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.
About 10 years ago, after I’d graduated college but when I was still waitressing full-time, I attended an empowerment seminar. It was the kind of nebulous weekend-long event sold as helping people discover their dreams and unburden themselves from past trauma through honesty exercises and the encouragement to “be present.” But there was one moment I’ve never forgotten. The group leader, a man in his 40s, asked anyone in the room of 200 or so people who’d been sexually or physically abused to raise their hands. Six or seven hands tentatively went up. The leader instructed us to close our eyes, and asked the question again. Then he told us to open our eyes. Almost every hand in the room was raised.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Four decades ago Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the U.S., the original Star Wars movie was released in theaters, and much more.
Four decades ago Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the United States, the original Star Wars movie was released in theaters, the Trans-Alaska pipeline pumped its first barrels of oil, New York City suffered a massive blackout, Radio Shack introduced its new TRS-80 Micro Computer, Grace Jones was a disco queen, the Brazilian soccer star Pele played his “sayonara” game in Japan, and much more. Take a step into a visual time capsule now, for a brief look at the year 1977.
And there could be far-reaching consequences for the national economy too.
Four floors above a dull cinder-block lobby in a nondescript building at the Ohio State University, the doors of a slow-moving elevator open on an unexpectedly futuristic 10,000-square-foot laboratory bristling with technology. It’s a reveal reminiscent of a James Bond movie. In fact, the researchers who run this year-old, $750,000 lab at OSU’s Spine Research Institute resort often to Hollywood comparisons.
Thin beams of blue light shoot from 36 of the same kind of infrared motion cameras used to create lifelike characters for films like Avatar. In this case, the researchers are studying the movements of a volunteer fitted with sensors that track his skeleton and muscles as he bends and lifts. Among other things, they say, their work could lead to the kind of robotic exoskeletons imagined in the movie Aliens.
In the media world, as in so many other realms, there is a sharp discontinuity in the timeline: before the 2016 election, and after.
Things we thought we understood—narratives, data, software, news events—have had to be reinterpreted in light of Donald Trump’s surprising win as well as the continuing questions about the role that misinformation and disinformation played in his election.
Tech journalists covering Facebook had a duty to cover what was happening before, during, and after the election. Reporters tried to see past their often liberal political orientations and the unprecedented actions of Donald Trump to see how 2016 was playing out on the internet. Every component of the chaotic digital campaign has been reported on, here at The Atlantic, and elsewhere: Facebook’s enormous distribution power for political information, rapacious partisanship reinforced by distinct media information spheres, the increasing scourge of “viral” hoaxes and other kinds of misinformation that could propagate through those networks, and the Russian information ops agency.
How a seemingly innocuous phrase became a metonym for the skewed sexual politics of show business
The chorus of condemnation against Harvey Weinstein, as dozens of women have come forward to accuse the producer of serial sexual assault and harassment, has often turned on a quaint-sounding show-business cliché: the “casting couch.” Glenn Close, for instance, expressed her anger that “the ‘casting couch’ phenomenon, so to speak, is still a reality in our business and in the world.”
The casting couch—where, as the story goes, aspiring actresses had to trade sexual favors in order to win roles—has been a familiar image in Hollywood since the advent of the studio system in the 1920s and ’30s. Over time, the phrase has become emblematic of the way that sexual aggression has been normalized in an industry dominated by powerful men.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
For the first time, astronomers have detected visible light and gravitational waves from the same source, ushering in a new era in our attempt to understand the cosmos.
In September of 2015, astronomers detected, for the first time, gravitational waves, cosmic ripples that distort the very fabric of space and time. They came from a violent merger of two black holes somewhere in the universe, more than a billion light-years away from Earth. Astronomers observed the phenomenon again in December, and then again in November 2016, and then again in August of this year. The discoveries confirmed a century-old prediction by Albert Einstein, earned a Nobel prize, and ushered in a new field of astronomy.
But while astronomers could observe the effects of the waves in the sensitive instruments built to detect them, they couldn’t see the source. Black holes, as their name suggests, don’t emit any light. To directly observe the origin of gravitational waves, astronomers needed a different kind of collision to send the ripples Earth’s way. This summer, they finally got it.
A driver, a transportation official, and a transit advocate explain why Seattle recently saw one of the biggest citywide increases in passenger numbers.
Almost every major U.S. city has seen years of decline in bus ridership, but Seattle has been the exception in recent years. Between 2010 and 2014, Seattle experienced the biggest jump of any major U.S. city. At its peak in 2015, around 78,000 people, or about one in five Seattle workers, rode the bus to work.
That trend has cooled slightly since then, but Seattle continues to see increased overall transit ridership, bucking the national trend of decline. In 2016, Seattle saw transit ridership increase by 4.1 percent—only Houston and Milwaukee saw even half that increase in the same year.
Bus service is crucial to reducing emissions in the Seattle region. According to King County Metro, which serves the region, nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state come from transportation and its operation displaces roughly four times as many emissions as it generates, by taking cars off the road and reducing traffic congestion. The public transit authority has been recognized for its commitment to sustainability and its bus fleet is projected to be 100 percent hybrid or electric by 2018.
A small group of programmers wants to change how we code—before catastrophe strikes.
There were six hours during the night of April 10, 2014, when the entire population of Washington State had no 911 service. People who called for help got a busy signal. One Seattle woman dialed 911 at least 37 times while a stranger was trying to break into her house. When he finally crawled into her living room through a window, she picked up a kitchen knife. The man fled.
The 911 outage, at the time the largest ever reported, was traced to software running on a server in Englewood, Colorado. Operated by a systems provider named Intrado, the server kept a running counter of how many calls it had routed to 911 dispatchers around the country. Intrado programmers had set a threshold for how high the counter could go. They picked a number in the millions.