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    Wealthier Kansans are paying much less in taxes after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback cut overhauled the state's income tax a few years ago. Brownback and other Republican officials hoped that more generous policies would stimulate the economy, bringing more revenue into the state's coffers and making up the difference on the bottom line.It didn't work. Kansas's economy has kept expanding at more or less same plodding pace as the rest of the country. And now, according to official estimates released Monday, the state will have at least a $143 million budget shortfall in 2016, and likely more. Lawmakers are looking for a way to plug the hole.One thing they're not considering: asking the wealthy to chip in. Instead, in a legislature that last week barred welfare recipients from using their benefits to go swimming or watch movies, the proposals that look most likely to succeed are sales and excise taxes that would be paid disproportionately by Kansas's poor and working class."You've got policymakers at this point who are unable to embrace the fact that there was a mistake made," said Annie McKay, the executive director of the left-leaning Kansas Center for Economic Growth. The think tank in Topeka argues that the state's deficit can't be eliminated without reversing some of the income tax cuts Brownback made in 2012.Poor and working-class Kansans already carry a heavy burden under the state's tax system, compared to people of modest incomes in most other states. Among the fifth of the Kansas population with the lowest incomes, the average person pays 11.1 percent of what they make in state and local taxes, including sales taxes. Among the wealthiest one in every 100 Kansans, the average tax bill is just 3.6 percent of annual income, according to a recent report from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.People who make less are more vulnerable to increases in sales and excises taxes, since they spend more of their money buying basic goods and services they need to get by. This is especially the case in Kansas, where food is subject to sales tax. Kansans can receive a tax rebate for their food purchases, but those who make nothing or too little, to owe income tax aren't eligible. The pay the sales tax on food in full.The defense of the plan to raise sales and excise taxes -- the sales tax would increase from 6.15 percent to 6.3 percent, under one proposal -- is that people should be taxed on what they spend, not what they make, so as not to penalize them for earning more but instead to encourage them to save and invest their money."You're moving from taxing a productive activity to taxing a consumption activity," said Joseph Henchman of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. "Most economists will say that it is good for economic growth."In practice, though, people who don't have much money can't save or invest it. They have to spend it to get along. The more you make, the smaller the fraction of your income you have to spend to cover the basics. And wealthier households, which spend more on luxuries and entertainment, can always give up some of their purchases and keep the money in the bank if they don't want to pay the higher rate.As a result, raising the sales tax equally for everyone means asking poorer households to pay significantly more, relative what they earn.The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy's Meg Wiehe notes that in many states, average incomes have only increased among the richest groups in recent years. As a result, a system of taxation that depends more on the economic fortunes of the poor and the middle class might not produce increasing revenue in the future to meet the needs of growing states, unless the broad national trends change and incomes begin improving throughout the economy."Kansas has really shifted the responsibility for paying for taxes from those at the top with the most income, where income is growing, to those at the very bottom of the income spectrum, where incomes are stagnant or even declining," Wiehe said.Poorer residents are required to pay a larger share of their incomes than wealthier residents in state and local taxes across the country. That difference is even greater among some states that don't have an income tax, such as Washington. There, the poorest fifth pay 16.8 percent of income in taxes on average, compared to just 2.4 percent among the very wealthiest, according to the report from the institute.Brownback also has indicated he's willing to slow -- but not stop -- the implementation of his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy. However, he still seeks to eliminate the income tax over time. And some Republicans in the state legislature say they are fiercely committed to the original tax cuts and might oppose attempts to slow their implementation.Lori McMillan, a law professor at Washburn University in Topeka who has talked about tax policy with several state legislators, said she thought they had good intentions. "They're not trying to break the backs of the poor," she said. "They're nice people."Yet McMillan, who describes herself as conservative politically, worries that policymakers have failed to reckon with the consequences of their reforms for taxpayers and for the state's budget over the long term.Even the proposed increases in sales and excises taxes would make up only a fraction of the deficit. To balance the budget for this year, Brownback and other policymakers have proposed temporary measures, such as transferring money out of the state's highway fund.




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    Yet households still worried about money; young struggle for work. WASHINGTON-- Even though U.S. growth slowed sharply in the first quarter, Americans are more optimistic about the economy now than at any time since President Obama took over the White House in January 2009.. A new CNN poll shows that 52% of Americans view the economy as "very" or "somewhat" good vs. 48% who call it "poor" or "somewhat poor."

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    Europe had a hand in this weekend's tragedy in the Mediterranean. Close to 5,000 migrants died last year attempting to cross the sea to Europe from Africa, but the continental governments have hesitated to help for fear of encouraging even more migrants to try to reach their countries illegally.Before Americans criticize European xenophobia too freely, though, it's worth noting that a parallel logic has contributed to deaths along our own border with Mexico. Americans' insistence on preventing illegal immigration has trumped any humanitarian concerns about migrants attempting the crossing.Surveillance on the border has only encouraged those crossing the border to travel by more remote and more dangerous routes. The result, as Nora Caplan-Bricker explained last year in The New Republic, is that the number of deaths along the border has been increasing, even as the number of immigrants has declined rapidly.Welcome to Wonkbook. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. Follow Wonkblog on Twitter and Facebook.What's in Wonkbook: 1) Mediterranean shipwreck 2) Opinions, including Graham and Bernstein on campaign finance 3) Oil companies are drilling in deeper and deeper waters, and moreChart of the day:There are far more black women than black men in our communities, due to incarceration and early deaths. In all, 1.5 million black men are essentially missing from American life. Justin Wolfers, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy in The New York Times.1. Top story: 850 migrants believed dead in wreckA boat carrying migrants to Europe capsized in the Mediterranean Sunday. "The United Nations refugee agency estimated Tuesday that as many as 850 migrants had gone to their deaths in a boat capsizing earlier this week off the coast of Libya, even as the ship’s captain and a crew member were taken into custody on criminal charges. ... Only 28 migrants survived. A substantial number of passengers — including scores of women and children — perished Sunday as they were trapped below decks on the three-tiered vessel, apparently helpless as the boat tipped over, according to interviews with survivors." Anthony Faiola in The Washington Post.Chaos in Libya and throughout the region has left migrants even more vulnerable. "Shipwrecks killing hundreds of migrants at a time have been happening in the Mediterranean for years. Just last week, another shipwreck killed about 400 people. ... When Muammar Qaddafi ruled Libya, his government had an agreement with Italy to try to intercept and turn back ships leaving for Europe. But Qaddafi was toppled in 2011, thanks to the Arab Spring and support for the rebels from the US and Europe. And in the utter chaos that's engulfed Libya over the past few years, there's no government entity really capable of patrolling the Mediterranean. ... Many of the skirmishes between militias in Libya's north and southwest aren't just about support for or opposition to the current Libyan government — they're also over control of smuggling routes. And human smuggling has become an important part of the economy of many communities along the Libyan border, and for some ethnic groups within the country." Dara Lind at Vox.Europe has shied away from helping shipwrecked migrants. "Governments under pressure from domestic anti-immigrant parties have shrunk from the task. Last year Italy undertook its own, much-praised operation to rescue people from boats, saving many; but it was scaled back in October after other governments declined to join in and some complained, wrongheadedly, that the effort itself might be attracting migrants. In recent months a much smaller E.U. search-and-rescue mission has been limited to Italy’s territorial waters, making it far more likely that sinkings and other accidents will lead to mass deaths," writes the editorial board of The Washington Post.BERSHIDSKY: But the United States is also to blame. In Syria, "a U.S.-led coalition, including mainly Arab states, is already waging war. And these countries bear at least some responsibility for the plight of Syria's peaceful population. Similarly, the countries that conducted the 2011 military intervention in Libya and contributed to its becoming a failed state -- including the U.S., Canada, Norway and Qatar -- are obligated to help fix the humanitarian disaster they helped create." Bloomberg View.2. Top opinionsGRAHAM: Republican candidates disagree on what to do about money in politics. "Divisions within the Republican Party seem to be the product of a movement to deregulate campaign finance that has achieved stunning victories over the last 15 years. If the movement isn't quite a victim of its own success, it now faces some disarray bred by winning so quickly and completely. Having triumphed, conservatives aren't unified on where to go next. ... Conservatives are faced with a new set of questions: What happens now? Are there more restrictions to knock down? Are the changes good, or have they gone too far?" The Atlantic.JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: The issue of campaign finance has political advantages. "Campaign-finance reform is a safe subject. It's hard to see how events will make current talking points on it look silly or embarrassing in the future. Restricting money in politics is broadly popular (especially with a lot reporters and their editors), even if it isn't something that will sway a lot of votes in the general election next year. And it's a low-cost way of appealing to Democrats who tend to support insurgent candidates -- that is, those who make a stink about money in politics. It's a lot less risky issue for Clinton than engaging in antiwar oratory or committing to some specific economic proposals."Bloomberg View.Obamacare is creating monopolies in hospitals, writes Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins. "During the 2008 financial crisis, “too big to fail” became a familiar phrase in the U.S. financial system. Now the U.S. health-care system is heading down the same path with a record number of hospital mergers and acquisitions—95 last year—some creating regional monopolies that, as in all monopolies, will likely result in higher prices from decreased competition. ... Health-care conglomeration aligns with the Affordable Care Act, which created incentives for physicians and hospitals to work together in 'accountable care organizations.' "The Wall Street Journal.3. In case you missed itFive years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, oil companies are drilling riskier wells. "Opening this new frontier, miles below the bottom of the Gulf, requires engineering feats far beyond those used at BP's much shallower Macondo well. But critics say energy companies haven't developed the corresponding safety measures to prevent another disaster or contain one if it happens — a sign, environmentalists say, that the lessons of BP's spill were short-lived. These new depths and larger reservoirs could exacerbate a blowout like what happened at the Macondo well. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil could spill each day, and the response would be slowed as the equipment to deal with it — skimmers, boom, submarines, containment stacks — is shipped 100 miles or more from shore. Since the Macondo disaster, which sent at least 134 million gallons spewing into the Gulf five years ago Monday, federal agencies have approved about two dozen next-generation, ultra-deep wells." Cain Burdeau for the Associated Press.Clinton wants the tax code to support the real economy, not the financial sector. "She hinted on Monday that she hopes to get tougher on traders and reexamine the capital gains tax. ... She plans to 'take a hard look at what is now being done in the trading world, which is just trading for the sake of trading. ... We have to look at the whole tax system and try to figure out what is an economic investment as opposed to one without economic purpose because there are a lot of those where people are just basically playing games,' she said." Jennifer Epstein for Bloomberg.Amtrak needs a new bridge and a pair of new tunnels into New York. "The 104-year-old Portal Bridge... crosses the Hackensack River in New Jersey on the way to New York City's Penn Station. It's been called the Achilles' heel of the rail system's Northeast Corridor, a stretch that accommodates some 750,000 passengers a day. Paired with two outdated tunnels leading into Penn Station that were flooded during Superstorm Sandy, it's a treacherous stretch where delays are frequent. ... The Portal Bridge is a swing bridge that has to move out of the way of ships passing below on the Hackensack River, but its age and disrepair means it doesn't always lock back into place. When that happens, trains can pile up for hours and send ripples all the way up to Pennsylvania. About 450 trains go over the bridge every day." Jason Plautz in National Journal.Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has to convince progressives to move forward on a trade deal they don't like. "Last week, legislators introduced a bill that is a key part of passing the biggest trade deal of the new century. The measure, known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to vote treaties up or down without amending them -- and a broad coalition of labor, community and environmental groups is pulling out all the stops to defeat the measure... What is Wyden's pitch? Well, Trade Promotion Authority has trade-offs, he says. U.S. trade negotiators want to be able to tell other countries that Congress won't mess with a deal once it's inked. And Congress offers a compromise: They give away the right to quibble with specific sections of the treaty, in exchange for a promise that the administration will adhere to a set of priorities Congress lays out." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.UPCOMING EVENT: Washington Post Live presents “Executive Actions — Reimagining Industries in a Changing Economy,” April 24 at George Washington University. Register to attend an intimate conversation with five CEOs, including MGM Resorts’ James Murren; Richard Plepler of Home Box Office, Inc.; Desiree Rogers of Johnson Publishing Company; Eric Spiegel of Siemens USA and John Viehmeyer of KPMG, Global and USA.




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    By Joseph Adinolfi and Brian Aguilar, MarketWatch, Terrence Horan. Hungary's central bank cut its benchmark rate to a record low. Central banks around the globe are rushing to ease monetary policy as looming deflation and still-weak commodity prices weigh on growth expectations.

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     A sage observer once remarked, "Speculation is going on when someone else is making money, and you and I aren't." Speculation has been ripe, as hot money has raised the price of financial assets even in the face of disappointing progress in the real economy. How forgiving has the market been?

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    The U.S. federal funds rate, which banks charge each other to borrow their excess reserves, averaged 0.13 percent on Monday for a sixth straight day, Fed data released early Tuesday showed. The fed funds rate, which the Federal Reserve targets to achieve its rate objective, traded in a range of 0.05 percent to 0.3125 percent, matching the range set in the previous seven sessions.

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    According to the general rule for transfers of assets between spouses or ex-spouses under a divorce property settlement, the transfers are treated as gifts between spouses for federal tax purposes. As such, the transfers are federal-income-tax-free and gift-tax-free. When this favorable general rule applies, the transferee spouse takes over the transferor spouse's tax basis and holding period for the transferred asset.

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    Central banks including the Federal Reserve may need to set higher inflation targets in the future to avoid dealing with low economic growth, Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said in an interview with the Financial Times.

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    Washington and Lee’ s School of Law said it plans to cut 12 positions in the fall, while Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School delivered pink slips to more than half of its faculty and staff members last summer. Last month, Wiley Rein, one of the Washington area’ s biggest law firms, cut 48 attorneys and staff members, an estimated 9 percent of its...

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    At first glance, fiscal austerity remains the order of the day in Congress, where Republican leaders are working to complete a budget that would cut $5 trillion in spending over the next decade. Look closer and there are signs the era of spending restraint is easing. Two recent events illustrate how "Congress is done cutting spending, and if anything is more likely to add to it," said Alec Phillips, a political economist at Goldman Sachs.

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    Last week, legislators introduced a bill that is a key part of passing the biggest trade deal of the new century. The measure, known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to vote treaties up or down without amending them -- and a broad coalition of labor, community and environmental groups is pulling out all the stops to defeat the measure, because they know it virtually assures the passage of a deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries that they fear will look like NAFTA on steroids.Backed by big business, President Obama wants Trade Promotion Authority to pass. It is, he says, the only way to keep American businesses from being "locked out" of Asian countries that would otherwise be drawn inexorably into China's economic orbit. At the moment, though, most Congressional Democrats are opposed, and it's fallen to a handful -- led by  Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) -- to coax them along.What is Wyden's pitch? Well, Trade Promotion Authority has trade-offs, he says. U.S. trade negotiators want to be able to tell other countries that Congress won't mess with a deal once it's inked. And Congress offers a compromise: They give away the right to quibble with specific sections of the treaty, in exchange for a promise that the administration will adhere to a set of priorities Congress lays out.That's why a lot is riding on those priorities, called negotiating objectives. If you can live with a trade deal that reflects them, you might get behind Trade Promotion Authority as well.Now many of the negotiating objectives mainly reflect the things that big business wants -- and some of which may already be in the treaty, if texts leaked from the secret negotiations are any indication. Those include eliminating tariffs, curtailing the activity of state-owned enterprises, protecting intellectual property, and allowing for the free flow of capital and data, all of which have been advocated by the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, software and agricultural industries.But Wyden -- and fellow Democrat Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), a liberal's liberal if there ever was one -- are pointing to a few things in the TPA bill that they say should be reasons enough for the rest of the caucus to hold its nose and vote for it.Transparency: One of Democrats' top complaints about the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been that -- as is common with trade deals -- it was hashed out in secret. The bill strengthens procedures for congressional access to the text in future negotiations, and directs the U.S. Trade Representative to hire a "Chief Transparency Officer" responsible for making information more widely available.Corporate rights:  A wide spectrum of constituencies -- from tea party groups to Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- have repeatedly raised the alarm about a provision called "investor state dispute settlement," which would allow corporations to sue foreign governments for treating them differently than they treat domestic corporations. They worry that could open up local U.S. jurisdictions to lawsuits over their own labor, environmental and health protections if a company decides they get in the way of profitability. The Trade Promotion Authority bill says that U.S. laws should be safe from such attacks. "The application of any provision of a trade agreement ... that is inconsistent with U.S. law shall have no effect," reads the bill summary, adding: "reports issued by dispute settlement panels convened under trade agreements ... shall have no binding effect under U.S. law."Labor and environmental protections: Trade unions and environmental groups say that free trade has allowed U.S. companies to do business more cheaply in places where labor and environmental protections are weak, enabling a "race to the bottom." The Trade Promotion Authority bill directs U.S. negotiators to make sure that parties to trade deals with the United States adopt and implement internationally recognized labor standards -- such as prohibitions on child labor and human trafficking, and protections for union organizing -- and comply with a suite of environmental treaties. The U.S. Trade Representative has said all along it would do this, as it has in a few recent trade agreements.Enforcement: The bill tries to make sure that trade violations are swiftly dealt with by requiring the White House to submit an enforcement plan, including requests for more border personnel and other staff needed to keep up with increased flow of goods. It also decrees that parties to the agreement shouldn't be able to make the excuse that they can't enforce labor and environmental protections just because they don't have the resources, and directs the U.S. to help them build their capacity for enforcement. Similar labor provisions in other recent agreements, while not enforced perfectly, have led to increased inspections in Latin American countries that have signed free trade agreements with the U.S.Currency: The bill asks that future trade deals prevent parties from manipulating their currency to gain a competitive advantage for their exports. That's significant, because while labor groups and domestic manufacturers (both the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers, for example) have pushed hard for the TPP to address currency, the Obama administration has refused, arguing that countries like Japan would never accept a deal that did so -- and that a currency provision might also constrain the U.S.' own monetary policy tools, like the quantitative easing process it used to try to propel the country through a recession. Still, using a trade agreement to address currency has been popular on both sides of the aisle, and might ultimately be a dealbreaker when TPP finally comes to Congress for approval.Of course, those objectives don't guarantee that the deal will ultimately come out the way Congress wants. The White House has to get 12 other countries on board, after all. But it does send a message that if the agreement doesn't pass muster according to those criteria, Congress might reject it entirely, potentially requiring more years of negotiation -- if it comes back at all.So far, Wyden's argument that trying to improve the deal through Trade Promotion Authority is the best way to go hasn't made one whit of difference to the labor and environmental groups that have opposed it all along. But it might win over enough Democrats who want to support free trade in principle, if it can be proven that the downsides can at least be mitigated.




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    Last week, legislators introduced a bill that is a key part of passing the biggest trade deal of the new century. The measure, known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to vote treaties up or down without amending them. But a broad coalition of labor, community and environmental groups are pulling out all the stops to defeat the measure, because they know it virtually assures the passage of a deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries that they fear will look like NAFTA on steroids.Backed by big business, President Obama desperately wants Trade Promotion Authority to pass because he says it's the only way to keep American businesses from being "locked out" of Asian countries that would otherwise be drawn inexorably into China's economic orbit. At the moment, though, most Congressional Democrats are opposed, and it's fallen to a handful -- led by  Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) -- to coax them along.So, how is Wyden making the sell? Well, Trade Promotion Authority is a bargain. U.S. trade negotiators want to be able to tell other countries that Congress won't mess with a deal once it's inked. Congress offers a compromise: They give away the right to quibble with specific sections of the treaty in exchange for a promise that the Administration will adhere to a set of priorities Congress lays out.That's why a lot is riding on those priorities, which are called "negotiating objectives." If you can live with a trade deal that reflects them, you might get behind Trade Promotion Authority, as well.Now, many of the negotiating objectives simply reflect the things that big business wants, some of which may already be in the treaty, if texts leaked from the secret negotiations are any indication. Those include eliminating tariffs, curtailing the activity of state-owned enterprises, protecting intellectual property, and allowing for the free flow of capital and data -- all of which have been advocated by the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, software and agricultural industries.But Wyden -- and fellow Oregon Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Portland, a liberal's liberal if there ever was one -- are pointing to a few things in the TPA bill that they say should be enough reason for the rest of the caucus to hold their noses and vote for it.Transparency: One of the Democrats' top complaints about the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been that -- like all trade deals -- it was hashed out in secret. The bill strengthens procedures for Congressional access to the text in future negotiations and directs the U.S. Trade Representative to hire a "Chief Transparency Officer" responsible for more making information widely available.Corporate rights:  A wide spectrum of constituencies -- from tea party groups to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) -- have repeatedly raised the alarm about a provision called "investor state dispute settlement," which would allow corporations to sue foreign governments for treating them differently than they treat domestic corporations. They worry that could open up local jurisdictions in the United States to lawsuits over their own labor, environmental and health protections if a company decides they get in the way of an investment's profitability. The Trade Promotion Authority bill says that U.S. laws should be safe from such attacks. "The application of any provision of a trade agreement ... that is inconsistent with U.S. law shall have no effect," reads the bill summary, adding: "reports issued by dispute settlement panels convened under trade agreements ... shall have no binding effect under U.S. law."Labor and environmental protections: Trade unions and environmental groups say that free trade has allowed U.S. companies to do business more cheaply in places where labor and environmental protections are weak, enabling a "race to the bottom." The Trade Promotion Authority bill directs U.S. negotiators to make sure that parties to trade deals with the United States adopt and implement internationally recognized labor standards -- such as prohibitions on child labor and human trafficking and protections for union organizing -- and comply with a suite of environmental treaties. The U.S. Trade Representative has said all along it would do this, as it has in a few recent trade agreements.Enforcement: The bill tries to make sure that trade violations are swiftly dealt with by requiring the White House to submit an enforcement plan, including requests for more border personnel and other staff needed to keep up with increased flow of goods. It also decrees that parties to the agreement shouldn't be able to make the excuse that they can't enforce labor and environmental protections just because they don't have the resources, and directs the United States to help them build their capacity for enforcement. Similar labor provisions in other recent agreements, while not enforced perfectly, have led to increased inspections in Latin American countries that have signed free trade agreements with the United States.Currency: The bill asks that future trade deals prevent parties from manipulating their currency to gain a competitive advantage for their exports. That's significant, because while labor groups and domestic manufacturers (both the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers, for example) have pushed hard for the TPP to address currency, the Obama administration has refused, arguing that countries like Japan would never accept a deal that did so -- and that a currency provision might also constrain America's own monetary policy tools, like the quantitative easing process it used to try to propel the country through a recession. Still, using a trade agreement to address currency has been popular on both sides of the aisle, and might ultimately be a deal breaker when TPP finally comes to Congress for a vote.Of course, those objectives don't guarantee that the deal will ultimately come out the way Congress wants. The White House has to get 12 other countries to agree to them, after all. But it does send a message that if the agreement doesn't pass muster according to those criteria, Congress might reject it entirely, potentially requiring more years of negotiation -- if it comes back at all.So far, Wyden's argument that trying to improve the deal through Trade Promotion Authority is the best way to go hasn't made one whit of difference to the labor and environmental groups that have opposed it all along. But it might win over enough Democrats who want to support free trade in principle, if it can be proven that the downsides can at least be mitigated.




  • Show Article Details

    Last week, legislators introduced a bill that is a key part of passing the biggest trade deal of the new century. The measure, known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to vote treaties up or down without amending them. But a broad coalition of labor, community and environmental groups are pulling out all the stops to defeat the measure, because they know it virtually assures the passage of a deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries that they fear will look like NAFTA on steroids.Backed by big business, President Obama desperately wants Trade Promotion Authority to pass because he says it's the only way to keep American businesses from being "locked out" of Asian countries that would otherwise be drawn inexorably into China's economic orbit. At the moment, though, most Congressional Democrats are opposed, and it's fallen to a handful -- led by  Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) -- to coax them along.So, how is Wyden making the sell? Well, Trade Promotion Authority is a bargain. U.S. trade negotiators want to be able to tell other countries that Congress won't mess with a deal once it's inked. Congress offers a compromise: They give away the right to quibble with specific sections of the treaty in exchange for a promise that the Administration will adhere to a set of priorities Congress lays out.That's why a lot is riding on those priorities, which are called "negotiating objectives." If you can live with a trade deal that reflects them, you might get behind Trade Promotion Authority, as well.Now, many of the negotiating objectives simply reflect the things that big business wants, some of which may already be in the treaty, if texts leaked from the secret negotiations are any indication. Those include eliminating tariffs, curtailing the activity of state-owned enterprises, protecting intellectual property, and allowing for the free flow of capital and data -- all of which have been advocated by the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, software and agricultural industries.But Wyden -- and fellow Oregon Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Portland, a liberal's liberal if there ever was one -- are pointing to a few things in the TPA bill that they say should be enough reason for the rest of the caucus to hold their noses and vote for it.Transparency: One of the Democrats' top complaints about the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been that -- like all trade deals -- it was hashed out in secret. The bill strengthens procedures for Congressional access to the text in future negotiations and directs the U.S. Trade Representative to hire a "Chief Transparency Officer" responsible for more making information widely available.Corporate rights:  A wide spectrum of constituencies -- from tea party groups to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) -- have repeatedly raised the alarm about a provision called "investor state dispute settlement," which would allow corporations to sue foreign governments for treating them differently than they treat domestic corporations. They worry that could open up local jurisdictions in the United States to lawsuits over their own labor, environmental and health protections if a company decides they get in the way of an investment's profitability. The Trade Promotion Authority bill says that U.S. laws should be safe from such attacks. "The application of any provision of a trade agreement ... that is inconsistent with U.S. law shall have no effect," reads the bill summary, adding: "reports issued by dispute settlement panels convened under trade agreements ... shall have no binding effect under U.S. law."Labor and environmental protections: Trade unions and environmental groups say that free trade has allowed U.S. companies to do business more cheaply in places where labor and environmental protections are weak, enabling a "race to the bottom." The Trade Promotion Authority bill directs U.S. negotiators to make sure that parties to trade deals with the United States adopt and implement internationally recognized labor standards -- such as prohibitions on child labor and human trafficking and protections for union organizing -- and comply with a suite of environmental treaties. The U.S. Trade Representative has said all along it would do this, as it has in a few recent trade agreements.Enforcement: The bill tries to make sure that trade violations are swiftly dealt with by requiring the White House to submit an enforcement plan, including requests for more border personnel and other staff needed to keep up with increased flow of goods. It also decrees that parties to the agreement shouldn't be able to make the excuse that they can't enforce labor and environmental protections just because they don't have the resources, and directs the United States to help them build their capacity for enforcement. Similar labor provisions in other recent agreements, while not enforced perfectly, have led to increased inspections in Latin American countries that have signed free trade agreements with the United States.Currency: The bill asks that future trade deals prevent parties from manipulating their currency to gain a competitive advantage for their exports. That's significant, because while labor groups and domestic manufacturers (both the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers, for example) have pushed hard for the TPP to address currency, the Obama administration has refused, arguing that countries like Japan would never accept a deal that did so -- and that a currency provision might also constrain America's own monetary policy tools, like the quantitative easing process it used to try to propel the country through a recession. Still, using a trade agreement to address currency has been popular on both sides of the aisle, and might ultimately be a deal breaker when TPP finally comes to Congress for a vote.Of course, those objectives don't guarantee that the deal will ultimately come out the way Congress wants. The White House has to get 12 other countries to agree to them, after all. But it does send a message that if the agreement doesn't pass muster according to those criteria, Congress might reject it entirely, potentially requiring more years of negotiation -- if it comes back at all.So far, Wyden's argument that trying to improve the deal through Trade Promotion Authority is the best way to go hasn't made one whit of difference to the labor and environmental groups that have opposed it all along. But it might win over enough Democrats who want to support free trade in principle, if it can be proven that the downsides can at least be mitigated.




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    Last week, legislators introduced a bill that is a key part of passing the biggest trade deal of the new century. The measure, known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to vote treaties up or down without amending them -- and a broad coalition of labor, community and environmental groups is pulling out all the stops to defeat the measure, because they know it virtually assures the passage of a deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries that they fear will look like NAFTA on steroids.Backed by big business, President Obama wants Trade Promotion Authority to pass. It is, he says, the only way to keep American businesses from being "locked out" of Asian countries that would otherwise be drawn inexorably into China's economic orbit. At the moment, though, most Congressional Democrats are opposed, and it's fallen to a handful -- led by  Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) -- to coax them along.What is Wyden's pitch? Well, Trade Promotion Authority has trade-offs, he says. U.S. trade negotiators want to be able to tell other countries that Congress won't mess with a deal once it's inked. And Congress offers a compromise: They give away the right to quibble with specific sections of the treaty, in exchange for a promise that the administration will adhere to a set of priorities Congress lays out.That's why a lot is riding on those priorities, called negotiating objectives. If you can live with a trade deal that reflects them, you might get behind Trade Promotion Authority as well.Now many of the negotiating objectives mainly reflect the things that big business wants -- and some of which may already be in the treaty, if texts leaked from the secret negotiations are any indication. Those include eliminating tariffs, curtailing the activity of state-owned enterprises, protecting intellectual property, and allowing for the free flow of capital and data, all of which have been advocated by the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, software and agricultural industries.But Wyden -- and fellow Democrat Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), a liberal's liberal if there ever was one -- are pointing to a few things in the TPA bill that they say should be reasons enough for the rest of the caucus to hold its nose and vote for it.Transparency: One of Democrats' top complaints about the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been that -- as is common with trade deals -- it was hashed out in secret. The bill strengthens procedures for congressional access to the text in future negotiations, and directs the U.S. Trade Representative to hire a "Chief Transparency Officer" responsible for making information more widely available.Corporate rights:  A wide spectrum of constituencies -- from tea party groups to Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- have repeatedly raised the alarm about a provision called "investor state dispute settlement," which would allow corporations to sue foreign governments for treating them differently than they treat domestic corporations. They worry that could open up local U.S. jurisdictions to lawsuits over their own labor, environmental and health protections if a company decides they get in the way of profitability. The Trade Promotion Authority bill says that U.S. laws should be safe from such attacks. "The application of any provision of a trade agreement ... that is inconsistent with U.S. law shall have no effect," reads the bill summary, adding: "reports issued by dispute settlement panels convened under trade agreements ... shall have no binding effect under U.S. law."Labor and environmental protections: Trade unions and environmental groups say that free trade has allowed U.S. companies to do business more cheaply in places where labor and environmental protections are weak, enabling a "race to the bottom." The Trade Promotion Authority bill directs U.S. negotiators to make sure that parties to trade deals with the United States adopt and implement internationally recognized labor standards -- such as prohibitions on child labor and human trafficking, and protections for union organizing -- and comply with a suite of environmental treaties. The U.S. Trade Representative has said all along it would do this, as it has in a few recent trade agreements.Enforcement: The bill tries to make sure that trade violations are swiftly dealt with by requiring the White House to submit an enforcement plan, including requests for more border personnel and other staff needed to keep up with increased flow of goods. It also decrees that parties to the agreement shouldn't be able to make the excuse that they can't enforce labor and environmental protections just because they don't have the resources, and directs the U.S. to help them build their capacity for enforcement. Similar labor provisions in other recent agreements, while not enforced perfectly, have led to increased inspections in Latin American countries that have signed free trade agreements with the U.S.Currency: The bill asks that future trade deals prevent parties from manipulating their currency to gain a competitive advantage for their exports. That's significant, because while labor groups and domestic manufacturers (both the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers, for example) have pushed hard for the TPP to address currency, the Obama administration has refused, arguing that countries like Japan would never accept a deal that did so -- and that a currency provision might also constrain the U.S.' own monetary policy tools, like the quantitative easing process it used to try to propel the country through a recession. Still, using a trade agreement to address currency has been popular on both sides of the aisle, and might ultimately be a dealbreaker when TPP finally comes to Congress for approval.Of course, those objectives don't guarantee that the deal will ultimately come out the way Congress wants. The White House has to get 12 other countries on board, after all. But it does send a message that if the agreement doesn't pass muster according to those criteria, Congress might reject it entirely, potentially requiring more years of negotiation -- if it comes back at all.So far, Wyden's argument that trying to improve the deal through Trade Promotion Authority is the best way to go hasn't made one whit of difference to the labor and environmental groups that have opposed it all along. But it might win over enough Democrats who want to support free trade in principle, if it can be proven that the downsides can at least be mitigated.




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    Senator Lisa Murkowski said on Monday she will introduce legislation this year to allow U.S. crude exports. "It's time to lift America's ban on crude oil exports," Murkowski said at IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, the world's largest annual gathering of oil executives. "We shouldn't lift sanctions on Iranian oil while we are keeping restrictions on American oil.

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    New Jersey governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie would like you to know that he's an average Joe, just like you! "I don't consider myself a wealthy man," he said in New Hampshire on Friday.He went on: "Listen, wealth is defined in a whole bunch of different ways and in the end Mary Pat and I have worked really hard, we have done well over the course of our lives, but, you know, we have four children to raise and a lot of things to do."Christie is right about one thing -- there are plenty of ways to define wealth. Problem is, Christie neatly fits the definition of "rich" by pretty much all of them.News outlets have already made hay of the fact that Christie sails past the top 1 percent threshold when it comes to income. He and his wife Maryanne reported $699,000 in income on their 2013 tax return. According to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute, an income of $385,000 puts you in the national 1 percent. You'd need to make $539,000 to qualify for New Jersey's 1 percent club -- Christie fits the bill in either case.Given that the national median household income was $52,000 in 2013, that means Christie makes more in a single year than the average family will earn in well over a decade. Still, he protests: he and his wife are "not wealthy by current standards," he told the editorial board of a New Hampshire newspaper last week. "We don't have nearly that much money."Now, it's true that your lifestyle has a tendency to expand in proportion to your income. Christie has bills to pay -- he's spending $120,000 a year to send his kids to Princeton and Notre Dame, he says. There are plenty of people with six-figure incomes who live paycheck-to-paycheck, although it can be a challenge to feel any sympathy for them when plenty of other folks can't find jobs at all.But let's take Christie at his word, and assume that he's burning through that $699,000 just as fast as he's making it. We might then get a more accurate picture of his financial situation by looking at his net worth: his assets, including cash and property, minus his debts -- mortgages and the like.In 2009, Christie estimated his net worth to be $3.8 million dollars in response to a request from the Newark Star-Ledger. Let's assume that his investments have done okay since then and round it to an even $4 million. Again, no matter how you measure it, that amount of wealth is well within the top 1 percent nationally.A Pew Research Center analysis of Census data found that you'd need $2.4 million to be in the top 1 percent of wealthy households. A different estimate by Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley set the cutoff at $3.9 million. Either way, Christie's finances fit the bill.By contrast, the median household has about $71,000 in wealth, according to Pew's analysis. That means that the Christies are more than 50 times as wealthy as the average Americans.Now, there's nothing wrong with being fabulously rich -- it's basically a requirement for entering national politics these days.But if you make more than 10 times as much as the average American and you're currently sitting on assets worth more than the average American will make in a lifetime, it might be best to go easy on the everyman shtick -- a lesson Hillary Clinton already learned the hard way.




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    The U.S. financial regulatory system is outdated and riddled with loopholes, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said on Monday as he offered an overhaul plan to make watchdogs more effective.

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    By Nektaria Stamouli and Alkman Granitsas. Move is another sign that Greece faces ever more severe cash squeeze. ATHENS--Greece's government issued a decree Monday requiring public bodies such as state-owned companies and public pension funds to transfer their cash reserves to the central bank.