May 24, 2011
Last week David Stockman was on Tom Keene, making the usual media rounds (sometimes we marvel at his patience and endurance), as one of the few voices of fiscal prudence available to TV producers who seek to hold a balanced debate on the topic of US insolvency. Today, Reagan’s budget director was again on Bloomberg TV explaining the reality of the situation to Matt Miller for the nth time (by now even a 2 year old will understand the cul-de-sac facing the US), although presenting a new spin on the situation, namely that we have gotten to a point where both parties are implicitly pushing for a US default, while though their inability to reach a political compromise, blaming each other for this inevitable outcome. “The real problem is the de facto policy of both parties is default. When the Republicans say no tax increases, they’re saying we want the U.S. government to default. Because there isn’t enough political will in this country to solve the problem even halfway on spending cuts. When the Democrats say you can’t touch Social Security, when you have Obama sponsoring a war budget for defense that is even bigger than Bush, then I say the policy of the White House is default as well…That is the question that really needs to be understood better and appraised by the bond market. Both parties are advocating default even as they point the finger at each other.”
On the debt ceiling negotiations in Washington D.C.:
“Between now and November 2012, it is virtually certain [Congress] can’t pass a large, permanent increase in the debt ceiling. We’ll have periodic short-term fixes, a month, two months, and then they’ll back to squabbling and this enormous political battle we’re having over the major components of the budget: revenues, Social Security, Medicare and so forth. It will be back to the same old gong show.”
“I don’t have any hope they’ll come to a substantive agreement on the big things that need to be done because both parties have ruled off the table the essential things that are necessary.”
“We have to raise revenue, there is no doubt about that. We have to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for everybody, not just the rich. We have to reset Social Security if we’re doing to make any headway in denting this massive, $6 billion a day borrowing spree we’re on… Neither [political] party is facing up to the real truth or telling the public.”
On broadening the tax base through VAT taxes or taxes for Wall Street:
“At the moment it is very unlikely [that any of these taxes will be implemented], but that is simply a measure of how unrealistic the debate is down in Washington today.”
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
“If they were realistic, they would be discussing what are the new revenue sources we can possibly tap in order to fill this gigantic $1.5 trillion hole in the budget. What are the pros and cons, what are the tradeoffs? You hear none of that discussion. They’re whistling past the grave. They should be talking about new sources of revenue and possibly increasing some of the existing taxes we have in place today.”
On when Washington will get to the point of discussing raising taxes:
“I think [Washington will discuss raising taxes] only when we get a major, thundering conflagration in the bond market.”
“For the last 10 years, Congress has been lulled to sleep by the central banks that keep buying all the debt and therefore holding down the real cost of interest on the middle and long term debt that we are issuing every day.
“And frankly, bond fund managers who somehow think that the tooth fairy is going to arrive and fix this problem, when it’s clear that is not going to happen, and that we have sovereign risk on the debt of the United States, just as clearly as the world is now discovering there are sovereign risks in the European debt issues and so forth.”
On whether there will be a 9/11-style crisis in the economy:
“That kind of crisis would be a vicious sell-off in the global bond market. That could come sooner than people think, because the Fed is getting out of the market with QE2 ending.”
“For the last six months, the Fed has bought nearly 100% of this $6 billion a day that’s been issued. Once they are out of the market, where is the new bid, where is the new demand going to come from? The Chinese are getting out of the market because finally they are having to deal with the rip-roaring inflation they have had. The people’s printing press of China will not be buying as much U.S. debt because of its own internal problems.”
“When we get to real investors, what are some of the real investors saying today? PIMCO is short the bond, they’re selling, they’re not buying.
“When we get into a two-way market when real investors began to look at real risk, begin to look at the gong show in Washington and the magnitude of the gap that we are borrowing, I think we’re going to get a re-rating of sovereign risk. We’re going to get a huge dislocation in the global bond market, and then maybe the wake-up call will finally come.”
On political problems in solving the debt problem:
“The problem is not the debt ceiling. When push comes to shove, at the 11th-hour, they will do it for a couple of weeks or months and we will have a little more borrowing headroom and will be back to the same impasse where we are now.”
“The real problem is the de facto policy of both parties is default. When the Republicans say no tax increases, they’re saying we want the U.S. government to default. Because there isn’t enough political will in this country to solve the problem even halfway on spending cuts.
When the Democrats say you can’t touch Social Security, when you have Obama sponsoring a war budget for defense that is even bigger than Bush, then I say the policy of the White House is default as well.”
“That is the question that really needs to be understood better and appraised by the bond market. Both parties are advocating default even as they point the finger at each other.”