Saturday, November 26, 2011

Forget Hillary Clinton, How to Balance the Budget by Doing Nothing

It Isn't Going to Happen
It seems that not a week goes by that some journalist or political commentator finds the need to discuss the possibility of President Obama dumping Vice President Joe Biden to put Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the ballot as his VP candidate in 2012.

The case goes something like this - Biden is flub-prone and doesn't do a lot for the ticket.  Secretary Clinton is wildly popular, as evidenced by a myriad of polls that show her respect.  Plus, you get the bonus of having the still-beloved ex-President Bill Clinton out, more actively fighting for the ticket.

All interesting, but it isn't going to happen.  It is nearly unprecedented for a sitting President to stand for re-election with a new Vice-President.  FDR did it, but it was after two full terms in office.  Gerald Ford ran with a different guy (Bob Dole) than the sitting VP (Nelson Rockefeller), but that was an unusual administration, as neither Ford nor Rockefeller had stood for election for either office (Ford had been appointed VP by President Nixon after Spiro Agnew's resignation in 1973, Rockefeller was appointed by Ford after taking the reins from Nixon after his Watergate resignation.)  McKinley ran for re-election with a new VP (one Teddy Roosevelt) but his original VP, Garrett Hobart, had died in office. 

To find a situation where a sitting President ran for a second term with a new VP candidate when his first-term VP candidate was still alive, you have to go all the way back to Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.  Simply put, it isn't done.

And with good reason.  Vice Presidents have only a marginal impact on Presidential races - after all, can you name one race that was largely decided on the basis of the VP candidate?  And don't say 2008 - Sarah Palin isn't what sunk John McCain, a sour economy did. 

What would the upside to President Obama be?  He would look disloyal and weak.  And that big benefit that Clinton would supposedly bring to the ticket?  Can you name a single swing state he would win BECAUSE of Clinton?  Does Clinton fundamentally change the key issues or the reasons President Obama has high disapproval numbers?  And does anyone really think Clinton would be as popular as she is now if she were a candidate for public office, re-subjected to the scrutiny the press reserves for politicians? 

It isn't going to happen, Pete Dupont (the former governor of Delaware and one-time Presidential aspirant, who is the latest to purvey this theory), so let's just stop talking about it.

The Solution: Do Nothing!
Think the deficit problem is incredibly complex and that the failure of the super committee just shows how intractable our deficit problem is?  Nonesense!

Let me show you how easy it is to balance the budget.  And our politicians don't even have to do a thing.

Here's the simple math.
This year's deficit is estimated to be around $1.099 trillion.

All you have to do is the following:
1. Let the Bush tax cuts expire (all of them) - $400B per year
That's right, the Bush tax cuts (really Bush-Obama cuts at this point) cost the treasury about $400B per year.  Of this, about $100B is associated with the cuts to the top bracket, the rest associated with the cuts to the Clinton bracket.  By doing nothing, and allowing the "temporary" cuts to expire at the end of this year, the treasury will collect approximately $400B more.

2. Let the Obama tax cuts expire - $110B per year
President Obama's "temporary" reduction in Social Security taxes by 2% for this year is costing the treasury $110B, as general revenues are being used to cover the gap in the social security trust fund.  Just allow the cut to expire, and that's $110B more in the coffers.

3. Don't extend unemployment benefits beyond statutory maximum - $44B per year
Under ordinary circumstances, people get unemployment benefits for 6 months.  Since the recession started, Congress has been routinely extending those benefits for 2 full years.  Stopping this practice would trim $44B in cost from the budget.

4. Allow the Iraq war to wind down - $159B per year
The Iraq war is costing us a lot of money in both direct costs to the military and costs to the contractors.  The troops are scheduled to leave.  This should be easy spend to wind down.

5. Don't "fix" the alternative minimum tax - $120B per year
The alternative minimum tax was created to keep the very wealthy from using loopholes to reduce their tax rate too far.  The AMT amount was not indexed to inflation, but Congress routinely passes "fixes" aimed to keep the AMT focused squarely on the very wealthy.  Allowing it to not index, as current law allows, would essentially take those same loopholes away from upper-middle class taxpayers.  This yields $120B per year in savings.

6. Allow the Sequester Cuts - $120B per year
Since the deficit panel failed, the automatic "sequester" cuts of $120B per year are scheduled to kick in in about 14 months, with 50% applying to defense and 50% applying to non-entitlement domestic spending.  These cuts happen automatically, unless Congress acts to change the law.

Total savings from doing nothing: $953B per year.

Okay, I didn't totally solve the deficit - there would still be a $146B shortfall.  But $146B is a mere 1.0% of GDP, a rate at which the overall debt would decline significantly (we can expect GDP growth plus inflation to be equal about 5-6%, even using conservative estimates, meaning a 4-5% reduction in the effective debt levels.)

The approach is balanced ($323B in spending cuts and $630B in tax "increases", with all the tax increases being the expiration of "temporary" cuts.)

And all the government has to do to make it happen is nothing.

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