August 02, 2015

President Reagan's Legacy: Lower Taxes Worldwide

In his column for the Investor's Business Daily's weekend edition, Stephen Moore asserts:

"The living legacy of Reaganomics, or supply-side economics, is that tax rates keep falling all over the world. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery.

"After Reagan cut the top marginal individual income tax rate from 70% in the late 1970s to 28% by the end of his presidency in 1989, a funny thing happened: Rates started falling like dominoes in nearly every corner of the globe. The punitive rates of 60%, 70% and more that were the worldwide norm in the '70s are today almost all gone — and seem as outdated as Bee Gees music.

"Consider evidence compiled by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The average personal income tax rate of industrialized countries in 1980 was 64%. It fell to 50% in 1995 and by 2010 stood at 41% — all in all, a decline of one-third."

And it's not just reducing individual tax rates. According to Moore, "Tax-cutting has been even more pronounced on the corporate side. Since the start of the Reagan era, the average rate in industrialized nations on corporate income has fallen nearly in half — from 48% to 25%."

Here's the basis for Moore's argument:

"Reagan changed the way the world looked at taxes as the U.S. economy experienced one of its strongest and longest booms, with 40 million new jobs created over the next 18 years. Bill Clinton raised income tax rates, but he also cut capital gains taxes to 20% from 28%.

"From 1982 to 2005, middle-class Americans' after-inflation income rose by nearly a third.

"The U.S. began sucking capital out of the economies of other nations as jobs and businesses flowed back to America. Other industrialized nations had to respond by cutting their tax rates in order to stem the outflow and keep their economies afloat.

"Yet this still isn't accepted wisdom . . . ."

Admittedly, there is no clear consensus on the Reagan-era tax cuts. For example, in a February 3, 2011 Washington Times article, Stephen Dinan quotes a critic who has just published a book on President Reagan:

“If you look at the specifics of his agenda — cutting federal spending — well, he didn’t. … He readjusted [taxes] somewhat, but total federal tax takes were the same when he left office as when he came in,” said Michael Schaller, a professor at the University of Arizona who has just published a book, “Ronald Reagan.” “Somehow those details are forgotten, and what we tend to remember is the ceremonial president who tends to evoke a sense of pride and can-do spirit.”

“Parts of him have aged very well — the Reagan image. Even I, who disagreed with almost all the substance of his policies, have come to have a higher regard for his skills. I think those will last, you can’t deny them,” Mr. Schaller said. “The public Reagan is probably here to stay, like the public FDR, the public Teddy Roosevelt. That’s pretty well enshrined now. I think the substance of the policy is still much contested.”

A September 12, 2010 article at CNN*Money reminds us "it's worth considering just what Reagan did -- and didn't do -- as lawmakers grapple with many of the same issues that their 1980s counterparts faced: a deep recession, high deficits and a rip-roaring political divide over taxes."

It's also important to recognize that, as the Regan Foundation reminds us, when President Reagan took the oath of office on January 20, 1981, "the country was experiencing some of (the) bleakest economic times since the Depression. Taxes were high, unemployment was high, interest rates were high and the national spirit was low."

Peter Sperry, an economics fellow at the Heritage Foundation, wrote a more extensive Backgrounder (No. 1414, March 1, 2001) on the Reagan economic record. He also points to another Backgrounder (No. 1415, March 5, 2001) on tax rates and class warfare.

The Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation (IRET0 published a 34-page Policy Bulletin (No. 102, November 11, 2011) on Reagan era tax policies, and includes the modeling of the Reagan tax changes. It includes numerous tables and charts.

Thomas Sowell weighed in with a paper in 2012, published by the Hoover Institution (Publication No. 635), that dealt with the "trickle down" theory and "tax cuts for the rich" -- terms used by the left to argue against Reagan tax cuts.

A search at the Tax Foundation produces a list of documents on Reagan tax cuts, includinga comparison of Kennedy, Reagan, and Bus tax cuts, by William Ahern, (Fiscal Fact 15, August 24, 2004).

Finally, there's this short study, dated approximately 1994, from Congress' Joint Economic Committee (JEC) on the Reagan tax cuts, which provides lessons for tax reform.

August 01, 2015

Crisis and the Continued Sustainability of Medicare

The Washington Examiner's Barbara Boland reported on President Obama's weekly address this morning, noting President Obama used his weekly address t o celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid. She specifically noted:

"According to Obama, those who say "Medicare and Medicaid are in crisis" are doing so as "a political excuse to cut their funding, privatize them, or phase them out entirely."

A video of the President's address, including a transcript, is available at RealClearPolitics. Here's the complete paragraph of what he said about Medicare and Medicaid being in crisis:

"And a great country keeps the promises it makes. Today, we’re often told that Medicare and Medicaid are in crisis. But that’s usually a political excuse to cut their funding, privatize them, or phase them out entirely -- all of which would undermine their core guarantee. The truth is, these programs aren’t in crisis. Nor have they kept us from cutting our deficits by two-thirds since I took office. What is true is that every month, another 250,000 Americans turn 65 years old, and become eligible for Medicare. And we all deserve a health care system that delivers efficient, high-quality care. So to keep these programs strong, we’ll have to make smart changes over time, just like we always have."

Let's take a look at where the truth lies. In an editorial last week, after Medicare's latest annual report was released, Investor's Business Daily (IBD) wrote:

"President Obama's top economists, Jeff Zients and Jason Furman, claim that the new Medicare Trustees Report "confirms the major progress that has been made in recent years in improving the financial position of the Medicare program."

"Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will remain solvent until 2030, they say, which is 13 years longer than it was before ObamaCare. Plus, they say, growth in per-beneficiary spending was just 2.3% last year, "less than one-half of the 5.5 average rate from 2000 to 2010."

"But this sunny outlook doesn't stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.

"Medicare is still a fiscal time bomb. As the nearby chart shows, its hospital insurance deficits will hit $110 billion in 2031 — the first year after its trust fund runs out of money. Annual deficits will eventually top $1 trillion a year.

"Even that is a fantasy, since it assumes ObamaCare's steep Medicare provider payment cuts actually happen. Even Medicare's trustees are skeptical.

"Buried in an appendix, the report admits that "there is substantial uncertainty" regarding the likelihood that those cuts will be feasible. (link in the original)

"They are so deep, the report says, that what Medicare pays will "fall increasingly below providers' costs." By 2019, for example, as many as 15% of hospitals will have negative Medicare margins, it says. And the only way to avoid such massive losses would be for doctors and hospitals to "generate and sustain unprecedented levels of productivity gains."

Note footnote 3 on page 4 of that Trustees Report, which says in part, "At the request of the Trustees, the Office of the Actuary at CMS has prepared a set of  illustrative Medicare projects under a hypothetical modification to current law."

In its conclusion, IBD's editorial said, "Medicare remains in financial jeopardy and is in need of serious reform. Any politician who pretends otherwise is doing taxpayers and retirees a huge disservice."

Along the same line, in an article posted at Economics21, Charles Blahous, recently a Social Security and Medicare public trustee and senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, writes that Medicare "is on an unsustainable path." Although quite detailed, Blahous provides several helpful charts. For example, one chart shows Medicare's declining worker/beneficiary ration -- currently about 3.1, and headed towards 2.3 in 2035. A significant decrease from where it stood in 2007, i.e., 3.8.

The following chart from Charles Blahous' article shows that Medicare's HI Trust Fund ratio has dropped even from 2014 to 2015:

  

In her reporting for the Washington Examiner, Boland provided the following fiscal data:

"Medicare and Medicaid account for over a third of all U.S. health spending, and gross spending on Medicare in 2015 is expected to total $634 billion, reported Barron's. While spending on these programs started rather modestly in 1965, they have risen from 2 percent of GDP in 1985 to almost 5 percent in 2014.

"Unfunded liabilities like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security eat up 47% of Federal spending currently, and are projected to grow in the future as the baby-boomer generation retires and health care costs skyrocket, according to the Cato Institute, a D.C.-based think-tank. Medicare and Medicaid's "unfunded liabilities for the next 75 years exceed $45 trillion, nearly three times the officially acknowledged national debt," Barron's reported." (link in the original)

Shannon Muchmore provides a more readable article at ModernHealthcare.com. An Associated Press report is posted at ABC News. Finally, the Wall Street Journal says the outlook (behind the WSJ's paywall) of the two entitlement programs are "better but still bleak."

Take a few minutes, and write to your member of Congress to find out what they are doing to make Social Security and Medicare sustainable. We've provided contact information for members of Congress when we growled on July 24, 2015 and in our June 16, 2015 Growls.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (8/2/15) At the American Thinker blog today, Rick Moran concludes his post about the President's claim that Medicare and Medicaid are not in crisis this way:

"The president's assertion that these two, gargantuan federal health care programs are not in crisis is a lie. And unless something is done to put Medicare and Medicaid on a sustainable path, the two programs will end up busting the budget, crowding out funding for vital priorities like national defense, and failing to deliver on their promises of even minimum health care for seniors and the poor."

July 31, 2015

Another Controversial Arlington County Project?

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reports this morning, according to the headline, that "Opponents could mount ballot fight against fire-station relocation."

McCaffrey goes on to report:

"Opponents of the controversial proposal to relocate Arlington’s Fire Station #8 may have come up with a way to stop it – using the ballot box.

"At a July 30 community forum where county fire officials affirmed their desire to move the station from Lee Highway about a mile north to Old Dominion Drive, one critic reminded the audience that while funds to plan the station’s move are in the government’s hands, those for construction costs are not yet available.

"Arlington officials could place funds for the $12 million project on a public-safety bond referendum that will go to voters in November 2016. If that is the case, those opposed to moving the fire station out of the Hall’s Hill neighborhood could mobilize to try and defeat the bond.

"Odds would be long: Arlington voters have not turned down any county bond referendum since 1979, and most referendums pass with 75 percent or more of the vote."

McCaffrey also reported:

"The Arlington County Republican Committee in mid-July affirmed a resolution calling on the county government to carve any project valued at more than $25 million to its own individual referendum. But even if such a policy were to be adopted, it might not apply to the fire station; officials estimate construction costs for a new station at $12 million, although adding in a new headquarters for the Office of Emergency Management could push the total cost closer to the $25 million threshold."

One Arlington County taxpayer who attended last night's meeting reports that at least 300 citizens attended, and filled almost the entire gym.

Arlington County has set-up a webpage for "Fire Station #8 Future Location." Included are a fact sheet, maps, an ongoing list of questions and answers, meeting materials, and response time data. The third meeting is currently scheduled for September 9, 2015 at Yorktown High School. Be sure to sign-up for the e-mail alerts, though.

Growls readers who are Arlington County taxpayers concerned about the relocation of Fire Station #8 are urged to write or call the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130.

And tell them ACTA sent you!

UPDATE (8/2/15): The Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey posted a second story regarding the relocation of fire station #8 with a headline saying, "Many in Hall’s Hill still disillusioned with plan to move Arlington fire station." Here's the first several paragraphs although the entire article should be read:

"Another heavily-attended community meeting left most attendees still angry over both a proposal to move Fire Station #8 out of the Hall’s Hill neighborhood, and the community-engagement process surrounding the plan.

"“Pitting communities against one another? That seems like an old tactic from 60 years ago,” said Marguarite Reed Gooden, among those leading opposition to the proposed station move.

"Gooden was among about 150 people who descended on Langston-Brown Community Center in the heart of the historically black Hall’s Hill community July 30, as county officials again tried to explain their reasons for proposing to move the station from their neighborhood.

"County officials say the process remains open and no decision has been made, but many residents are convinced that is not the case.

“Is this a done deal?” asked Frank Wilson, a neighborhood resident and the longest serving School Board member in county history."

July 30, 2015

GDP Growth, or the Worst Economic Recovery in 70 Years?

The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis released the 2nd quarter 2015 gross domestic product (GDP) statistics this morning.

CNBC posted a Reuters report of that news, which carried the following lede:

"U.S. economic growth accelerated in the second quarter as a pick up in consumer spending offset the drag from soft business spending on equipment, suggesting a steady momentum that could bring the Federal Reserve closer to hiking interest rates this year.

"Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.3 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. First-quarter GDP, previously reported to have shrunk at a 0.2 percent pace, was revised up to show it rising at a 0.6 percent rate.

"The revision to first-quarter growth reflected steps taken by the government to refine the seasonal adjustment for some components of GDP, which economists said left residual seasonality in the data, as well as new source data."

A chart in the CNBC/Reuters report showed GDP changes for each quarter in 2013, 2014 and 2015 while the chart in the Washington Post report included the quarters for 2012.

Reports from Bloomberg, Fox News, and the Washington Post were similar.

An editorial posted this evening by Investor's Business Daily went one step further, however, by pointing out "the real story isn't found in these latest quarterly numbers. It's elsewhere in the report." They then continued:

"As it periodically does, the BEA revised previous years' GDP numbers, and what it found this time is that growth in almost every quarter since 2012 was weaker than it previously calculated.

"The result is that GDP growth from 2012 to 2014 was just 2%, not 2.3%. In dollar terms, the revisions cut more than $100 billion from the nation's economic pie.

"It also means that President Obama has presided over an economic recovery — now more than six years old — that is far worse than all the previous 10 stretching back 70 years. (emphasis added)

"Even President Bush's recovery from the 2001 recession — widely derided by Democrats and the press for being far too tepid — was stronger that Obama's. After 24 quarters, Obama's GDP is up a mere 13.3%. By this point in the Bush recovery, GDP had grown 18%.

"Looked at another way, if Obama's recovery had been merely average — that is, if it had kept pace with the average of the previous 10 — the nation's economy would be $2.07 trillion bigger.

"That works out to more than $17,000 in lost wealth per household thanks to Obama's subpar growth." (emphasis added)

The Wall Street Journal made much the same point in an editorial (beware WSJ paywall) with a subtitle saying, "New GDP revisions show the worst recovery in 70 years was even weaker." The WSJ's lede said:

"One measure of America’s lowered expectations is that so many economists cheered Thursday’s second quarter growth estimate of 2.3%. It’s a rebound from the first quarter slump! The consumer is resilient, net exports are up, the plow-horse marches on! All true, but those silver linings obscure the larger reality that six long years after the recession ended in June 2009 the American economy has become a slow-growth machine.

"That’s the story underscored by the annual government revisions in historical GDP that accompanied the second-quarter report. The news, which most Americans have long felt in slow-growing wages, is that the worst expansion in 70 years has been even weaker than we thought."

The following chart from the WSJ's report shows just how anemic the current economic recovery really is:

On the Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Tuesday, July 21, 2015, President Obama said, "The economy, by every metric, is better than when I came into office." After going through several sets of economic statistics, the Tampa Bay Times' PolitiFact.com's "ruling" was "Mostly False," saying:

"Obama said, "The economy, by every metric, is better than when I came into office."

"That claim is too sweeping. Certain measures of wages and income, the poverty rate and the duration of unemployment are all worse now than they were when Obama "came into office."

"The statement contains an element of truth but ignores facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False."

Enough said?

If you have a few minutes to spare, find out what your members of Congress are doing to build the base for an economic recovery that resembles the recoveries of the 1980's and 1990's than the current one.  We've provided contact information for members of Congress when we growled on July 24, 2015 and in our June 16, 2015 Growls.

And kudos to the editorials in both Investor's Business Daily and the Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE (8/1/15): At the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) blog, James Pethokoukis writes about alternative views of the anemic U.S. economy, and points out the most recent 10-year period is the first since 1945 without a single year of 3% growth. He also links to his weekly column.

July 29, 2015

Prosecution of White Collar Crime at 20-Year Low

A press release from Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University today, tells us (HT Investigative Reporters & Editors listserv):

"The federal prosecution of individuals charged with white collar crimes is significantly lower than it was 20 years ago, according to thousands of case-by case records analyzed by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the overall decline began under President Clinton, and indicate that for the full 2015 fiscal year under President Obama such prosecutions will be at their lowest level since 1995.

"As categorized by the Justice Department, white collar crime involves a wide range of actions such as health care fraud and the violation of tax, securities, federal procurement and other laws. The decline in such prosecutions does not necessarily indicate that white collar crime is on the wane but may reflect changing and sometimes unannounced enforcement priorities set by the executive branch and Congress.

"The records indicate that during the first nine months of FY 2015, the government brought 5,173 white collar crime prosecutions. If the monthly number of these kinds of cases continues at the same pace until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, the total will be only 6,897 such matters, about one third (36.8%) fewer than twenty years ago."

The press release then points to the full report, which provides information on "total filings and rankings for each federal district." The following chart comes from the report:

In looking at trends on the chart above, TRAC warns:

"The decline in federal white collar crime prosecutions does not necessarily indicate there has been a decline in white collar crime. Rather, it may reflect shifting enforcement policies by each of the administrations and the various agencies, the changing availabilities of essential staff and congressionally mandated alterations in the laws."

Perhaps more importantly than the 20-year trend chart above are Table 2 and Table 3 in the report, which provide a detailed look at the charges filed and top judicial districts, respectively.

Taxpayers interested in following the work of TRAC can obtain free monthly reports in "categories such as immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism." In addition, "TRAC's reports also monitor selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions through June 2015," visit this TRAC webpage.

The TRAC press release provides links where more detailed criminal information is available.

Just curious, but could any of the decline over the past few years be the result of chasing cops and "disparate impact," as suggested by a cyber-friend?

For the record, "TRAC is self-supporting and depends on foundation grants, individual contributions and subscription fees for the funding needed to obtain, analyze and publish the data we collect on the activities of the US Federal government."

Kudos to TRAC for their continuing efforts to provide the public with information about criminal enforcement. You can help support TRAC here.

Better yet, take a few minutes to learn what your members of Congress are doing about white collar crime. We've provided contact information for members of Congress when we growled on July 24, 2015 and in our June 16, 2015 Growls.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

July 28, 2015

National Healh Spending Jumps 5.5% in 2014

In a column for tomorrow's Investor's Business Daily, John Merline writes, "After trending downward since 2002, national health spending jumped 5.5% in 2014 — the steepest climb in seven years — as ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies took effect, according to the latest data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services."

Merline continues, writing:

"Spending by the federal government jumped 10.1% last year, compared with 3.5% in the private sector, the report shows.

"The finding runs counter to repeated boasts by President Obama that ObamaCare had ushered in the lowest rate of health spending growth in decades.

"CMS data show that between 2002 and 2009, the annual growth rate in spending dropped steadily from 9.6% to 3.8%, where it hovered until last year. Credit for the slowdown was attributed to previous Medicare reforms, the rapid growth in "health savings account" type plans, and in more recent years the recession and slow economic recovery.

"The latest forecast projects that annual spending increases will average 5.8% over the next decade, which the report, published in the journal Health Affairs, attributes to "the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansions, faster economic growth, and population aging."
In conclusion, Merlines says, "The report also notes that by 2024, the government will account for 47% of national health spending, up from 40% in 2007."

Sounds like time again to crack open my well-worn copy of James Bacon's "Boomergeddon: How Runaway Deficits and the Age Wave Will Bankrupt the Federal Government and Devastate Retirement for Baby Boomers Unless We Act Now."

As Jim explains at his popular blog, Bacon's Rebellion, "Boomergeddon is the day investors stop buying U.S. Treasuries — the day the U.S. government goes into default, the global economy is thrown into turmoil, the American empire begins to crumble, and the social safety net starts to unravel. Buy the book here."

Here are two book reviews of "Boomergeddon." One at Financial Post by Jonathan Chevreau.  Here's a second by Rick Sincere.

July 27, 2015

CAGW Names July Porker of the Month

Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) announced today that they have "named Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) its July Porker of the Month for his efforts to resurrect the wasteful Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank." CAGW justified their selection this way:

"The Ex-Im Bank is an independent government agency that was founded in 1934 to help encourage U.S. exports.  The bank provides taxpayer-backed direct loans, guarantees, and export credit insurance, which totaled $27.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2014.

"Rep. Fincher has a long and winding history with the bank.  Elected in 2010 as a Tea Party fiscal conservative, he voted against the bank in 2012.  But he now leads the coalition attempting to raise it from the dead. (emphasis added)

"Not only has Rep. Fincher flip-flopped, he has repeatedly made erroneous claims in defense of the bank.  In a July 15, 2015 speech on the floor of the House, Rep. Fincher claimed the bank, “supports about 200,000 jobs each year at no cost, let me repeat, no cost.”  That claim is often repeated by proponents of the bank.  However, a May 2014 Congressional Budget Office report found that when the fair value accounting method is used, Ex-Im Bank has an estimated 10-year cost of $2 billion.

"Rep. Fincher also defended his newfound support for Ex-Im as being about employment for small businesses.  “Back home in the district, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs,” Fincher said.  Once again, Rep. Fincher is pushing flawed arguments.  About two-thirds of the bank’s payouts went to only 10 businesses in 2013, some of which had profit margins in the hundreds of millions.  Stable, profitable companies such as Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, Dell, and Halliburton, have all received taxpayer support from the Ex-Im Bank despite having had no trouble securing private financing.

"The bank is also a haven for fraud.  A July 2014 review of Ex-Im Bank Office of Inspector General data by The Heritage Foundation found that between October 2007 and March 2014, there were 792 claims of fraud resulting in 124 investigations.  Since 2009, there have been 85 indictments for fraud, bribery, or other wrongdoing, with 48 criminal judgments issued.  That is among the many reasons why elimination of the Ex-Im Bank was included in Prime Cuts 2015.

"CAGW President Tom Schatz said, “CAGW was pleased when the Ex-Im Bank expired on June 30, 2015.  We had hoped Members of Congress who claimed to stand for fiscal discipline would follow through on their pledge to taxpayers, but Rep. Fincher has betrayed that commitment.  He campaigned one way and voted another way.  His efforts to resurrect the Ex-Im Bank should be defeated.”

CAGW's justification is fully documented; links provided in CAGW's announcement.

By the way, Rep. Fincher isn't alone in "flip-flopping" on the Ex-Im Bank. The Washington Post reported last Friday that President Obama is also a "flip-flopper," writing, "in a speech during Obama’s first presidential run in 2008, he called the bank 'little more than a fund for corporate welfare.'"

For the record, this once Tea Party conservative from Tennessee's 8th Congressional District has a score of 67% (D) from Conservative Review. The Tennessee House delegation includes three representatives with scores of 70% or higher (C and B).

Contact information for Rep. Fincher is available at Congress.gov. His office phone number on Capitol Hill is (202) 225-4714.

And kudos to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) for their continuing efforts to ferret out waste, fraud, and abuse.

August 2015
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Items in Growls are written by individual ACTA members and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, Inc. Please send comments about Growls to The Growl Meister