Here's how the Bowles-Simpson, Obama, and Republican fiscal cliff plans match up
If you're reading this, it's probably too late to save yourself. We're already over the fiscal cliff plan cliff. That's a lot of cliffs, but it's not nearly as many cliffs as there are plans. From Domenici-Rivlin to Bowles-Simpson to just Bowles, there's a dizzying array of blueprints. It's bad enough that 25 percent of respondents told PPP polls they had an opinion about the Panetta-Burns plan. There is no Panetta-Burns plan. (At least not yet.)
It's not hard to imagine what Panetta-Burns would look like, if it actually existed. Like all the other debt plans, it would include the $1 trillion in discretionary spending savings from the Budget Control Act (BCA), aka the debt ceiling deal, and the $800 billion in savings from not fighting the wars anymore.
But you know what they say: the first $2 trillion is the easiest. It's the next $2 trillion or so where things get tricky. That's where the "plan" part of the plan comes in. The Center for American Progress and Domenici-Rivlin have both offered good blueprints, but let's focus on Bowles-Simpson as a model, because of its totemic status inside the Beltway. The chart below, courtesy of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, looks at the savings from Bowles-Simpson over the next decade that haven't already been enacted -- in other words, excluding the BCA. (Note: All amounts are in billions).
That's a lot of new taxes. Bowles and Simpson get their $2.6 trillion in new revenues by first assuming the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire -- that adds $800 billion or so to their baseline -- and only then embarking on the "fundamental tax reform" of lowering rates and broadening the base. And boy, do they broaden the base. Bowles-Simpson would turn the mortgage interest and charitable giving deductions into 12% nonrefundable credits, phase out the employer healthcare exclusion by 2038, tax municipal bonds, cap tax-preferred retirement contributions to $20,000 or 20 percent of income and eliminate all other tax expenditures. Oh, and they would tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income. Even with a top marginal rate of 28 percent, that's a lot more money coming into the IRS -- especially compared to President Obama's plan.
As you can see in the chart below, which is scaled to the Bowles-Simpson chart, Obama raises just over 60 percent as much revenue as those centrist, Gangnam-style dancing deficit cutters. Shariah socialism ain't what it used to be.
Obama would actually raise $1.6 trillion in new revenue, but that nets to $1.4 trillion after you include the $200 billion or so of additional stimulus he wants -- everything from extending unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut to new infrastructure projects and mass refinancings. The $1.6 trillion in new taxes would come exclusively from high earners, and it would come in two steps. First, it would let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, and then it would limit the size of deductions they can take. This is about as much money as Bowles-Simpson would raise from the rich, with their plan getting $1.25 trillion from the top 1 percent and $220 billion from the rest of the top 5 percent. On the cuts side, most of Obama's cuts come in healthcare spending, and most of those come from letting Medicare negotiate better drug prices and limiting payments to facilities like nursing homes, as Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post points out.
The Republican plan is about the same size as Obama's plan, but tilted more towards spending cuts -- and vagueness. The chart below, also scaled to the Bowles-Simpson one, breaks down Boehner's counteroffer.
This looks like a real plan, but it's more like a facsimile of a sketch of a real plan. Republicans say they're willing to increase revenues by $800 but they aren't willing to say how exactly. A $50,000 deduction cap like Romney proposed during the campaign would get them most of the way there, if they kept rates where they are now. But Republicans don't want to keep rates where they are now. They want to cut rates. That likely takes their tax plan into the realm of mathematical impossibility, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post points out. There's not much more specificity on the spending side. Republicans wants $600 billion in healthcare cuts, but they've only identified $100 billion or so of them -- that's how much money the Congressional Budget Office estimates raising the Medicare age to 67 would save over the next decade.
The chart below puts all of this together into one chart to rule them all, breaking down each of these three plans side-by-side. Let's see if we can make out the glimmer of a grand bargain.
There are three big questions, or stumbling blocks if you prefer, here.
1. How much revenue? Taxes will go back to their Clinton-era levels for everybody if January 1 comes and there is no deal. (Actually, they'll be a bit higher for high earners thanks to the 3.9 percent Obamacare surtax on capital gains). Will the Republicans really block a bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of households? And if not, will they sign off on cutting deductions for top earners?
2. Any more discretionary cuts? Republicans want more discretionary cuts. Obama thinks the BCA had all the discretionary cuts we need.
3. Which inflation? Republicans want to use smaller, chained CPI to calculate, among other things, Social Security benefits. In other words, cuts. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has tentatively endorsed this as part of a broader debt deal, so it's possible Obama might sign off on this.
It's not too hard to see the outlines of a grand bargain. A deal that raises $1.2 trillion in revenue -- halfway between Obama and Republicans, cuts $400-500 from Medicare between lower drug prices and means-testing, and adopts chained CPI for budget and benefit calculations -- without cutting discretionary spending anymore -- could get the job done.
Call it Panetta-Burns.
Bonus chart time! Here's the quick side-by-side of the Bowles-Simpson, Obama and Republican plans, scaled, of course.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
Some fans are complaining that Zack Snyder’s envisioning of the Man of Steel is too grim—but it’s less a departure than a return to the superhero’s roots.
Since the official teaser trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuted online in April, fans and critics alike have been discussing the kind of Superman Zack Snyder is going to depict in his Man of Steel sequel. The controversy stems from Snyder’s decision to cast Superman as a brooding, Dark Knight-like character, who cares more about beating up bad guys than saving people. The casting split has proved divisive among Superman fans: Some love the new incarnation, citing him as an edgier, more realistic version of the character.
But Snyder’s is a different Superman than the one fans grew up with, and many have no problem expressing their outrage over it. Even Mark Waid, the author of Superman: Birthright (one of the comics the original film is based on), voiced his concern about Man of Steel’s turn toward bleakness when it came out in 2013:
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
19 Kids and Counting built its reputation on preaching family values, but the mass-media platforms that made the family famous might also be their undoing.
On Thursday, news broke that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family's 19 children, had, as a teenager, allegedly molested five underage girls. Four of them, allegedly, were his sisters.
The information came to light because, in 2006—two years before 17 Kids and Counting first aired on TLC, and thus two years before the Duggars became reality-TV celebrities—the family recorded an appearance on TheOprah Winfrey Show. Before the taping, an anonymous source sent an email to Harpo warning the production company Josh’s alleged molestation. Harpo forwarded the email to authorities, triggering a police investigation (the Oprah appearance never aired). The news was reported this week by In Touch Weekly—after the magazine filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the police report on the case—and then confirmed by the Duggars in a statement posted on Facebook.
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
Why agriculture may someday take place in towers, not fields
A couple of Octobers ago, I found myself standing on a 5,000-acre cotton crop in the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas, shoulder-to-shoulder with a third-generation cotton farmer. He swept his arm across the flat, brown horizon of his field, which was at that moment being plowed by an industrial-sized picker—a toothy machine as tall as a house and operated by one man. The picker’s yields were being dropped into a giant pod to be delivered late that night to the local gin. And far beneath our feet, the Ogallala aquifer dwindled away at its frighteningly swift pace. When asked about this, the farmer spoke of reverse osmosis—the process of desalinating water—which he seemed to put his faith in, and which kept him unafraid of famine and permanent drought.
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
The mock metropolis is meant to have everything but people who live there.
Grigory Potemkin, the 18th-century war hero and nobleman, was also Catherine the Great’s lover and military advisor. According to ubiquitous legend, Potemkin fabricated villages along the banks of the Dnieper River in a bid to impress her. Historians aren’t convinced that Potemkin really constructed entire fake villages, their facades illuminated by enormous bonfires—but the concept may not be so far-fetched.
These days, when people talk about a Potemkin village, they’re usually referring to a ruse to make something appear better than it actually is. It’s a useful metaphor, but also a reflection of people’s fascination with fake cities and questions about the line between authenticity and artificiality in man-made environments.
Sean Wilentz discusses his latest book, "Bob Dylan in America," which describes the singer's influence on our nation's culture
Nearly half a century after he released his first album, Bob Dylan continues to release new albums (including, last year, a compilation of Christmas songs) and tour the country playing concerts. Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University and "historian-in-residence" at BobDylan.com, traces Dylan's influence on American culture in his new book, Bob Dylan in America. Here, he discusses how Dylan shaped his generation—and whether there's a similar artist in today's music scene.
The book is called Bob Dylan in America. What's Dylan's place in our nation's cultural history history?
He's the most important songwriter of the last 50 years, in a culture in which songwriting has always been a major force, a major component.