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Context of 'August 12, 2011: Financial Leaders, Economists Lambast Republicans’ Economic Policies'

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Alan Binder.Alan Binder. [Source: PBS]TPMDC reporter Brian Beutler notes that many Congressional Republicans, led by but not limited to those who consider themselves “tea party” members (see April 30, 2011), are heeding the advice of a small number of unorthodox financial experts who go against the “common wisdom” that a possible credit default by the US would lead to potential catastrophe among national and global financial markets. The issue centers on Congressional Republicans’ insistence that they will not raise the US debt limit, or debt ceiling, unless the Obama administration gives them a wide array of draconian spending cuts; in the past, raising the US debt limit has been a routine matter, often handled with virtually no debate and little, if any, fanfare. Beutler says that the most influential of these advisors is Stanley Druckenmiller, who made billions managing hedge funds. Druckenmiller’s advice was that the US could weather several days of missed interest payments if the US debt ceiling were not immediately raised without serious consequences. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) are all echoing Druckenmiller’s claims in media interviews and in Congress. Beutler writes that the newfound popularity of Druckenmiller’s claims “alarms everyone from industry insiders to Treasury officials to economists, conservative and liberal, to non-partisan analysts who say the consequences of the US missing even a single interest payment to a debt-holder would be catastrophic—even if it was followed immediately by a legislative course correction.” Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Binder, now a Princeton economist, warns that if the US were to default on its debt even for a few days, the US dollar would crash in value, interest rates would spike, and the US economy would find itself spiraling into a full-blown recession. Binder writes: “For as long as anyone can remember, the full faith and credit of the United States has been as good as gold—no one has better credit. But if investors start to see default as part of US political gamesmanship, they will demand compensation for this novel risk. How much? Again, no one can know. But even if it’s as little as 10-20 basis points on the US government’s average borrowing cost, that’s an additional $10 billion to $20 billion in interest expenses every year. Seems like an expensive way to score a political point.” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon agrees, telling PBS viewers: “Every single company with treasuries, every insurance fund, every—every requirement that—it will start snowballing. Automatic, you don’t pay your debt, there will be default by ratings agencies. All short-term financing will disappear. I would have hundreds of work streams working around the world protecting our company for that kind of event.” JPMorgan issued a statement after Dimon’s comment saying that even a brief default would trigger “a run on money market funds… that would leave businesses unable to meet their short-term obligations and teetering on the bring of bankruptcy.” JPMorgan compares the money-market run to the aftermath of the 2008 Lehman Bros collapse, which sent the US into a recession. Analyses and reports by the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee and Government Accountability Office have warned of dire consequences following a default even of a day or two. Toomey and others insist that a credit default would simply make the Treasury Department find other ways to avoid missing interest payments, but, economists and financial leaders warn, the consequences of that would be enormous. Binder writes: “If we hit the borrowing wall traveling at full speed, the US government’s total outlays—a complex amalgam that includes everything from Social Security benefits to soldiers’ pay to interest on the national debt—will have to drop by about 40 percent immediately. That translates to roughly $1.5 trillion at annual rates, or about 10 percent of GDP. That’s an enormous fiscal contraction for any economy to withstand, never mind one in a sluggish recovery with 9 percent unemployment.” Druckenmiller and some Republicans believe that forcing a credit default would end up benefiting the country, as the Obama administration would give in to Republican demands for enormous spending cuts in return for Republicans’ agreement to raise the debt ceiling. Business Insider reporter Joe Weisenthal recently wrote: “Of course, a default by the world’s most stable nation would probably have impacts in ways nobody can imagine, but one thing seems to be clear. The notion—as some people suggest—that a default would somehow increase US credit-worthiness is absurd.” [Business Insider, 4/20/2011; New York Times, 4/26/2011; TPMDC, 5/20/2011]

Entity Tags: Government Accountability Office, Eric Cantor, US Department of the Treasury, Alan Binder, Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, Stanley Druckenmiller, US Congress, Brian Beutler, JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, Paul Ryan, Pat Toomey, Joe Weisenthal, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

In an interview with CBS News’s Scott Pelley, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says that he got “98 percent” of what he wanted in a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House in the just-concluded debt ceiling extension legislation. Boehner says he and his House Republicans successfully blocked a comprehensive “grand bargain” with the Obama administration because, as he says, the “president was insisting on more taxes [and] never got serious about the kind of spending cuts that were necessary in order to get America back on a sound fiscal footing.” He tells Pelley that he “walked away” from Obama’s final proposal. “We had a lot of productive conversations, a lot of tense conversations,” Boehner says. “But it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be for higher taxes, and the president wasn’t going to cut spending as he should.… I told the president: ‘I’m not going there. I can’t do that.’” Boehner says that he has no intention at this time of ever supporting revenue increases of any sort, whether it be tax increases, closing of corporate tax loopholes, or other ways to bring more revenue into federal government; instead, he hopes that the future focus of Congressional debate “will be on reducing expenditures coming out of Washington.” Asked if Republicans would ever support tax increases, Boehner says: “I think that would be a stretch. It doesn’t seem likely to me that that would be recommended, much less supported, but I’ve been surprised before.” He concludes: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Sixty-six House Republicans voted against Boehner’s final plan, though it passed both chambers and was signed into law by Obama hours before the US would have defaulted on its debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deal cuts federal deficits by $2.1 trillion over 10 years while also raising the debt limit by an equal amount. The deal also creates a joint, bicameral committee of legislators charged with finding additional cuts. [CBS News, 8/1/2011; The Hill, 8/1/2011] Days later, Standard & Poor’s cuts the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). Republicans, including Boehner, will blame Obama for the legislation and the resulting credit reduction (see August 6-9, 2011).

Entity Tags: Standard & Poor’s, Congressional Budget Office, CBS News, John Boehner, Scott Pelley, US House of Representatives, US Senate, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Hours after financial services firm Standard & Poor’s downgrades the US credit rating from AAA to AA+ (see August 5, 2011), Paul Krugman, a liberal economist and Nobel Prize winner, blasts both the firm and Congressional Republicans for the downgrade. “On one hand, there is a case to be made that the madness of the right has made America a fundamentally unsound nation,” he writes. “And yes, it is the madness of the right: if not for the extremism of anti-tax Republicans, we would have no trouble reaching an agreement that would ensure long-run solvency. On the other hand, it’s hard to think of anyone less qualified to pass judgment on America than the rating agencies. The people who rated subprime-backed securities are now declaring that they are the judges of fiscal policy? Really?” Krugman states that he and other economists believe S&P’s call for a $4 trillion cut in US spending is “nonsense,” writing: “US solvency depends hardly at all on what happens in the near or even medium term: an extra trillion in debt adds only a fraction of a percent of GDP to future interest costs, so a couple of trillion more or less barely signifies in the long term. What matters is the longer-term prospect, which in turn mainly depends on health care costs.” He concludes that S&P is “in no position to pass judgment” on the US economic situation. [New York Times, 8/5/2011] The next day, the National Journal’s Edmund Andrews agrees with Krugman, writing: “[I]t’s hard to read the S&P analysis as anything other than a blast at Republicans. In denouncing the threat of default as a ‘bargaining chip,’ the agency was saying that the GOP strategy had shaken its confidence. Though S&P didn’t mention it, the agency must have been unnerved by the number of Republicans who insisted that it would be fine to blow through the debt ceiling and provoke a default.” [National Journal, 8/6/2011] Krugman’s criticisms are echoed a week later by an array of economists and private-sector financial leaders (see August 12, 2011).

Entity Tags: Edmund L. Andrews, US House of Representatives, Standard & Poor’s, Paul Krugman, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Stung by the recent decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US government’s credit rating (see August 5, 2011) and the economic turmoil triggered by that decision in response to Republican-backed debt ceiling legislation (see May 20, 2011), US Republicans begin blaming the Obama administration for the downgrade. After the legislation passed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his fellow Republicans had gotten “98 percent” of what they wanted from the legislation (see August 1, 2011). Boehner now says, “Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.” He quotes the S&P report in making his criticisms of Washington Democrats, failing to note that the S&P report singled out Republicans as responsible for the legislative decisions that led to the downgrade. “This decision by S&P is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades. The spending binge has resulted in job-destroying economic uncertainty and now threatens to send destructive ripple effects across our credit markets.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) says the downgrade and subsequent stock market plummet “provide further evidence that President Obama’s agenda has been a disaster for our economy.” Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts and a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says the downgrade is “a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama.” Longshot GOP candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) says the downgrade is due to the spreading of a “cancerous debt afflicting our nation” and calls for “new leadership in Washington” to address the ongoing crisis. Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) calls Obama “inept.” Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a House Republican who led the “tea party” fight to block the debt ceiling from being raised (and thereby triggering a government debt default—see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011), now blames the Obama administration and particularly US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the debacle. Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Des Moines, Iowa, Bachmann says that President Obama should fire Geithner: “The president’s refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the AAA credit rating to the United States of America. The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery.… I once again, today, in Polk County, Iowa, call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign immediately for the sake of our country and to return our economy to full status.” Bachmann accuses Obama of “destroying the foundations of the US economy one beam at a time.” In robocalls targeting House Democrats, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pins the blame for the downgrade on House Democrats. One call targeting David Loebsack (D-IA) says: “… Loebsack continues to oppose a [Constitutional] Balanced Budget Amendment that would force Washington to live within its means. Loebsack and his fellow Democrats’ addiction to big government spending has led to a downgrade of America’s credit rating and a dramatic loss in the global markets that could force you to pay more for everyday expenses. While David Loebsack keeps standing in the way of real fiscal reform, middle-class families in Iowa could now see a loss in retirement savings while mortgage rates, car payments, and student loans could become even more expensive.” Democrats respond with criticisms of their own. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a Senate candidate, says that “the continuing resistance of Congressional Republicans to entertain the need for new revenue as part of a reasonable solution is a critical part of the downgrade decision.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) adds, “By refusing to negotiate in good faith, Republicans turned the debt-ceiling debate into a hostage crisis and last night we saw its first casualty.” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt says, “The Republican candidates would have put our economy at great risk by allowing the nation to default on its obligations.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls for a “balanced approach” to future economic decisions, which would include revenue increases such as tax hikes and the closing of tax loopholes for rich corporations as well as spending cuts. [Washington Post, 8/6/2011; Reuters, 8/6/2011; National Journal, 8/6/2011; Politico, 8/7/2011; Politico, 8/9/2011]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Timothy Geithner, David Loebsack, Ben LaBolt, Tim Pawlenty, Tim Kaine, Willard Mitt Romney, Obama administration, John Boehner, Jon Huntsman, Chris Coons, Ronald H. Johnson, National Republican Congressional Committee, Michele Bachmann

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

In a Republican presidential primary debate in Iowa, candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claims that the recent decision by financial services firm Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011) proved that she and her fellow “tea party” Republicans in the House of Representatives were right to resist an increase in the debt ceiling. S&P itself (see August 11, 2011), along with an array of economists and private-sector financial leaders (see May 20, 2011, August 5-6, 2011, and August 12, 2011), says that the battle by Bachmann and her fellow House Republicans to refuse a debt-ceiling increase, even if it meant the US would default on its debt, is what led to the downgrade. But Bachmann sees the issue very differently. She reiterates her position in a post-debate interview on Fox News, saying, “Standard & Poor’s essentially proved me right.” The firm’s decision to downgrade the US credit rating came about, she says, because “we don’t have an ability to repay our debt.… We just heard from Standard & Poor’s, when they dropped our credit rating and what they said is we don’t have an ability to repay our debt. That’s what the final word was from them. I was proved right in my position. We should not have raised the debt ceiling.” Pat Garofalo of the progressive news Web site Think Progress writes that “it’s blatantly clear that Bachmann has no idea what S&P said, because just about every word out of her mouth regarding the agency’s decision was incorrect.” Garofalo notes that “S&P never said ‘we don’t have an ability to pay our debt.’ After all, the agency still rates the US as AA+, meaning it has a ‘very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.’ One S&P analyst characterized the difference between AA+ and AAA as just ‘degrees of excellence.’” Moreover, Garofalo notes, S&P downgraded the nation’s credit rating because, as it said in its own press releases and subsequent statements, “the use of the debt ceiling as a political football and GOP intransigence on taxes.” Bachmann has long derided the idea that not raising the debt ceiling would be detrimental to the US economy (see June 26, 2011, and July 13, 2011). [Think Progress, 8/12/2011]

Entity Tags: Michele Bachmann, Fox News, Pat Garofalo, US House of Representatives Tea Party Caucus, US House of Representatives, Standard & Poor’s

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Ethan Harris of Bank of America.Ethan Harris of Bank of America. [Source: National Association for Business Economics]Many prominent economists and financial leaders lay the blame for the US credit rating downgrade (see August 5, 2011) at the feet of Congressional Republicans. Republicans have been unified in blaming the Obama administration’s economic policies for the downgrade (see August 6-9, 2011), though House Speaker John Boehner boasted that he and his fellow Republicans received “98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt-ceiling legislation that led to the downgrade (see August 1, 2011). Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman, a self-described liberal, blamed Congressional Republicans for the downgrade hours after credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s announced it (see August 5-6, 2011), and S&P itself implied that Republicans were at fault for the downgrade for being willing to risk sending the nation into default if they were blocked from getting their way in the debt-ceiling legislation (see August 11, 2011). Even before the credit rating downgrade, the New York Times reports, “macroeconomists and private sector forecasters were warning that the direction in which the new House Republican majority had pushed the White House and Congress this year—for immediate spending cuts, no further stimulus measures and no tax increases, ever—was wrong for addressing the nation’s two main ills, a weak economy now and projections of unsustainably high federal debt in coming years” (see May 20, 2011). These economists and forecasters generally agree with the Obama administration’s wishes to immediately stimulate the economy to include greater private-sector spending and create more jobs, with spending cuts more useful as a long-term remedy. Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, however, continue to insist that their policies are what will rescue the US economy; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) says that he and his fellow Republicans “were not elected to raise taxes or take more money out of the pockets of hardworking families and business people,” and will never consider tax or revenue increases of any sort. Even Republican economic figures such as Reagan advisor Martin Feldstein and Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, say that revenue increases should balance any spending cuts, a position Congressional Republicans—particularly “tea party” Republicans such as presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN)—refuse to countenance. Bank of America senior economics research official Ethan Harris writes: “Given the scale of the debt problem, a credible plan requires both revenue enhancement measures and entitlement reform. Washington’s recent debt deal did not include either.” Ian C. Shepherdson, the chief US economist for research firm High Frequency Economist, says, “I think the US has every chance of having a good year next year, but the politicians are doing their damnedest to prevent it from happening—the Republicans are—and the Democrats to my eternal bafflement have not stood their ground.” Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, and Laurence H. Meyer, former Federal Reserve governor, both call the Republicans’ calls for spending cuts “job-kill[ers].” Bill Gross, head of the bond-trading firm Pimco, lambasts Republicans and what he calls “co-opted Democrats” for throwing aside widely accepted economic theory for Republican-led insistence that draconian spending cuts, largely in social safety-net programs such as Social Security and Medicare, will “cure” the US’s economic ills. Instead, Gross writes: “An anti-Keynesian, budget-balancing immediacy imparts a constrictive noose around whatever demand remains alive and kicking. Washington hassles over debt ceilings instead of job creation in the mistaken belief that a balanced budget will produce a balanced economy. It will not.” [New York Times, 8/12/2011]

Entity Tags: Ian Shepherdson, US Congress, Eric Cantor, Bill Gross, Standard & Poor’s, Henry Paulson, Paul Krugman, New York Times, Joel Prakken, John Boehner, Laurence H. Meyer, Martin Feldstein, Michele Bachmann, Ethan Harris, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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