Wonkbook: The ‘fiscal cliff’ — a faster fiscal contraction than Greece?

October 29, 2012

Wonkbook dashboard

RCP Obama vs. RomneyRomney +0.9%; 7-day change: Romney +1.1%.

RCP Obama approval48.7%; 7-day change: -0.6%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win62.9%; 7-day change: +1.4%.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 5.1 percent. That's the deficit reduction -- as a percentage of gross domestic product -- the United States will see if it goes off the fiscal cliff in 2013. That's a faster contraction, writes Tim Fernholz in Quartz, than we've seen in "Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, all countries where post-crisis austerity measures sent protestors into the streets and growth plunging."


(Petros Giannakouris / AP)

Top story: A faster fiscal contraction than Greece?

American masochism: The fiscal cliff is one of the most severe austerity policies in the world. "Absent new action, next year the US government's budget footprint will contract more rapidly than those of Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, all countries where post-crisis austerity measures sent protestors into the streets and growth plunging... It resembles the programs of budget cuts and tax hikes that the International Monetary Fund often imposes on the troubled countries it rescues, or that are adopted by countries facing pressure from sovereign-debt markets. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, unless another deal is reached, the US will see deficit reduction equal to 5.1% of gross domestic product in 2013, the steepest consolidation since 1968...With the exception of Portugal's one-year consolidation, the US fiscal cliff represents the most severe austerity policy in recent memory. Most advanced economies spread adjustments of that size over several years to minimize economic disruption." Tim Fernholz in Quartz.

@pdacosta: Someone get this Congress fiscal cliff notes.

It's still such a a bad term. "The term fiscal cliff...[is] one of our era's great pieces of obfuscating cant, because it describes automatic austerity actions that would lower the deficit but sounds like something that would blow up our finances." Dave Weigel in Slate.

Advocates lament shrinking funds for medical research. "Declining federal investment in medical research weakens U.S. global competitiveness, a coalition of advocacy groups charged Thursday. In a new report, Research!America found that federal spending on medical research and development declined by 14 percent, or more than $6 billion, between fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Automatic spending cuts set to hit in January would further decrease the National Institutes of Health's budget by $2.53 billion." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

@Goldfarb: At least we're not getting TAXMAGEDDON and FRANKENSTORM at the same time. But we might fall of the CLIFF during SNOWMAGGEDON.

The fiscal-cliff uncertainty around Medicare and Medicaid. "As two of the largest spending items in the federal budget, the Medicare and Medicaid health programs are expected to play a role in how the deal gets done. Under the provisions of the law that created the budget deal Congress will attempt to undo, Medicare is subject to a two percent cut in provider payments, while Medicaid is exempt." Julie Rovner in NPR.

@PaulPage: Question for the day: Does fiscal cliff = y2k ?

The fiscal cliff is making infrastructure a burden upon the states. "Washington's failure to come up with a long-term funding plan to repair the nation's faltering transportation system is shifting the cost of critical infrastructure repairs to state and local taxpayers, according to Standard & Poor's Rating Services...The reason was captured by a single sentence in the Standard & Poor's report: The 'country has a $2.2 trillion backlog of infrastructure projects.'...Needs like those traditionally have been met with a balance of federal, state and local money. Now, as Washington is gripped by political deadlock and buried in deficits, the balance has begun to shift." Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.

When it comes to the fiscal cliff, remember the neediest. "[C]ertain parts of the fiscal cliff have would have a much bigger impact on poor Americans than rich ones. Both the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit were expanded under Obama's 2009 stimulus to help lower-income Americans...Overall, if the tax breaks from the 2009 stimulus are allowed to expire -- the EITC and Child Tax Credit expansions, along with American Opportunity Credit for college tuition—the poorest 20 percent of Americans would see their taxes go up by $209 on average, reducing their after-tax income by 1.9 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

@RobinBew: Fed stays on the sidelines as data improves a little. Think they'll stay their hand well into 2013 as worries about fiscal cliff grow

But have you met the cliff divers? "Other prominent cliff-divers include MSNBC cable host and former Senate Finance Committee chief of staff Lawrence O’Donnell, who’s launched an 'Off the Cliff' campaign to press Democrats to jump; and Robert Greenstein, president of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, who says going over could be the 'least bad' option.  'I wouldn’t say it’s desirable, but it may be necessary,' explains former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who believes that going past the Dec. 31 could produce the best policy outcome in the face of a political stand-off. In an ideal world, these figures would want Congress to reach a reasonable deal before the deadline. But they are skeptical that will happen, given the politics surrounding the fiscal cliff, and argue that going over the cliff would remove what they believe is the biggest stumbling block." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Fiscal cliff, meet the Fed? "Anywhere investors turned last week, they seemed to be approaching a cliff. But the Federal Reserve provided a margin of safety, and said it stood ready to do so for many months to come...In the midst of these unsettling portents, Fed policy makers said on Wednesday that they would take whatever measures were necessary to ensure that the economy grew and that unemployment declined." Jeff Sommer in The New York Times.

@TheStalwart: Dan Greenhaus' nightly note refers to the "Monetary Policy Cliff." (If a hard money guy replaces Bernanke in 2014)

The WH is looking for a replacement to the payroll tax cut. "Obama administration officials have concluded that the economy, while improved, is still fragile enough that it may need another bout of stimulus. The tax cut could replace the payroll tax cut championed by President Obama in 2011 and 2012, which was designed as a buffer against economic shocks such as the financial crisis in Europe and high oil prices. It expires at year’s end...The administration may be looking at alternatives to the payroll tax cut because some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, don’t like the idea of using a tax that ordinarily goes to fund Social Security. Any lost revenue as a result of the payroll tax cut has been offset by additional taxpayer money. Still, powerful interest groups such as the AARP have criticized using the payroll tax cut for short-term stimulus." Zach Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

SOLOMON: The case for heading over the fiscal cliff. "So what if we went over the fiscal cliff? Crazy as it sounds, some in Washington and on Wall Street are beginning to ponder whether it would really be so bad to let the pending $607 billion in tax increases and spending cuts take effect in January 2013...[T]here's a silver lining to going off the cliff: The U.S gets its short-term budget deficit under control, bringing down debt from an estimated 76 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 to 58.5 percent by 2022. It also gives lawmakers -- particularly Republicans -- a bigger pot of revenue from which to start tax-cut discussions." Deborah Solomon in Bloomberg.

Top op-eds

HARRIS: The price of a black president. "Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality. The tragedy is that black elites -- from intellectuals and civil rights leaders to politicians and clergy members -- have acquiesced to this decline, seeing it as the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House." Fredrick C. Harris in The New York Times.

KRUGMAN: Medicaid on the ballot. "If he wins, Medicaid -- which now covers more than 50 million Americans, and which President Obama would expand further as part of his health reform — will face savage cuts. Estimates suggest that a Romney victory would deny health insurance to about 45 million people who would have coverage if he lost, with two-thirds of that difference due to the assault on Medicaid. So this election is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid. And this, in turn, means that you need to know something more about the program. For while Medicaid is generally viewed as health care for the nonelderly poor, that’s only part of the story. And focusing solely on who Medicaid covers can obscure an equally important fact: Medicaid has been more successful at controlling costs than any other major part of the nation’s health care system." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

DALMIA: The bigotry of restricting immigration. "It's hard to imagine how the Republican Party can make things worse for itself with Hispanic voters, yet it keeps trying. Given the stakes, especially in crucial swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida, you would think that Mitt Romney, the great flip-flopper, would repudiate his own harsh anti-immigration rhetoric at least...The restrictionists have been using every argument they can lay their hands on. They claim that immigrants mooch off the welfare state when, in reality, the labor participation rate of undocumented men is 20 percentage points higher than that for native men while their welfare consumption is much lower. Restrictionists claim that the presence of illegal residents leads to more crime, when cities with a large number of them, such as El Paso, Texas, tend to be much safer...[R]estrictionism is an obsession in search of a rationale. It isn't animated by an appeal to fairness or excellence or economic prosperity or any other similar lofty goal that conservatives tout. It is about opposing immigration for its own sake." Shikha Dalmia in Bloomberg.

FRIEDMAN: Why I am 'pro-life.' "If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. And we must stop letting Republicans name themselves 'pro-life' and Democrats as 'pro-choice.' It is a huge distortion. In my world, you don't get to call yourself 'pro-life' and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don't get to call yourself 'pro-life' and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don't get to call yourself 'pro-life' and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a 'pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.' I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as 'pro-life.'" Thomas Friedman in The New York Times.

HELPRIN: Our capsizing naval policy. "To hold that numbers and mass in war are unnecessary is as dangerous as believing that they are sufficient...[E]xcept for advances in situational awareness, missile defense, and the effect of precision-guided munitions in greatly multiplying the target coverage of carrier-launched aircraft, the Navy is significantly less capable than it was a relatively short time ago in antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, the ability to return ships to battle, and the numbers required to accomplish the tasks of deterrence or war...[W]hereas 20 years ago [China] possessed one ballistic-missile submarine and the U.S. 34, now it has three (with two more coming) and the U.S. 14. Over the same span, China has gone from 94 to 71 submarines in total, while the U.S. has gone from 121 to 71. As our numbers decrease at a faster pace, China is also closing the gap in quality. The effect in principal surface warships is yet more pronounced. While China has risen from 56 to 78, the U.S. has descended from 207 to 114." Mark Helprin in The Wall Street Journal.

@mattyglesias: Thanks to climate change, we need a Navy that's bigger than ever.

DOUTHAT: The president's strange idea of feminism. "Far in the future, long after today's partisan passions have cooled, some enterprising women's studies doctoral student will be able to write a fascinating dissertation on the rhetoric and iconography surrounding gender in Barack Obama's 2012 campaign...[G]iven the way Obama's once-enormous edge among female voters has shrunk in many polls, tomorrow's feminists may look back on his campaign's pitch to women and see a different theme emerge: a weirdly paternalistic form of social liberalism, in which women are forever single girls and the president is their father, lover, fiancé and paladin all rolled into one." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

Top long reads

Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan explain how Mitt Romney silenced the echo chamber:"Mitt Romney's campaign grew frustrated in September when one high-profile Republican after another second-guessed their candidate. The timing couldn't have been worse: Romney was being beaten in the polls by Barack Obama when former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Karl Rove and other top-tier GOP-ers decided to take to the national media to complain about his performance...Romney wanted to quiet the doubters. And fast...So the campaign turned to respected Washington operator and fixer Ron Kaufman, who launched a series of special-access conference calls for top surrogates."

Thomas E. Ricks on the leadership problems in the American military:"Looking back on the troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many observers are content to lay blame on the Bush administration. But inept leadership by American generals was also responsible for the failure of those wars. A culture of mediocrity has taken hold within the Army's leadership rank -- if it is not uprooted, the country's next war is unlikely to unfold any better than the last two."

Sarcastic and in-bad-taste music choices interlude: Scorpions perform "Rock You Like a Hurricane" in 1984.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come:the financial industry's place in a post-crisis economy; trying and failing to cut Planned Parenthood; why big biz likes affirmative action; the failing green jobs placement program; and Wikipedia is approaching completion.

Economy

Your week ahead in economic data. "Economic information to be released this week includes personal income and spending for September and the Chicago Federal Reserve Midwest manufacturing index (Monday); the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index for August and consumer confidence for October (Tuesday); the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index for October, construction spending for September, weekly jobless claims, retail sales for October and ADP employment for October (Thursday); and unemployment for October (Friday)." The New York Times.

Who will get credit for the economy's recovery? "There is still no guarantee that the economy is on a stable path to recovery, given its structural problems and the false starts of the last few years. But the odds that the recovery has finally begun have never been higher. Which is one more reason the presidential campaign, for all the groaning it has inspired from left, right and center, matters so much. The winner is likely to be able to claim the mantle of the president who brought the country out of a long economic slump...If Mr. Romney were presiding over the recovery, he could present himself as a Reaganesque figure whose rejection of big government was getting the economy moving again...For Mr. Obama, a second term with a recovering economy would lock in the policies of his first term...In the broadest terms, Mr. Obama would try to fashion a response to the income slump of the last dozen years based around a more progressive tax code and government programs -- investments, in his phrasing -- meant to lift economic growth." David Leonhardt in The New York Times.

The part-time worker as the face of the new American economy. "While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits...No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation's major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs." Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times.

Were the financial crisis mergers worth it? "Four years ago, in an attempt to save the nation's crumbling financial system, the government played matchmaker by pushing ailing institutions into the arms of healthier rivals...The deals were monumental. They transformed the banking landscape and created a handful of financial powerhouses, reinforcing the too-big-to-fail model. But a stream of lawsuits and towering losses have left some of these buyers with remorse." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Why a bloated financial industry does nobody any good. "It is worth remembering that the credit crisis and ensuing economic downturn followed a spectacular expansion in the financial business, compared with other industries. Assessing the nature of that growth and whether it has benefited society is the subject of powerful new research by David Scharfstein and Robin Greenwood, professors at Harvard Business School. In their study, 'The Growth of Modern Finance,' the professors delve into figures showing that the financial industry accounted for 7.9 percent of the nation's gross domestic product in 2007, up from 2.8 percent in 1950 and 4.9 percent in 1980. Finance's share of G.D.P. grew faster since 1980, they found, than it did in the previous three decades." Gretchen Morgenson in The New York Times.

Meteorological interlude: Radar images of Sandy. Wonkbook wishes our readers to safety through the hurricane.

Health Care

Efforts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood at state level fall short. "Social conservatives launched a new and sweeping effort last year to use state laws to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood. It's not working...The approach initially seemed to pose a legitimate threat to Planned Parenthood because Medicaid is a joint state-federal program. But courts have said the states cannot deny women access to providers who meet the federal requirements to qualify for Medicaid -- and Planned Parenthood does." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Domestic Policy

How redistricting and gerrymandering will affect the House of Representatives. "Every 10 years, that process winds up pitting members of Congress against each other and results in bizarre, geographically incoherent districts...[B]ecause Republicans control more statehouses than Democrats, that process tends to favor the GOP...Sundeep Iyer and Keesha Gaskins at the Brennan Center for Justice took a stab at quantifying that effect. They argue that the 2010 redistricting will result in a net gain of 11 seats for Republicans." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Big biz: we want affirmative action in colleges. "More than 50 large corporations, which spend most of their political donations on Republican candidates, have sided with President Obama on an affirmative action case pending before the Supreme Court...The companies, which include American Express, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Intel, Kraft Foods and General Electric, say they 'seek to hire the most qualified group of employees, while taking into account all of the characteristics of those employees that will enrich [their] workplaces and strengthen their businesses.'" Megan R. Wilson in The Hill.

Tammy Baldwin, (quiet) history-maker for gay rights. "Tammy Baldwin could soon become the first openly gay United States senator. But you wouldn't know it watching her deadlocked race against Republican Tommy Thompson. She doesn't talks about it unless asked, which hardly ever happens. Thompson's campaign has steered clear, with the exception of an aide's tweet that landed him in hot water...The collective yawn over Baldwin's sexual orientation raises the notion of whether gay candidates have crossed a threshold of mainstream acceptance that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. It was only in 2006, after all, that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly voted to enshrine a gay marriage ban in the state constitution." David Catanese in Politico.

Wiki interlude: How Wikipedia is nearing completion, or how the human race collected everything it ever needs to know about anything.

Energy

Report: Green-jobs program struggling to place workers. "Placement in jobs retained more than six months through a $500 million Labor Department green-jobs training program is falling 84 percent short of its goal, according to a report released Friday. The Labor inspector general audit offered a bleak picture of one of President Obama's chief stimulus and policy goals -- creating green jobs." Zack Colman in The Hill.

The 'Frankenstorm' in climate context. "It's easy to say, as some climatologists have, that 'climate change is present in every single meteorological event.' As you'll hear below, some climate scientists are telling me this event is precisely what you'd expect following a summer in which much of the Arctic Ocean was open water...There are several areas in which greenhouse-driven warming is thought to be a potential influence. The first is in the buildup of heat in southern surface waters." Andrew C. Revkin in The New York Times.

Chevron just gave a super PAC a big, fat check. "Oil giant Chevron Corp. this month gave $2.5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super-PAC that supports House Republicans...The Chevron donation appears to be the largest by a publicly traded company since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, according to Public Campaign Action Fund, a group that promotes the public financing of elections." Ben German in The Hill.

@grossdm: So no Romney is for subsidizing alternative energy until the industry gets on it feet. Must have realized Iowa=wind

Romney now wants a wind-subsidy 'phaseout.' "The wind industry, fighting to hold onto a generous tax credit set to expire in December, has been arguing that it does not need the support forever -- just a little while longer, until it can compete with fossil fuels on its own...[W]hile campaigning on Friday in Iowa, a state with a lot of wind business, Mr. Romney seemed to be opening the door to a different position — or at least allowing himself some wiggle room should a compromise be found. 'We will support nuclear and renewables but phase out subsidies once an industry is on its feet,' he said, without offering more specifics. Opponents of the tax credit say the wind industry is looking for a never-ending hand-out, but some Republicans support extending the credit as long as it includes an explicit phaseout over a set number of years." Diane Cardwell in The New York Times.

@JimPethokoukis: I liked Romney's line about investing in "energy science" rather than industrial policy

How 'peak oil' could crush economic growth. "The world isn't going to run out of oil anytime soon. But there's still concern among various geologists and analysts that our oil supply won't grow as quickly or as easily as it used to. We'll have to resort to harder-to-drill oil to satisfy our crude habits. More expensive oil. That would push prices up. And high oil prices could act as a drag on growth...So how bad would it be if peak oil was really upon us?...[A]ssume that oil grows by about 1 percentage point less each year than its historical average. So, let's say, oil grows at a steady 0.8 percent per year rather than the 1.8 percent annual average between 1981 and 2005. This isn't a temporary oil disruption like the one we saw in 2008. It's a persistent, long-term supply shock. What would happen? Oil prices, the IMF model suggests, would gradually double in 10 years and quadruple over 20 years. Regions that import oil on net, such as Europe and the United States, would see a small hit to growth—about 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points each year." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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October 29, 2012

Wonkbook dashboard

RCP Obama vs. RomneyRomney +0.9%; 7-day change: Romney +1.1%.

RCP Obama approval48.7%; 7-day change: -0.6%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win62.9%; 7-day change: +1.4%.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 5.1 percent. That's the deficit reduction -- as a percentage of gross domestic product -- the United States will see if it goes off the fiscal cliff in 2013. That's a faster contraction, writes Tim Fernholz in Quartz, than we've seen in "Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, all countries where post-crisis austerity measures sent protestors into the streets and growth plunging."


(Petros Giannakouris / AP)

Top story: A faster fiscal contraction than Greece?

American masochism: The fiscal cliff is one of the most severe austerity policies in the world. "Absent new action, next year the US government's budget footprint will contract more rapidly than those of Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, all countries where post-crisis austerity measures sent protestors into the streets and growth plunging... It resembles the programs of budget cuts and tax hikes that the International Monetary Fund often imposes on the troubled countries it rescues, or that are adopted by countries facing pressure from sovereign-debt markets. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, unless another deal is reached, the US will see deficit reduction equal to 5.1% of gross domestic product in 2013, the steepest consolidation since 1968...With the exception of Portugal's one-year consolidation, the US fiscal cliff represents the most severe austerity policy in recent memory. Most advanced economies spread adjustments of that size over several years to minimize economic disruption." Tim Fernholz in Quartz.

@pdacosta: Someone get this Congress fiscal cliff notes.

It's still such a a bad term. "The term fiscal cliff...[is] one of our era's great pieces of obfuscating cant, because it describes automatic austerity actions that would lower the deficit but sounds like something that would blow up our finances." Dave Weigel in Slate.

Advocates lament shrinking funds for medical research. "Declining federal investment in medical research weakens U.S. global competitiveness, a coalition of advocacy groups charged Thursday. In a new report, Research!America found that federal spending on medical research and development declined by 14 percent, or more than $6 billion, between fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Automatic spending cuts set to hit in January would further decrease the National Institutes of Health's budget by $2.53 billion." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

@Goldfarb: At least we're not getting TAXMAGEDDON and FRANKENSTORM at the same time. But we might fall of the CLIFF during SNOWMAGGEDON.

The fiscal-cliff uncertainty around Medicare and Medicaid. "As two of the largest spending items in the federal budget, the Medicare and Medicaid health programs are expected to play a role in how the deal gets done. Under the provisions of the law that created the budget deal Congress will attempt to undo, Medicare is subject to a two percent cut in provider payments, while Medicaid is exempt." Julie Rovner in NPR.

@PaulPage: Question for the day: Does fiscal cliff = y2k ?

The fiscal cliff is making infrastructure a burden upon the states. "Washington's failure to come up with a long-term funding plan to repair the nation's faltering transportation system is shifting the cost of critical infrastructure repairs to state and local taxpayers, according to Standard & Poor's Rating Services...The reason was captured by a single sentence in the Standard & Poor's report: The 'country has a $2.2 trillion backlog of infrastructure projects.'...Needs like those traditionally have been met with a balance of federal, state and local money. Now, as Washington is gripped by political deadlock and buried in deficits, the balance has begun to shift." Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.

When it comes to the fiscal cliff, remember the neediest. "[C]ertain parts of the fiscal cliff have would have a much bigger impact on poor Americans than rich ones. Both the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit were expanded under Obama's 2009 stimulus to help lower-income Americans...Overall, if the tax breaks from the 2009 stimulus are allowed to expire -- the EITC and Child Tax Credit expansions, along with American Opportunity Credit for college tuition—the poorest 20 percent of Americans would see their taxes go up by $209 on average, reducing their after-tax income by 1.9 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

@RobinBew: Fed stays on the sidelines as data improves a little. Think they'll stay their hand well into 2013 as worries about fiscal cliff grow

But have you met the cliff divers? "Other prominent cliff-divers include MSNBC cable host and former Senate Finance Committee chief of staff Lawrence O’Donnell, who’s launched an 'Off the Cliff' campaign to press Democrats to jump; and Robert Greenstein, president of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, who says going over could be the 'least bad' option.  'I wouldn’t say it’s desirable, but it may be necessary,' explains former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who believes that going past the Dec. 31 could produce the best policy outcome in the face of a political stand-off. In an ideal world, these figures would want Congress to reach a reasonable deal before the deadline. But they are skeptical that will happen, given the politics surrounding the fiscal cliff, and argue that going over the cliff would remove what they believe is the biggest stumbling block." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Fiscal cliff, meet the Fed? "Anywhere investors turned last week, they seemed to be approaching a cliff. But the Federal Reserve provided a margin of safety, and said it stood ready to do so for many months to come...In the midst of these unsettling portents, Fed policy makers said on Wednesday that they would take whatever measures were necessary to ensure that the economy grew and that unemployment declined." Jeff Sommer in The New York Times.

@TheStalwart: Dan Greenhaus' nightly note refers to the "Monetary Policy Cliff." (If a hard money guy replaces Bernanke in 2014)

The WH is looking for a replacement to the payroll tax cut. "Obama administration officials have concluded that the economy, while improved, is still fragile enough that it may need another bout of stimulus. The tax cut could replace the payroll tax cut championed by President Obama in 2011 and 2012, which was designed as a buffer against economic shocks such as the financial crisis in Europe and high oil prices. It expires at year’s end...The administration may be looking at alternatives to the payroll tax cut because some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, don’t like the idea of using a tax that ordinarily goes to fund Social Security. Any lost revenue as a result of the payroll tax cut has been offset by additional taxpayer money. Still, powerful interest groups such as the AARP have criticized using the payroll tax cut for short-term stimulus." Zach Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

SOLOMON: The case for heading over the fiscal cliff. "So what if we went over the fiscal cliff? Crazy as it sounds, some in Washington and on Wall Street are beginning to ponder whether it would really be so bad to let the pending $607 billion in tax increases and spending cuts take effect in January 2013...[T]here's a silver lining to going off the cliff: The U.S gets its short-term budget deficit under control, bringing down debt from an estimated 76 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 to 58.5 percent by 2022. It also gives lawmakers -- particularly Republicans -- a bigger pot of revenue from which to start tax-cut discussions." Deborah Solomon in Bloomberg.

Top op-eds

HARRIS: The price of a black president. "Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality. The tragedy is that black elites -- from intellectuals and civil rights leaders to politicians and clergy members -- have acquiesced to this decline, seeing it as the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House." Fredrick C. Harris in The New York Times.

KRUGMAN: Medicaid on the ballot. "If he wins, Medicaid -- which now covers more than 50 million Americans, and which President Obama would expand further as part of his health reform — will face savage cuts. Estimates suggest that a Romney victory would deny health insurance to about 45 million people who would have coverage if he lost, with two-thirds of that difference due to the assault on Medicaid. So this election is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid. And this, in turn, means that you need to know something more about the program. For while Medicaid is generally viewed as health care for the nonelderly poor, that’s only part of the story. And focusing solely on who Medicaid covers can obscure an equally important fact: Medicaid has been more successful at controlling costs than any other major part of the nation’s health care system." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

DALMIA: The bigotry of restricting immigration. "It's hard to imagine how the Republican Party can make things worse for itself with Hispanic voters, yet it keeps trying. Given the stakes, especially in crucial swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida, you would think that Mitt Romney, the great flip-flopper, would repudiate his own harsh anti-immigration rhetoric at least...The restrictionists have been using every argument they can lay their hands on. They claim that immigrants mooch off the welfare state when, in reality, the labor participation rate of undocumented men is 20 percentage points higher than that for native men while their welfare consumption is much lower. Restrictionists claim that the presence of illegal residents leads to more crime, when cities with a large number of them, such as El Paso, Texas, tend to be much safer...[R]estrictionism is an obsession in search of a rationale. It isn't animated by an appeal to fairness or excellence or economic prosperity or any other similar lofty goal that conservatives tout. It is about opposing immigration for its own sake." Shikha Dalmia in Bloomberg.

FRIEDMAN: Why I am 'pro-life.' "If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. And we must stop letting Republicans name themselves 'pro-life' and Democrats as 'pro-choice.' It is a huge distortion. In my world, you don't get to call yourself 'pro-life' and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don't get to call yourself 'pro-life' and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don't get to call yourself 'pro-life' and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a 'pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.' I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as 'pro-life.'" Thomas Friedman in The New York Times.

HELPRIN: Our capsizing naval policy. "To hold that numbers and mass in war are unnecessary is as dangerous as believing that they are sufficient...[E]xcept for advances in situational awareness, missile defense, and the effect of precision-guided munitions in greatly multiplying the target coverage of carrier-launched aircraft, the Navy is significantly less capable than it was a relatively short time ago in antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, the ability to return ships to battle, and the numbers required to accomplish the tasks of deterrence or war...[W]hereas 20 years ago [China] possessed one ballistic-missile submarine and the U.S. 34, now it has three (with two more coming) and the U.S. 14. Over the same span, China has gone from 94 to 71 submarines in total, while the U.S. has gone from 121 to 71. As our numbers decrease at a faster pace, China is also closing the gap in quality. The effect in principal surface warships is yet more pronounced. While China has risen from 56 to 78, the U.S. has descended from 207 to 114." Mark Helprin in The Wall Street Journal.

@mattyglesias: Thanks to climate change, we need a Navy that's bigger than ever.

DOUTHAT: The president's strange idea of feminism. "Far in the future, long after today's partisan passions have cooled, some enterprising women's studies doctoral student will be able to write a fascinating dissertation on the rhetoric and iconography surrounding gender in Barack Obama's 2012 campaign...[G]iven the way Obama's once-enormous edge among female voters has shrunk in many polls, tomorrow's feminists may look back on his campaign's pitch to women and see a different theme emerge: a weirdly paternalistic form of social liberalism, in which women are forever single girls and the president is their father, lover, fiancé and paladin all rolled into one." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

Top long reads

Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan explain how Mitt Romney silenced the echo chamber:"Mitt Romney's campaign grew frustrated in September when one high-profile Republican after another second-guessed their candidate. The timing couldn't have been worse: Romney was being beaten in the polls by Barack Obama when former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Karl Rove and other top-tier GOP-ers decided to take to the national media to complain about his performance...Romney wanted to quiet the doubters. And fast...So the campaign turned to respected Washington operator and fixer Ron Kaufman, who launched a series of special-access conference calls for top surrogates."

Thomas E. Ricks on the leadership problems in the American military:"Looking back on the troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many observers are content to lay blame on the Bush administration. But inept leadership by American generals was also responsible for the failure of those wars. A culture of mediocrity has taken hold within the Army's leadership rank -- if it is not uprooted, the country's next war is unlikely to unfold any better than the last two."

Sarcastic and in-bad-taste music choices interlude: Scorpions perform "Rock You Like a Hurricane" in 1984.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come:the financial industry's place in a post-crisis economy; trying and failing to cut Planned Parenthood; why big biz likes affirmative action; the failing green jobs placement program; and Wikipedia is approaching completion.

Economy

Your week ahead in economic data. "Economic information to be released this week includes personal income and spending for September and the Chicago Federal Reserve Midwest manufacturing index (Monday); the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index for August and consumer confidence for October (Tuesday); the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index for October, construction spending for September, weekly jobless claims, retail sales for October and ADP employment for October (Thursday); and unemployment for October (Friday)." The New York Times.

Who will get credit for the economy's recovery? "There is still no guarantee that the economy is on a stable path to recovery, given its structural problems and the false starts of the last few years. But the odds that the recovery has finally begun have never been higher. Which is one more reason the presidential campaign, for all the groaning it has inspired from left, right and center, matters so much. The winner is likely to be able to claim the mantle of the president who brought the country out of a long economic slump...If Mr. Romney were presiding over the recovery, he could present himself as a Reaganesque figure whose rejection of big government was getting the economy moving again...For Mr. Obama, a second term with a recovering economy would lock in the policies of his first term...In the broadest terms, Mr. Obama would try to fashion a response to the income slump of the last dozen years based around a more progressive tax code and government programs -- investments, in his phrasing -- meant to lift economic growth." David Leonhardt in The New York Times.

The part-time worker as the face of the new American economy. "While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits...No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation's major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs." Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times.

Were the financial crisis mergers worth it? "Four years ago, in an attempt to save the nation's crumbling financial system, the government played matchmaker by pushing ailing institutions into the arms of healthier rivals...The deals were monumental. They transformed the banking landscape and created a handful of financial powerhouses, reinforcing the too-big-to-fail model. But a stream of lawsuits and towering losses have left some of these buyers with remorse." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Why a bloated financial industry does nobody any good. "It is worth remembering that the credit crisis and ensuing economic downturn followed a spectacular expansion in the financial business, compared with other industries. Assessing the nature of that growth and whether it has benefited society is the subject of powerful new research by David Scharfstein and Robin Greenwood, professors at Harvard Business School. In their study, 'The Growth of Modern Finance,' the professors delve into figures showing that the financial industry accounted for 7.9 percent of the nation's gross domestic product in 2007, up from 2.8 percent in 1950 and 4.9 percent in 1980. Finance's share of G.D.P. grew faster since 1980, they found, than it did in the previous three decades." Gretchen Morgenson in The New York Times.

Meteorological interlude: Radar images of Sandy. Wonkbook wishes our readers to safety through the hurricane.

Health Care

Efforts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood at state level fall short. "Social conservatives launched a new and sweeping effort last year to use state laws to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood. It's not working...The approach initially seemed to pose a legitimate threat to Planned Parenthood because Medicaid is a joint state-federal program. But courts have said the states cannot deny women access to providers who meet the federal requirements to qualify for Medicaid -- and Planned Parenthood does." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Domestic Policy

How redistricting and gerrymandering will affect the House of Representatives. "Every 10 years, that process winds up pitting members of Congress against each other and results in bizarre, geographically incoherent districts...[B]ecause Republicans control more statehouses than Democrats, that process tends to favor the GOP...Sundeep Iyer and Keesha Gaskins at the Brennan Center for Justice took a stab at quantifying that effect. They argue that the 2010 redistricting will result in a net gain of 11 seats for Republicans." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Big biz: we want affirmative action in colleges. "More than 50 large corporations, which spend most of their political donations on Republican candidates, have sided with President Obama on an affirmative action case pending before the Supreme Court...The companies, which include American Express, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Intel, Kraft Foods and General Electric, say they 'seek to hire the most qualified group of employees, while taking into account all of the characteristics of those employees that will enrich [their] workplaces and strengthen their businesses.'" Megan R. Wilson in The Hill.

Tammy Baldwin, (quiet) history-maker for gay rights. "Tammy Baldwin could soon become the first openly gay United States senator. But you wouldn't know it watching her deadlocked race against Republican Tommy Thompson. She doesn't talks about it unless asked, which hardly ever happens. Thompson's campaign has steered clear, with the exception of an aide's tweet that landed him in hot water...The collective yawn over Baldwin's sexual orientation raises the notion of whether gay candidates have crossed a threshold of mainstream acceptance that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. It was only in 2006, after all, that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly voted to enshrine a gay marriage ban in the state constitution." David Catanese in Politico.

Wiki interlude: How Wikipedia is nearing completion, or how the human race collected everything it ever needs to know about anything.

Energy

Report: Green-jobs program struggling to place workers. "Placement in jobs retained more than six months through a $500 million Labor Department green-jobs training program is falling 84 percent short of its goal, according to a report released Friday. The Labor inspector general audit offered a bleak picture of one of President Obama's chief stimulus and policy goals -- creating green jobs." Zack Colman in The Hill.

The 'Frankenstorm' in climate context. "It's easy to say, as some climatologists have, that 'climate change is present in every single meteorological event.' As you'll hear below, some climate scientists are telling me this event is precisely what you'd expect following a summer in which much of the Arctic Ocean was open water...There are several areas in which greenhouse-driven warming is thought to be a potential influence. The first is in the buildup of heat in southern surface waters." Andrew C. Revkin in The New York Times.

Chevron just gave a super PAC a big, fat check. "Oil giant Chevron Corp. this month gave $2.5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super-PAC that supports House Republicans...The Chevron donation appears to be the largest by a publicly traded company since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, according to Public Campaign Action Fund, a group that promotes the public financing of elections." Ben German in The Hill.

@grossdm: So no Romney is for subsidizing alternative energy until the industry gets on it feet. Must have realized Iowa=wind

Romney now wants a wind-subsidy 'phaseout.' "The wind industry, fighting to hold onto a generous tax credit set to expire in December, has been arguing that it does not need the support forever -- just a little while longer, until it can compete with fossil fuels on its own...[W]hile campaigning on Friday in Iowa, a state with a lot of wind business, Mr. Romney seemed to be opening the door to a different position — or at least allowing himself some wiggle room should a compromise be found. 'We will support nuclear and renewables but phase out subsidies once an industry is on its feet,' he said, without offering more specifics. Opponents of the tax credit say the wind industry is looking for a never-ending hand-out, but some Republicans support extending the credit as long as it includes an explicit phaseout over a set number of years." Diane Cardwell in The New York Times.

@JimPethokoukis: I liked Romney's line about investing in "energy science" rather than industrial policy

How 'peak oil' could crush economic growth. "The world isn't going to run out of oil anytime soon. But there's still concern among various geologists and analysts that our oil supply won't grow as quickly or as easily as it used to. We'll have to resort to harder-to-drill oil to satisfy our crude habits. More expensive oil. That would push prices up. And high oil prices could act as a drag on growth...So how bad would it be if peak oil was really upon us?...[A]ssume that oil grows by about 1 percentage point less each year than its historical average. So, let's say, oil grows at a steady 0.8 percent per year rather than the 1.8 percent annual average between 1981 and 2005. This isn't a temporary oil disruption like the one we saw in 2008. It's a persistent, long-term supply shock. What would happen? Oil prices, the IMF model suggests, would gradually double in 10 years and quadruple over 20 years. Regions that import oil on net, such as Europe and the United States, would see a small hit to growth—about 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points each year." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Suzy Khimm | October 28, 2012