The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was created by Congress to provide a nonpartisan assessment of the impact of policy proposals. All policy involves politics. Hence, there is no such thing as a nonpartisan analysis. As with every other agency, the CBO has an agenda.
In terms of the country’s two most pressing policy issues the CBO agenda includes opposition to free markets and tax cuts as well as an affinity for government-controlled healthcare. To implement its agenda the CBO makes use of accounting principles rather than economic principles in assessing the impact of policies.
Accounting principles involve the straightforward use of numbers. In contrast, economic principles incorporate the impact of changes in individuals’ behavior when assessing policies.
By relying on accounting principles rather than economics, the CBO has been able to effectively wrestle control of policies from Congress. This shift in power has had severe consequences for both political parties and for the public.
The current fiasco over healthcare legislation is the most recent example of how the CBO controls policy.
When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was proposed in 2009, Democrats wanted to know how much the new regulations would add to the cost of health insurance. The CBO concluded that eventually premiums would increase by at most 10% to 13%.
A new detailed analysis from HHS shows the actual increase in insurance premiums due to the ACA regulations was 105%. Had the CBO produced an accurate assessment of the impact of the ACA, it never would have passed. Few politicians would knowingly vote to double the cost of insurance.
Last week, the CBO produced an equally flawed analysis when it was asked to assess the impact of repealing the ACA. Since costly new regulations had doubled insurance premiums, simple logic (i.e. economics) suggests removing those regulations would lead to substantially lower premiums.
Incredibly, the CBO concluded that repealing the ACA would double insurance premiums from today’s already record high levels. The CBO wasn’t through. It followed this illogical conclusion by stating that doubling premiums would make insurance so expensive that 32 million people would become uninsured.
According to CBO reasoning, putting costly regulations on insurance wouldn’t raise premiums by much, but removing those regulations would double the cost. Clearly, the CBO wants government-controlled healthcare.
After blindly accepting the CBO’s biased and inaccurate prediction of the impact of the ACA, Democrats went from a majority to a minority party. A similar fate awaits Republicans who blindly accept CBO’s analysis on either healthcare or tax cuts.
The CBO also doesn’t like lowering tax rates. As a result, when the agency assesses the impact of tax cuts it has a similar type of agenda-based analysis. The only time the CBO finds a positive impact from major tax cuts is when Congress also raises taxes to offset any lost revenue.
My book, Rich Nation/Poor Nation, shows how almost all increases in US living standards since 1900 have come when tax rates were low or during periods of major tax cuts. Don’t expect the CBO to consider any of this historical evidence. It simply doesn’t conform to its agenda.
Congress has the responsibility to use its own judgment in assessing the impact of its policies. Allowing the CBO to usurp this power represents a dereliction of duty taking us deeper into the swamp.
To reestablish control, Congress must abolish the CBO and use its own judgment to assess the impact of major policy changes.
In its May 13th issue The Economist magazine’s lead editorial trashes Trumponomics. Although admitting Trump’s policies could raise productivity and create a mini-boom, the article suggests low and middle income workers will be worse off. Here’s my response.
In your lead editorial for May 13, (the one where you compare President Trump to Henry VIII), you admit Trump’s policies “could stroke a mini-boom” but say it “offers no lasting remedy for America’s economic ills.” You also claim the economic assumptions in Trump’s plan “are internally inconsistent” and “based on a picture of America’s economy that is decades out of date.”
Your criticisms of Trump’s economic program are remarkably similar to those leveled whenever Americans have attempted to reverse a series of failed progressive economic experiments. Such criticisms involve opinions and references to orthodoxy rather than referring to any evidence.
Trump’s economic plan is based on principles that have successfully guided America’s economy for over two centuries—substantially lower tax rates, slower growth in federal spending, fewer regulations and free markets.
In my book Rich Nation Poor Nation there is extensive historical data on the performance of wages in America. Since 1900, there have been only 50 years when America clearly pursued the type of economic policies Trump has proposed. Almost all of the gains in real wages in America since 1900 occurred during those 50 years.
You reference the left’s criticism of Trump’s policies for the “…poor distributional consequences, fiscal indiscipline and potential cronyism.” There have been five periods totaling 52 years when America decided to heed these critiques. In each of these periods policies shifted to higher tax rates, faster growth in federal spending, more regulations and restraints on free markets. For the entire 52 years as America was pursuing this progressive economic agenda there was no increase in workers’ real wages.
America’s extraordinary success has not been achieved by what you refer to as “orthodox” policies agreed to by “most economists.” Rather, it has been achieved by reducing the government’s power and control over individuals and enhancing their economic freedom. This has been and always will be the key to providing the greatest amount of goods and services to the largest number of people. Trumponomics is consistent with these principles.
Saugatuck, Michigan USA
The House managed to cobble together just enough votes to resuscitate healthcare reform. This bill is toxic to Democrats. It allows states that favor government controls to retain much of Obamacare’s costly mandates. States that prefer freer markets can opt out of many regulations and lower their costs. Choice means liberals get to eat their own cooking and then pay for it.
The main reason Congress is having a difficult time with healthcare legislation is a failure to recognize the costs of our current healthcare system. These costs have become so great that a move to free market healthcare can save Americans $2.3 trillion a year. Data from the World Bank show the cost of healthcare in the US can be three times what it is where a country relies on the free market.
My own experience with healthcare in Mexico confirms the World Bank data.
Six years ago I had a first-hand opportunity to compare costs in Mexico’s private healthcare system to those in the US. At the time I estimated healthcare costs in Mexico were approximately half the cost in the US. A more recent experience suggests the cost difference has increased substantially.
My wife, who has asthma, recently contracted the flu while in the US. For two days (Friday and Saturday) her doctors refused to see her due to an influx of other patients seeking appointments. The office is closed on Sunday.
In spite of a difficult Sunday night, she insisted on keeping our scheduled flight to Los Cabos, Mexico on Monday. That afternoon we called a private sector Mexican doctor. He saw her immediately at the hospital. After several exams, an x-ray and blood tests, he said bronchitis had turned to a beginning case of pneumonia.
After three hours of intravenous feeding with antiviral medicine and antibiotics, her condition stabilized. Before leaving, we received seven different medications to help her recover. The total cost for doctors, assistants, x-rays, intravenous feedings, blood tests, medicines, and follow up visits was $403. In the US, we would have felt fortunate to pay that amount for the x-rays alone.
The total amount was payable on demand with a credit card, as with all normal transactions in a free market system. Comparing healthcare costs elsewhere to those in the US are complicated by many factors. The most significant factor is the lack of a free market in the US. Without a market, it’s almost impossible to know the real cost of any item.
The current US healthcare system resembles the old Soviet system. Government dominates the decisions of who gets healthcare coverage, when, where, and at what price. This is a highly inefficient system, which has been made even more inefficient by the “Affordable Care Act.” The question is how much more?
Aside from my personal experiences, there are other indications we are paying three times the amount we could be paying for healthcare. This conclusion is supported by data compiled by the World Bank. It shows healthcare costs per capita in the US are three times what they are in Singapore.
Singapore’s healthcare system utilizes many of the efficiencies of a free market system. Most routine healthcare expenses are paid by individuals out of their health saving accounts and prices are fully transparent. There is also significant government involvement to make sure everyone has access to high-quality, inexpensive healthcare.
Current US healthcare costs are upward of $3.5 trillion a year. The World Bank comparison suggests $2.3 trillion of this amount represents the waste due to our inefficient system.
Eliminating such waste through a free market system would lower the cost of healthcare so dramatically there would be more than enough resources to provide high-quality healthcare to all.
Step one: Repeal Obamacare
Step two: Replacement Bill:
Section one: Individuals in every state shall have the freedom to purchase any health insurance that meets their needs
Section two: Companies shall have the freedom to offer any health insurance plan in any state at any price in order to serve the needs of individuals
Section three: All healthcare insurance must be portable so individuals have continuous coverage
Section four: Government shall pass no law preventing access to the delivery of healthcare to individuals
Section five: All health providers must openly display their prices for any services, procedures and medications they may provide.
Section six: Government shall provide funds for the care of the indigent and those with special needs
Financial markets are weighing in with positive signals. Both stocks and interest rates are anticipating positive policy changes, a faster pace of growth and stronger earnings.
The policy changes have already begun. President Trump is using his vast executive powers to deregulate as much of the economy as he can. His cabinet appointments are also working to take the shackles off the economy. Deregulation alone can add hundreds of billions of dollars to real growth.
One of the most critical areas for deregulation is healthcare. The US healthcare system has devolved into Soviet style system where government controls the prices and shape of the product. This has led to healthcare costs that are two to three times what they would be under a free market.
The House GOP plan for reforming healthcare revolves around cuts to Medicaid. The worthwhile objective is to block-grant Medicaid funds to the states. They would then be responsible for reforming the system. The plan also promotes medical savings accounts, which hold the potential to control costs.
The major problem with the House plan is the government would continue to dictate what must be included in health insurance policies. This is the same approach that contributed to the explosive rise in insurance premiums before Obamacare and escalated the costs after Obamacare.
In contrast, true free-market reforms would give individuals the freedom to buy whatever type of insurance the free market comes up with from anyone anywhere in the world. Based on what has been accomplished in other countries, free market reforms would cut the cost of healthcare anywhere from 50% to 66%. Since the US will spend upwards of $3.5 trillion this year for healthcare, the potential savings would amount to roughly $2 trillion a year. Savings of this magnitude would make it much easier to solve the problem of those who are unable to take care of their own medical needs.
The bill introduced by the House does not repeal Obamacare. It amends it. For this reason alone, the bill should be rejected. Anyone who promised to repeal Obamacare will be violating a major campaign promise by voting for this bill.
As for the bill itself, it’s a major disappointment because it deals mainly with insurance instead of moving toward a free market in health care. The entire bill includes details surrounding the insurance market, which is why it takes over a hundred pages. Focusing on insurance instead of making healthcare more of a free market, means the bill falls short in an effort to dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare.
There is one provision that does hold the potential to reduce costs. This is the expansion of health savings accounts (HSAs). Shifting incentives for more people to pay for healthcare from their own accounts creates an incentive to reduce costs.
However, the House bill has no further incentives for freeing up the healthcare market. The President’s plan to give individuals the freedom to shop for insurance across state lines is missing. Creating a national market for healthcare would open the market to the greatest number of low cost plans.
There is also no movement toward transparent healthcare pricing. Doing so would enable both individuals and insurance companies to make informed decisions about the costs of health-related services. In Singapore, where healthcare costs are a third of what they are in the US, prices are clearly posted everyone knows what they are.
The bottom line is both the President and the House GOP have failed in their first major legislative effort--reforming healthcare. Unless they can recover, it does not bode well either for a successful tax reform or for the type of growth in the economy everyone is hoping to see.
Will President Trump rely on his instincts or will he allow the political establishment to dictate tax policy? The answer will determine the extent to which Trump can to deliver on his ambitious promise of real growth in excess of 3%.
During his campaign the President proposed cutting taxes by $1 trillion a year. His instincts on taxes are correct. Every successful tax cut in US history had one thing in common—sharply reduced tax burdens without major offsetting tax increases.
In September, Trump released a detailed tax plan, which The Tax Foundation estimates would cut taxes by about $500 billion a year, or 2.6% of GDP. Interestingly, the Tax Foundation also estimates the size of the 1981 Reagan tax cuts at 2.6% of GDP. Both estimates are based on static analysis, meaning they do not allow for any increase in revenues from faster growth in the economy.
The House GOP plan extols the virtues of tax cuts. However, instead of using successful tax cuts as a guide, the plan looks to the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
The 1986 tax act was a complete failure. Although it reduced some tax rates, it was designed to be revenue-neutral. This means any shortfall in revenue from cutting taxes had to be offset by raising other taxes. Among the offsetting tax increases were a higher tax on capital gains and a major change in depreciation allowances.
Given the complexity of the tax system, any tax increase can have unintended consequences. This was the case with the 1986 tax reform. Its tax increases contributed to a collapse in real estate prices, the failure of over 1,000 banks, and a recession in 1990. President Trump has rightfully criticized the destructive impact of the 1986 reforms.
Similar to 1986, the current GOP tax plan “...envisions tax reform that is revenue neutral.” The Tax Foundation estimates the GOP plan would cost the government $740 billion a year based on static analysis. In order to make up for the lost revenue, the GOP plan increases other taxes by an estimated $500 billion a year. The net tax cut of $240 billion is at the most 1.3% of GDP.
The Tax Foundation estimates that most of the net loss of $240 billion will be made up from faster growth in the economy. As a result, the real loss in revenue to the federal government would amount to only $19 billion a year.
There are two main issues surrounding the ability of the GOP tax plan to generate the type of growth the President hopes to achieve. The first is with respect to the magnitude of the tax cut. The static analysis cut of $240 billion a year represents less than half the magnitude of the 1981 tax cuts. Call it Reagan lite. After allowance for growth, the GOP tax plan represents a statistically insignificant tax cut of only .001 percent of GDP. This is not a major tax cut.
The second issue comes from the plan’s tax increases, primarily the border tax. This restructuring of the corporate tax will disrupt the international supply chain. Doing so promotes the same type of unintended consequences found in the 1986 reform.
President Trump’s instincts on the magnitude and type of tax cuts necessary to ignite rapid growth are correct. His plan is similar to all successful historical tax reforms. One of the President’s challenges to achieving his growth targets will be to convince the Congress to trust his instincts over those of the political establishment.
President Trump’s call for an extensive review of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms is a major positive for the economy. Several years ago I completed an analysis showing the cost of these regulations amounted to a staggering $200 billion a year. A summary of the analysis is presented below.
The main problem with Dodd-Frank is its assumption that the banks were the cause of the financial crisis in 2008. As I have argued how the real culprit leading to the financial crisis was the Federal Reserve. It did so by selling $300 billion worth of securities leading up to the ciris in the fall of 2008. (See my complete analysis in the economic/finance section.)
There are a large number of bankers who have explained to me how they have had to replace a large number (in some cases 10% of their employees) with others to comply with various new government requests for information and reports. In many cases, the government requests are by newly hired young people who know little, if anything, about banking or financial markets. Hence, the busy work of complying with these requests represents a cost to the economy without any offsetting benefit.
Trump knows about the extensive waste involved in this legislation. The review he has ordered has the potential to redirect some $200 billion in resources from waste to productive use. Doing so will help increase the typical worker’s living standards by anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 a year.
Dodd-Frank's Real Cost Is Nearly $200 Billion A Year
By ROBERT GENETSKI
Posted 12/12/2014 06:00 PM ET Investors Business Daily
In the wake of the recent elections, there is one thing both parties still agree on: Middle-income families are being squeezed and voters are angry.
But why? And what should be done about it?
Our politicians have placed any number of barriers in the way of prosperity, and one of the most costly has been the Dodd-Frank financial reforms (DF).
Congress passed this 2,300-page law in 2010. It since has spawned a massive new regulatory environment with an impact reaching far beyond the nation's $1.1 trillion financial services industry.
The Government Accountability Office provided an original estimate of Dodd-Frank's direct cost: $2.9 billion over the first five years. If that is accurate, it means the law will cost the taxpayers roughly $600 million annually, or $5 for each private-sector worker.
The direct cost to taxpayers is only the beginning. Historical estimates show private-sector costs to comply with government regulations tend to be 36 times the direct cost to government.
If Dodd-Frank is typical, the annual cost of compliance will be more like $22 billion, or $188 for each private-sector worker.
Unfortunately, there are numerous indications the Dodd-Frank regulations are far from typical. Since the passage of the law, various banks, from the smallest to the largest, have announced layoffs amounting to roughly 10% of their employees.
In many cases, the layoff announcements came while banks also announced they were aggressively hiring workers to comply with new regulations.
If the 10% figure is characteristic of the entire financial industry, it means Dodd-Frank has a compliance cost of close to $120 billion annually, or just over $1,000 for each private-sector worker.
As burdensome as that estimate sounds, it too likely understates Dodd-Frank's compliance costs. The financial industry is unique in directly impacting every other part of the economy.
Thus regulations affecting finance have a disproportionately greater impact than other regulations.
It's more appropriate to compare compliance costs of DF with those associated with previous financial reform legislation. Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), the predecessor to Dodd-Frank, created 16 new regulations.
Various surveys showed the cost of complying with those regulations from 2004 to 2007 averaged roughly $9 billion a year.
In a recent analysis, the Davis Polk law firm identified 398 explicit new regulations created by Dodd-Frank, making it at least 25 times more extensive and complex than Sarbanes-Oxley.
If the costs of complying with Sarbanes-Oxley are the more reasonable gauge for those associated with Dodd-Frank, it could easily cost 25 times more than its predecessor, or $225 billion a year. This amounts to almost $2,000 for each private-sector worker.
In addition to the size and complexity of DF, the legislation has taken on a life of its own. By last year, the original 2,300 pages of the law had spawned 14,000 additional pages of regulations.
And regulators have gotten around to implementing only 39% of those regulations. This is a law that keeps taking more and more out of the economy.
Dodd-Frank seriously undermines people's living standards. Whenever laws take resources away from the production of goods and services people want and allocate those resources for the paperwork government demands, living standards decline.
This is particularly true for low- and middle-income families, whose incomes tend to be disproportionately affected by such actions.
When fully implemented, Dodd-Frank is likely to reduce the goods and services available to a typical U.S. worker by anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 a year.
Repealing this horrendous piece of legislation is one way to restore the gains in living standards that were once a hallmark of the U.S. economy.
• Genetski is a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute and one of the nation's leading economists and financial advisors. He also heads ClassicalPrinciples.com.
There appears to be a major conflict between President Trump and the House GOP plan for tax reform. The conflict is due to the President’s instincts for favoring tax cuts and his concern over the unintended consequences from a fundamental change in tax policy.
During the campaign, the President proposed cutting taxes by roughly $1 trillion a year, $10 trillion over the next decade. His instincts on taxes are correct. Every successful tax cut in US history had one thing in common—sharply reduced tax burdens without major offsetting tax increases.
The current GOP tax plan extolls the many virtues from tax cuts. Unfortunately, it uses none of the successful plans as a model. Instead, its model is the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which the House Plan claims “…laid the foundation for decades of American job growth.”
This isn’t true. While the 1986 tax act included many positive tax cuts, it was also designed to be revenue neutral. This means any revenue the government might lose from lower tax rates has to be replaced by offsetting tax increases.
To offset the expected loss in revenue, the 1986 tax reform raised a number of other taxes. President Trump knows from first-hand experience how these other taxes laid the groundwork for a collapse in real estate prices, the failure of over 1,000 banks and a recession.
Similar to the 1986 reform, the current GOP plan “...envisions tax reform that is revenue neutral.” While the new plan allows for a modest increase in projected revenue due to faster growth, the increase is insufficient to make up for a projected shortfall in revenue. Hence, the House Plan involves over $5 trillion in tax increases over the next decade.
The most potentially damaging of these increases comes from a major restructuring in how profits are determined. The plan involves a so-called border tax, where profits are taxed based on where companies sell their goods.
The House plan for a border tax would significantly harm certain companies. Companies where imports make up a large percentage of their costs are adversely affected since they would not be allowed to deduct the cost of imports in calculating profits.
The plan would significantly benefit companies with large exports, since revenue from exports would not be counted in calculating profits. On balance, the border tax does more harm than good since the US imports far more than it exports.
The Tax Foundation estimates revenue from the border tax would amount to $1 trillion over 10 years. This type of major change in the calculation of profits threatens to disrupt the supply-chain responsible for all production. President Trump’s initial instinct to label the destination tax as “too complicated” is correct.
Recent comments by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested the US could impose a 20% tax on Mexican goods. Since this is similar to how imports would be affected by the border tax, newspaper accounts suggest the President might be rethinking his initial opposition to the border tax.
Five trillion dollars in new taxes, particularly the border adjustment tax, creates the potential to offset many of the benefits from the planned tax cuts.
President Trump was one of the few people able to identify the flaw in the 1986 tax act. This time, his instincts are to go for a large tax cuts, combined with cuts in government spending. For the past century, this has been the successful policy combination for restoring growth following periods of economic stagnation.
One early indication of Trump’s success in kick-starting the economy will be his inclination to oppose the disruptive effects from the various tax increases in the GOP plan. The first place to start is with dropping the ill-conceived border tax.