Paul Ryan's latest budget relies on even bigger unnamed savings
There's something breathtaking about any Paul Ryan budget. There are the savage cuts to healthcare and safety-net spending for the young and poor. The deep cuts to education, research, and infrastructure. The way current seniors are spared from any of this fiscal pain. The increased defense spending. And the tax cuts -- heavily tilted towards the rich, of course -- that will supposedly be paid for by eliminating loopholes.
It's this last bit that might be the most breathtaking. Ryan wants to radically simplify the tax code, and radically reduce rates in the process. His plan shrinks our seven brackets into two -- 10 and 25 percent -- while eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, the Obamacare taxes, and the expanded tax credits from the stimulus. On the corporate side, he wants to move to a territorial system, and lower the rate from 35 to 25 percent. Oh, and he wants revenue to average 18.8 percent of GDP for the next decade. The only way to do all of this is to radically cut tax expenditures too. But Ryan doesn't name a single expenditure he wants to cut. Instead, he bridges the gap with a magic tax reform asterisk.
This isn't a new magic trick for Ryan. It's just a bigger one. His tax plan hasn't changed from its previous iteration, but his revenue goal has. Ryan wants to keep the higher revenue level from Obamacare and the fiscal cliff deal without keeping those tax rates. That means his magic asterisk needs to be even more magic.
How much more magic? About a trillion dollars more.
Ryan's tax cuts would reduce revenue to a very low 15.5 percent of GDP over the next decade, according to the Tax Policy Center. But his revenue target for last year was 18.3 percent of GDP. Ryan said he would make up the difference by killing $5.6 trillion or so in tax breaks that he couldn't name. That was magical enough. But now he says he wants the same tax cuts and an extra 0.5 percent of GDP in revenue. That's about a $6.7 trillion hole. And remember, Ryan says his total budget -- tax reform and spending cuts -- will save $4.6 trillion the next 10 years. In other words, Ryan's magical savings are 146 percent of his overall savings.
This isn't a good trick. As Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress points out, there are only about $2 trillion worth of itemized deductions over the next decade. Ryan would also have to cut the big exclusions and preferences that litter the tax code to make his numbers add up.
[Glossary interlude: Itemized deductions for certain expenses, like home mortgage interest, reduce your taxable income according to your tax bracket; exclusions, like employer health care, exempt certain income from any tax at all; and preferences, like the like capital-gains rate, lower taxes for certain kinds of income.]
This is mathematically possible. But that doesn't make it politically possible.
The chart below from the Congressional Budget Office looks at the biggest loopholes, as a percent of GDP, over the next 10 years. Not surprisingly, the biggest ones are also the most popular. Ryan has to come up with $6.7 trillion in savings -- equal to 3.3 percent of GDP -- to make this work. And he's already ruled out ending the preference for capital gains (and probably, though not certainly, their exclusion at death).
This game of choose-your-own-tax-reform-adventure is quite difficult, impossible even, unless you get rid of the biggest loophole out there: the exclusion for employer-provided health care. But even if Ryan tax people's health care benefits, he isn't exactly left with easy choices. Would Ryan end the home mortgage interest deduction (just when the housing market is, barely, rebounding)? Or would he start taxing pension contributions -- think 401(k)s? Or maybe he'd eliminate the charitable deduction? Just about the only certainty here is he'd ditch the state and local tax deduction, since Republicans view that as a subsidy for high-tax, high-service blue states. But no matter what choices Ryan makes, he will almost certainly have to increase taxes on some middle-class households. It's just math.
You're not alone if you think magic is more fun than math. Paul Ryan certainly agrees.
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.”
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?
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.
After years of offshore production, General Electric is moving much of its far-flung appliance-manufacturing operations back home. It is not alone. An exploration of the startling, sustainable, just-getting-started return of industry to the United States.
For much of the past decade, General Electric’s storied Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky, appeared less like a monument to American manufacturing prowess than a memorial to it.
The very scale of the place seemed to underscore its irrelevance. Six factory buildings, each one the size of a large suburban shopping mall, line up neatly in a row. The parking lot in front of them measures a mile long and has its own traffic lights, built to control the chaos that once accompanied shift change. But in 2011, Appliance Park employed not even a tenth of the people it did in its heyday. The vast majority of the lot’s spaces were empty; the traffic lights looked forlorn.
In 1951, when General Electric designed the industrial park, the company’s ambition was as big as the place itself; GE didn’t build an appliance factory so much as an appliance city. Five of the six factory buildings were part of the original plan, and early on Appliance Park had a dedicated power plant, its own fire department, and the first computer ever used in a factory. The facility was so large that it got its own ZIP code (40225). It was the headquarters for GE’s appliance division, as well as the place where just about all of the appliances were made.
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.
After viewing news photographs from China for years, one of my favorite visual themes is "large crowds in formation."
After viewing news photographs from China for years, one of my favorite visual themes is "large crowd formations." Whether the subject is military parades or world-record attempts, mass exercises or enormous performances, the images are frequently remarkable. The masses of people can look beautiful or intimidating, projecting a sense of strength and abundance. Individuals can become pixels in a huge painting, or points on a grid, or echoes of each other in identical uniforms or costumes. I've gathered some of these images below, taken around China over the past several years. (Note: a few of these images can create a dizzying effect when viewed while scrolling, which is fun, but could be surprising.)
A settlement between five big financial companies and the federal government shows traders blithely and openly discussing their misdeeds.
Were they greedy, or were they just foolish?
It’s one of the big questions from the 2008 economic crisis that remains open to debate. Did the world’s banking system nearly collapse because financiers were grabbing money wherever they could, no matter the costs, or was it because bankers failed to understand the risks caused by a housing bubble and credit crunch?
In at least one case, there’s a ready answer: They were both greedy and foolish.
An agreement between five banks and the federal government, announced Wednesday, forces five banks to pay a combined $5.6 billion and plead guilty to rigging markets. Four banks—Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and the Royal Bank of Scotland—pled guilty to antitrust violations. UBS received immunity in the antitrust case, but will plead guilty to manipulating the London Interbank Offer Rate, or LIBOR, a benchmark interest measure. (An earlier federal agreement with UBS was rejected by a federal judge as too lenient.)
Even for people with generous insurance plans, a trip to an in-network doctor can result in thousands of dollars in unexpected charges. Can anything be done?
It shouldn’t take a Harvard expert in health policy to understand a doctor’s bill. But sometimes, it does. In August of last year, Liz was a medical student whose doctor found a lump on her tonsils. Her primary-care physician referred her to an in-network ear-nose-and-throat specialist.
Liz, who asked to go by her first name, expected the usual $20 copay. Instead, she was charged $219.90—wrongly, in her view—for separate physician and facility fees. Under the terms of her plan, Liz says, she should not have been responsible for those charges. After a polite letter to her (“Thank you for your recent grievance...”), Anthem Blue Cross upheld the charges.
A few months later, Liz convinced Anthem to wipe much of the bill. But here’s the thing: By that time, she was studying health policy as a master’s student at Harvard. “It took me hours of going over the insurance policy and hours of arguing with the insurance company over that insurance pamphlet,” she said. (Later, Liz realized she had been doubly insured that month—her Harvard insurance had already kicked in—and she got the other plan to take care of the remainder of the balance.)