE for your free subscription.

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2013 Cliff Dive?

The election will determine whether a nasty dose of austerity can be avoided

https://i0.wp.com/media.economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/290-width/images/print-edition/20120505_USD002_0.jpg

May 5th 2012
WASHINGTON, DC

AMERICANS have watched austerity sweep Europe with a certain Schadenfreude. But eight months from now they may get a dose of the same medicine. The political compromises that have produced much of America’s deficit of 8% of GDP are programmed to go into reverse at the end of the year, two months after the election. A stimulus package consisting of a payroll-tax cut, investment tax credit and enhanced unemployment insurance expires then, as do George W. Bush’s tax cuts (which have already been extended by two years from their original end-date of 2010). At the same time an automatic, across-the-board cut in domestic and defense spending, called a “sequester”, takes effect, cutting about $100 billion from government spending next year.

The economic impact of this fiscal cliff is a matter of some debate. The Congressional Budget Office reckons that the combined effects of the sequester and the expiring tax cuts would add up to 3.6% of GDP in fiscal 2013. But David Greenlaw of Morgan Stanley, which puts the total effect at almost $700 billion at an annual rate, argues that the calendar-year impact is much larger, at around 5%. Others think the effect would be smaller, noting that some people will not experience the full tax hit until they file their returns in 2014.Even the lower estimates could easily be enough to tip the economy back into recession. Mr Greenlaw says the closest precedent was in 1968, when individual, corporate, excise and payroll taxes collectively rose by the equivalent of 3.1% of GDP, mostly to pay for the Vietnam war and to damp down inflation. The next year, the economy fell into recession.

In America in 1968, as in Europe today, austerity was an explicit goal. It is not so in America now. Although both parties seem prepared to let the stimulus measures expire, neither party wants all the Bush tax cuts to end, or the sequester to take effect. But since they have radically different ideas of what should take their place, the question cannot be settled until after the election.

If Barack Obama is re-elected, he will presumably be more willing to let the Bush cuts expire than he was during his first term. He may well not have to worry about the Treasury hitting its debt ceiling until next February. Republicans, who will probably still control the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate, may realize this. They may thus be more ready to strike a grand bargain—a deficit plan that both raises some new tax revenue and reduces the growth of entitlements, such as government-funded pensions.

But it would be hard to pass such complex changes by December 31st. At best, the two sides may agree on a framework for a bargain. They would then probably extend some or all of the Bush tax cuts and delay the sequester for a year. Yet there is no guarantee they would use that time wisely and reach a deal. Credit-rating agencies may well lose patience.

If Mitt Romney wins, Republicans, who would probably in that case control the Senate as well as the House, would have no incentive to negotiate with a lame-duck president. They would wait until Mr Romney is sworn in, then (retroactively) make the Bush tax cuts permanent, insulate defense spending from the sequester, and repeal Mr Obama’s health-care reform using a parliamentary process that cannot be filibustered. All that would take months. In the interim Mr Obama would presumably not, as his last act as president, extend the tax cuts he loathes so much or spare Republicans the pain of the sequester. The full force of unintended austerity would bite—for at least a few months.

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