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.
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal early on Saturday, centered 10 miles below the surface, less than 50 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. At least 1,100 are already reported to have been killed by the quake and subsequent avalanches triggered in the Himalayas. Historic buildings and temples were destroyed, leaving massive piles of debris in streets as rescue workers and neighbors work to find and help those still trapped beneath rubble. Below are images from the region of the immediate aftermath of one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Nepal in decades. (Editor's note, some of the images are graphic in nature.)
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
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.
Four hours after learning about Saturday's devastating earthquake in Nepal, I received a Facebook notification I had never seen before: Sonia, a journalist friend based in northern India, was "marked safe." An hour later, the same notification about a different friend popped up. Then another. Soon, several of my friends wrote that they, too, had learned via this strange new notification that their friends in Nepal were okay.
A few hours later, the mystery was solved. On Saturday afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on his timeline that the notifications came from Safety Check, a service the company launched last fall. "When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe," he wrote, "It's moments like this that being able to connect really matters."
After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”
“My brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who conducted a prime-time interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night. (Jenner indicated he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender dysphoria and personal identity, how they shaped his past and current relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about his gender identity.
During the interview, Sawyer made a conspicuous point of discussing broadly unfamiliar ideas about gender and sexuality to its audience. It didn't always go smoothly; her questions occasionally came off as awkward and tone-deaf. But she showed no lack of empathy.
Lots of conservatives talk a good game about how citizens should resist federal control and devolve power to local governments. Few of them are willing to put their convictions into action in quite the same way that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is.
The man who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff" was already in trouble with Uncle Sam, on trial for contempt of court in a U.S. district court. It was only once that was under way that Arpaio and his lawyer apparently had the idea to sic a private investigator on the wife of the federal judge hearing his case. That shows toughness. It shows a willingness to use unorthodox tactics to resist federal interference. It's also not especially bright.
Reporters in the courtroom describe a somewhat shocking scene. Lawyers had completed their questioning when Judge Murray Snow announced he had some questions for Arpaio. After a series of queries, Snow asked: "Are you aware that I've been investigated by anyone?"
Our patient—we’ll call him W.B.—is a 56-year-old father of three who, until last year, had always been healthy. He had worked his entire life, in jobs ranging from automotive repair to sales, taking great pride in providing for his family, even though doing so had recently meant combining three part-time positions. All of that ended in February 2014, when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness, ALS leads to the loss of all voluntary movement, difficulty breathing, and, in the end, death.
W.B.’s life was turned upside down by the diagnosis. But once the initial shock passed, he began researching his condition intensively. He learned that he was unlikely to survive five years, and that in the meantime his quality of life would diminish dramatically. With limited options, many patients retreat. But, quite bravely, W.B. had other ideas. After much consideration, he decided that if he was going to die, he would like to try to save another person’s life in the process, even if that person was a stranger. And so last May he approached the University of Wisconsin’s transplant program, where we are surgeons, as a prospective organ donor.
Today was the latest installment of the never-ending Clinton scandal saga, but it won’t be the last. Yet in some ways, the specifics are a distraction. The sale of access was designed into the post-2001 Clinton family finances from the start. Probably nobody will ever prove that this quid led to that quo … but there’s about a quarter-billion-dollar of quid heaped in plain sight and an equally impressive pile of quo, and it’s all been visible for years to anyone who cared to notice. As Jonathan Chait, who is no right-wing noise-machine operator, complained: “The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy.”
“All of this amounts to diddly-squat,” pronounced long-time Clinton associate James Carville when news broke that Hillary Clinton had erased huge numbers of emails. That may not be true: If any of the conduct in question proves illegal, destroying relevant records may also have run afoul of the law.
The editors of Smithsonian magazine have announced the winners of their 12th annual photo contest, selected from more than 26,500 entries. The winning photographs from from the competition's six categories are published below: The Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile. Also, a few finalists have been included as well. Captions were written by the photographers. Be sure to visit the contest page at Smithsonian.com to see all the winners and finalists.