Tag: fiscal policy

Threat to ObamaCare Is No ‘Drafting Error’

It turns out that ObamaCare makes an essential part of its regulatory scheme—an $800 billion bailout of private health insurance companies—conditional upon state governments creating the health insurance “exchanges” envisioned in the law.

This was no “drafting error.” During congressional consideration of the bill, its lead author, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), acknowledged that he intentionally and purposefully made that bailout conditional on states implementing their own Exchanges.

Now that it appears that as many as 30 states will not create Exchanges, the law is in peril. When states refuse to establish an Exchange, they are blocking not only that bailout, but also the $2,000 per worker tax ObamaCare imposes on employers. If enough states refuse to establish an Exchange, they can effectively force Congress to repeal much or all of the law.

That might explain why the IRS is literally rewriting the statute. On May 24, the IRS finalized a regulation that says the law’s $800 billion insurance-industry bailout will not be conditional on states creating Exchanges. With the stroke of pen, the IRS (1) stripped states of the power Congress gave them to shield employers from that $2,000 per-worker tax, (2) imposed that illegal tax on employers whom Congress exempted, and (3) issued up to $800 billion of tax credits and direct subsidies to private health insurance companies—without any congressional authorization whatsoever.

Some supporters of the law claim that Congress never intended to give states the power to block ObamaCare’s insurance-industry bailout. No doubt there are many in Congress who held that position. But they lost. If they’re unhappy now, they should take it up with Max Baucus.

What they should not do is set a precedent where the IRS can, on its own discretion, tax one group and subsidize another to the tune of $800 billion.

For more, see Jonathan Adler’s and my forthcoming Health Matrix article, “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA,” which has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, and NPR.

‘Health Law Critics Prepare to Battle Over Insurance Exchange Subsidies’

The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Critics of the new health care law, having lost one battle in the Supreme Court, are mounting a challenge to President Obama’s interpretation of another important provision, under which the federal government will subsidize health insurance for millions of low- and middle-income people.

Starting in 2014, the law…offers subsidies to help people pay for insurance bought through markets known as insurance exchanges.

At issue is whether the subsidies will be available in exchanges set up and run by the federal government in states that fail or refuse to establish their own exchange…

“The language of the statute is explicit,” Mr. Blumstein said. “Subsidies accrue to people who obtain coverage through state-run exchanges. The I.R.S. tries to get around that by providing subsidies for all insurance exchanges. That interpretation will almost certainly be challenged by someone.”

The most likely challenger, Mr. Blumstein said, is an employer penalized because one or more of its employees receive subsidies through a federal exchange. Employers may be subject to financial penalties if they offer no coverage or inadequate coverage and at least one of their full-time employees receives subsidies.

Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the link between subsidies and penalties was a crucial part of the law.

“Those tax credits trigger the penalties against employers,” Mr. Cannon said. If workers cannot receive subsidies in states with a federal exchange, their employers cannot be penalized, he said.

Tax credits are not subsidies, of course. But ObamaCare’s $800 billion of refundable premium-assistance tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies are three parts subsidy (i.e., government spending) and only one part tax reduction.

The Simple and Predictable Story of Fiscal Bankruptcy in Cyprus

With all the fiscal troubles in Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and Italy, there’s not much attention being paid to Cyprus.

But the Mediterranean island nation is a good case study illustrating the economic dangers of big government.

For all intents and purposes, Cyprus is now bankrupt, and the only question that remains to be answered is whether it will get handouts from the IMF-ECB-EC troika, handouts from Russia, or both. Here’s some of what has been reported by AP.

Cyprus’ president on Thursday defended his government’s decision to seek financial aid from the island nation’s eurozone partners while at the same time asking for a loan from Russia, insisting that the two are perfectly compatible. …Cyprus, with a population of 862,000 people, last week became the fifth country that uses the euro currency to seek a European bailout… The country is currently in talks with the so-called ‘troika’ — the body made up of officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — on how much bailout money it will need and the conditions that will come attached. Locked out of international markets because of its junk credit rating status, Cyprus is paying its bills thanks to a €2.5 billion ($3.14 billion) Russian loan that it clinched last year. But that money is expected to run out by the end of the year.

So what caused this mess? Is Cyprus merely the helpless and innocent victim of economic turmoil in nearby Greece?

That’s certainly the spin from Cypriot politicians, but the budget data shows that Cyprus is in trouble because of excessive spending. This chart, based on data from the International Monetary Fund, shows that the burden of government spending has jumped by an average of 8.3 percent annually since the mid-1990s.

My Golden Rule of fiscal policy is that government spending should grow slower than economic output. Nations that follow that rule generally enjoy good results, while nations that violate that rule inevitably get in trouble.

Interestingly, if Cypriot politicians had engaged in a very modest amount of spending restraint and limited annual budgetary increases to 3 percent, there would be a giant budget surplus today and the burden of government spending would be down to 21.4 percent of GDP, very close to the levels in the hyper-prosperous jurisdictions of Hong Kong and Singapore.

Actually, that’s not true. If the burden of government spending had grown as 3 percent instead of 8.3 percent, economic growth would have been much stronger, so GDP would have been much larger and the public sector would be an ever smaller share of economic output.

Speaking of GDP, the burden of government spending in Cyprus, measured as a share of GDP, has climbed dramatically since 1995.

A simple way to look at this data is that Cyprus used to have a Swiss-sized government and now it has a Greek-sized government. Government spending is just one of many policies that impact economic performance, but is anyone surprised that this huge increase in the size of the public sector has had a big negative impact on Cyprus?

Interestingly, if government spending had remained at 33.9 percent of GDP in Cyprus, the nation would have a big budget surplus today. Would that have required huge and savage budget cuts? Perhaps in the fantasy world of Paul Krugman, but politicians could have achieved that modest goal if they had simply limited annual spending increases to 6 percent.

But that was too “draconian” for Cypriot politicians, so they increased spending by an average of more than 8 percent each year.

What’s the moral of the story? Simply stated, the fiscal policy variable that matters most is the growth of government. Cyprus got in trouble because the burden of government grew faster than the productive sector of the economy.

That’s the disease, and deficits and debt are the symptoms of that underlying problem.

Europe’s political elite doubtlessly will push for higher taxes, but that approach - at best - simply masks the symptoms in the short run and usually exacerbates the disease in the long run.

HHS Offers to Pay Six Years of Operating Costs for Some States’ ObamaCare Exchanges

That’s my read of this.

ObamaCare gives HHS the authority to make unlimited grants to help states create Exchanges. But that authority expires on December 31, 2014. HHS just issued an announcement that they will issue grants right up to midnight on December 31—and that some of those grants will be so big that they will last for five years:

Q4: What is the last day that a State can spend its award?

A4: Grantees are encouraged to drawdown funding within their budget period (up to one year for Level One and up to three years for Level Two grants); however, at the recommendation of CCIIO’s State Officer and at the discretion of the Grant Management Officer, grantees may receive a no-cost extension that will allow them to spend funding up to the expiration date of the project period. At HHS’s discretion, a project period can be extended for a maximum of five years past the date of the award. Note, however, that all spending of §1311(a) funds awarded under a cooperative agreement must be consistent with the scope of the statute, FOA, and terms and conditions of the awarded cooperative agreement. [Emphasis added.]

The last sentence is there just to make sure no one suspects them of violating the law, wink-wink.

Since HHS can make unlimited grants in the first year that Exchanges are supposed to operate (2014), this means HHS is trying to pay for the operating expenses of some states’ Exchanges for six years (2014-2019).

Is the Individual Mandate a Tax?

From my 2010 paper “Obama’s Prescription for Low-Wage Workers; High Implicit Taxes, Higher Premiums”:

President Obama argues that a legal requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance is not a tax. Yet many economists, including some of President Obama’s economic advisers, consider it to be a type of tax.

Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt writes, “[Just because] the fiscal flows triggered by [the] mandate would not flow directly through the public budgets does not detract from the measure’s status of a bona fide tax.”

MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber writes, “Suppose … the government mandated that everyone buy full insurance at the average price… . This would not be a very attractive plan to careful consumers … who could view themselves as essentially being taxed in order to support this market, by paying higher premiums than they should based on their risk.”

President Obama’s National Economic Council chairman Larry Summers writes, “Essentially, mandated benefits are like public programs financed by benefit taxes.”

Sherry Glied, President Obama’s appointee to assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, writes, “The individual mandate … is in many respects analogous to a tax. It requires people to make payments for something whether they want it or not.”

When the Clinton administration proposed an individual mandate in 1993, the CBO went so far as to treat the mandatory premiums that Americans would pay as federal revenues and include them in the federal budget. So far, the CBO has not done the same for the mandates in the House and Senate bills. (As Reinhardt suggests, that does not imply that those mandates are not a tax.)

Each bill would also impose penalties on individuals (and employers) who do not comply with the health-insurance mandates. Those penalties would be paid to the Internal Revenue Service along with one’s income taxes.

“Conservatives’ Last Legal Option to Invalidate Obamacare”

The New Republic reports on an issue that Jonathan Adler and I have been highlighting: an IRS rule that will tax employers and subsidize private health insurance companies without congressional authorization. Why would the IRS issue such a rule? Perhaps because ObamaCare could collapse without it.

The post quotes another law professor who acknowledges the Obama administration faces a serious problem:

“It’s fairly decent textual case,” says Kevin Outterson, a professor at Boston University Law School, and health care blogger for The Incidental Economist. And if it stood, he says, the consequences could be disastrous.

Disastrous for ObamaCare, that is. But as Adler and I have written previously, if  saving ObamaCare means letting the IRS tax employers without congressional authorization, then ObamaCare is not worth saving.