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Fiscal Cliff: Calling Geithner’s Bluff!

  • Written by Syndicated Publisher 1 Comment1 Comment Comments
    December 7, 2012

    I damn near fell off my chair (laughing) yesterday watching Timmy Geithner on CNBC.  When asked if the President was willing to go over the fiscal cliff if the tax RATE on the top 2% were not increased, the Treasury Secretary snapped back, “Absolutely”.

    Maria Bartiromo was also floored by this; she spent the next hour telling the world she thought Geithner’s position was clear evidence that the US would be going over the cliff. She had big shot Senator, Richard Shelby (R- Al) on air. She showed him the clip with Geithner making an ass of himself; the Senator looked like he had swallowed a wad of tobacco while he watched.

    I was convinced that Geithner had made a blunder, a slip of the tongue that would later be clarified or retracted. Not the case. Last evening, Treasury put out a Blog about what a great job Tim did on TV (link). I took this as a confirmation that Geithner did not make a gaffe on air, his words were carefully chosen. When he said he was “Absolutely” certain that falling off the cliff was in our future if tax rates don’t go up, he meant exactly what he said.

    Given that Geithner will be out of his job running Treasury soon, I’m sure that he went on TV with the blessings of Obama, and he had a scripted message from the President. There will be no negotiations on tax rates, the top rate is going to 40%, or we will be sailing off the cliff. What an idiotic bargaining position.

    At this point, I don’t think there is any significant opposition to increasing tax revenue from America’s wealthiest folks; the question is how to achieve it. Raising marginal rates is one option; cutting deductions can accomplish exactly the same thing. Geithner and Obama will not consider adjusting deductions; the reasons are a mystery to me. It appears that the President wants to “punish” some folks rather than to find a compromise that achieves the desired results.

    So I agree with Bartiromo, unless the President backs off, we are going cliff diving in 20 days.

    I believe the President has started a war, No real bullets or sabers in this war, but there will be casualties none-the-less. The question is, “Who is going to get hurt?” The thinking by all of the pundits is that a fall of the cliff will fall squarely on the shoulders of Republicans. If they stand up to the Administration on tax rates, the Republicans will get slaughtered in the Congressional elections two years from now.

    The facts force me to conclude that Obama is, in fact, using the cliff negotiations to bend Republicans over and force them into submission. The goal is to destroy the Republicans, and have the House, Senate and the White House all Democratically controlled in twenty-two months. Harry Reid would be in charge of the Senate, Nancy Pelosi would be running the House, and the President would have the last two years of his administration with the government controlled by “friendly” hands. A disaster in the making.

    If tax rates go up on the wealthy, as the President has demanded, then it will generate approximately $68B per year. Every year, taxpayers take advantage of $1.1 Trillion of deductions. Minimizing/eliminating deductions could easily achieve the same revenue increases that Obama wants. Nor would not be difficult to target the limitations on deductions to those who are enjoying high incomes. What the President wants can be achieved without raising marginal tax rates. So what is the problem?

    In my simple mind there is no reason not to consider attacking the problem by limiting deductions. Therefore, I conclude that politics is the problem. The President does not want to solve the cliff or the budget; he wants to punish Republicans.

    Two states, California and New York make up 20+% of GDP. These states have a big say in the makeup of the House, they have the biggest electoral votes. They have been solid supporters of Obama with both money and votes. And now Obama is going to piss on them.

    Income taxes in lovely California are now at an economy numbing 13%; NY is slightly behind the idiocy in California at 9%. If Obama gets his way, the combined tax bite on income will be 52.5% in Cali and 49.5% in NY. Add to this mess the 3% surcharge for Obamacare, and the 8% sales tax in these two states. Welcome to Sweden.

    The chips on the Obama plan fall heavily on NY and Cali. Another big state, Texas, will reap the benefits, as it has no income taxes. Texas is as “Red” as a state can get, so when Obama is saying he is supporting his base, he’s just lying.

    I think the Republicans should call the President’s bluff. Lets take a walk over the cliff; see what happens when we get to the other side. It can’t be much worse than 50%+ tax rates in the most productive states in the Union. Will Republicans get hammered in the bi-elections as a result? Maybe. But one thing is sure, if the President gets his way on tax rates today, and we also have the Republicans lose the House in two years, it sets up the possibility for a return to a more conservative frame of mind for the country when the next Presidential election comes around. If Obama gets his way, the economy will pay the price. In the process, any legacy that Obama might have had will have been converted into something like Herbert Hoover’s. So who is bluffing whom?

    Images: Flickr (licence attribution)

    About The Author – Bruce Krasting

    I worked on Wall Street for twenty five years. This blog is my take on the financial issues of the day. I was an FX trader during the early days of the ‘snake’ and the EMS. Derivatives on currencies were new then. I was part of that. That was with Citi. Later I worked for Drexel and got to understand a bit about balance sheet structure and corporate bonds from Mike Milken. I was involved with a Macro hedge fund later. That worked out all right, but it is not an easy road. There was one tough week and I thought, “Maybe I should do something else for a year or two.” That was fifteen years ago. I love the markets. How they weave together. For twenty five years I woke up thinking, “What am I going to do today to make some money in the market”. I don’t do that any longer. But I miss it.


  1. #1 mastertrader
    December 8, 2012 pm31 3:41 AM

    Could you please explain your sentence “welcome to Sweden”?What is wrong with Sweden?

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