Dec 22 2012

Schadenfreude: Fiscal Cliff Edition

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy, shenanigans, snark

schadenfreude: pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

You’d cry too if you had to herd feral cats

So I know just about everyone is talking about the NRA’s crazy town response to the Newtown shootings. I think all that needs to be said about the speech delivered Friday is nicely summed up here.

Quite frankly, I’m shocked that anyone was shocked by that announcement. LaPierre has been spouting crazy for the NRA since 1991. Same song and dance, over and over again. It ain’t about gun ownership…its about gun sales. Manufacturers pay the bills at the NRA. Don’t forget it.

So aside from providing a distraction, the NRA event was irrelevant. Unfortunately for everyone, a distraction was needed, in the wake of the massive failure to herd feral cats, some called the display “a clown show”.

How We Got Here

It’s important to remember is how we got here, where it started and who is responsible.

November, 2010 – A wave of of GOP wins in Congressional races, led by 40 candidates claiming “Tea Party” affiliations, leads to the composition of the US House of Representatives flipping from 255 Democrats to 242 Republicans.

August 2, 2011 – In the wake of a contentious battle over the debt ceiling limit, the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed with bipartisan support. The bill raised the debt ceiling and put in place a series of deep budget cuts and tax increases if the Congress could not reach an agreement.

66 Republicans voted against the deal, which would not have passed without Democratic support.

August 5, 2011 – In the wake of the vote on the Budget Control Act, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the US Credit rating stating concerns with the current state of political affairs in the Congress.

February 2012 – Fed Chairman Ben Bernake coins the term “fiscal cliff”.

July/August 2012 – On July 25th the US Senate passed a proposal that would have avoided the tax increase portion of the fiscal cliff. The proposal was rejected by the House on August 1st.

November 2012 – Elections result in more GOP moderates losing. Democrats gain 8 seats in House. Incoming makeup of the House: 201D – 234R. Incoming makeup of the Senate: 55D – 45R

December 2012 – Negotiations between Speaker Boehner and President Obama net a compromise. Said compromise not brought before the House. Boehner’s bill pulled for lack of support. The House did pass a bill dealing with spending cuts, however that bill has little chance of passage in the Senate and faces a Presidential veto.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but mentions most of the highlights. Had Republicans not tried to make political hay over increasing the debt ceiling, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

The Failure Option

Now I want to be very clear here: while I do get some pleasure from the outright #FAIL that was the Speaker’s effort to pass a watered down version of what he and the President were negotiating, I also understand that a failure to act by the end of the year will have some serious consequences for regular folks. Those consequences will be immediate for all of us, though many of them will have a limited impact.

If they fail to act, the payroll tax cut will disappear, the Bush era tax cuts will disappear, and some pretty stiff spending cuts that no one seems to want will be enacted.

What does this mean to you? Well based on the median household income you will see about $1000/yr less as a result of the payroll tax hike, about $1500 less as a result of the income tax hike, and a whole lot fewer services.

Interestingly, if the Obama proposal were to pass, a household making the median income would see a tax DECREASE of about $225/yr (payroll and income) rather than the increase of $2500 House Republicans seem to favor in the wake of their inaction. You can see how the fiscal cliff and the Obama proposals would impact your income here.

(Note: The tax calculator is provided by the anti-Keynsian, pro-business group The Tax Foundation. They bear responsibility for any inaccuracies.)

The Failure Option – Part II Electric Boogaloo

The financial impact of failure for household incomes is pretty dire. Considering that inflation adjusted incomes have been flat since 1967 for 80% of the population, losing $2500 for a median income represents a nearly 5% hit in real purchasing power. That’s not going to be good for an economy that is just really starting to emerge from weakness. Add to that increased instability from a potential market panic and Joe 6-pack is going to take a huge hit.

Investors know this. They make lots of money knowing this. And while we haven’t seen an increase in incomes to rival the increase in markets (1967 Dow was 825, 2012 Dow was 13190.84 as of the closing bell on Friday, a nearly 1600% increase), the panic that will ensue due to uncertainty if the fiscal cliff is not avoided will hurt average Americans more than investors, who will certainly lose wealth, but not much standing.

Investors have more ways to make money in the face of a market panic that regular folks don’t, including betting on failure. This kind of risky bet is usually only played by the wealthiest individuals and huge investment houses. It may seem counter-intuitive and to fly in the face of what we consider to be patriotic, but remember, in the church of the almighty dollar, anything goes that makes you rich.

Plenty of folks profited from the pain of the Great Depression and the more recent “Great Recession”. There will be winners if a huge market panic ensues come Jan. 2 as well.

Joe 6-pack won’t be one of them, so don’t even think about it.

I feel confident that a solution won’t be found before the end of the year. The House Republicans don’t seem to have the will to give any ground, and in their disarray they have given their Democratic counterparts some resolve to stand their ground. With 201 incoming votes, it will take just 17 Republicans to pass a Democratic measure…should it reach the floor. That seems like a possible scenario now that people are starting to point to conservative recalcitrance as the problem.

The Senate has already passed a bill, which was rejected by the Tea Party led House in August. The House could take the measure back up if they chose to. I can’t imagine that happening before the end of the year. I just don’t think the votes are there before the end of the year.

This means that a market panic is almost a certainty come Jan. 2. The next Congress convenes the next day. We’ll see what they do, but I’m putting my money on passing something like the Senate proposal and dealing with the spending side later…probably right before the next debt ceiling vote which will need to happen before February of 2013.

In the current climate, I just can’t see this leadership actually…you know…leading.