Posts from November 2012

Workers & Economic Inequality

Graph: Why We Need Filibuster Reform

Post by: Benjamin Landy , on November 30, 2012

Update, 21 November 2013. The graph below has been revised to reflect data through the end of 2012.

The filibuster, once rare, has become a routine tool for partisan politicking. Between 1917 and 1970, only 58 motions for cloture were filed in the Senate (a decent proxy for filibuster threats), or about one per year. That number grew to more than 19 per year on average between 1971 and 1992 before doubling to 43 per year from 1993 through 2012. For the past three years, there has been nearly one filibuster per day that the Senate was in session.

Filibuster use since 1961 (updated, November 21, 2013)



Obama’s Opening Bid is Familiar and Sound

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse , on November 30, 2012

President Obama’s opening bid for negotiations resolving the “fiscal cliff” has surfaced, and the contours are both familiar and sound. The Washington Post and an unofficial outline drafted by Republican aides both suggest that the administration has essentially proposed its budget request for fiscal 2013. And the president’s latest budget offers a solid framework for navigating the fiscal obstacle course, as it would substantially moderate the pace of deficit reduction while making a responsible down payment on longer-term deficit reduction. 


Palestine Is a Non-Member Observer State: Why Are Israel and the United States So Upset?

Blog Post by: Thérèse Postel , on November 30, 2012

On November 30, the United Nations General Assembly voted to make Palestine a Non-member Observer State by an overwhelming number: 138 voting yes, 9 no votes, and 41 abstentions. Commentary on this latest development has ranged from potentially game-changing to meaningless and “symbolic,” while U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called it “unfortunate and counterproductive.” The United States and Israel say they are concerned that this new recognition of Palestine at the United Nations may derail the peace process even further. Let’s unpack their stated reasons.


Since When Do We Congratulate Ourselved Just for Not Going Over a Cliff?

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse , on November 19, 2012

Washington is fixated with the so-called fiscal cliff of legislated spending reductions and expiring tax cuts scheduled for 2013, which are projected to induce a recession if they materialize. As my colleague Josh Bivens and I have repeatedly explained in a series of recent papers and blog posts, this “cliff” simply represents the macroeconomic reality that budget deficits closing too quickly—thus public debt accumulating too slowly—will, if left unaddressed deep into 2013, push the U.S. economy into an austerity-induced recession. Last week, we released a paper, Navigating the Fiscal Obstacle Course, offering our policy recommendations for moderating the pace of deficit reduction and sustaining recovery by reshuffling various components of the fiscal obstacle course (cliff is a terrible metaphor, as it implies a false dichotomy). Now it’s worth zooming out and placing this debate in its proper context: in a depression.


Workers & Economic Inequality

Graph: How We Measure Poverty

Post by: Benjamin Landy , on November 15, 2012

After declaring a "war on poverty" in 1964, the Johnson administration enlisted the help of economist Mollie Orshansky to develop an absolute measure of poverty to evaluate the success of Great Society programs. Using research from the Department of Agriculture, Orshansky defined the poverty line as the cost of an “economy food plan” multiplied by three—in other words, the amount a family would need to spend less than a third of their income on milk and bread in 1963. Other expenses—like payroll tax, transportation, housing, education and health care—were not considered, nor were non-cash benefits like food stamps or housing subsidies.

Yet almost fifty years later, the Census Bureau still measures poverty the exact same way. So while we know that 46.2 million people—nearly one in six Americans—lived below the official poverty line last year ($22,811 for a family of four and $11,702 for an individual), it’s not immediately clear what that figure really means. Some, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, have taken advantage of this ambiguity to suggest that, because 96 percent of households can afford food and 92 percent have a microwave, “real material hardship . . . is limited.” But while the price of food remains more or less the same (and 1960s-era appliances are indeed ubiquitous), the cost of traditional middle class markers like homeownership, college education, and health care have skyrocketed. The official US poverty threshold has not kept pace with other costs


The Multilateral Agenda for Obama’s Second Term

Blog Post by: , on November 14, 2012

In his victory address on election night, Barack Obama broke a year-long silence on climate change to warn of "the destructive power of a warming planet." We are headed back to the United Nations negotiating table.

Hours later, the president's delegates in the U.N.'s disarmament committee voted to launch a new round of negotiations on a proposed global arms trade treaty. Washington had sidelined those talks in July, for fear the treaty's provisions might become an issue in the presidential campaign.


Workers & Economic Inequality

Navigating the Fiscal Obstacle Course

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse, Josh Bivens , on November 14, 2012

Tags: fiscal obstacle course, fiscal cliff, bush tax cuts

Navigating the Fiscal Obstacle Course: Supporting job creation with savings from ending the upper-income Bush-era tax cuts provides a specific, realistic roadmap for how policymakers can navigate the fiscal obstacle course in a way consistent with the broader goal of restoring full employment. Specifically, it explains the benefits of ending the upper-income Bush-era tax cuts and devoting half the savings to job-creation policies. TCF Budget Analyst Andrew Fieldhouse and EPI's Josh Bivens author the brief.


The Road Ahead

Blog Post by: , on November 13, 2012

When candidates recognize that they are about to lose an election, they and their key staff members tend to become radicalized. During the end game, often abandoned by fair weather friends and “the smart money,” they fall back on the true believers who sometimes turn out in huge numbers at rallies that seem to give the lie to polls showing almost certain losses ahead.


Workers & Economic Inequality

Graph: How to Go Over the Fiscal Cliff, Ctd.

Post by: Benjamin Landy , on November 12, 2012

Fiscal cliff components

Last month, we highlighted a report by TCF Fellow Andrew Fieldhouse and his EPI colleague Josh Bivens that suggests policymakers could soften much of the economic blow from the year-end "fiscal cliff" if they looked at the expiration of tax cuts and stimulus spending as a "fiscal obstacle course" composed of several separable policies, each with its own economic effects and unique cost-benefit analysis.

According to Fieldhouse and Bivens's research, policies like the costly Bush-era tax cuts for high income households can be wound down with minimal impact on GDP growth or employment. Others, like the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits, have larger multiplier effects and would induce outsized economic harm for comparatively meager deficit reduction.

Since each fiscal cliff component affects the economy in a different way, Fieldhouse and Bivens conclude that Congress could achieve both deficit reduction and sustained employment growth with just $415 billion of well-targeted stimulus, rather than the full $732 billion that the government would spend if the entire fiscal cliff was simply repealed.


Stuff and Nonsense

Blog Post by: , on November 12, 2012

Fox talk show host Bill O’Reilly made waves when, in the aftermath of the President’s reelection, he opined that the incumbent had secured victory because of the new majority of voters who wanted stuff from the government thought that they would get it from Obama. His remarks included a distinction between “traditional” Americans who wanted to be left alone by government and the spreading culture of entitlement embraced by these newer participants in the political process. He also stressed that “traditional” Americans were becoming a minority in their own country.


Foreign Policy

John Kerry or Jon Huntsman: Who Will Replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?

Blog Post by: Thérèse Postel , on November 9, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest aides reiterated on Wednesday that she plans to step down from her post even after President Obama won reelection. Although there is no exact timetable for Clinton’s departure, everyone is wondering: who will be her replacement? Below, I outline the three front-runners discussed for the seat, followed by three sleeper picks that would be wise choices for secretary of state by President Obama.


What Does President Obama’s Re-Election Mean for the “Fiscal Cliff”?

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse , on November 8, 2012

With the end of the 2012 election, policymakers’ focus will pivot to the so-called “fiscal cliff” of legislated spending reductions and expiring tax cuts scheduled for 2013, which are projected to induce a recession if they materialize. So what does President Barack Obama’s reelection imply for navigating the “fiscal cliff,” both in terms of his budgetary proposals’ economic impacts and their political viability?

The "fiscal cliff" exposes that the pace of deficit reduction must be moderated to sustain economic recovery. “Cliff," however, is a terrible metaphor because it implies a false dichotomy; we prefer “obstacle course” as the numerous separable policies should be weighed on their merits. A recent paper I coauthored with my colleague Josh Bivens concluded that the upper-income Bush-era tax cuts and recent estate tax cuts fail any reasonable cost-benefit analysis and should expire; these policies are the least supportive of jobs of all fiscal obstacle course components. Expiration of remaining stimulus measures—notably the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits—and looming spending cuts from last summer’s debt ceiling deal actually pose the gravest economic drags. And temporary stimulus could easily offset small economic headwinds from raising taxes. The president’s most recent budget request actually adheres closely to this framework.

On net, the president’s budget would increase the budget deficit for 2013 relative to the “current policy” baseline in which most expiring provisions are assumed to continue, which is important because this baseline includes sizable fiscal contraction that should be moderated (notably, the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits are assumed to expire). Increased government investment and spending would boost employment by about 1.1 million jobs in 2013, as we estimated in another recent paper. This amounts to substantially moderating the pace of deficit reduction for 2013.

The president’s budget request offers a solid framework for navigating the fiscal obstacle course, but what does his reelection imply for achieving these proposals?

The single area of broad bipartisan agreement between the administration and this Congress is that “sequestration” is terrible policy; to force Congress to compromise on balanced long-term deficit reduction (which failed), sequestration was intentionally designed as politically unpalatable and damaging. If conservatives’ opposition to sequestration’s defense cuts is sincere, the administration might negotiate repealing sequestration in the “lame duck” period between the election and year’s end. Democrats dominant strategy for ending the upper-income tax cuts is allowing all the tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012; it will be politically unviable for Republicans to block retroactive reinstatement of the “middle class” Bush tax cuts (covering 97 percent of households) and allowing them to lapse for a month or two will pose only a small (perhaps nonexistent) economic drag. Trading long-term deficit reduction for more near-term stimulus—perhaps through an overdue surface transportation reauthorization—only seems plausible in 2013, both in terms of pragmatic timeframes and Democrats’ improved Congressional landscape. And pushing for a deficit reduction “grand bargain,” only makes sense in the context of moderating the pace of deficit reduction and injecting hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus into the economy (on the scale of the American Jobs Act or, better yet, another Recovery Act) as that is the only way a bipartisan budget deal could successfully navigate the fiscal obstacle course—something the Bowles-Simpson report would completely fail to do.

Bottom line, this election offers policymakers a plausible roadmap for navigating the fiscal obstacle course and sustaining recovery.


Foreign Policy

Drugs and Corruption in Mexico—and in the United States

Blog Post by: Patrick Radden Keefe , on November 8, 2012

One pressing foreign policy problem that received not a single mention in the presidential debate on foreign policy two weeks ago was the security situation in our neighbor and third largest trading partner, Mexico. Mitt Romney’s tendency to stick a silver foot in his mouth squandered any electoral advantage he might have wrung from his family’s personal connection to Mexico, and Obama was borne to a second term in part by the Latino vote. The president also enjoyed a great advantage over Romney in popular opinion polls in Mexico. The changing demographics of the American electorate may mean that immigration reform becomes a policy priority in Obama’s second term, a welcome prospect for U.S.-Mexican relations. But Obama cannot afford to ignore the other, in some ways more urgent, dilemma of security and stability inside Mexico itself.


Social Insurance

Obama’s Re-Election Locks In Health Care Reform

Blog Post by: Charles R. Morris , on November 7, 2012

President Obama’s re-election has ensured that his signature legislative accomplishment—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—will not be stillborn.  The challenge now is to get it out of the neonatal unit and up and running on its own feet.


Workers & Economic Inequality

The Next Steps for Progressivism in Obama’s Second Term

Blog Post by: Greg Anrig , on November 7, 2012

Can progressive goals be meaningfully advanced during re-elected President Barack Obama’s second term, or will continued trench warfare over federal budget deficits subvert efforts to build on his first-term accomplishments? With Senate Democrats still well short of the 60 votes required to break a filibuster, and the House remaining in solid control of Republicans deeply hostile to government, prospects for major new federal legislation seem poor. But by concentrating his energies outside of Washington, shining the light on examples of how his first-term policies are positively affecting average Americans, Obama can further rebuild public support for government and lay the groundwork for more ambitious future initiatives.


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