New York Times columnist Frank Bruni has a piece in the New York Times describing our political penchant for last minute brinkmanship.
“Taxmageddon,” as it’s sometimes called on Capitol Hill, is the new biggie, looming early next year. That’s when, in the absence of Congressional action, supposedly temporary tax cuts passed under George W. Bush and extended by President Obama expire as automatic spending reductions agreed to at the end of the debt ceiling showdown (“debtmaggedon”) begin to kick in. The combined force of those developments, according to some projections, would be a $700 billion blow to the economy in 2013 and, as the year progressed, a recession….
Not to point out the obvious, but the $700 billion doesn’t disappear if these ‘temporary’ tax cuts are not extended and the budget cuts implemented. Rather, some of the increased revenue goes to the government (estimates from the Tax Foundation run from a low of $100 billion to a high of $250 billion increase annually), and the spending cuts end up reducing deficits and debt. The problem there is what that transferred $700 billion is spent on. Do we pay down deficits and/or debt? Do we begin massive hiring on infrastructure projects? Do we split the difference between these two very different uses?
If Congress does extend the tax cuts, where does that $700 billion go in the private sector? The presumption is, depending upon your income, some of it goes to consumption, some of it goes to whittle down debt, and the remainder basically goes into some form of savings. But these are assumptions. The fact is no one can predict where that $700 billion in ‘temporary’ tax cuts really goes and in what proportion.
The two government options, paying down deficits and or debt, or hiring millions of people doing infrastructure projects, are predictable. Applying the $700 billion against public debt is easy enough to figure out. It’s simple math, only complicated by the interest rates applied to the debt that’s retired. The downside to this option is that the benefits of lowering debt, accrue over time in the form of less interest that needs paying. If the $700 billion retires $700 billion in debt that carries a 4% interest rate, then the annual savings is $28 billion. If it’s applied directly to deficits, then the benefit accrues more quickly in the form of dramatically reducing the deficit.
The second option, infrastructure projects, is even more straightforward. Estimates on these projects range from 10,000 jobs per billion to as much as 18,000 jobs per billion. Research by the University of Massachusetts Public Economy Research Institute estimates $148 billion in infrastructure work would create as many as 2.6 million jobs. That would drop the unemployment rate down to 5.6%.
These jobs don’t appear instantly, of course, but they do have legs. These types of projects can run for three or more years. And the net economic benefits can last for decades.
Beezer here. The upside is greater than the downside, in our opinion. Predictions of a double dip can’t be ignored, but any recession is guaranteed to be fairly brief simply because of the employment that would be created. Splitting the difference two ways with some of the tax cuts extended but not all, and the resulting revenue increase dedicated to infrastructure and its employment, would be the most effective course. Our dysfunctional Congress, particularly the Tea Party members in the House, are determined to defund almost all government spending and that means no tax increases. Period. They have single mindedly pushed the nation to the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ at every opportunity. Democrats should say the nation is going to build a bridge over the fiscal cliff.