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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fiscal Agreement Update

by Calculated Risk on 12/23/2012 10:33:00 AM

A few obvious points on the "fiscal cliff": 1) It is about the deficit shrinking too quickly next year, 2) there is no "drop dead" date and an agreement in early January still seems likely (the sites and TV stations with countdown times are embarrassing themselves), and 3) entitlements are not part of the "cliff" (although it was possible some changes might be part of an agreement).

Clearly there is going to be more austerity in the US at the Federal level next year. How much is unclear.

From Ezra Klein at Wonkblog: Obama’s “small deal” could lead to bigger tax increases

The talk in Washington now is about a “small deal.” That would likely include the Senate tax bill [to extend tax cuts for anyone making less than $250,000], some policy to turn off at least the defense side of the sequester and a handful of other policies to blunt or delay various parts of the fiscal cliff.

That’s not a very good deal for the short-term health of the economy.
This means the payroll tax cuts would expire (something I've expected) and tax rates for those making more than $250,000 would increase (also expected). There are many other issues - the medicare "doc" fix, mortgage debt relief, emergency unemployment benefits and on and on - that still need to be addressed.

It is hard to guess the impact on the economy until we see the details.

And an interesting article from the NY Times: How Party of Budget Restraint Shifted to ‘No New Taxes,’ Ever
On a Saturday afternoon in October 1990, Senator Pete V. Domenici turned from a conversation on the Senate floor, caught the eye of a clerk by raising his right hand and voted in favor of a huge and contentious bill to reduce federal deficits. Then he put his hand back into his pocket and returned to the conversation.

It was the end of an era, although no one knew it then. It was the last time any Congressional Republican has voted for higher income taxes.
In the early 1980s, majorities of Congressional Republicans voted for a pair of deficit deals orchestrated by President Ronald Reagan, even though tax increases accounted for more than 80 percent of the projected reductions.
This shift in the Republican party (to no taxes ever) is why I think an early January agreement is likely. In my first post on the fiscal agreement, I wrote: "Given that the top marginal tax rate will increase - and that certain politicians can't vote for any bill with a tax increase - the agreement will probably be voted on in January after the Bush tax cuts expire." That may seem weird, but it is the current state of politics.