Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, offers a blistering critique of congressional Republican’s problems cutting spending:
Since the Republicans took the House in 2011, nearly every annual budget blueprint has promised to balance the budget within a decade with anywhere from $5 trillion to $8 trillion in spending cuts. And yet, you may have noticed, the budget has not moved towards balance. This is because the budget merely sets a broad fiscal goal. To actually cut spending, Congress must follow up with specific legislation to reform Medicare, Medicaid, and all the other targeted programs. In reality, most lawmakers who pass these budgets have no intention whatsoever of cutting this spending. As soon as the budget is passed, the targets are forgotten. The spending-cut legislation is never even drafted, much less voted on.
The annual budget exercise is thus a cynical exercise in symbolism. Congress calculates how much spending must be cut over ten years to balance the budget. Then they pass legislation setting a goal of cutting that amount. Then they move on to other business. It’s like a baseball team announcing that they voted to win the next World Series, and then not showing up to play the season.
Ten companies, including nine pharmaceutical giants, accounted for half of the health care industry's $50 billion in worldwide profits in the third quarter of 2018, according to an analysis by Axios’s Bob Herman. Drug companies generated 23 percent of the industry’s $636 billion in revenue — and 63 percent of the total profits. “Americans spend a lot more money on hospital and physician care than prescription drugs, but pharmaceutical companies pocket a lot more than other parts of the industry,” Herman writes.
Federal, state and local governments spent about $441 billion on infrastructure in 2017, with the money going toward highways, mass transit and rail, aviation, water transportation, water resources and water utilities. Measured as a percentage of GDP, total spending is a bit lower than it was 50 years ago. For more details, see this new report from the Congressional Budget Office.
The GOP tax cuts have provided a significant earnings boost for the big U.S. banks so far this year. Changes in the tax code “saved the nation’s six biggest banks $3.3 billion in the third quarter alone,” according to a Bloomberg report Thursday. The data is drawn from earnings reports from Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.
We told you Thursday about the Trump administration’s announcement that average premiums for benchmark Obamacare plans will fall 1.5 percent next year, but analyst Charles Gaba says the story is a bit more complicated. According to Gaba’s calculations, average premiums for all individual health plans will rise next year by 3.1 percent.
The difference between the two figures is produced by two very different datasets. The Trump administration included only the second-lowest-cost Silver plans in 39 states in its analysis, while Gaba examined all individual plans sold in all 50 states.
The cap on Social Security payroll taxes will rise to $132,900 next year, an increase of 3.5 percent. (Earnings up to that level are subject to the Social Security tax.) The increase will affect about 11.6 million workers, Politico reports. Beneficiaries are also getting a boost, with a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase coming in 2019.