Despite the disappointing jobs report for March, it’s very difficult to make a realistic case that the economy is falling off a cliff, or that some kind of double-dip recession is on the way. Or that a Ben Bernanke QE3 is likely.
Sure, the 120,000 gain in nonfarm payrolls — roughly half of expectations — is causing a downgrade in growth psychology. Ditto for the 31,000 drop in household employment. But if you smooth out these numbers over three months, payrolls have averaged a 212,000 increase, while small-business household jobs are still up a big 415,000.
But let’s not forget other data points: ISM indexes in the mid-50s are still reasonably strong. Consumer confidence has been rising. Jobless claims have been falling. Car sales are solid. And chain-store sales are beating expectations. It still looks like a 2.5 to 3 percent economy.
You wouldn’t know it from falling stocks, but the Fed’s apparent decision to hold off on future bond buying, or QE3, in response to an improving economy may turn out to be a very bullish omen for the equity market and the economy.
In fact, less stimulus from the central bank sets up a potential tax-cut effect. Here’s why: Limits to the Fed’s $3 trillion balance sheet will bolster the value of the dollar.
The beleaguered greenback has fallen roughly 40 percent over the past ten years as a result of the Fed’s interventionist go-stop-go policies. Since the banking crisis of 2008, the dollar has dropped 8 percent.
But as the Fed ended QE2 last year, and as its bond-buying “operation twist” comes to an end in June, the dollar has started rising. In response, gold prices have been falling significantly. Slower money creation will do that.
And along with gold, oil prices are now slipping lower, with West Texas crude approaching $101. Still too high, but much less scary. Wholesale unleaded gas prices also could fall in response to the drop in crude, which might take the pressure off retail gas at the pump. If that’s the case, and the King Dollar scenario plays out, the recent energy-price shock could reverse, imparting a mild tax-cut effect on consumers and businesses.
Although Bernanke & Co. do not target the dollar, a stronger greenback is the surest way to bring down energy and food prices, which all too often have plagued households and the economy.
The Joint Economic Committee has estimated that the cheap dollar has contributed about 45 cents to the rising gas price. Lately, with the drop in crude oil, nationwide gas prices could be starting to level off at just over $3.90 — even though refiner closings and bottlenecks in some parts of the country have pushed that price much higher.
No, a stronger dollar won’t offset the failure to implement the Keystone Pipeline. But it could provide some motorist relief at the pump.
The point is, if the Fed quits printing new money, the value of dollar money will go up. And the inflation tax will go down. Despite Ben Bernanke’s economic worries, the Fed is beginning to see that the economy is at least growing by roughly 3 percent. That’s not fabulous, but it’s not bad either.
The latest ISM surveys for manufacturing and services, the decent 209,000 ADP employment report for March, and pretty good car sales all suggest that the first-quarter economy was just as good as the fourth-quarter economy. And these economic stats are moving the Fed away from more easing moves. Hence, King Dollar is recovering at least a bit.
The dollar view on the economy and stocks is a minority case, but a very important one that should not be overlooked. During prior stock market booms, particularly in Reagan’s first term and Clinton’s second term, King Dollar rose and gold fell, oil prices came down, and foreign capital sought out dollar investments in the U.S. because of the reliability of the currency.
As Ronald Reagan famously said, “There you go again.”
Of course, Reagan was blaming Jimmy Carter for launching false attacks during a debate. And that line was so effective, it not only helped Reagan win the debate, but a presidential election that would change American history.
But “there you go again” can apply equally to President Obama. Once again this week, the president was out on the campaign trail bashing and oil and gas companies. And he continued to spread major falsehoods about this industry, which I guess is the polite way to put it.
If the Supreme Court overthrows the individual mandate, doesn’t Mitt Romney say “I told you so” and emerge as the big political winner?
All along he’s been arguing that only states have mandate power, and that the federal government under the commerce clause, or any other law, is guilty of massive regulatory overreach with Obamacare.
While fending off criticism from Rick Santorum and others about the Massachusetts mandate, Romney has always said it was a state issue, not a federal one. And if the Supreme Court agrees, it would have to give the former governor a leg up in credibility with Republicans and the general public.
President Obama, meanwhile, would emerge as a big political loser. Obamacare was the central signature domestic economic plan for his administration. What else does he have to show for nearly three and a half years in office? An $800 billion stimulus plan that didn’t work? A tax on rich people? An assault on oil and gas companies?
Besides Obamacare, what can the president really point to as an accomplishment?
The other big winners in the event the mandate is overturned are business and the economy. Talk to almost any CEO and they’ll tell you that the tax-, regulatory-, and insurance-cost threats from Obamacare have stopped them from hiring. Or, if they have made new hires recently, they’ve gone a lot slower than would have been the case without Obamacare. Remember how many companies asked for Obamacare waivers this past year. That shows their distaste for the legislation.
Of course, there’s still the huge tax cliff coming early next year, when virtually the entire tax code is upended. But Obamacare, with all its tentacles, has been a huge growth impediment. The Supreme Court could remove that jobs barrier, not to speak of the potential fiscal bankruptcy suffered from the gigantic costs of new Obamacare entitlements.
Mitt Romney’s job in a post-Obamacare world is to show voters what his alternative would be. In a recent op-ed in USA Today, he begins to set this out: tax benefits for individuals purchasing insurance outside their workplace; more competition and consumer choice for insurance plans; medical-malpractice reform; interstate insurance options; and state-determined insurance protection for those with preexisting illnesses. All this is a good start. Rather than a government-run health-care reform, Romney is pushing a market-run reform, which has long been a Republican idea.
So we’ll see in a couple of months how the Supremes decide the Obamacare case. But Romney, the likely GOP nominee, is well positioned to take advantage of a scenario where the Obamacare federal takeover is rejected.
The late William F. Buckley Jr. naturally put it best when he said, “The wisest choice would be the one who could win. No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest. I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.”
Bill Buckley’s Law applies to Mitt Romney today. And it’s worth noting Rush Limbaugh’s recent update to the dictum. Following Romney’s terrific Illinois victory speech on Tuesday, Rush said flatly, “A conservative alternative to Romney is Romney.”
As the tough primary season ventures on, Romney has clarified and evolved his views into tough conservative positions.
There are a lot of really good things in Paul Ryan’s new budget, which is a stark contrast to the Obama budget. Ryan cuts spending by over $5 trillion, lowers the deficit by over $3 trillion, and brings the debt-to-GDP ratio down to 62 percent. All of these are ten-year totals.
Ryan also cuts back on small entitlements, block-granting them to the states. Then, of course, there’s the new and improved Medicare-reform plan.
But what I really like about this year’s Ryan budget is his singular emphasis on pro-growth, supply-side tax reform.
Working with Dave Camp, Ryan has laid out a great blueprint for Mitt Romney and the whole Republican party. In particular, while listening to the budget meister at a small luncheon for conservative journalists and think-tankers in Washington on Monday, what I heard again and again was an emphasis on economic growth.
This is not to say Ryan is not worried about spending, deficits, and debt, which of course he is. But his reform message to limit government really spends a lot of time on tax simplification, ending cronyist carve-outs and loopholes, and of course dropping the personal and corporate rates.
Growth solves a lot of problems. All those GDP ratios for spending, deficits, and debt look a lot better when the GDP denominator is rising rapidly. Not through inflation, but through new incentives to promote real growth.
Unfortunately, the first cut of the Ryan budget is based on CBO static estimates of growth and revenues. That is a budget-committee obligation. But I’m told that on Thursday we will get a different set of numbers based on dynamic scoring of lower tax-rate incentives. I’m guessing the growth difference is 3 percent static and 4 percent dynamic. Dropping tax rates as much as Ryan does, which reminds me of Reagan-era tax reform, could probably produce even more growth. Therefore, the budget could be balanced in a much shorter period of time with much lower debt ratios.
No matter how much President Obama protests, the simple fact is that he continues to oppose and mock and disparage oil and gas drilling. He is a prisoner of the environmental left, and he remains on the wrong side of energy history.
And that’s exactly why he has a 59 percent negative rating on the economy, according to a recent poll, even though jobs and other indicators have actually picked up. It’s about $4 or higher gas at the pump. Polls overwhelmingly show that Americans want drilling in ANWR and offshore, and that they want hydraulic fracturing of shale for oil and gas. They also overwhelmingly want the Keystone Pipeline (by roughly 70 percent). And they believe the government can act quickly to lower gas prices in the short run.
I didn’t want to let the latest cockamamie Fed idea for “sterilized” bond buying pass without a comment. A Wall Street Journalstory explained that somehow the Fed will buy more long-term bonds, print new money, and then borrow the money back so it doesn’t cause inflation. It’s all a lot of hooey. Typical Fed tinkering. They can’t seem to help themselves. The dollar has already fallen about 1 percent since this story broke. Gold has jumped.
If you buy into the Fed’s argument, it will inject cash in return for new bond purchases. Then it’s going to take the cash out by selling Treasury bills to the very same dealers who bought the bonds. These are called reverse repos. Or, the Fed will somehow force the banks to put the original new cash into bank accounts called “term deposits.”
So we’ve got bond buys, reverse repos, and term deposits. And it’s all supposed to net out to no QE3, no pump-priming, no more money-creating. It’s too clever by ten.
And the Fed is catering to the easy-money crowd on Wall Street that wants the central bank to keep driving the stock market higher and higher.
The key role of the Fed should be to maintain the current and future value of the dollar, a.k.a. King Dollar. In fact, the best thing the Fed could do is appreciate the dollar by about 20 percent. That would drive down energy prices, including gasoline, and boost real consumer incomes.
This strong-dollar approach would be a rule-based monetary policy in direct contrast to the easy-money fine-tuning and tinkering which has gotten the economy periodically into calamitous circumstances. Actually, with 2.5 or 3 percent economic growth, including a modest bump up in jobs, the Fed should be normalizing interest rates. For example, the Taylor rule would set the fed funds rate somewhere between 1 and 2 percent, not zero, with no furtive bond purchases.
Bernanke & Co. has become the all-time Keynesian manipulator. If Mitt Romney becomes the next president, let’s hope he opts out of this and instead turns to a hard-money policy: King Dollar, preferably linked to gold.
I interviewed Mitt Romney yesterday for a special edition of The Kudlow Report. Throughout our talk he stayed on message for growth, jobs, less debt, and smaller government. He reaffirmed that “he won’t set his hair on fire,” meaning no splashy, off-message statements to distract from his fundamental economic push. He acknowledged that the primaries have made him a much tougher, better candidate, and that he is now more prepared to carry the fight to Obama. He emphasized his 20 percent supply-side reduction in income-tax rates. And interestingly, in response to a question, he said he would take a look at indexing the capital-gains tax for inflation. That’s a pro-growth idea supply-siders have pushed for many years. I hope he finally adopts it.
Mitt Romney snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Michigan by unveiling a pro-growth, 20 percent tax-cut plan and by resetting his limited-government spending cuts and entitlement reforms. In other words, he delivered an economic-growth package. It served him well.
It may not have been the only factor in his victory last week, but it put him squarely in the voter zeitgeist. And it may be apocryphal on Super Tuesday in Ohio, where he has come back to dead even after being down double digits.
When former President George W. Bush cut taxes, including his 2003 reduction in tax rates on investment, he always referred to it as putting more money in people’s pockets. I don’t want to be unfair, because the 2003 tax cuts were his best policy move. But Bush was never a supply-sider. Putting more money in people’s pockets is a demand-side argument.
Contrast that with Mitt Romney’s tax-policy speech today at the Detroit Economic Club, where he touted his new across-the board 20 percent reduction in personal tax rates. The language is crucial: “By reducing the tax on the next dollar of income earned by all taxpayers, we will encourage hard work, risk-taking, and productivity by allowing Americans to keep more of what they earn.”
This is supply-side language. It is incentive language.
Many of us have been asking whether Romney understands the incentive model of growth. Namely, keeping more of what you earn, invest, or risk provides a bigger reward. And those rewards translate into a fresh tonic for economic growth.
Ronald Reagan understood this when he famously told people that he quit working as an actor because he only made about 10 cents on the extra dollar earned from the extra movie. Mitt Romney seems to understand this incentive model.
His tax-cut plan is not perfect. Instead of retaining all six brackets of the personal income tax, I wish there were only two brackets or maybe three for a modified flat tax. But it’s clear that Romney understands the incentive value of his 20 percent marginal rate cut. He is satisfactorily answering the question that I and others have posed about his understanding of the supply model.
Reward more and you’ll get more. It’s not just a one-time benefit of more cash. New tax incentives at the margin change economic behavior for the better.
I will have more to say on the Romney plan overall, and about how it contrasts hugely with Obama’s massive tax-rate hikes. But for now I am satisfied that Mitt gets the supply-side approach.
President Obama fought back against rising oil and retail gas prices in a speech in Florida on Thursday. But it was a curious speech. He started out by mocking Republicans, stating that GOP candidates are licking their chops as gasoline prices rocket up. He said, “They are already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling.”
Very clever. It’s kind of what Newt Gingrich said in this week’s Arizona debate.
But here’s the curious part. Obama said, “If we’re going to take control of our energy future; if we’re going to avoid these gas-price spikes down the line, then we need a sustained all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy — oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, and more.”
Team Romney tells me there will be a bolder tax-cut plan released either at the debate tomorrow night (if Mitt gets it in) or more formally at his Detroit Economic Club speech on Friday. I’m embargoed from releasing details until tomorrow. But I can say that the new plan will be across-the-board with supply-side incentives from rate reduction, and that it will help small-business owners as well as everyone else.
Michigan Republican Dave Camp, the chairman of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, gave Treasury man Timothy Geithner a tough spanking this morning. In a hearing on the president’s budget, Camp stated that nearly $2 trillion in tax increases will take more money away from employers, investors, and savers, and would push the top rates close to 45 percent. Camp noted that the bottom half of earners pay no federal income taxes, and that 70 percent of income taxes are paid by the top 10 percent, a group which includes the small businesses that are so important to job creation.
Why should Uncle Sam take nearly half of their income?
Camp then honed in on the Obama proposal to triple the tax on dividends from 15 percent to nearly 45 percent. The chairman went on the say, “Because dividends are paid out of income that has already been taxed at the corporate level and then are taxed again in the shareholder’s hands, this proposal would push the total federal tax rate on dividends to 64 percent.” (Italics mine.)
Camp next hammered Geithner on corporate tax reform. As in, “Where is your plan?” As in, “The U.S. will have the highest corporate tax rate in the industrial world.” Camp asked Geithner why the U.S. is at a competitive disadvantage in the world marketplace. (I would note that while the U.S. corporate rate is 39 percent, Canada’s combined federal-provincial corporate tax is 25 percent.) Camp could have added that Team Obama is going to have a corporate tax plan, and that it will raise $350 billion, including $150 billion for something called a “global minimum tax,” a new tax that has nothing to do with tax reform.
Finally, Camp hit Geithner on the debt problem, stating that our total debt load is now 102 percent of GDP — certainly a warning point for future economic growth.
I’m glad Dave Camp is on the warpath. One thought: He should report his bold corporate-tax-reform plan out of committee and onto the floor, where the GOP House can then pass an exemplary pro-growth, corporate-tax reform to turn up the heat on the White House and the Democratic Senate.
If you shake out the Obama budget in terms of bold headlines, it’s really a class-warfare, tax-the-rich budget. Layer upon layer of tax hikes are piled on successful investors, small-business owners, and corporations.
The capital-gains tax goes from 15 percent to 24 percent (including Obamacare). The dividends tax goes from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent, and that’s not including the double tax on corporate profits embodied in dividends and capital gains. The Bush tax cuts for top earners are repealed. There’s the 30 percent Buffett-rule minimum tax on millionaires. The carried-interest tax for private equity, hedge funds, and other investment partnerships goes from 15 to 39.6 percent. The estate tax jumps to 45 percent. State and local bond interest deductions are severely limited. Oil and gas companies get hit. So do banks. And there’s probably more stuff in there I haven’t read yet. (Jimmy P. lays it out nicely.) Paul Ryan’s press release calls it a $1.9 trillion tax hike, with $47 trillion in government spending over the next decade and the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits.
Some kind of corporate tax reform may be released in a few weeks. But we don’t know much about it. And while it may lower the top rate, it’s going to penalize U.S. firms operating abroad by roughly $150 billion in tax hikes. All in, the Obama budget raises corporate taxes by $350 billion. Just what business does not want or need.
Former Bush economist Keith Hennessey estimates that new proposals would create a ratio of at least 1.2 dollars of tax increases for every dollar cut in spending. Most of the spending cuts would slam Medicare doctors and other health providers. Unlikely to happen. And there is no overall entitlement reform. Somehow the Obama budget is being offered as a substitute for the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts from the supercommittee. But the slam down in defense remains a huge problem.
There is no $4 trillion in new deficit savings, because $1.2 trillion was already scored by the supercommittee. Plus, another $1 trillion was already counted as savings from the wind-downs in Afghanistan and Iraq. And $800 billion comes from interest savings, not program cuts.
So maybe there’s $1 trillion in spending reduction over ten years. But as the details trickle out, that’s a big maybe. Compare that to $47 trillion of total spending increases and at least $1.5 trillion of tax hikes.
The deficit for the coming year, which is $1.3 trillion, would be 8.5 percent of GDP. More important, budget spending remains at over 24 percent of GDP. Debt held by the public for 2013 would be $12.7 trillion, or 77.4 percent of GDP. In terms of ten-year totals, spending would rise by $47 trillion and deficits by $6.7 trillion.
Really, this is a budget that says we must raise taxes in order to raise spending. It’s a 1 percent vs. 99 percent budget. But if these tax hikes ever went through it would be a 100 percent whack at future economic growth.
Obama chief of staff Jack Lew was wrong yesterday to suggest that a budget passed in the Senate requires 60 votes. By law, budget reconciliation requires only 51 votes. But this budget is dead on arrival. All the Republicans and many of the Democrats are not going to vote for across-the-board tax hikes. That’s a good thing.
But the question now is: What happens next? The U.S. is in a heap of fiscal trouble — on the verge of bankruptcy. What are we going to do about it?
Out on the campaign trail, Fed head Ben Bernanke is an unpopular guy.
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have both said they would replace Bernanke, not reappoint him. Congressman Ron Paul would swap the whole Federal Reserve monetary system for a gold-linked dollar, making the yellow metal legal tender. And it was Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, before he dropped out of the race, who said more quantitative easing by the Fed would be “almost treasonous.”
Republicans in Washington are equally unimpressed by Bernanke. Rep. Paul Ryan recently criticized the Fed for bankrolling our huge budget deficits and thereby accommodating a profligate fiscal policy. And former Federal Reserve Board governor Kevin Warsh, a Bernanke intimate before he left last April, just leveled criticism at the Fed’s extensive zero-interest-rate policy and its “operation twist.” (Warsh, by the way, was an economic official in the Bush White House.)
Finally, former Bush Treasury undersecretary John Taylor, author of the Taylor rule that is monitored inside the Fed, recently told me that the central bank target rate should be 2 percent, not zero.
There are two key takeaways from this onslaught of Fed criticism . . .
For one time in a row Fed head Ben Bernanke got the story right. No, it wasn’t King Dollar. It was taxes.
Testifying before members of the Senate Budget Committee today, Bernanke referred to the scheduled repeal of the Bush tax cuts. He said, “If no action is taken by January 2013, there will be a very sharp change in the fiscal stance of the United States government.”
Now, lest we give him too much credit, Bernanke was kind of making a Keynesian point. Why? Because he said in his “fiscal stance” argument that sharp spending cuts would also damage recovery. But at least he made his tax-hike opposition clear. And at least he opposes higher tax rates, which would in fact damage the economy.
He could have gone further. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that President Obama’s budget for 2013 will propose higher tax rates on the rich. Additionally, Obamacare in 2013 will raise the payroll tax 3.9 percent, and apply that to investment taxes such as capital gains and dividends.
Bernanke didn’t comment either on Obama’s millionaire-tax proposal or the Obamacare tax hike. But you can be sure investors and entrepreneurs are well aware of it.
That great phrase was coined by the late Jack Kemp, who believed that growth and opportunity for all is the answer to poverty. In fact, Kemp believed it was the answer to all things economic. And he was right. The best anti-poverty program is the one that creates jobs. The answer to large budget deficits? Grow the economy, create jobs, watch incomes rise, and let the tax revenues come rolling in.
Partly from Jack Kemp’s work, and partly from his own experience, Ronald Reagan believed the same thing. He knew that growth is the single best solution for our economic ailments. And neither Reagan nor Kemp saw the world in terms of specific income classes or categories. They looked at the whole economy and realized that everyone is tied together. Dragging down the top earners will not help the middle class. And providing an ever larger safety net will not solve poverty. Reagan believed in the safety net, and maintained it. But he knew it was a stop-gap, not a solution.
Rising Republican star Marco Rubio, U.S. senator from Florida, was right on message concerning pro-growth tax reform, spending cuts, the deficit, and debt in an interview on The Kudlow Report Tuesday night. He told me President Obama never responded to his letter which blamed the prez for creating a deadbeat nation that looks more and more like Western Europe. Rubio also said he didn’t have all the answers, but that he wants the GOP to be the party of legal immigration.
The video and transcript follow below:
LARRY KUDLOW: We welcome back to The Kudlow Report rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator Rubio, welcome back.
MARCO RUBIO: Thank you for having me.
KUDLOW: All right. You’re at the top of Drudge. A few hours ago you said the winner of Florida is in all likelihood going to be the nominee of our party. By most accounts, Mitt Romney is going to have a commanding victory tonight. Is this it for Romney?
RUBIO: Well, we’ll see. I mean, I don’t know who’s going to win. I know the polls say certain things but we have to wait and see. Florida is a difficult state to poll, and you know, people have been voting for a week now, so it’s not quite clear how that’ll turn out. But my argument is this. I mean, Florida — and one of the reasons why I’ve always supported moving Florida up in the primary cycle is because it’s so indicative of the country. So I think Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina have a very special place in this process, and then Florida right afterwards. That it’s kind of a microcosm of the country. And the argument I would make is that if you win in Florida, and especially if you win decisively, I think it positions you to do very well in the general election. And so I’m not saying the campaign is going to end tomorrow, I’m not calling for anyone to drop out. All I’m saying is that, ultimately, at the end of the day, if you win a primary in Florida, especially if you win decisively, I think you can make a very compelling argument to being a very, very strong general election candidate.
KUDLOW: All right. Let me move on to some other things. As you probably know, the CBO, Congressional Budget Office put out a very gloomy report today, 8.9 percent employment this year, only 2 percent economic growth, another trillion dollar budget deficit. And earlier this month you wrote a letter to President Obama where you said, and I quote, “More and more people believe America is becoming a deadbeat nation, heading toward European-style debt crisis.” What did you mean by that? What’s the policy implication for you?
RUBIO: What I mean by that is both Republicans and Democrats here in Washington have built up a debt. The Obama administration has made it worse. There seems to be no real political will from the Senate leadership or the White House to do anything about it, and there’s no plan in place to undo it anytime in the near future. What you hear from the CBO report, what you hear from all the experts is that all we can see is deficits and debt as far as the eye can see. We now have debts that are the equal to the size of our economy. Think about it. We have built a government so large and so expensive here in Washington that not even the richest economy in the history of mankind can afford it. That’s how big it’s gotten. And there is no plan in place to do anything about it at any time in the near future. That’s what I meant by it.
#more#KUDLOW: Well, that’s…
RUBIO: It’s a very, very serious problem.
KUDLOW: That’s the thing that’s most troubling. First of all, let me ask you, did President Obama ever respond to your letter?
RUBIO: No. No, he did not.
KUDLOW: All right. Second thing, were you surprised, as many of us were, that in the State of the Union he barely mentioned, only in passing, deficit and debt?
KUDLOW: And the best he comes out with is this 30 percent minimum tax for millionaires. That’s not a growth plan, is it?
RUBIO: Well, there’s a lot of things he didn’t talk about. The debt was one of them, his accomplishments was another one of them. He’s trying to convince the American people that the way you protect people’s jobs it to raise their boss’ taxes. He’s made the calculation that what he needs to do to get re-elected is pit Americans against each other. He’s selling this thing out there that somehow the only way some people can do better is for other people to do worse, that we’re somehow involved in some economic zero-sum gains, where the only way I can make more money is for someone else to make less, etc., etc. People don’t buy that stuff. It’s not what’s made us great. This is what other countries do. It’s what you’d expect to hear in the Third World and stuff like that. So I think it’s very unfortunate and just one more reminder of why we need to desperately change direction in November.
KUDLOW: Well, let me just ask you, on the campaign trail, I don’t hear Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, I don’t hear them talking about deep spending cuts with any specificity. I don’t hear them saying much about the deficit and the debt. And a lot of people are beginning to think that the tea party has been quiescent because they’re sort of demoralized, that these two candidates and even Republicans in Congress have not broken through, not on the debt ceiling, not on the supercommittee. You know this, sir. We don’t…
RUBIO: Yeah. Well…
KUDLOW: …seem to be moving in that direction.
RUBIO: Well, our number one goal needs to be growth, and that’s a positive message. We want the economy to grow, we want more taxpayers, we want people to make more money. We want growth. And now, what are the impediments to growth? Regulation, a broken tax code and a national debt that scares people from investing in America’s future. Those issues are all interrelated. We know what the drivers of the national debt are. It’s not foreign aid. It’s not some of these other programs. The drivers of the national debt are largely contained in Medicare and Medicaid. These are important programs for America. I’m a supporter of Medicare, but we have to save it; and as it’s currently structured, the program goes bankruptcy. And those out there like the president who advocate doing nothing serious about Medicare are advocating bankrupting Medicare. And so I wish there was more talk about that. That’s important. And I think the next president of the United States is going to have to lead on that front.
KUDLOW: So will the Republicans in this coming session of Congress have the kind of message you’re talking about, a fiscally tough message with pro-growth tax reform? Is it going to rally around let’s say the new Paul Ryan budget or Senator Ron Johnson’s ideas or your own ideas or Tom Coburn’s ideas?
KUDLOW: It just doesn’t seem like the GOP is making much headway on the message.
RUBIO: Yeah. No, that’s what it seems like. And sometimes it’s true. But in all fairness, I mean, for example, Senator Portman and McCain and others, with Senator Paul, have offered a Republican’s jobs plan, and it has a bunch of these measures that you’re outlining contained therein: regulatory reform, real tax reform, a flattening of the tax code, making it more fair, dealing with debt. It just doesn’t get coverage. I mean, it’s just not being talked about. And it certainly isn’t getting a vote from Senate leadership. And maybe we need to do a better job of talking more about it so people realize that there all — are alternatives out there to the direction our president wants to take the country.
KUDLOW: And last one, come back to Florida, if you will. You blasted Newt Gingrich at one point for saying that Romney was anti-immigrant. Gingrich wound up pulling the ad. Let me just ask you, in terms of your own vision…
KUDLOW: …how does the Republican Party reach out to Hispanic voters and their families? What is the best way to do it.
RUBIO: Well, you talk about the economy and jobs and economic empowerment. But you can’t even get to that if you’re — if they feel you don’t care about them or if you’re talking about immigration in an insensitive way. Here’s what I think. The Republican Party needs to be, and I believe is, the pro-legal immigration party. That means modernization of our legal immigration system so that it helps our economy grow. That’s the sorts of things we need to be focused on, simplifying it, investing in border security and in employment security that’s cost affordable. And then, you know, you have to move to — there is the issue of what you do with 11 million people that are here without documents. And that’s a difficult issue to deal with. On the one hand, we cannot be the only country in the world that doesn’t enforce its immigration laws. On the other — and so you can’t have blanket amnesty. But on the other hand, you’re not going to deport 11 million people. And I confess, I don’t have an easy answer to that problem. But I can tell you, it gets easier. It’ll never be easy, but it gets easier once you have real border enforcement, real E-Verify workforce enforcement and a real commitment to modernizing our legal immigration system. And that’s where our party needs to be.
And here’s the one thing I reject, this label or anti-immigrant that the left likes to throw around. I think there’s a consensus in America that the immigration system we have needs to be fixed. But just because you don’t agree with the left’s specific ideas on how to fix it does not make someone anti-immigrant.
RUBIO: And I think it’s unfair to use that label.
KUDLOW: All right, we’ll leave it there. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, thanks, sir. We appreciate your time very much.
You would think that with one of the weakest economic recoveries on record, President Obama would be desperately searching for ways to promote economic growth. It is, after all, an election year. Most pundit and pollsters agree that it’s the economy stupid.
But instead, Obama used his State of the Union speech to rail on about fairness, inequality, and redistribution. The Obama strategy is simple: Tax the rich because they don’t pay enough.
Newt Gingrich and I go a long way back, to the beginning of the Reagan supply-side revival of free-market capitalism. I thought we shared that philosophy. But his attacks on Bain Capital — using the class-envy language of the left against capitalist success — are a great disappointment to me. Newt resumed that Bain attack when he said in Florida that Mitt “lives in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic $20 million income for no work.”
Romney earned his income. And his successful investments all represent market opportunities. However, once again I fear that Newt is all too willing to sacrifice his principles for political expediency in the heat of the campaign. Below, in two parts, is my interview with Gingrich which aired on Thursday night’s Kudlow Report.
President Obama’s proposal to increase taxes on the rich is “designed to come at me,” GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney told me this morning.
In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Obama proposed a minimum 30 percent tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year. The proposal — known as the “Buffett Tax” after Warren Buffett famously said his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does — was a key part of the president’s populist push for “fairness” in his speech to the nation.
The plan is “designed to come at me if I’m the nominee,” Romney said in an interview that will air tonight on The Kudlow Report. “If I happen not to be the nominee, he’ll still take the 99-versus-one attack. He’s really trying to divide America.”
Romney, who gave a glimpse inside his personal fortune on Tuesday by releasing his U.S. tax returns, paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent in 2010 and expects to pay a 15.4 percent effective rate when he files his return for 2011.
Those rates are far below the top income-tax rate on wages, which is 35 percent, because the U.S. tax code favors capital gains and other investment income by taxing them at 15 percent.
“The question is whether we’re going to eliminate the capital-gains tax break,” Romney said. “So if you say we’re going to raise that dramatically, you’re going to choke off a lot of the capital that goes into creating new enterprises and creating jobs. It’s the wrong way to go.”
Romney said Republicans are not all about the rich. “I’m fighting to help middle-class Americans get better jobs and better incomes,” he told me. “People who have been successful understand the path to success — we want everyone to enjoy success in America.”
Tune in to tonight’s Kudlow Report on CNBC (7:00 p.m., ET) to see the entire interview.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told me on Monday night’s Kudlow Report that President Obama shouldn’t expect a lot of cooperation from Republicans after he outlines his goals for 2012 during the State of the Union address tonight.
“With the Obama economy established now . . . unemployment is still at 8.5 percent,” McConnell said. “It didn’t work, and we’re not interested in doing more of the things that don’t work.”
Obama is expected to use his State of the Union address to call for higher taxes on the rich, among other things. And while it sounds like more gridlock ahead in Washington, McConnell puts the blame squarely on the president. He said when Republicans wanted to tackle tax reform and entitlements last year, Obama went AWOL on his bus tour. McConnell expects more of the same this year.
“He was not involved whatsoever,” McConnell said. “So I’m not optimistic, frankly, that in an election year that he’s likely to be any more engaged than he was last year.”
What’s more, McConnell thinks the logjam in the nation’s capital is part of Obama’s agenda.
“That’s his strategy . . . to demonize Congress, to complain because he can’t continue to get everything he wants, like he did the first two years,” he said. “It’s all about his reelection and not about the country.”
One thing McConnell thinks will get done is an extension of the payroll tax cut, which was extended for only two months in December when Congress couldn’t come to an agreement.
“We’ll be back at [it] trying to figure out how to do that for the balance of the year and how to pay for it,” he said. “We don’t want to add to the deficit.”
Let me build on Charles Krauthammer’s great Friday column, “The GOP’s Suicide March.” Krauthammer argues that just as President Obama’s class-warfare, soak-the-rich mantra started lagging in the polls, some Republicans on the campaign trail started making the case that Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital was involved in nothing more than vulture capitalism, looting companies, and destroying jobs. Keeping class envy alive.
I’m not going to name names, because everybody knows who these Republicans are. Instead, I want to go positive, and commend Mitt Romney himself. Romney did his best in the second South Carolina debate to fight for free-market capitalism and Adam Smith, and against the spread of Obama-style crony capitalism and class envy.
Might a strong Newt Gingrich debate performance tonight trump the ABC Nightline interview with Newt’s ex-wife Marianne? Remember, the debate comes before Nightline. And the roughly five million to six million people who watch the debate will be a lot more than the roughly two million folks who turn on Nightline. Plus, the Nightline crowd is largely liberal, and these viewers are not going to favor Newt Gingrich.
I’m not saying the ABC Brian Ross interview with Marianne isn’t something. But I’m not sure how important it really is.
Here’s what’s more important: Newt has opportunities in the debate tonight to push his Reagan 2.0 supply-side tax-reform plan. If he stays on message about growth, jobs, and prosperity, he can point to Mitt Romney’s more timid tax-reform plan.
Plus, Newt needs to explain how the numbers work both for his 15 percent flat tax and his plan for Social Security personal accounts. Growth is great, but we also have this problem called the budget deficit. Newt needs to explain.
Mitt Romney has opportunities tonight also. He needs to announce an early release of his tax returns. He also should explain that his investment income, which is taxed at a 15 percent effective rate, is also taxed at the corporate level. So in fact, Mitt is paying a combined 45 percent tax rate on his income.
And while he’s at it, Mitt should unveil (unleash?) his own bolder tax-reform plan. Most people agree that Mitt has the business experience and the better understanding of how the economy works. But he needs a bolder solution. Tonight could be the night.
And while he’s at it, Mitt should give a more detailed defense of both the successes and failures of Bain Capital. Details matter. And perhaps he can aggressively tell folks how a Bain-turnaround approach is exactly what’s needed for that troubled and near-bankrupt company, U.S. Government, Inc.
Finally, both Newt and Mitt should take on the cronyism in Washington. They should describe how they would end corporate welfare; how they would remove the costly and unnecessary deductions, exemptions, and carve outs in the tax code; and how they would get rid of all the government subsidies to big business for energy, exports, and agriculture (and ethanol). Changing Washington’s culture of cronyism is a key path to tax reform, deep spending cuts, and deficit reduction — along with growth.
In other words, in a dead-heat race in South Carolina, both Newt and Mitt have big opportunities in tonight’s debate.
There’s a very troubled company out there called U.S. Government, Inc.It’s teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. And it badly needs to be taken over and turned around. It probably even needs the services of a good private-equity firm, with plenty of experience and a reasonably good track record in downsizing, modernizing, shrinking staff, and making substantial changes in management. Yes, layoffs will be a necessary part of the restructuring.
While so much attention has been turned to Newt Gingrich’s catastrophically mistaken attack on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, free-market capitalism, investment, and profits, a potentially much more significant development occurred in the New Hampshire debate Saturday night. For the first time, Mitt Romney embraced a much bolder tax-reform plan.
Under pressure from a number of supply-side conservatives (including me, and most especially the editorial-page folks at the Wall Street Journal), Romney appears to be listening.
Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman took aim at front-runner Mitt Romney on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, telling me that he’s the best candidate to unseat President Obama in November.
Huntsman, former governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador to China, said Romney is making himself “completely unelectable” when he makes statements like the one he made Monday about firing people. During a speech to business leaders, when talking about how people should be able to chose their own health insurance, the former Massachusetts governor said: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
“Words and statements matter . . . when you are in a heated campaign,” Huntsman said on The Kudlow Report. “I just want to make sure we can get somebody who can go up against Barack Obama and not be chewed up by the political machine that’s going to have a billion dollars to spend on it.”
To take on Obama, the candidate has to be able to get more than just Republican votes, and Huntsman said he’s the man who can deliver.
“In order for someone to beat Barack Obama this year, they’re going to actually have to convince people who supported Barack Obama last time to support them,” he said. “If you can’t come out of New Hampshire or any other primary state with the Republicans and also a whole lot of independents, than we’re not going to have an electable candidate at the end of the exercise.”
Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses last week to focus on New Hampshire, is pinning his hopes on a strong showing in the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary today. While he lags far behind Romney, some polls show him moving into third place. According to Monday’s Suffolk University tracking poll, Huntsman has 13 percent of likely voters supporting him. Romney has 33 percent, down from 43 percent one week ago, and Rep. Ron Paul is at 20 percent.
Huntsman also took issue with Romney’s criticism of his service as ambassador to China under Obama. During Saturday’s debate, Romney reprimanded Huntsman for implementing the policies of the Obama administration instead of helping Republicans across the country get elected. But Huntsman said his dedication to his former job should win him favor with voters.
“People want a leader who actually believes in putting their country first,” Huntsman told me. “And Governor Romney made it very clear [during the weekend debates] that he believes in putting politics first.”
Huntsman also disagrees with Romney’s stance on penalizing China for currency manipulation.
“If [Romney] imposes a tariff the first day he’s in office, as he has threatened to do, you will have retaliation immediately on the part of the Chinese and it will result in a trade war,” he said. “That is an absolutely nonsensical approach to doing business.”
While the Chinese aren’t appreciating their currency at a speed Huntsman would like, he said the solutions need to be found during negotiations.
But he wouldn’t join in the chorus of Republican candidates attacking Romney for his work as a venture capitalist. Instead, he thinks the front-runner’s record as governor is the bigger issue.
“[Massachusetts] placed 47th in job growth in this country,” Huntsman said. “[Romney] didn’t put forward any big, bold tax-cut proposals, he didn’t put forward any tax-cut offerings to his legislator, he didn’t do anything big, bold, and courageous.”
Utah, on the other hand, was number one in job growth, delivered a flat tax, and reformed health care and education during his tenure, he said. “What’s most germane here is our records as governor,” said Huntsman.
Message to my fellow conservatives: Please don’t blame the mainstream media for the improvement in jobs, unemployment, and economic growth. Reporters are not making this up. The economy is better. It’s going to give President Obama a leg up on the election. GOP beware, and come to your senses.