February 14, 2012
By Chuck Saletta
In last year’s Trustees Report, the Social Security Administration warned that the program’s trust fund was likely run out of money in 2036, leading to deep cuts in benefits. If that weren’t bad enough for anyone expecting to be alive then, a more recent projection from the Congressional Budget Office paints a much worse picture.
This year’s CBO report forecasts that by the end of this decade, the combined Social Security Old Age and Disability Trust Funds will be about $800 billion smaller than last year’s SSA projections. That’s a very substantial drop — and a sign that this year’s Trustees Report will likely bring another downward revision to the year it expects those Trust Funds to dry up and benefits to be cut.
August 13, 2010
By: Nile Gardener
The last few weeks have been a nightmare for President Obama, in a summer of discontent in the United States which has deeply unsettled the ruling liberal elites, so much so that even the Left has begun to turn against the White House. While the anti-establishment Tea Party movement has gained significant ground and is now a rising and powerful political force to be reckoned with, many of the president’s own supporters as well as independents are rapidly losing faith in Barack Obama, with open warfare breaking out between the White House and the left-wing of the Democratic Party. While conservatism in America grows stronger by the day, the forces of liberalism are growing increasingly weaker and divided.
Against this backdrop, the president’s approval ratings have been sliding dramatically all summer, with the latest Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking Poll of US voters dropping to minus 22 points, the lowest point so far for Barack Obama since taking office. While just 24 per cent of American voters strongly approve of the president’s job performance, almost twice that number, 46 per cent, strongly disapprove. According to Rasmussen, 65 per cent of voters believe the United States is going down the wrong track, including 70 per cent of independents.
The RealClearPolitics average of polls now has President Obama at over 50 per cent disapproval, a remarkably high figure for a president just 18 months into his first term. Strikingly, the latest USA Today/Gallup survey has the President on just 41 per cent approval, with 53 per cent disapproving.
There are an array of reasons behind the stunning decline and political fall of President Obama, chief among them fears over the current state of the US economy, with widespread concern over high levels of unemployment, the unstable housing market, and above all the towering budget deficit. Americans are increasingly rejecting President Obama’s big government solutions to America’s economic woes, which many fear will lead to the United States sharing the same fate as Greece.
Growing disillusionment with the Obama administration’s handling of the economy as well as health care and immigration has gone hand in hand with mounting unhappiness with the President’s aloof and imperial style of leadership, and a growing perception that he is out of touch with ordinary Americans, especially at a time of significant economic pain. Barack Obama’s striking absence of natural leadership ability (and blatant lack of experience) has played a big part in undermining his credibility with the US public, with his lacklustre handling of the Gulf oil spill coming under particularly intense fire.
On the national security and foreign policy front, President Obama has not fared any better. His leadership on the war in Afghanistan has been confused and at times lacking in conviction, and seemingly dictated by domestic political priorities rather than military and strategic goals. His overall foreign policy has been an appalling mess, with his flawed strategy of engagement of hostile regimes spectacularly backfiring. And as for the War on Terror, his administration has not even acknowledged it is fighting one.
Can it get any worse for President Obama? Undoubtedly yes. Here are 10 key reasons why the Obama presidency is in serious trouble, and why its prospects are unlikely to improve between now and the November mid-terms.
1. The Obama presidency is out of touch with the American people
In a previous post I noted how the Obama presidency increasingly resembles a modern-day Ancien Régime, extravagant, decaying and out of touch with ordinary Americans. The First Lady’s ill-conceived trip to Spain at a time of widespread economic hardship was symbolic of a White House that barely gives a second thought to public opinion on many issues, and frequently projects a distinctly elitist image. The “let them eat cake” approach didn’t play well over two centuries ago, and it won’t succeed today.
2. Most Americans don’t have confidence in the president’s leadership
This deficit of trust in Obama’s leadership is central to his decline. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, “nearly six in ten voters say they lack faith in the president to make the right decisions for the country”, and two thirds “say they are disillusioned with or angry about the way the federal government is working.” The poll showed that a staggering 58 per cent of Americans say they do not have confidence in the president’s decision-making, with just 42 per cent saying they do.
3. Obama fails to inspire
In contrast to the soaring rhetoric of his 2004 Convention speech in Boston which succeeded in impressing millions of television viewers at the time, America is no longer inspired by Barack Obama’s flat, monotonous and often dull presidential speeches and statements delivered via teleprompter. From his extraordinarily uninspiring Afghanistan speech at West Point to his flat State of the Union address, President Obama has failed to touch the heart of America. Even Jimmy Carter was more moving.
4. The United States is drowning in debt
The Congressional Budget Office Long-Term Budget Outlook offers a frightening picture of the scale of America’s national debt. Under its alternative fiscal scenario, the CBO projects that US debt could rise to 87 percent of GDP by 2020, 109 percent by 2025, and 185 percent in 2035. While much of Europe, led by Britain and Germany, are aggressively cutting their deficits, the Obama administration is actively growing America’s debt, and has no plan in place to avert a looming Greek-style financial crisis.
5. Obama’s Big Government message is falling flat
The relentless emphasis on bailouts and stimulus spending has done little to spur economic growth or create jobs, but has greatly advanced the power of the federal government in America. This is not an approach that is proving popular with the American public, and even most European governments have long ditched this tax and spend approach to saving their own economies.
6. Obama’s support for socialised health care is a huge political mistake
In an extraordinary act of political Harakiri, President Obama leant his full support to the hugely controversial, unpopular and divisive health care reform bill, with a monstrous price tag of $940 billion, whose repeal is now supported by 55 per cent of likely US voters. As I wrote at the time of its passing, the legislation is “a great leap forward by the United States towards a European-style vision of universal health care, which will only lead to soaring costs, higher taxes, and a surge in red tape for small businesses. This reckless legislation dramatically expands the power of the state over the lives of individuals, and could not be further from the vision of America’s founding fathers.”
7. Obama’s handling of the Gulf oil spill has been weak-kneed and indecisive
While much of the spilled oil in the Gulf has now been thankfully cleared up, the political damage for the White House will be long-lasting. Instead of showing real leadership on the matter by acing decisively and drawing upon offers of international support, the Obama administration settled on a more convenient strategy of relentlessly bashing an Anglo-American company while largely sitting on its hands. Significantly, a poll of Louisiana voters gave George W. Bush higher marks for his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with 62 percent disapproving of Obama’s performance on the Gulf oil spill.
8. US foreign policy is an embarrassing mess under the Obama administration
It is hard to think of a single foreign policy success for the Obama administration, but there have been plenty of missteps which have weakened American global power as well as the standing of the United States. The surrender to Moscow on Third Site missile defence, the failure to aggressively stand up to Iran’s nuclear programme, the decision to side with ousted Marxists in Honduras, the slap in the face for Great Britain over the Falklands, have all contributed to the image of a US administration completely out of its depth in international affairs. The Obama administration’s high risk strategy of appeasing America’s enemies while kicking traditional US allies has only succeeded in weakening the United States while strengthening her adversaries.
9. President Obama is muddled and confused on national security
From the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the War on Terror, President Obama’s leadership has often been muddled and confused. On Afghanistan he rightly sent tens of thousands of additional troops to the battlefield. At the same time however he bizarrely announced a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces beginning in July 2011, handing the initiative to the Taliban. On Iraq he has announced an end to combat operations and the withdrawal of all but 50,000 troops despite a recent upsurge in terrorist violence and political instability, and without the Iraqi military and police ready to take over. In addition he has ditched the concept of a War on Terror, replacing it with an Overseas Contingency Operation, hardly the right message to send in the midst of a long-war against Al-Qaeda.
10. Obama doesn’t believe in American greatness
Barack Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, and has made apologising for his country into an art form. In a speech to the United Nations last September he stated that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.” It is difficult to see how a US president who holds these views and does not even accept America’s greatness in history can actually lead the world’s only superpower with force and conviction.
There is a distinctly Titanic-like feel to the Obama presidency and it’s not hard to see why. The most left-wing president in modern American history has tried to force a highly interventionist, government-driven agenda that runs counter to the principles of free enterprise, individual freedom, and limited government that have made the United States the greatest power in the world, and the freest nation on earth.
This, combined with weak leadership both at home and abroad against the backdrop of tremendous economic uncertainty in an increasingly dangerous world, has contributed to a spectacular political collapse for a president once thought to be invincible. America at its core remains a deeply conservative nation, which cherishes its traditions and founding principles. President Obama is increasingly out of step with the American people, by advancing policies that undermine the United States as a global power, while undercutting America’s deep-seated love for freedom.
June 21, 2010
By Terence P. Jeffrey
Middle-class Americans–not the rich or the poor–pay the majority of annual tax revenues taken in by the federal government, according to data released in a new Congressional Budget Office study. Households earning less than $34,300 per year, meanwhile, actually pay a negative average federal income tax rate.
Middle-class households that earned between $34,300 and $141,900 paid 50.5 percent of all federal tax revenues in 2007 (the most recent year analyzed), according to the CBO study released Thursday, and households that earned between $34,300 and $352,900 paid 66.7 percent of all federal taxes.
Households in the top 1 percent for annual income (those earning more than $352,900) paid a healthy 28.1 percent of all federal taxes, but households in the lower income brackets paid relatively little. Those earning less than $34,300 paid only 5.2 percent of all federal taxes, and those earning less than $20,500 carried almost none of the federal tax burden (just 0.8 percent of the total) in 2007.
The average overall federal tax rate (including income, Social Security, Medicare, excise and other taxes) for all American households was 20.4 percent in 2007. But the average rate rose dramatically as household income rose. Households earning less than $34,300 paid an average overall federal tax rate of 10.6 percent, while households earning more than $74,700 paid an average overall federal tax rate of almost two and half times that much–25.1 percent.
When it comes to the federal income tax alone (as opposed to Social Security, Medicare, excise and other taxes) the lower income brackets actually paid a negative rate, thanks to programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit that paid people a “credit” for income taxes they never paid. The average federal income tax rate for households earning less than $34,300, according to the CBO, was -0.4 percent in 2007, and the average federal income tax rate for households earning less than $20,500 was -6.8 percent.
Over the past three decades, according to the CBO data, taxation has been getting more progressive, as the tax burden has lightened on lower income households while increasing on higher income households. During those three decades, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush signed laws cutting the top marginal income tax rates, but Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton signed laws increasing the rates.
The CBO divided the 116.9 million American households of 2007 into five roughly equal parts (quintiles) graded by income. The income range for the lowest quintile was $0 to $20,500; the second quintile, $20,500 to $34,300; the third quintile, $34,300 to $50,000; the fourth quintile, $50,000 to $74,700; and the fifth quintile, $74,700 and above. The share of overall federal taxes paid by each of the first four quintiles decreased from 1979 to 2007, while the share of overall federal taxes paid by the highest-income quintile increased, meaning the overall tax burden was shifting away from that class of Americans making less than $74,700 per year in 2007 toward those earning more.
May 4, 2010
by Robert P. Murphy
Social Security needs fixing, most analysts agree, but supposedly we had a few more years to work out the details. Now the crisis is upon us. This year, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it collects in employer and employee contributions, but the problems don’t stop there.
If the economy suffers a “double dip” — meaning the current recovery soon turns into recession — Social Security may never return to the black. Worse still, the “trust fund” is an accounting gimmick and doesn’t represent a genuine pool of savings. On top of all the other bleak news, Americans need to accept that Social Security is already broke.
Analysts have been warning that the annual surpluses — the difference between how much the government collects for the Social Security component of FICA versus the total benefits paid out in any given year — would gradually shrink to zero. It was inevitable that Social Security would eventually slide into deficit, because of the underlying demographics and because it was a Ponzi scheme from the beginning.
The first Social Security retirees collected benefits far in excess of what they paid in during their last working years. Over the decades, the chain-letter process continued: Current workers would pay for current retirees, and the only way to keep the system going was to hope that a new crop of young workers would arise to fund the next batch of retirees as they in turn started collecting checks.
Relatively fewer workers now support the population of retirees. The officially estimated year at which the system would go permanently into the red has bounced around, but the depth of the current recession took analysts by surprise. Because of high unemployment and early retirement, this year the system is already in deficit.
The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that Social Security will briefly return to the black in 2014 and 2015, before plunging — permanently — back into the red. Yet even this projection assumes that we will avoid another downturn.
Defenders of the current system argue that Social Security is still solvent, because of the $2.5 trillion “trust fund.” They argue that there is no emergency, because the system can draw down these savings to fund the annual deficits between payout and pay-in, allowing the system to stay afloat until 2037. Yet this is an illusion.
In past years, the Social Security system typically took in more revenues than it paid out. If the trustees had used those annual surpluses to buy, say, shares of mutual funds or bonds issued by foreign governments, then the accumulated $2.5 trillion in the trust fund would indeed provide a large cushion during which the system could be reformed.
Instead, the federal government raided the surplus and took that extra money and spent it. Of course, Uncle Sam is “good for it”; the Social Security trustees have $2.5 trillion worth of IOUs issued by the Treasury, and they will cover their annual deficits (at first) by selling off these assets.
Yet from the point of view of the taxpayer, the Social Security trust fund is an accounting gimmick. If an intern accidentally dropped the entire contents of the trust fund into a paper shredder, the taxpayer would be unaffected. Either way, taxpayers are on the hook for paying all the Social Security benefits.
In 2010, the crisis is upon us and we are still in search of a solution. Ultimately, the only way to fix the actuarial insolvency of Social Security will be to increase taxes, cut benefits or both.
February 4th, 2010
By Allan Sloan
Don’t look now. But even as the bank bailout is winding down, another huge bailout is starting, this time for the Social Security system.
A report from the Congressional Budget Office shows that for the first time in 25 years, Social Security is taking in less in taxes than it is spending on benefits.
Instead of helping to finance the rest of the government, as it has done for decades, our nation’s biggest social program needs help from the Treasury to keep benefit checks from bouncing — in other words, a taxpayer bailout.
No one has officially announced that Social Security will be cash-negative this year. But you can figure it out for yourself, as I did, by comparing two numbers in the recent federal budget update that the nonpartisan CBO issued last week.
The first number is $120 billion, the interest that Social Security will earn on its trust fund in fiscal 2010 (see page 74 of the CBO report). The second is $92 billion, the overall Social Security surplus for fiscal 2010 (see page 116).
This means that without the interest income, Social Security will be $28 billion in the hole this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Why disregard the interest? Because as people like me have said repeatedly over the years, the interest, which consists of Treasury IOUs that the Social Security trust fund gets on its holdings of government securities, doesn’t provide Social Security with any cash that it can use to pay its bills. The interest is merely an accounting entry with no economic significance.
Social Security hasn’t been cash-negative since the early 1980s, when it came so close to running out of money that it was making plans to stop sending out benefit checks. That led to the famous Greenspan Commission report, which recommended trimming benefits and raising taxes, which Congress did. Those actions produced hefty cash surpluses, which until this year have helped finance the rest of the government.
But even then, it was clear the surpluses would be temporary. Now, years earlier than projected, Social Security is adding to the government’s borrowing needs, even though the program still shows a surplus on paper.
If you go to the aforementioned pages in the CBO update and consult the tables on them, you see that the budget office projects smaller cash deficits (about $19 billion annually) for fiscal 2011 and 2012. Then the program approaches break-even for a while before the deficits resume.
Social Security currently provides more than half the income for a majority of retirees. Given the declines in stock prices and home values that have whacked millions of people, the program seems likely to become more important in the future as a source of retirement income, rather than less important.
It would have been a lot simpler to fix the system years ago, when we could have used Social Security’s cash surpluses to buy non-Treasury securities, such as government-backed mortgage bonds or high-grade corporates that would have helped cover future cash shortfalls. Now it’s too late.
Even though an economic recovery might produce some small, fleeting cash surpluses, Social Security’s days of being flush are over.
To be sure — three of the most dangerous words in journalism — the current Social Security cash deficits aren’t all that big, given that Social Security is a $700 billion program this year, and that the government expects to borrow about $1.5 trillion in fiscal 2010 to cover its other obligations, about the same as it borrowed in fiscal 2009.
But this year’s Social Security cash shortfall is a watershed event. Until this year, Social Security was a problem for the future. Now it’s a problem for the present.
August 25, 2009
The US budget deficit will soar to almost $1.6 trillion (£978bn) this year, the highest on record, both the White House and Congress have warned.
Fuelled by President Obama’s $787bn stimulus package and reduced tax revenues due to the recession, it compares with a $455bn deficit in 2008.
The White House says the deficit will grow further, predicting it will hit a cumulative $9tn from 2010-2019.
However, it continues to expect the US economy to start to recover this year.
The White House expects US unemployment to pass 10% this year, before slowly declining in 2010. The most recent official figures showed the rate at 9.4% in July.
‘Out of control’
The latest deficit predictions have come from the White House and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
“Overall, it underscores the dire fiscal situation that we inherited, and the need for serious steps to put our nation back on a sustainable fiscal path,” the White House’s Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag said.
Christina Romer, one of the president’s economic advisers, said the recession “was simply worse” than first predicted.
Republicans said the latest figures were a serious concern.
“The alarm bells on our nation’s fiscal condition have now become a siren,” said Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell.
“If anyone has any doubts that this burden on future generations is unsustainable, they’re gone – spending, borrowing and debt are out of control.”
Analysts said the latest deficit figures increased the likelihood of US tax rises once it is confirmed that the US has exited recession.
The CBO said such a move would be required.
“Putting the nation on a sustainable fiscal course will require some combination of lower spending and higher revenues than the amounts now projected,” it said.