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Obama Budget Would Tax Offshore Trillions, Rebuild Infrastructure

By Anita Kumar and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will propose a $3.99 trillion federal budget Monday that would tax trillions of dollars kept offshore by U.S. business and use the proceeds to help finance the rebuilding of roads, bridges and mass transit at home.

The proposals are among the highlights of a budget Obama will use to urge a fundamental shift of the nation’s wealth, taxing the wealthy to help the poor and middle class, who have stagnated even as the economy has rebounded.

“This budget shows what we can do if we invest in America’s future and commit to an economy that rewards hard work, generates rising incomes, and allows everyone to share in the prosperity of a growing America,” the budget will say. “It lays out a strategy to strengthen our middle class and help America’s hard-working families get ahead in a time of relentless economic and technological change.”

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 includes a long list of spending and tax increases, many of which have been offered in the past but rejected by Congress. This year’s plan is expected to be no different in a newly Republican-controlled Congress, where lawmakers will propose their own budget this spring.

“It seems to be more of the same policies that have resulted in the lowest, slowest economic recovery out of an economic downturn in the history of the country — more taxes, more spending, more borrowing,” House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) said on Fox News Sunday.

While all but certain to die in Congress, Obama’s budget could provide Democrats with a platform in the 2016 elections for the White House and Congress. His proposals would help more than 44 million households with an average benefit of $600 per household, according to the White House.

One proposal will be the six-year, $478 billion infrastructure program focused on roads, bridges and transit systems.

About half, $238 billion would come from a one-time 14 percent tax on the roughly $2 trillion that U.S. companies have offshore, senior administration officials said Sunday.

The other half of the money — $240 billion — would come from the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is financed with a gasoline tax.

Finding money to pay for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure has been debated with little success for years. Washington has occasionally debated “tax holidays” for companies to voluntarily repatriate offshore earnings at lower tax rates than the current maximum corporate tax rate of 35 percent. Obama opposes such programs and his plan would be mandatory.

“Republicans believe that we should be building our infrastructure. The question’s how we should pay for it,” Obama said in an interview with NBC. “That’s a negotiation we should have.”

The Obama budget will urge Congress to throw out spending caps adopted in 2011, and allow a 7 percent increase in spending that’s not already on autopilot such as Social Security and Medicare.

Obama will propose increasing military spending by $38 billion, to $561 billion for fiscal year 2016.

Included:

— The “necessary resources to degrade and ultimately defeat” the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

— Money to provide “political, economic, and military support to NATO allies and partner states in Europe” to push back against Russian aggression.

— $14 billion to “strengthen U.S. cybersecurity defenses and … more rapidly protect American citizens, systems, and information from cyber threats.”

— $1 billion to promote “prosperity, security and good governance” in Central America.

Obama will also propose increase domestic spending by $37 billion next year, to $530 billion.

Included:

— Free community college for 9 million students.

— Paid leave.

— $3 billion on science, technology, engineering, and math education.

— $1 billion in additional money for Head Start early childhood programs.

— $100 million to reduce the abuse of prescription opioids and heroin.

The president will urge new tax breaks for the middle class, such as a tripling of the child-care tax credit. To help pay for his proposed spending and middle class tax cuts, Obama proposes more than $1 trillion in taxes over the next decade.

Obama is proposing tax increases on the wealthy totaling $320 billion over 10 years, atop those last year, which will total about $600 billion over the next decade. About $210 billion would come from the higher taxes on the estates and investment income of the wealthy, and $110 billion from fees on finance and Wall Street.

He is also proposing $640 billion in increases on the wealthy recycled from an earlier plan.

In addition, he will propose closing a tax loophole on corporate jets and eliminating a provision allowing hedge-fund and private-equity profits to be taxed at a lower rate, the officials said.

“The president believes that it’s possible — and, in fact, I think that he’s proved that it’s possible — for us to make smart decisions with the budget to make our tax code fairer and more simple, and do it all in a way that’s fiscally responsible,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday.

Republicans have long indicated that changing the tax code is one area where they hope to compromise with the White House.

“We want to work with this administration to see if we can find common ground on certain aspects of tax reform and we want to exhaust that possibility,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Obama’s budget will say that it would cut projected annual deficits by $1.8 trillion over 10 years. He’ll also say that it would stabilize the national debt as a percentage of the economy, the start reducing it relative to a growing economy.

“It achieves these goals by replacing mindless austerity with smart reforms,” the budget will say, according to a summary provided to reporters.

However, Obama’s plan relies on tax increases and legislation that are unlikely to get through the Republican Congress.

He assumes, for example, that he would get $640 billion over 10 years by curbing tax breaks for the wealthy. “These savings come from limiting tax benefits that are not efficient in achieving social goals, raising revenue without raising tax rates,” the budget will say.

He also counts on $400 billion savings in government health programs such as Medicare, and $160 billion savings from a comprehensive overhaul of immigration.

Even with previously approved spending cuts in place, deficits are projected to grow again in a few years, hitting $1.1 trillion in 2025.

(Lesley Clark and William Douglas contributed to this report.)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a event to promote a new health care program by approving $215 million for a Precision Medicine Initiative designed to help doctors tailor treatments to the individual characteristics of their patients in the East Room of the White House Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Obama Asks Employers, Congress To Help Long-Term Jobless

WASHINGTON — Tapping the bully pulpit, President Barack Obama used the White House backdrop Friday to urge American companies — and Congress — to help the nearly 4 million long-term unemployed.

In a White House ceremony, Obama brought out workers who have been jobless for more than half a year to insert real people into a bitter bipartisan debate over the expiration of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“Folks who have been unemployed the longest often have the toughest time getting back to work,” the president said, highlighting Misty Demars, a mother of two boys who’d never before depended on government benefits. “It’s a cruel Catch-22: The longer you’re unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem.”

According to one study Obama cited, those who’ve been out of work eight months are likely to get called back for interviews only about half as often as those who’ve been out of work one month, even with identical resumes.

“Statistically, the long-term unemployed are oftentimes slightly better educated, in some cases better qualified, than folks who just lost their job,” the president said. “Just because you have been out of work for a while does not mean that you are not a hard worker. Just means you had bad luck or you were in the wrong industry or you lived in a region of the country that’s catching up a little slower than others in the recovery.”

Earlier Friday, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, met with reporters at a breakfast held by The Christian Science Monitor and stressed that there isn’t any one thing that stands out about these long-term jobless workers other than their duration of unemployment.

“To a first approximation, the long-term unemployed look an awful lot like the labor force as a whole,” Furman said. “This is not some especially disadvantaged or less-skilled group.”

Obama spoke in the East Room of the White House, alongside Vice President Joe Biden, after he met with the CEOs of some of the nation’s largest public and private businesses.

He continued to urge Congress to pass benefits for more than 1 million of the nation’s unemployed. Roughly 3 million long-term unemployed still qualify for benefits.

“Last month Congress made that harder by letting unemployment insurance expire for more than a million people,” the president said, adding that 72,000 people a week are now losing their “economic lifeline.”

Obama also announced a $150 million grant competition through the Department of Labor to support public-private partnerships geared toward helping to prepare and place the long-term unemployed in open positions. Applications will be available in February and awards will be made in mid-2014.

More than 300 companies, including 80 of the nation’s largest businesses, have agreed to a new policy spelling out ways they’ll try to recruit and hire the long-term unemployed, the president said. They’ll ensure that advertising doesn’t discourage or discriminate against the unemployed, and they’ll review recruiting procedures, encourage all qualified candidates to apply and share information about hiring the long-term unemployed within their companies and across their supply chains and the business community.

Obama signed a presidential memorandum to ensure that government adopts the same practices.

“The federal government is America’s largest employer. While seeking to employ a talented and productive workforce, it has a responsibility to lead by example,” the memorandum said, spelling out new guidelines for hiring.

In another step to help workers, Furman said, Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget plan will propose expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, now available for lower-income workers with children, to include lower-income workers without them.

“That is very much a work-oriented approach. It’s very much about increasing the reward for work, and we expect it to have many of the same benefits in terms of participation and (economic) mobility,” Furman said. “That’s what he is going to be out there proposing.”

Companies and organizations that committed to expand efforts to recruit or hire the long-term unemployed include LinkedIn, Skills for America’s Future, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, Per Scholas, Goodwill Industries, JPMorgan Chase, AARP Foundation, Platform to Employment and Pacific Gas & Electric.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski