Friday, December 10, 2010

Last Call

Don't look now, but gas prices have hit the $3 a gallon mark and are on the rise again.  But that's not the real news.

The average national price of gas rose over the last week to $2.98 a gallon, up from $2.90, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Although specialists say prices have probably peaked for the month, the price at the pump is now 35 cents a gallon higher than a year ago.

The Oil Price Information Service has estimated that consumers will pay $34 billion this month for gasoline, up from about $27.6 billion in December 2009 — money that might have been spent on holiday shopping.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said that retailers did not yet appear to have been significantly hurt by higher gasoline prices. “It doesn’t seem to matter that much because we are getting accelerating economic activity, which is an offset,” he said.

Mr. Niemira also noted that the top 20 percent of households with the most income accounted for nearly 40 percent of retail spending, and that group had benefited from a rising stock market over the last year

The rest of us don't have money to buy very many Christmas presents this year.  Perhaps the rising cost of gas thanks to oil speculation might have something to do with it.

Realignment Strategy

OK, I thought this was great.

The U.S Senate Alignment Chart.jpg

Going To The Dogs

If Obama is letting Big Dog pinch hit, you know things are deadly serious.  Bill Clinton spoke today in favor of the Obama tax deal, and if anybody can twist arms in favor of getting this thing done, it's him.  I honestly didn't expect Obama to play the Clinton card, but it means he's 100% committed to getting this deal through Congress.  Here's some of what the former President had to say:

I have reviewed this agreement that the president reached with Republican leaders, and I want to make full disclosure. You know, I make quite a bit of money now, so the position that the Republicans have urged will personally benefit me. And on its own, I wouldn't support it, because I don't think that my tax cut is the most economically efficient way to get the economy going again. But I don't want to be in the dark about the fact that I will receive the continuation of the tax rates.

However, the agreement taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans and to maximize the chances that the economic recovery will accelerate and create more jobs, and to minimize the chances that it will slip back -- which is what has happened in other financial collapses, like what Japan faced, and something that we have to avoid in America.

Why do I say that? Because clearly, the extension of unemployment [benefits] -- which gives people a percentage of the income they were previously making -- that money will be spent, and it will bolster the economy through the next couple of years. Secondly, the conversion of the Make Work Pay tax credit, which the President passed before, which went to 95 percent of the American people, converting that into a $120 billion one year payroll tax relief act is, according to all the economic analysis, the single most effective tax cut you can do to support economic activity. This will actually create a fair number of jobs. I expect it to lower the unemployment rate and keep us going.

Thirdly, one thing I haven't seen much about in the reports, this agreement will really help America over the long term, because it continues the credits for manufacturing jobs related to energy coming into America. And I'll remind you, just in the last two years, there have been 30 high powered battery factories, either opened or presently being built in America, taking us from 2 to 20 percent of the world's share of that, and we're gonna probably be at 40 percent by 2014. This is a really important thing, bringing manufacturing back to America, because it's a huge multiplier to create new jobs.

So in my opinion, this is a good bill, and I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it. I thank the Republican leaders for agreeing to include things that were important to the president. There's never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan. And we all see this differently. But I really believe this will be a significant net plus for the country. I also think that in general a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief that there's finally been some agreement on something.

He's got a point.  With unemployment benefits already expiring for people, there's a lot of urgency to get a deal done.  The larger point however is that the Republicans are the ones blocking legislation, and if it wasn't for their intransigence we wouldn't be in such a time crunch right now.   There are some good things in this deal.  The cost for some is high, but the cost of doing nothing is also massive if we allow legislation to expire.

It's good to see Obama using Clinton as a resource, but I have to openly wonder why it took until now to get the President to do this.  You've had two years.

Bernie Sanders Goes Old School

If you're going to filibuster, actually do it.

About three hours ago, just as he took the Senate floor, Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) staff, tweeted: "You can call what i am doing today whatever you want, you it [sic] call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech..."

And he's been speaking, almost uninterrupted, ever since.

It's a filibuster as filibusters were originally intended -- and, as such, makes a mockery of what the filibuster's become: a gimmick that allows a minority of senators to quietly impose supermajority requirements on any piece of legislation.

Joined at different times by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sanders has been decrying the Obama tax cut plan for bailing out the wealthiest people in America. "How can I get by on one house?" Sanders railed, sarcastically. "I need five houses, ten houses. I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We've got the money, we've got the power."

And he's doing what he feels needs to be done, even though I think this is a mistake, and that the Dems aren't going to get a better deal.

But at least he's standing on his principles and is trying to force negotiations.

Another Unkind Cut

At least they are waiting until after January, but TJ Maxx parent company TJX is laying off some 4,400 employees in 2011.

The company said the workers will hold their jobs through the holiday season and into late January. It plans to offer severance and other assistance to the workers.

"While I believe this move makes us a much stronger company and will benefit TJX in both the near-term and long-term, it was not an easy decision as many positions will be eliminated and it will be difficult for our affected associates," said Chief Executive Carol Meyrowitz, in a press release.

The Framingham, Mass.-based company also said it is converting 91 A.J. Wright stores into T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or HomeGoods stores. TJX will close the remaining 71 stores as well as A.J. Wright's two distribution centers and its home office, the company said.

No demand, no need for retailers, no retail jobs, lower demand as the survivors tighten their belts.  Fun, huh?

And on the cycle goes.

Can't Win For Losing

David Brooks thinks losing pretty much every vote on his agenda, being publicly rebuked by House Dems on the tax deal and people actually asking if Obama is still relevant meant a good week for the President.

The fact is, Obama and the Democrats have had an excellent week. The White House negotiators did an outstanding job for their side. With little leverage, they got not only the unemployment insurance, but also an Earned Income Tax Credit provision, a college scholarship provision and other Democratic goodies. With little leverage, they got a package that could win grudging praise from big-name liberal groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for American Progress.
Moreover, Obama has put himself in a position to govern again. The package is popular. According to the most recent Gallup numbers, 67 percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats support extending all the tax cuts. Higher numbers support extending the unemployment insurance. Obama is reminding independents why they liked him in the first place.

He only needs to work on two things. He needs to explain his method better than he did in his press conference. It is entirely consistent to support a policy and be willing to move off of it in exchange for a greater good or a necessary accommodation. That’s called real life.
Then he’s got to bring this networking style to the larger issues. It’s easy to cut a deal that explodes deficits. It’s harder to cut one that reduces them. But there are more networks waiting to be built: to reform the tax code; to reduce consumption and expand productivity; to reform entitlements.
Washington doesn’t know how to handle coalition-building anymore; you can see consternation and confusion all around. But did anybody think changing the tone was going to be easy? 

Only one problem there, Dave.

Obama didn't "get" any of those.  And Republicans blocked all the other things on his agenda all but killing them completely because they realized that Obama really does score a win for the reasons Brooks mentioned if he can get this deal worked out.  The deal will therefore be changed.  House Dems aren't going to move on the estate tax cut, and Republicans are increasingly against the payroll tax cut.

Compromise is needed, yes.  If this deal passed as is, it would be a good week for Obama, especially if that meant DREAM Act, DADT repeal, and START ratification was done as well.

But what Brooks still is incapable of understanding is that the Republicans will never allow such a win for Obama.  So it really doesn't matter what House Dems think in the end:  Senate Republicans will run out the clock no matter what Obama does and then the Republican House will introduce their own tax plan and force Obama to sign it or else.

I don't know how this counts as "compromise" but apparently Brooks is unaware of the definition of the term.

Triangulation Nation: Taxing My Patience Edition

All the serious problems facing this country right now and Barack Obama wants to use the fierce advocacy of the bully pulpit to...simplify the tax code?!?

President Obama is considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues in what would be his first major effort to begin addressing the long-term growth of the national debt.

While administration officials cautioned on Thursday that no decisions have been made and that any debate in Congress could take years, Mr. Obama has directed his economic team and Treasury Department analysts to review options for closing loopholes and simplifying income taxes for corporations and individuals, though the study of the corporate tax system is farther along, officials said.

The objective is to rid the code of its complex buildup of deductions, credits and exemptions, thereby broadening the base of taxes collected and allowing for lower rates — much like a bipartisan majority on Mr. Obama’s debt-reduction commission recommended last week in its final blueprint for reducing the debt through 2020.

Doing so would offer not only an opportunity to begin confronting the growth in the national debt but also a way to address warnings by American business that corporate tax rates and the costs of complying with the tax code are cutting into their global competitiveness.

Mr. Obama signaled his inclination in off-the-cuff remarks on Wednesday as he was defending the tax cuts deal negotiated with Congressional Republicans this week. “We’ve got to have tax reform,” he said.

Economic and political advisers say the process is in its early stages, and Mr. Obama ultimately could decide against such action, given the pitfalls, both political and substantive. In the past, any effort to alter the tax code has provoked powerful opposition among interest groups, and the picking of winners and losers.

Yet proponents within the administration and among some outside advisers say that Mr. Obama, by putting tax reform atop the national agenda, could seize an opportunity to take the offensive in dealing with the newly empowered Republicans in Congress, repair his strained relations with business and embrace a potentially powerful theme heading into his re-election campaign. 

I have to admit, the Times' Jackie Calmes does a laudably efficient job of packing in all the Villager tropes on this story in the first 300 words or so:  Bipartisanship Village style (giving into Republican demands),  the Catfood Commission are the smartest people on Earth,  it'll be good for his re-election campaign and my personal favorite, Obama needs to give businesses more because they are being crushed under taxation despite the fact that last quarter resulted in record nominal profits for them.

I'm not sure where the whole tax simplification thing came from as far as Obama's concerned, but you notice the Catfood Commission tax scheme (lowering taxes on the rich more than makes up for the deductions they'd lose, but the middle class would pay more due to lost deductions despite the lower rates, and the poor would pay more due to a higher rate) seems perfectly okay with Obama, at least in theory.  Thay may not be what he means, of course we have no numbers, but I don't hold it as a good sign.

The larger problem is the fact we have larger problems than simplifying the tax code right now.

Never The Right Time For Some

As I keep pointing out, two-thirds of America want to see DADT repealed.  Republicans keep saying "Oh yes, we support this."  Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the time to repeal is now as 70% of the military has no problem with letting openly gay military members serve.

And I expect Republicans to keep taking hostages.  It's what they do.  But Democrat Joe Manchin is a special case for opposing it in yesterday's vote.

Manchin said the Senate testimony from military branch chiefs last week -- most of whom said they were opposed to repealing the ban, but that they could implement it if asked to do so -- was part of his decision not to back repeal for the time being.

"My concerns, as highlighted in the recent defense survey and through the testimony of the service chiefs, are with the effect implementation of the repeal would have on our front line combat troops at this time," he said.

Manchin said he is "very sympathetic to those who passionately support the repeal," but added that he needs more time "to visit and hear the full range of viewpoints from the citizens of West Virginia."

Besides, Manchin added -- if supporters of repeal are upset with the Senate vote, they can always go talk to President Obama about ending DADT discharges with a stroke of his pen.

"While I may disagree with a repeal of DADT at this time, some believe that President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, if he so chooses, has the authority to suspend discharges under DADT, if he deems it a matter of national security," Manchin said. "If this is correct, and the President was to make such an order, while I may disagree with it, I would respect his authority as President to do so."

And he's right.  Of course, if Obama does do this (and he can) the next homophobic Republican President to come along will undo it immediately, hence the point of binding legislation.  Which Manchin can't bring himself to actually vote for, despite being "sympathetic".  He can't make a moral decision without talking to more of his constituents.

This is the same mealy-mouthed crap we keep hearing from "moderate" Republicans.  The timing is wrong, or more consultation is needed or I'm unsure, yadda yadda.

What's Joe Manchin's price for doing this?  What does he want for taking hostages?  Hey, give him some credit:  he's using what's worked for the Republicans for years now.


Related Posts with Thumbnails