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Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Obama now concerned with the deficit?

President Obama, Socialism / Marxism, TAXES, THE ECONOMY

 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/us/politics/22budget.html?_r=1

Obama Planning to Slash Deficit, Despite Stimulus Spending

 WASHINGTON — After a string of costly bailout and stimulus measures, President Obama will set a goal this week to cut the annual deficit at least in half by the end of his term, administration officials said. The reduction would come in large part through Iraq troop withdrawals and higher taxes on the wealthy.

 

Mr. Obama’s budget outline, which he will release on Thursday, will also confirm his intention to deliver this year on ambitious campaign promises on health care and energy policy.

The president inherited a deficit for 2009 of about $1.2 trillion, which will rise to more than $1.5 trillion, given initial spending from his recently enacted stimulus package. His budget blueprint for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, will include a 10-year projection showing the annual deficit declining to $533 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, the last year of his term, officials said.

While that suggests a two-thirds reduction, exceeding Mr. Obama’s goal of at least half, advisers note that the current deficit as a starting point is inflated by one-time expenses to stimulate the economy.

Measured against the size of the economy, the projected $533 billion shortfall for 2013 would mean a reduction from a deficit equal to more than 10 percent of the gross domestic product — larger than any deficit since World War II — to 3 percent, which is the level that economists generally consider sustainable. Mr. Obama will project deficits at about that level through 2019, aides said.

In his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, Mr. Obama said his first budget was “sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting, and lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don’t, and restoring fiscal discipline.”

“We can’t generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control,” he added.

The president will propose to tax the investment income of hedge fund and private equity partners at ordinary income tax rates, which are now as high as 35 percent and could return to 39.6 percent under his plans, instead of at the capital gains rate, which is 15 percent at most.

Senior Democrats in Congress joined with Republicans in 2007 to oppose that increase. But with Wall Street discredited and lucrative executive compensation a political target, the provision could prove more popular among lawmakers.

Mr. Obama will also call for letting the Bush tax cuts on income, dividends and capital gains lapse after 2010 for individuals who make more than $250,000 a year. But while the top rate for income would rise to 39.6 percent, the top rate for capital gains and dividends would be 20 percent.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama called for immediately repealing those tax cuts. He decided instead to keep them in place through 2010, as scheduled, reflecting the widespread belief that raising taxes further depresses economic activity.

As for war costs, Mr. Obama’s campaign projected that withdrawing combat troops from Iraq would save about $90 billion a year. But it is not clear how much any savings would be offset by increased spending in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama has ordered an additional 17,000 troops, bringing the total there to 56,000.

The budget will provide the first clues to how Mr. Obama will reassert fiscal discipline after signing into law a $787 billion economic recovery plan. As difficult as cutting the deficits will be, much of the reduction by the end of his term will simply reflect an end to spending from the two-year stimulus package and — assuming the economy recovers — higher tax revenues and lower expenditures for safety-net programs like unemployment compensation.

Mr. Obama will propose cutting a variety of programs, including the Medicare Advantage subsidies for insurance companies that cover seniors who can otherwise acquire health coverage directly from the government. Another target is spending on private contractors, especially for defense, which spiked during the Bush administration. And he will scale back some promises, including his proposal to double money for foreign aid.

The budget on Thursday will come amid a week of reminders of the nation’s fiscal plight. On Monday Mr. Obama will hold a “fiscal responsibility summit” at the White House with members of Congress from both parties, economists, union leaders and business representatives. On Tuesday he will make a televised address to a joint session of Congress — the equivalent of a State of the Union speech for a new president — that advisers said would focus on the economy. Meanwhile, Congress will debate $410 billion in overdue appropriations for this fiscal year.

Yet Mr. Obama will inflate his challenge by forsaking several gimmicks that President Bush used to make deficits look smaller. He will include war costs in the budget; Mr. Bush did not, and instead sought supplemental money from Congress each year. Mr. Obama also will not count savings from laws that establish lower Medicare payments for doctors and expand the alternative minimum tax to hit more taxpayers — both of which Mr. Bush and Congress routinely took credit for, while knowing they would later waive the laws to raise doctors’ payments and limit the reach of the tax.

Full details of Mr. Obama’s budget for the 2010 fiscal year will be released in April. The outline on Thursday will make clear that he intends to push ahead on promises to contain health care costs and expand insurance coverage, and to move toward an energy cap-and-trade system for controlling emissions of gases blamed for climate change.

“The president believes there are essentially three areas that have to move forward even as we pare back elsewhere — health care, energy and education,” said David Axelrod, his senior adviser. “These are the bulwark of a strong economy moving forward.”

While some people have predicted that Mr. Obama would have to shelve his priorities given rising deficits, his determination to proceed, especially on health care, reflects his economic advisers’ conviction that the government cannot control its finances without reforming health care. The ballooning cost of health care, and thus Medicare and Medicaid, is the biggest factor behind projections of unsustainable deficits in coming decades.

“He wants to present an honest budget, he wants to focus on health care, and he will cut the deficit by at least half by the end of his first term,” Peter R. Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in an interview.

Mr. Obama will suggest in his budget that expanding health coverage to the more than 46 million uninsured can be done without adding to the deficit, both by making cost-saving changes in the delivery of care and by raising revenues. Advisers declined to identify the tax source.

Changes to the health care system will require investments in disease prevention programs, health information technology and research on cost-effective treatments, among other steps. Some money was included in the stimulus package. Even so, many health analysts believe big savings cannot be realized soon.

On energy policy, Mr. Obama’s budget will show new revenues by 2012 from his proposal to require companies to buy permits from the government for greenhouse gas emissions above a certain cap. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the permits would raise up to $300 billion a year by 2020.

Since companies would pass their costs on to customers, Mr. Obama would have the government use most of the revenues for relief to families to offset higher utility bills and related expenses. The remaining revenues would cover his proposals for $15 billion a year in spending and tax incentives to develop alternative energy.

Washington post:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/21/AR2009022100911_pf.html

 Obama's First Budget Seeks To Trim Deficit
Plan Would Cut War Spending, Increase Taxes on the Wealthy

By Lori Montgomery and Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 22, 2009; A01

President Obama is putting the finishing touches on an ambitious first budget that seeks to cut the federal deficit in half over the next four years, primarily by raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy and by slashing spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, administration officials said.

In addition to tackling a deficit swollen by the $787 billion stimulus package and other efforts to ease the nation's economic crisis, the budget blueprint will press aggressively for progress on the domestic agenda Obama outlined during the presidential campaign. This would include key changes to environmental policies and a major expansion of health coverage that he hopes to enact later this year.

A summary of Obama's budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October will be delivered to Congress on Thursday, with the complete, multi-hundred-page document to follow in April. But Obama plans to unveil his goals for scaling back record deficits and rebuilding the nation's costly and inefficient health care system tomorrow, when he addresses lawmakers and budget experts at a White House summit on restoring "fiscal responsibility" to Washington.

Yesterday in his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said he is determined to "get exploding deficits under control" and said his budget request is "sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting, and lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don't, and restoring fiscal discipline."

Reducing the deficit, he said, is critical: "We can't generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control."

Obama faces the long-term challenge of retirement and health programs that threaten to bankrupt the government years down the road, as well as the more immediate problem of deficits bloated by spending on the economy and financial system bailouts. His budget proposal takes aim at the short-term problem, administration officials said, but also would begin to address the nation's chronic budget imbalance by squeezing savings from federal health programs for the elderly and the poor.

Even before Congress approved the stimulus package this month, congressional budget analysts forecast that this year's deficit would approach $1.2 trillion -- 8.3 percent of the overall economy, the highest since World War II. With the stimulus and other expenses, some analysts say, the annual gap between federal spending and income could reach $2 trillion when the fiscal year ends in September.

Obama proposes to dramatically reduce those numbers, said White House budget director Peter Orszag: "We will cut the deficit in half by the end of the president's first term." The plan would keep the deficit hovering near $1 trillion in 2010 and 2011, but shows it dropping to $533 billion by 2013, he said -- still high but a more manageable 3 percent of the economy.

To get there, Obama proposes to cut spending and raise taxes. The savings would come primarily from "winding down the war" in Iraq, a senior administration official said. The budget assumes continued spending on "overseas military contingency operations" throughout Obama's presidency, the official said, but that number is lower than the nearly $190 billion budgeted for Iraq and Afghanistan last year.

Obama also seeks to increase tax collections, mainly by making good on his promise to eliminate some of the temporary tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. While the budget would keep the breaks that benefit middle-income families, it would eliminate them for wealthy taxpayers, defined as families earning more than $250,000 a year. Those tax breaks would be permitted to expire on schedule in 2011. That means the top tax rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the tax on capital gains would jump to 20 percent from 15 percent for wealthy filers and the tax on estates worth more than $3.5 million would be maintained at the current rate of 45 percent.

Obama also proposes "a fairly aggressive effort on tax enforcement" that would target corporate loopholes, the official said. And Obama's budget seeks to tax the earnings of hedge fund managers as normal income rather than at the lower 15 percent capital gains rate.

Overall, tax collections under the plan would rise from about 16 percent of the economy this year to 19 percent in 2013, while federal spending would drop from about 26 percent of the economy, another post-World War II high, to 22 percent.

Republicans, who are already painting Obama as a profligate spender, are laying plans to attack him on taxes as well. Even some nonpartisan observers question the wisdom of announcing a plan to raise taxes in the midst of a recession. But senior White House adviser David Axelrod said in an interview that the proposals reflect the ideas that won the election.

"This is consistent with what the president talked about throughout the campaign," and "restores some balance to the tax code in a way that protects the middle class," Axelrod said. "Most Americans will come out very well here."

The budget also puts in place the building blocks of what administration officials say will be a broad restructuring of the U.S. health system, an effort aimed at covering some of the estimated 46 million Americans who lack insurance while controlling costs and improving quality.

"The budget will kick off or facilitate a focus on getting health care done this year," the senior official said, adding that the White House is planning a health care summit. The event has been delayed by former senator Thomas A. Daschle's decision to withdraw from consideration as health secretary because of tax problems, a move that left Obama without a key member of his health team.

Administration officials and outside experts say the most likely path to revamping the health system is to begin with Medicare, the federal program for retirees and people with disabilities, and Medicaid, which serves the poor. Together, the two programs cover about 100 million people at a cost of $561 billion in 2007. Making policy changes in those programs -- such as rewarding physicians who computerize their medical records or paying doctors for results rather than procedures -- could improve care while generating long-term savings, experts say.

Obama's budget request would create "running room for health reform," the official said, by reducing spending on some health programs so the administration would have money to devote to initiatives to expand coverage. The biggest target is bonus payments to insurance companies that run managed-care programs under Medicare, known as Medicare Advantage.

The Bush-era program has attracted nearly a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries to private health insurance plans that cover a package of services such as doctor visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses. But the government pays the plans 13 to 17 percent more than it pays for traditional fee-for-service coverage, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress on Medicare financing issues.

Officials also are debating whether to permit people as young as 55 to purchase coverage through Medicare. That age group is particularly vulnerable in today's weakened economy, as many have lost jobs or seen insurance premiums rise rapidly. The cost would depend on whether recipients received a discount or were required to pay the full price.

In addition to the substantive proposals, Obama's team boasts of improving the budget process itself. For years, budget analysts complained that former president George W. Bush tried to make his deficits look smaller by excluding cost estimates for the war in Iraq and domestic disasters, minimizing the cost of payments to Medicare doctors and assuming that millions more families would pay the costly alternative minimum tax. Obama has banned those techniques, the senior official said.

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