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Archive for the ‘Geithner’ Category

I’ve been fighting for more than 10 years to stop an IRS regulation that would force American banks to put foreign tax law above US tax law.

Sadly, I recently lost that battle when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner finalized the third version of the regulation (it was first proposed by Clinton, and then a second version was put forth by the Bush White House).

In previous posts, I explained why this regulation represents bad tax policy and undermines the rule of law. I also have explained that it will hurt the American economy and why it endangers the human rights of people living under tyrannical and thuggish regimes.

But such concerns don’t matter to the tax cheat who is serving as the Treasury Secretary.

Richard Rahn is not happy about this outcome, either, and here is some of what he wrote in the Washington Times.

Over the past several years, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner was warned by many private economists and members of Congress of the adverse consequences of a proposed rule that would force U.S. banks to be uncompensated tax collectors for foreign governments. On April 17, Mr. Geithner issued the rule anyway. …To put it simply, the Obama Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are forcing U.S. banks to report to foreign governments that often are corrupt or worse on lawful deposits their citizens hold in U.S. banks, thus putting those citizens’ lives at risk. As the former governor of Oklahoma and now president of the American Bankers Association, Frank Keating, wrote: “While the IRS minimizes potential security issues, nonresident aliens are unlikely to feel reassured by promises that their information won’t fall into the wrong hands. These pledges could be met with apprehension when countries with questionable human rights records remain on the recipient list. This rule gives nonresident aliens every incentive to pick up and move their deposits elsewhere.” …Looking at the actions and words of Mr. Geithner, you can conclude that he is consciously trying to destroy the U.S. economy, he lacks a sufficient number of brain cells and nerve connections for the job, or his ego and desire to pander to his boss and well-known economic illiterates has caused him to be willfully negligent over and over again. The latter is probably closest to the truth.

What makes this new regulation so disturbing is that it is a gross abuse of the regulatory process. For more than 90 years, Congress has maintained a policy of seeking to attract capital to the American financial system. Lawmakers repeatedly have looked at this issue of “nonresident alien” deposits, and they always have decided that America should be a safe haven for foreigners who want a good place to deposit money.

Yet the IRS, which is supposed to issue regulations that enforce existing law, proposed a regulation that overturns the law. And Geithner approved it. No vote from Congress. No legislation from the White House. No need to bother with the rule of law or democracy (and people wonder why there is rhetoric about a gangster government!).

I cover some of the key points in this video about the proposal.

You may be wondering why the Obama Administration is in favor of such a bad idea. Well, there’s no great mystery. Politicians get very upset if people have the freedom to shift economic activity to jurisdictions with better tax law. This process, known as tax competition, creates pressure for better tax policy.

Statists from all around the world have united in a campaign to undermine tax competition and expand the power of governments to impose bad tax policy. Obama and his team are simply doing their part to advance this dystopic vision.

The implementation of this IRS regulation means we’ve suffered an unfortunate defeat in this battle. So if we care about promoting good policy and restraining the greed of the political class, we need to redouble our efforts.

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Kevin Williamson of National Review is always worth reading, whether he’s kicking Paul Krugman’s behind in a discussion about the Texas economy, explaining supply-side economics, or even when he’s writing misguided things about taxation.

But I’m tempted to say that anything he’s written to date pales into insignificance compared to his analysis of the corrupt relationship between big government and Wall Street. Here are some excerpts, but read the entire article.

He starts out with a strong claim about the Obama Administration being in the back pocket of Wall Street.

…it’s no big deal to buy a president, which is precisely what Wall Street did in 2008 when, led by investment giant Goldman Sachs, it closed the deal on Barack Obama. For a few measly millions, Wall Street not only bought itself a president, but got the start-up firm of B. H. Obama & Co. LLC to throw a cabinet into the deal, too — on remarkably generous terms. …the real bonus turned out to be Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, who came up through the ranks as part of the bipartisan Robert Rubin–Hank Paulson–Citigroup–Goldman Sachs cabal. Geithner, a government-and-academe man from way back, never really worked on Wall Street, though he once was offered a gig as CEO of Citigroup, which apparently thought he did an outstanding job as chairman of the New York Fed, where one of his main tasks was regulating Citigroup — until it collapsed into the yawning suckhole of its own cavernous ineptitude, at which point Geithner’s main job became shoveling tens of billions of federal dollars into Citigroup, in an ingeniously structured investment that allowed the government to buy a 27 percent share in the bank, for which it paid more than the entire market value of the bank. If you can’t figure out why you’d pay 100-plus percent of a bank’s value for 27 percent of it, then you just don’t understand high finance or high politics.

Since I’ve compared Tim Geithner to Forest Gump, I’m not going to argue with this assessment.

Later in the article, Kevin makes a case that politicians are engaging in widespread insider trading.

Nancy Pelosi and her husband were parties to a dozen or so IPOs, many of which were effectively off limits to all but the biggest institutional investors and their favored clients. One of those was a 2008 investment of between $1 million and $5 million in Visa, an opportunity the average investor could not have bought, begged, or borrowed his way into — one that made the Pelosis a 50 percent profit in two days. Visa, of course, had business before Speaker Pelosi, who was helping to shape credit-card-reform legislation at the time. Visa got what it wanted. The Pelosis have also made some very fortunate investments in gasand energy firms that have benefited from Representative Pelosi’s legislative actions. The Pelosis made a million bucks off a single deal involving OnDisplay, the IPO of which was underwritten by investment banker William Hambrecht, a major Pelosi campaign contributor. …Besting Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D., N.Y.) got in on the pre-IPO action, without putting up so much as one rapidly depreciating U.S. dollar of his own assets, when a political supporter — who just happened to be the biggest shareholder of the firm in question — lent him $14,000 to buy shares in the private company, which he then sold for more than a hundred grand after the firm went public. There wasn’t so much as a written loan agreement. On and on and on it goes: Sen. John Kerry invested aggressively in health-care companies while shaping health-care legislation. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R. Ala.) was a remarkably apt options trader during the days when he had a front-row seat to Congress’s deliberations on the unfolding financial crisis.

I wish I had known these details when I went on TV to discuss congressional corruption earlier this year.

Kevin also explained how Warren Buffett made a boatload of money thanks to insider knowledge about bailouts.

…during the financial crisis, a big piece of Goldman Sachs was bought by Warren Buffett, who stacked up a lot of cash when the government poured money into that struggling investment bank with the support of Barack Obama. When the federal government bought into Goldman Sachs, it negotiated for itself a 5 percent dividend. Warren Buffett got 10 percent — on top of the benefit of having Washington inundate his investment with great rippling streams of taxpayers’ money.

No wonder Buffett’s willing to lie in order to help his buddies in Washington raise taxes.

There’s a lot more in the article, but here’s a final excerpt that sums up Kevin’s article.

Wall Street can do math, and the math looks like this: Wall Street + Washington = Wild Profitability. Free enterprise? Entrepreneurship? Starting a business making and selling stuff behind some grimy little storefront? You’d have to be a fool. Better to invest in political favors. …hedge-fund titans, i-bankers, congressional nabobs, committee chairmen, senators, swindlers, run-of-the-mill politicos, and a few outright thieves (these categories are not necessarily exclusive) all feeding at the same trough, and most of them betting that Mitt Romney won’t do anything more to stop it than Barack Obama did. …Free-market, limited-government conservatives should be none too eager to welcome them back, nor should we let our natural sympathy with the profit motive blind us to the fact that a great many of them do not belong in the conservative movement, and that more than a few of them belong in prison.

All of this underscores why TARP was such an unmitigated disaster – and why we should be suspicious of politicians like Romney and Gingrich who supported the bailouts.

Remember, capitalism without bankruptcy is like religion without hell.

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The Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, is infamous for conveniently forgetting to pay tax on $80,000 of income and then getting kid-glove treatment from the IRS when his crime was uncovered.

Not only did Geithner avoid even a slap on the wrist, he was confirmed to head the department that includes the IRS. So you can understand why a clever person came up with this t-shirt mocking the Treasury Secretary.

But it appears that Geithner’s elitist disdain for the law is shared by high-level left-wing political figures in other nations. Here’s a very similar story from the United Kingdom, where a cabinet official got caught for not complying with the value-added tax.

Here are some excerpts from the UK-based Independent.

Mr Cable was hit with a £500 penalty from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) after the blunder over a VAT bill of up to £15,000 on his media work. The Business Secretary – who has criticised firms which seek to avoid tax – admitted it was a “bit embarrassing” that his VAT liability “wasn’t spotted earlier”. But he insisted that he “made no attempt to avoid tax” and the “oversight” had happened in good faith. Downing Street said it regarded the incident as “closed”, adding that Mr Cable retained the Prime Minister’s full confidence.

If you recognize Mr. Cable’s name, there’s a good reason. He is member of the parasite class in England most associated with the push for higher tax rates on capital gains – which led to a clever set of posters attacking his destructive proposal.

Makes you wonder if there is some secret fraternity of politicians, with initiation rites involving the chant: “Taxes for thee, but not for me.”

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One almost feels sorry for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

He’s a punchline in his own country because he oversees the IRS even though he conveniently forgot to declare $80,000 of income (and managed to get away with punishment that wouldn’t even qualify as a slap on the wrist).

Now he’s becoming a a bit of a joke in Europe. Earlier this month, a wide range of European policy makers basically told the Treasury Secretary to take a long walk off a short pier when he tried to offer advice on Europe’s fiscal crisis.

And the latest development is that the German Finance Minister basically said Geithner was “stupid” for a new bailout scheme. Here’s an excerpt from the UK-based Daily Telegraph.

Germany and America were on a collision course on Tuesday night over the handling of Europe’s debt crisis after Berlin savaged plans to boost the EU rescue fund as a “stupid idea” and told the White House to sort out its own mess before giving gratuitous advice to others.German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said it would be a folly to boost the EU’s bail-out machinery (EFSF) beyond its €440bn lending limit by deploying leverage to up to €2 trillion, perhaps by raising funds from the European Central Bank.”I don’t understand how anyone in the European Commission can have such a stupid idea. The result would be to endanger the AAA sovereign debt ratings of other member states. It makes no sense,” he said.

All that’s missing in the story is Geithner channeling his inner Forrest Gump and responding that “Stupid is as stupid does.”

…at birth?

Separated…

This little spat reminds me of the old saying that there is no honor among thieves. Geithner wants to do the wrong thing. The German government wants to do the wrong thing. And every other European government wants to do the wrong thing. They’re merely squabbling over the best way of picking German pockets to subsidize the collapsing welfare states of Southern Europe.

But that’s actually not accurate. German politicians don’t really want to give money to the Greeks and Portuguese.

The real story of the bailouts is that politicians from rich nations are trying to indirectly protect their banks, which – as shown in this chart – are in financial trouble because they foolishly thought lending money to reckless welfare states was a risk-free exercise.

Europe’s political class claims that bailouts are necessary to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, but this is nonsense – much as American politicians were lying (or bamboozled) when they supported TARP.

It is a relatively simple matter for a government to put a bank in receivership, hold all depositors harmless, and then sell off the assets. Or to subsidize the takeover of an insolvent institution. This is what America did during the savings & loan bailouts 20 years ago. Heck, it’s also what happened with IndyMac and WaMu during the recent financial crisis. And it’s what the Swedish government basically did in the early 1990s when that nation had a financial crisis.

But politicians don’t like this “FDIC-resolution” approach because it means wiping out shareholders, bondholders, and senior management of institutions that made bad economic choices. And that would mean reducing moral hazard rather than increasing it. And it would mean stiff-arming campaign contributors and protecting the interests of taxpayers.

Heaven forbid those things happen. After all, as Bastiat told us, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner may be most famous in the United States for cheating on his taxes (you can even buy a t-shirt to acknowledge his tax dodging), but he’s becoming a punch line in the rest of the world for different reasons.

I wrote two years ago about Chinese students erupting in laughter after Geithner claimed the Administration believed in a strong dollar.

Now he’s getting mocked by the Europeans.

After Friday’s post about the absurdity of Obama sending his Treasury Secretary to lecture the Europeans, you can imagine my great amusement today as I read that the Europeans basically told Geithner to go jump in a lake.

Here are some passages from the Reuters report.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s high-profile trip to Europe left some European officials more dumbstruck than starstruck. …”We can always discuss with our American colleagues. I’d like to hear how the United States will reduce its deficits … and its debts,” Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders said somewhat tartly. Jean-Claude Juncker, the chairman of the Eurogroup, was even more to the point. “I don’t think it would be wise for me to report from an informal meeting that we have with the treasury secretary. We are not discussing the expansion or increase of the EFSF with a non-member of the euro area,” he said.

And here is a brief excerpt from the Financial Times.

…some eurozone finance ministers hit back at Mr Geithner’s comments, questioning the usefulness of his visit. “I found it peculiar that even though the Americans have significantly worse fundamental data than the eurozone, that they tell us what we should do and when we make a suggestion … that they say no straight away,” said Maria Fekter, Austria’s finance minister. Sweden’s Anders Borg said: “we need to make progress, but it’s quite clear the US has a big debt problem and the situation would be better if the US could show a sustainable way forward.”

When the dust settles, though, the fact that Secretary Geithner is getting laughed at and mocked by people in other countries is not that funny. Not because he doesn’t deserve abuse, but rather because the bad policies of the Obama Administration are resulting in genuine hardship and suffering.

And the fact that the Europeans are even further down the path that leads to fiscal crisis makes it all the more tragic. You would think American policy makers would learn what not to do.

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This is either frightening or hilarious. The people in Washington who are trying to make America more like Europe are advising the Europeans to double-down on the awful policies that have pushed the continent’s welfare states to insolvency.

Here are some of the surreal details from a CNBC report.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will take the unprecedented step of attending a meeting of EU finance ministers in Poland on Friday. It will be his second trip to Europe in a week after he met his main EU counterparts at a G7 meeting last weekend. Obama said that while Greece is the immediate concern, an even bigger problem is what may happen should markets keep attacking the larger economies of Spain and Italy. “In the end the big countries in Europe, the leaders in Europe must meet and take a decision on how to coordinate monetary integration with more effective co-ordinated fiscal policy,” the news agency EFE quoted him as saying. Geithner is likely to urge euro zone finance ministers on Friday to speed up ratification of changes to their bailout fund and consider boosting its size, an EU source said. …Obama’s comments suggested that Washington is trying to nudge European governments toward closer fiscal union or a bigger bailout fund to recapitalize teetering banks but European politics, especially in Germany, make that difficult.

Your eyes are not deceiving you. Obama and Geithner want more bailouts, which will simply encourage more profligacy. And the President even endorsed more harmonization of economic policy, which will exacerbate the problems in Europe by leading to higher taxes, more spending, and additional regulation.

But you have to give Obama and Geithner credit. They support the same bad policies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Obama, however, is not fully consistent in his beliefs. During a visit to Africa, he said, “No business wants to invest in a place where government skims 20 percent off the top.” But I guess bigger government is okay in Europe, where the burden of government is already 50 percent of economic output.

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There’s a lot of buzz about a Wall Street Journal interview with Stanley Druckenmiller, in which he argues that a temporary delay in making payments on U.S. government debt (which technically would be a default) would be a small price to pay if it resulted in the long-term spending reforms that are needed to save America from becoming another Greece.

One of the world’s most successful money managers, the lanky, sandy-haired Mr. Druckenmiller is so concerned about the government’s ability to pay for its future obligations that he’s willing to accept a temporary delay in the interest payments he’s owed on his U.S. Treasury bonds—if the result is a Washington deal to restrain runaway entitlement costs. “I think technical default would be horrible,” he says from the 24th floor of his midtown Manhattan office, “but I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the world. It’s not going to be catastrophic. What’s going to be catastrophic is if we don’t solve the real problem,” meaning Washington’s spending addiction. …Mr. Druckenmiller’s view on the debt limit bumps up against virtually the entire Wall Street-Washington financial establishment. A recent note on behalf of giant banks on the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee warned of a “severe and long-lasting impact” if the debt limit is not raised immediately. …This week more than 60 trade associations, representing virtually all of American big business, forecast “a massive spike in borrowing costs.” On Thursday Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke raised the specter of a market crisis similar to the one that followed the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. As usual, the most aggressive predictor of doom in the absence of increased government spending has been Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. In a May 2 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Mr. Geithner warned of “a catastrophic economic impact” and said, “Default would cause a financial crisis potentially more severe than the crisis from which we are only now starting to recover.”

Mr. Druckenmiller is not overly impressed by this hyperbole. The article continues with this key passage.

“Here are your two options: piece of paper number one—let’s just call it a 10-year Treasury. So I own this piece of paper. I get an income stream obviously over 10 years . . . and one of my interest payments is going to be delayed, I don’t know, six days, eight days, 15 days, but I know I’m going to get it. There’s not a doubt in my mind that it’s not going to pay, but it’s going to be delayed. But in exchange for that, let’s suppose I know I’m going to get massive cuts in entitlements and the government is going to get their house in order so my payments seven, eight, nine, 10 years out are much more assured,” he says. Then there’s “piece of paper number two,” he says, under a scenario in which the debt limit is quickly raised to avoid any possible disruption in payments. “I don’t have to wait six, eight, or 10 days for one of my many payments over 10 years. I get it on time. But we’re going to continue to pile up trillions of dollars of debt and I may have a Greek situation on my hands in six or seven years. Now as an owner, which piece of paper do I want to own? To me it’s a no-brainer. It’s piece of paper number one.” …”Russia had a real default and two or three years later they had all-time low interest rates,” says Mr. Druckenmiller. In the future, he says, “People aren’t going to wonder whether 20 years ago we delayed an interest payment for six days. They’re going to wonder whether we got our house in order.”

This is a very compelling argument, but it overlooks one major problem – the complete inability of Republicans to succeed in forcing fiscal reform using this approach.

Here’s a sure-fire prediction, assuming GOPers in the House actually are willing to engage in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Obama on the debt limit.

o There will be lots of political drama.

o We will get to a point where the federal government exhausts its borrowing authority.

o At that point, either Geithner or Bernanke (or probably both) will make some completely dishonest statements designed to rattle financial markets.

o The establishment media will echo those statements.

o The stock market and/or bond market will have a negative reaction.

o Republican resolve will evaporate like a drop of water in the Mojave Desert.

o The debt limit will be increased without any meaningful fiscal reform.

For all intents and purposes, this is what happened with the TARP vote in 2008. There were basically two choices of how to deal with the financial crisis. The establishment wanted a blank-check bailout, while sensible people wanted the “FDIC-resolution” approach (similar to what was used during the savings & loan bailouts about 20 years ago, which bails out retail customers but wipes out shareholders, bondholders and senior management). Republicans initially held firm and defeated the first TARP vote, but then they folded when the Washington-Wall Street establishment scared markets.

I hope I’m wrong in my analysis, but I don’t see how Republicans could win a debt limit fight. At least not if they demand something like the Ryan budget. The best possible outcome would be budget process reform such as Senator Corker’s CAP Act, which would impose caps on future spending, enforced by automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. Because it postpones the fiscal discipline until after the vote, that legislation has a chance of attracting enough bipartisan support to overcome opposition from Obama and other statists.

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By taking advantage of  “must-pass” pieces of legislation, Republicans have three chances this year to restrain the burden of government.  They didn’t do very well with the ‘CR fight” over appropriated spending for the rest of FY2011, which was their first opportunity. I was hoping for an extra-base hit off the fence, but the GOP was afraid of a government shutdown and negotiated from a position of weakness. As such, the best interpretation is that they eked out an infield single.

The next chance to impose fiscal discipline will be the debt limit. Currently, the federal government “only” has the authority to borrow $14.3 trillion (including bookkeeping entries such as the IOUs in the Social Security Trust Fund). This is a very big number, but America’s gross federal debt will hit that limit soon, perhaps May or June.

Republicans say they will not raise the debt limit unless such legislation is accompanied by meaningful fiscal reforms. The political strategists in the Obama White House understandably want to blunt any GOP effort, so they are claiming that any delay in passing a “clean debt limit” will have catastrophic consequences. Specifically, they are using Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke to create fear and uncertainty in financial markets.

Just a few days ago, for instance, the Treasury Secretary was fanning the flames of a financial meltdown, as noted by Bloomberg:

“Default would cause a financial crisis potentially more severe than the crisis from which we are only now starting to recover,” Geithner said. “For these reasons, default by the United States is unthinkable.”

The Fed Chairman also tried to pour gasoline on the fire. Here’s a passage from an article in the New York Times earlier this year:

Mr. Bernanke said the debt ceiling should not be used as a negotiating tactic, warning that even the possibility of the United States not being able to pay its creditors could create panic in the debt markets.

There are two problems with these statements from Geithner and Bernanke. First, it is a bit troubling that the Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman are major players in a political battle. The Treasury Secretary, like the Attorney General, traditionally is supposed to be one of the more serious and non-political people in a  President’s cabinet. And the Fed Chairman is supposed to be completely independent, yet Bernanke is becoming a mouthpiece for Obama’s fiscal policy.

But let’s set aside this first concern and focus on the second problem, which is whether Geithner and Bernanke are being honest. Simply stated, does a failure to raise the debt limit mean default? According to a wide range of expert opinion, the answer is no.

Donald Marron, head of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, explained what actually would happen in an article for CNN Money.

Our monthly bills average about $300 billion, while revenues are about $180 billion. If we hit the debt limit, the federal government would be able to pay only 60 cents of every dollar it should be paying. But even that does not mean that we will default on the public debt. Geithner would then choose which creditors to pay promptly and which to defer. …Geithner would undoubtedly keep making payments on the public debt, rolling over the outstanding principal and paying interest. Interest payments are relatively small, averaging about $20 billion per month, and paying them on time is essential to America’s enviable position in world capital markets.

And here is the analysis of Stan Collender, one of Washington’s elder statesman on budget issues (and definitely not a small-government conservative).

There is so much misinformation and grossly misleading talk about what will happen if the federal debt ceiling isn’t increased that, before any more unnecessary bloodcurdling language is used that increases everyone’s anxiety, it’s worth taking a few steps back from the edge. …if a standoff on raising the debt ceiling lasts for a significant amount of time, the alternatives to borrowing eventually may not be enough to provide the government with the cash it needs to meet its obligations. Even at that point, however, a default wouldn’t be automatic because payments to existing bondholders could be made the priority while payments to others could be delayed for months.

The Economist magazine also is nonplussed by the demagoguery coming from Washington.

Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, sent Congress a letter on January 6th describing in gory detail the “catastrophic economic consequences” such an event would entail. …Even with no increase in the ceiling, the Treasury can easily service its existing debt; it is free to roll over maturing issues, and tax revenue covers monthly interest payments by a large multiple. But in that case it would have to postpone paying something else: tax refunds, Medicare or Medicaid payments, civil-service salaries, or Social Security (pensions) cheques.

There are countless other experts I could cite, but you get the point. The United States does not default if the debt limit remains at $14.3 trillion. The only exception to that statement is that default is possible if the Treasury Secretary makes a deliberate (and highly political) decision to not pay bondholders. And while Geithner obviously is willing to play politics, even he would be unlikely to take this step since it is generally believed that the Treasury Secretary may be personally liable if there is a default.

The purpose of this post is not to argue that the debt limit should never be raised. That would require an instant 40 percent reduction in the size of government. And while that may be music to my ears (and some people are making that argument), I have zero faith that politicians would let that happen. Instead, my goal is to help fiscal conservatives understand that Geithner and Bernanke are being dishonest and that they should not be afraid to hold firm in their demands for real reform in exchange for a debt limit increase.

Last but not least, with all this talk about the debt limit, it’s worth reminding everyone that deficits and debt are merely symptoms of too much government spending. As this video explains, spending is the disease and debt is merely one of the symptoms.

By the way, the final chance this year to impose spending restraint will be around October 1, when the 2011 fiscal year expires and the 2012 fiscal year begins. But I won’t be holding my breath for anything worthwhile if Republicans screw up on the debt limit just like they failed to achieve much on the CR fight.

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I sympathize with almost all taxpayers, but it’s difficult to feel sorry for government workers who get in trouble with the IRS. Compensation packages for federal bureaucrats are twice as lucrative as those for workers in the productive sector of the economy and their pensions are similarly extravagant. Yet they often can’t be bothered to fully pay their taxes, owing billions of dollars to the IRS according to a Washington Post report. Among the biggest scofflaws are the folks at the Postal Service, who have accumulated more than $283 million of unpaid taxes. Retired bureaucrats, meanwhile, have amassed nearly $455 million of back taxes. Even tax collectors sometimes fall behind. Treasury Department bureaucrats owe $7.7 million. How hard can it be for them to walk down the hallway and cough up? Or do they think they’re exempt since their boss barely got a slap on the wrist after “forgetting” to declare $80,000? The most startling part of the story, though, is the degree of tax dodging on Capitol Hill. Here’s an excerpt from the story.

Capitol Hill employees owed $9.3 million in overdue taxes at the end of last year… The debt among Hill employees has risen at a faster rate than the overall tax debt on the government’s books, according to Internal Revenue Service data. …The IRS data…shows 638 employees, or about 4 percent, of the 18,000 Hill workers owe money, a slightly higher percentage than the 3 percent delinquency rate among all returns filed nationwide. …”If you’re on the federal payroll and you’re not paying your taxes, you should be fired,” [Congressman] Chaffetz said in an interview. He said the policy should apply across the board and “there should be no special exemptions.”

The shocking part about this blurb, at least to me, is not the 638 staffers who owe money to the IRS. It’s the fact that there are 18,000 bureaucrats working for Congress. Do 100 Senators and 435 Representatives really need that many attendants? How I long for the good ol’ days, when each politician had about two staffers. I suspect it’s no coincidence that the federal government was a much smaller burden back when there were far fewer staff.

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The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, which means a big tax increase in 2011. Tax rates for all brackets will increase, the double tax on dividends will skyrocket from 15 percent to 39.6 percent, the child credit will shrink, the death tax will be reinstated (at 55 percent!), the marriage penalty will get worse, and the capital gains tax rate will jump to 20 percent. All of these provisions will be unwelcome news for taxpayers, but it’s important to look at direct and indirect costs. A smaller paycheck is an example of direct costs, but in some cases the indirect costs – such as slower economic growth – are even more important. This is why higher tax rates on entrepreneurs and investors are so misguided. For every dollar the government collects from policies targeting these people (such as higher capital gains and dividend taxes, a renewed death tax, and increases in the top tax rates), it’s likely that there will be significant collateral economic damage.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s approach is to look at tax policy only through the prism of class warfare. This means that some tax cuts can be extended, but only if there is no direct benefit to anybody making more than $200,000 or $250,000 per year. The folks at the White House apparently don’t understand, however, that higher direct costs on the “rich” will translate into higher indirect costs on the rest of us. Higher tax rates on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship will slow economic growth. And, because of compounding, even small changes in the long-run growth rate can have a significant impact on living standards within one or two decades. This is one of the reasons why high-tax European welfare states have lost ground in recent decades compared to the United States.

When the economy slows down, that’s not good news for upper-income taxpayers. But it’s also bad news for the rest of us – and it can create genuine hardship for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. The White House may be playing smart politics. As this blurb from the Washington Post indicates, the President seems to think that he can get away with blaming the recession on tax cuts that took place five years before the downturn began. But for those of us who care about prosperity more than politics, what really matters is that the economy is soon going to be hit with higher tax rates on productive behavior. It’s unclear whether that’s good for the President’s poll numbers, but it’s definitely bad for America.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner took the lead Sunday in continuing the Obama administration’s push for extending middle-class tax cuts while allowing similar cuts for the nation’s wealthiest individuals to expire in January. …The tax cuts, put in place between 2001 and 2003, have become an intensely political topic ahead of the congressional elections this fall. Republicans have argued that extending the full spectrum of tax cuts is essential to strengthening the sluggish economic recovery. Geithner rejected that notion, telling ABC’s “This Week” that letting tax cuts for the wealthiest expire would not hurt growth. …On Saturday, the president used part of his weekly address to chide House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and other Republicans who oppose the administration’s approach, saying the GOP was pushing “the same policies that led us into this recession.”

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The Wall Street Journal ponders the mini-tax revolt among some Democrats, ranging from Kent Conrad in the Senate to Jerrold Nadler in the House, who are suddenly making arguments that it would be a bad idea to allow higher tax rates in 2011 (because the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts automatically expire).
 
I’m not holding my breath waiting for good results. Almost all of the Democrat “tax cutters” are making flawed Keynesian arguments, so they don’t even understand why it’s a good idea to focus on lowering marginal tax rates. But the WSJ’s editorial makes a good point about accepting good policy even if it’s based on bad analysis. But since extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would require the support of almost 20 Democrat Senators and 40 Democrat Congressmen, I’m afraid it’s a moot issue – especially since the Obama White House is dominated by the hate-n-envy class-warfare crowd.

The revelation that tax increases could hurt the economy has recently been heard from Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and, most surprising, even from Kent Conrad of North Dakota. On a scale of unlikely events, this is like the Pope coming out against celibacy. As Senate Budget Chairman, Mr. Conrad has rarely seen a tax increase he didn’t like, but this week he averred that “As a general rule, you don’t want to be cutting spending or raising taxes in the midst of a downturn.” …Even Jerrold Nadler, a liberal from central casting, is worrying publicly that the tax hike will hit his New York constituents too hard. And he’s certainly right given that the combined top state and federal income tax rate will be close to 54% in 2011 in New York City. Mr. Nadler is proposing—seriously—to adjust the income tax brackets based on regional cost of living so fewer New Yorkers pay the rates …These are hardly supply-side conversions, but they’re a start. The economic recovery is far from robust, and socking it with one of the largest tax increases in history in January is not going to make anyone more eager to invest or create new jobs. Even Lord Keynes opposed raising taxes in a recession, and good Keynesian Democrats like the late economist Walter Heller persuaded JFK to cut tax rates in the 1960s. Those cuts kicked off that decade’s economic boom. Only in the age of Obama have Democrats convinced themselves that the best “stimulus” is higher spending and higher taxes. …even if all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent, the share of national output that goes toward federal income taxes will in every year stay well above the post-World War II average of 8.2%. Income tax receipts will rise gradually to 10% of GDP, even with the current tax rates intact, because as the economy grows the progressive tax code takes a larger share. If tax increases weaken the economy, revenues won’t increase as fast as Democrats hope and the deficit won’t fall by as much in any case. Which brings us back to the Speaker, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Mr. Obama, who remain prisoners of their spend-and-tax dogma. Even as the Democratic tax revolt broke into the open yesterday morning, the White House rolled out Mr. Geithner to declare that the tax increases will arrive as scheduled. So the same Mr. Geithner who says the economy is weak enough that we must have new spending “stimulus” says it is strong enough to endure a huge tax increase.

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The Secretary of the Treasury is a comedian as well as a tax cheat. At least that’s the only rational interpretation of his recent statements in Europe, where he used the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do routine while pretending to tell the Europeans to be fiscally responsible. The Wall Street Journal, in keeping with the deadpan style of the gig, reported Geithner’s comments as if they represented serious advice: “U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner landed in Europe and reasserted a traditional American role of dispenser of financial advice to the world, telling European governments to get their fiscal houses in order.”

The key to any good monologue, though, is knowing how to follow one joke with another. Geithner did not disappoint. He then did a 180-degree turn, leaving the audience rolling in the aisles by urging spending and bailout policies directly at odds with his previous joke: “Mr. Geithner pushed continental Europe to speed up the rescue of debt-laden economies, and to not stint on fiscal stimulus.”

Geithner may have been the headliner, but the Wall Street Journal also reported on some of the warm-up acts, including a so-so performance from Christina Romer, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Romer doesn’t have Geithner’s advantage of simultaneously being a tax cheat and being in charge of tax enforcement, so she’s tried to carve out an interesting niche in the world of humor by pushing for policies that contradict her academic writings. It’s unclear whether her reference to “pulling out” was an attempt to be risque (perhaps influenced by the President’s naughty use of the “teabagger” phrase), but here’s how the the WSJ covered her stand-up routine: “She told reporters that she, too, would warn European and other countries against pulling out of their stimulus plans too quickly. ‘There’s a certain amount of rush for the exits on fiscal policy,’ Ms. Romer said.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, some critics failed to undersand the subtle use of humor and irony by Obama officials and actually took the comments seriously. The article reports on a wet-blanket reaction from one think tank representative: “For Geithner critics, the new U.S. assertiveness is misplaced. Desmond Lachman, a former senior IMF European official who is now a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, said the repeated bailouts engineered by Mr. Geithner have made the overall problem worse, and that the U.S. advice of providing even more financing for heavily indebted countries like Greece is bound to fail.”

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For those of you who can’t find zhu zhu pets, here’s an option sure to bring a smile – a long-sleeved t-shirt honoring the Secretary of the Treasury. Maybe if you’ve been very good all year long, Santa will bring you a special Tim “Turbotax” Geithner free pass, allowing you to cheat on your taxes and get away with no penalties once you’re caught!

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Tim “Turbotax” Geithner is getting attacked on the Hill because of the weak economy, but he should be condemned for the corruption and favoritism he displayed while head of the New York Fed during the financial crisis. The New York Times recently reported how much of the money wasted on AIG actually was designed to go in the pockets of Geithner’s friends and cronies in the banking sector:

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York gave up much of its power in high-pressure negotiations with the American International Group’s trading partners last year, according to a government report made public on Monday. Just two days before the New York Fed paid AIG’s partners 100 cents on the dollar to tear up their contracts with the insurance giant, one bank volunteered to take a modest haircut — but it never got the chance. …Goldman Sachs and the top French bank regulator. They argued, with others, that it would be improper and perhaps even criminal to force AIG’s trading partners to bear losses outside of bankruptcy court. The banks and the regulator were confident that the New York Fed was not willing to push AIG into bankruptcy, because earlier in the fall the New York Fed had stepped in with $85 billion to prop up the insurer. …The Fed “refused to use its considerable leverage,” Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, wrote in a report to be officially released on Tuesday, examining the much-criticized decision to make AIG’s trading partners whole when people and businesses were taking painful losses in the financial markets. There have been suggestions that the Fed chose to negotiate weakly, Mr. Barofsky said, to give a “backdoor bailout” to AIG’s banks. He said Mr. Geithner and the Fed’s lawyers had denied this, but added that “irrespective of their stated intent,” there was no doubt about the result: “Tens of billions of dollars of government money was funneled inexorably and directly to AIG’s counterparties.”

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Since the Treasury Department is still very much on the wrong side of the OECD anti-tax competition campaign, don’t get too excited about the headline. But it is still nice to see that Tim Geithner and the rest of the crowd in the Obama Administration are not so hopelessly statist that they are willing to go along with a global tax on financial transactions. The Wall Street Journal opines:

In the department of bad ideas that won’t go away, Exhibit A is a global tax on financial transactions. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown mooted the tax last weekend before the G-20 finance ministers in St. Andrews, Scotland, where he was promptly rebuffed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. …it’s easy to see why high-tax countries such as France and Germany relish the idea. Tax competition is a bête noire for the Western European countries whose governments eat up close to half of their economies. The U.K. is back in that club after the post-financial-panic recession lopped 6% off its GDP. Scrambling for revenue—and unwilling to hamstring London markets alone—Mr. Brown is suddenly promoting global tax coordination. …Like all tax-harmonization schemes, the Tobin levy is designed to raise taxes above a level that is hard to sustain in a competitive world. This is why its backers have always insisted on a global imposition of the tax. Kudos to Secretary Geithner for offering Mr. Brown a reality check.

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In this CNBC debate, I argue that more regulatory power for government is a bad idea. I need to learn to interrupt, though, since Christian is very effective using that tactic to get more air time.

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