Economic Outlook: The mythical future

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  April 4, 2011 at 12:04 PM
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Budget battles in Washington are proving to be a test of leverage, willpower and pledges.

One test of fortitude is the recent pledge by Republicans not to put together a seventh continuing resolution, which would enable the government to function for a few weeks, while long-term budget plans are put in place.

Without a stopgap plan, parts of the government could close Friday. But Republicans have vowed to quit monkeying around and force a vote on the budget that concerns the second half of 2011, aiming to cut $33 billion in spending.

These cuts, however, rub hard against pledges by Tea Party freshmen who promised deeper cuts than that. But a second test of willpower is also under way as Republicans reacting to what they saw as quick votes on issues when Democrats controlled the House have passed a new rule that guarantees a pause of 72 hours between posting a bill and voting on it.

That means, lawmakers have until Tuesday to post a budget plan so representatives can vote by Friday. It calls to mind a movie title: "Something's Gotta Give."

While all this aims to settle the budget for 2011, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said he would unveil a 2012 budget proposal Tuesday that would overhaul Medicare and Medicaid and the tax system, dropping the top rate for both corporations and individual taxpayers to 25 percent from the current top rate of 35 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In effect, the overhaul of Medicare, which covers healthcare costs for the elderly and disabled, would cease to exist in its present form. Ryan's overhaul would turn it into a system of subsidies for insurance bills, the government paying an average or $15,000 per recipient on a prorated basis.

Currently, the government's bill for Medicare is $396.5 billion, but that is expected to reach $502.8 billion by 2016.

Medicaid, which is the healthcare program for poor Americans, would be shifted to block grants that would allow states greater latitude in spending.

Bottom line: Ryan expects to cut about $4 trillion in spending in the next 10 years.

"We should not be measuring ourselves against some mythical future," Ryan said Sunday, speaking of Medicare but the phrase could be applied elsewhere.

It is a question that frustrates budgets large and small, personal, public or otherwise: What is it about unsustainable that you don't understand?

In international markets Monday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.11 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China rose 1.34 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 1.46 percent while the Sensex in India gained 1.45 percent.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 index added 0.51 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index rose 0.32 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.11 percent. The CAC 40 in France fell 0.1 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 added 0.27 percent.

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