President Barack Obama will urge Congress to postpone automatic spending reductions scheduled to begin March 1 as Senate Democrats debate options for replacing part of the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts.Will Republicans Wimp Out Again?
Obama will ask Congress to delay “deep, indiscriminate cuts to domestic and defense programs” in remarks scheduled for 1:15 p.m. today, according to a White House statement. “Uncertainty around the sequester is already having a negative impact on our economic growth,” according to the statement.
“The challenge we face right now is the fact that government spending is completely out of control,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said yesterday on the Senate floor. “So to focus on a tax of any kind is to miss the point entirely.”
In an interview on Bloomberg Television today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Democrats and the president have been “absent” in working toward fiscal discipline. “All we hear from this president is ‘we’ve got to raise people’s taxes.’ That’s just not the answer,” said the Virginia Republican.
Boehner of Ohio and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, both Republicans, have said they expect the full spending cuts to take effect.
While Defense Secretary Leon Panetta once called the automatic cuts a “doomsday mechanism,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in a Jan. 29 interview that it is “more likely than unlikely” they will take effect.
Defense programs would be cut by 7.3 percent, or $42.7 billion, during the last seven months of fiscal 2013. Non- defense budgets would be trimmed by $42.7 billion.
Many programs that Democrats care most about would be reduced. Obama’s Office of Management and Budget said the plan would make reductions of 2 percent to Medicare providers and 7.6 percent to non-defense programs such as temporary assistance for needy families.
The fly in the ointment of January's jobs report was the apparent shift to part-time work ahead of a key ObamaCare deadline.Not Unexpected
Although retail payrolls grew by 32,600, total hours worked in the industry dipped, Labor Department data out Friday showed.
The explanation? Rank-and-file retail workers logged the shortest workweek since early 2010: just 30.1 hours, on average, vs. 30.4 in December.
Remarkably, aggregate hours worked in the retail sector fell below their January 2012 level, even though industry payrolls are up 200,000 over that period. A similar trend showed up in leisure and hospitality: January payrolls rose by 23,000 even as aggregate hours dipped 0.3%.
We have mentioned before that the BEA is notoriously poor at recording turning points in the economy in "real time." The first quarter of 2008 was a classic example, initially being reported in "real time" as yet another quarter of sustained growth before being revised downward several times over some 40 months to become the first quarter of contraction leading into what we now call the "Great Recession." We fully expect that ultimately the surprising economic upturn seen in the 3Q-2012 data will largely vanish in future revisions.Real GDP
It is hard to look at these new numbers without at least some cynical thoughts about the reported numbers for the prior quarter. We were frankly astonished when the final numbers for the third quarter came in at a 3.09% "full recovery" growth rate, driven largely by unexplained increases in Federal spending, particularly in the Department of Defense (DOD) -- the timing of which was completely controlled by an Administration in serious need of positive pre-election economic headlines. The annualized rates of growth for defense spending rose to over 15% in 3Q-2012, only to magically reverse to a -15% annualized contraction rate in 4Q-2012 -- after the polls had closed.
To that last point: arguably the DOD was simply moving materiel acquisitions forward in anticipation/avoidance of "fiscal cliff" sequesters, with the economic impact of the contracting binge a mere side effect of bureaucratic hoarding. We should all hope that the context of any such timing shenanigans were more budgetary than political in nature.
At the Comptroller’s office, we’ve long championed the importance of transparency — giving the Texans we serve the information they need to make informed decisions and hold their government officials accountable.A Roadmap to Better
That’s why our office launched the Texas, It’s Your Money series of reports, which spotlights issues that hit Texans in their wallets: local taxes, government debt, education debt and public pension obligations. We’re committed to keeping the state’s books open, accessible and understandable for our citizens.
Sales Taxes and Property TaxesWill Work to Pay Debt
Since 1993, special purpose districts that levy sales tax have increased by more than 1,900 percent, which means that more entities are taxing you. In that same time period, the number of special purpose districts that levy property tax has grown by more than 45 percent, with the creation of more than 500 new districts of this type.
While local sales taxes increased by almost 170 percent from 1993 to 2011, property taxes grew by 188 percent from 1992 to 2010. Compare that to slightly more than 120 percent growth in combined population and inflation during those years.
Our local governments more than doubled their debt load in the last decade, amassing more than $7,500 in debt for every man, woman and child in the state. Between 2001 and 2011, the outstanding debt of Texas local governments rose more than twice as fast as inflation and population growth rates combined.
Total Local Outstanding Debt
Local Debt - Where We Fall Short
New debt often is approved by a small percentage of voters, who must make vital decisions about new debt with little information about its implications. And a large share of local debt — totaling $12.7 billion since 2005 — is issued through “certificates of obligation,” generally, without any voter approval.
Combined State and Local Debt
How Texas Can Do Better
You have a right to a full and complete disclosure of public debt. All government
entities should reveal all debt obligations on a public website, including the debt’s original stated purpose, the total amount of debt authorized, the issued and unissued amounts of authorized debt, spent and unspent amounts of issued debt and the per capita debt burden on taxpayers. Any ballot for new debt should be accompanied by a similar
You have a right to approve debt issued in your name. Texas should significantly narrow public governments’ authority to issue debt without voter approval, and revise the petition process to make it easier for taxpayers to compel a public vote on proposed debt.
In fiscal 2011, our public school debt was $63.6 billion, or $13,530 for every Texas student in a school district carrying debt. And while state college and university debt is lower, at $12.5 billion, that debt rose nearly eight times faster than enrollment in the last decade.
College Debt vs Enrollment
The bulk of Texas’ education debt supports the construction or renovation of school facilities. Yet Texas has no centralized source for information on current public school facilities, such as total square footage, square footage per student and total cost. To obtain such information, every district must be contacted individually. Construction costs also are not reported to any single entity, making it almost impossible to identify unreasonable costs on individual projects.
In addition—as with other debt—new debt often is approved by a small percentage of voters. It also is difficult for taxpayers to learn the full dimensions of debt in their area.
How Texas Can Do Better
You have a right to full and complete information on education debt. Every Texas school district should disclose on its website the cost and details of all construction and renovation projects, including actual square footage, total cost per student, total cost per square foot and square footage per student. Each district should also post an online inventory of all existing facilities, detailing available square footage, total student capacity and current student enrollment for each campus.
All ballots for new education debt should reveal all current and proposed debt obligations, including the amount of outstanding debt, existing debt service, amount of new debt and the average length of proposed debt obligations.
Too little public information on public pension finances is readily available. Many plans do not report their actual investment returns to the state’s Pension Review Board.
Several of the state’s largest pension plans also have “infinite amortization periods,” meaning that they can never eliminate their unfunded liabilities as currently structured.
Texas public pension plans cover 2.3 million active and retired members. As with most other investments globally, Texas public pension program earnings fell during the recent recession. Although plan assets have rebounded since 2010, overall they are still below pre-recession levels.
Most Proposals Have Bipartisan SupportSupport for Proposals by Political Affiliation
Although Democrats show more support than Republicans for each proposal, majorities of both partisan groups favor seven of the nine proposals. That includes nearly universal support among Republicans and Democrats for requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. A majority of Republicans also favor a ban on armor-piercing bullets and increasing penalties for straw purchasers, as well as the various school security, police funding, and mental health funding proposals tested.
The two proposals favored by majorities of Democrats, but not Republicans, relate to enacting bans on the sale of guns or ammunition.
It is amazing, but not at all surprising, that so many watch these videos and utterly fail to understand the message. The point is simple and should be uncontroversial – unless you are well trained, defending yourself with a gun in a live scenario is very difficult; your body and mind are not prepared for this. It doesn’t matter how often you go to the gun range or how heroic you imagine yourself to be. Going through the motions of protecting yourself, getting the gun out, then firing at the target (and ONLY at the target) does not happen naturally.GreenTom says ...
To the critics: nowhere does it imply that a gun will never be useful in defense. Obviously, if you are not in the immediate line of fire and can take cover, you will have more time to prepare yourself. But if the shooter is standing right in front of you, your odds are likely much lower than you think. And as far as anecdotal evidence goes, I’m sure 0% of you can actually say that you have been in such a situation and performed as flawlessly as your imagination would have you believe.
I’d agree this is kind of staged, but more rigorous studies show the same thing. Study below reports that people carrying weapons are about 5 times more likely to be shot than those who don’t carry. It’s funny, I predict a lot of negative reactions to this comment, but does anyone really claim that escalating a robbery to a gunfight isn’t a risky move?Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault
...Individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. Among gun assaults where the victim had at least some chance to resist, this adjusted odds ratio increased to 5.45.I commend Barry for taking a controversial stand on a controversial topic. Most bloggers stay away from controversial subjects, generally out of fear of offending readership. As my readers know full well, I will not shy away from controversial topics either.
Among a long list of issues facing the American public, guns are third only to gay marriage and abortion in terms of people who report that they are “not willing to listen to the other side.” In concert with this cultural rift, scholarly discussion over guns has been similarly contentious.1 Although scholars and the public agree that the roughly 100 000 shootings each year in the United States are a clear threat to health, uncertainty remains as to whether civilians armed with guns are, on average, protecting or endangering themselves from such shootings.
Baxter was conceived by Rodney Brooks, the Australian roboticist and artificial-intelligence expert who left MIT to build a $22,000 humanoid robot that can easily be programmed to do simple jobs that have never been automated before.60 Minutes Discusses Baxter
Brooks’s company, Rethink Robotics, says the robot will spark a “renaissance” in American manufacturing by helping small companies compete against low-wage offshore labor. Baxter will do that by accelerating a trend of factory efficiency that’s eliminated more jobs in the U.S. than overseas competition has. Of the approximately 5.8 million manufacturing jobs the U.S. lost between 2000 and 2010, according to McKinsey Global Institute, two-thirds were lost because of higher productivity and only 20 percent moved to places like China, Mexico, or Thailand.
The ultimate goal is for robots like Baxter to take over more complex tasks, such as fitting together parts on an electronics assembly line. “A couple more ticks of Moore’s Law and you’ve got automation that works more cheaply than Chinese labor does,” Andrew McAfee, an MIT researcher, predicted last year at a conference in Tucson, Arizona, where Baxter was discussed.
Baxter comes with two arms, a vision system, and 360° sonar (which it uses to detect people nearby), but for the cup-stacking job it will also need a specially designed gripper, which Rethink is now developing. Rethink is also developing software so that the robot can communicate with other machines, such as a conveyor belt, telling it to move forward or stop.
So how important will Baxter really be to Vanguard? Budnick couches his answer in baseball terminology. “Baxter is a potential double,” he says. “Maybe a home run if it can use both its arms.”
House Republicans plan to vote Jan. 23 on a three-month extension of U.S. borrowing authority in an effort to force the Democratic-led Senate to adopt a budget plan.Ryan's Cop-Out
“We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem,” Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement today at the end of the party’s private policy retreat at a resort near Williamsburg, Virginia.
A leadership aide said Republicans are dropping their insistence that a short-term extension be accompanied by a dollar-for-dollar spending cut.
A leadership aide said Republicans are dropping their insistence that a short-term extension be accompanied by a dollar-for-dollar spending cut.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement that the lack of a Senate-passed budget in the last several years was a “shameful record that needs to end this year.”
Political divisions in Congress pose limits to the ability of Republicans to achieve their long-term goals of deep cuts in spending, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters at the retreat yesterday.
“No one is talking about default, no one wants to default,” South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney, who voted against the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, said in an interview today with Bloomberg Television. There is a “lot of support growing” among the rank and file for a short-term debt limit, he said.
The comments by Mulvaney and Ryan reflected the new political realities following President Barack Obama’s re-election that are spurring House Republicans to reassess their goals.
Because of vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, slightly less driving, and the gas tax not being changed since 1993, the motor vehicle fuel tax, or “gas tax”, has failed to pay for everything that Congress has legislated that it should pay for. The Highway Trust Fund, which includes the Mass Transit Account, has received several infusions of money from the “general revenue fund” – to the tune of over $60 billion.Mindless Possibilities
But a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the congressional think tank focused on financing, past, present, and future, has made the country take a giant step forward in considering a switch to a fee that more accurately charges usage. The report, like all GAO studies, was commissioned by the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.
The gas tax charges drivers based on their use of petroleum, different vehicles can go different distances on the same amount of petroleum: essentially, some pay less than others for the same use of the road. Additionally, the counts of how much people drive has decreased (called vehicle miles traveled, or VMT), yet our demand for funds to maintain and build new infrastructure outpaces the incoming revenues from the gas tax. Lastly, the federal gas tax hasn’t changed at all, sticking to a cool 18.4 cents per gallon (for non-diesel drivers) since 1993. ”While the gas tax was equal to 17 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas when it was set at its current level in 1993, it is now only 5 percent” (Streetsblog).
The Simpson-Bowles Commission, convened by President Obama to find strategies to improve the country’s fiscal situation in 2010, “called for an immediate 15 cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax”.
An alternative to the gas tax is to charge people based on how much they drive, a mileage fee. This can be calculated in more than one way, and doesn’t require the use of a GPS system to track where people are going: pay-at-the-pump (or electric vehicle charging station), and prepaid, self-reporting system based on odometer readings.
An on-again, off-again move by the Obama administration to scrap the federal gas tax in favor of a pay-per-mile fee would boost the tab to Americans as high as 250 percent, raising their current tax of 18.4 cents a gallon to as high as 46 cents, according to a new government study.Obama Mulls Replacing Gas Tax With Hefty Mileage Tax
But without a tax increase, said the Government Accountability Office study, the government's highway fund is going to go dry. One reason the fund is going broke: President Obama's push for fuel efficient cars has resulted in better mileage, and fewer stops at the pump.
The GAO study is just the latest review of federal spending that paints a grim picture of the nation's infrastructure. Just keeping spending at current levels, the GAO said, would require a near doubling of the gas tax to 32 cents a gallon, and that would jump to as high as 46 cents should the federal government add spending to fix crumbling infrastructure and build new roads.
One reason gas prices are so high is that the Feds impose a tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gas. It’s 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel. We’ve had federal gas taxes since the 50’s to pay for highways and bridges, but since 1983, they started diverting about 20% of gas taxes to go to a Mass Transit Account that is supposed to pay for public transportation like buses and railways. So, those of us who don’t use mass transit are paying for those that do in the form of gas taxes. That’s socialism for you.
We’ve had the 18.4-cent per gallon tax since 1993 under the Clinton administration. Nowadays, with the further destruction of the dollar, that 18.4 cents just doesn’t buy what it used to. Now, the Highway Trust Fund (which includes the Mass Transit Account) is facing insolvency.
Some credit the loss of revenue to the fact that many are using more fuel-efficient cars and therefore not spending as much on gas. Isn’t that what Obama wanted? For people to use more “green” energy? And now, the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money.
That could be part of it, but billions of the gas tax revenues are used to fund pet mass transit projects, which those who drive cars generally don’t even use.
If states want to have public transportation, they should raise their own revenue and pay for it themselves instead of taking federal highway funds to build it. As for paying for highways and roads, we could cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Obama’s foreign policy expenditures and put those funds toward domestic infrastructure and not have to impose one penny of gas taxes to fund it.