Do American’s Know Anthing About the Budget?

From Matthew Yglesias is a discussion about popular opinion on where the government spends money.

The errors about foreign aid are famous, though it’s interesting that a solid 64 percent of people are in the ballpark on defense.

It’s based on this Zogby poll and some other discussions at reason and Derek Thompson at the Atlantic.

Americans are famous for overestimating our international aid. One study found that the average American estimates that a quarter of the budget — more than Social Security, or Defense — goes to aid abroad.

Here’s the original data plus an added column “Estimate” that gives the weighted average (the percent of people times the size of the estimate with “Not Sure” ignored):
And for those of you more visually oriented, here’s the actual size of the different budget areas:
And now let’s see where the differences are greatest. The blue line is the actual values:


So money spent on Assistance to low-income families, Medicare & Medicaid, and Social Security match expectations. People think we spend more than we do on everything else. Of course, International Aid is still a ridiculous difference.


The FBI is closing the Anthrax case

Talking Points Memo says that the FBI is closing the case about the Anthrax mailing and blaming Dr. Ivins for the attacks.
I’d mentioned earlier that I was skeptical about his guilt. I’m still a little skeptical.

Authorities said that in the days before the mailings, Ivins had logged unusual hours alone in his lab at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. They also say he threw investigators off his trail by supplying false leads as he ostensibly tried to help them find the killer.

As the FBI closed in on Ivins last summer, the 62-year-old microbiologist took a fatal overdose of Tylenol, dying on July 29, 2008. After Ivins’ suicide, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the investigation found Ivins was the culprit, and prosecutors said they were confident he acted alone.


Will Greece Get a Bailout?

From Matthew Yglesias » Will Greece Get a Bailout?:

If the Greece moral hazard play winds up not working, then investors will start demanding higher interest payments from Ireland. And if they go down, you could have the equivalent of a bank runs start to endanger medium-sized countries like Spain and Italy. At that point, everyone’s screwed. So, yes, it would be crazy for Germans to let some kind of spiteful attitude toward fun-loving and overly-indebted southern Europeans allow an economic catastrophe to sweep across the continent.


Republicans: all talk, no action on debt reduction

From Dana Milbank – Senate Republicans seem to have one answer for Democrats: No – washingtonpost.com:

The Senate took a vote on extending the federal debt ceiling — without which the United States would go into default. All 40 Republicans voted no.

The Senate took a vote on requiring Congress not to pass legislation that it can’t pay for. All 40 Republicans voted no.

The Senate took a final vote on passing the overall plan. Thirty-nine Republicans voted no. The 40th, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), skipped the vote.


Supreme court ruling on campaign finance

Matthew Yglesias points out at that the Citizens United decision may have some pretty painful consequences to our politics:

Bank of America, for example, dedicates $2.3 billion to marketing in 2008 so it’s clear that they’ve got the budget to mount a $100 million series of scathing attacks on a Senator who pisses them off and basically laugh that off (and note that in 2004 total spending on Senate campaigns was just $400 million).


Federal Estate and Gift Taxes

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has a report on Federal Estate and Gift Taxes. One of the interesting things is only 0.7% or 17,400 of estates are actually affected by the estate tax.

In 2000, before EGTRRA was enacted, 51,200 estates were taxable, representing 2.2 percent of adult deaths in that year. EGTRRA reduced the percentage of estates that were taxable. For example, 17,400 taxable estate tax returns were filed in 2007; most were for deaths in 2006, when the effective exemption amount was $2 million, representing about 0.7 percent of adult deaths in that year.

Another concern is how the estate tax affects family farms and small businesses. The report says about 1,100 farms are affected. In 2000, when the exemption was only $675,000 vs the $4 million today, only 138 of farmer’s estates didn’t have enough liquid assets (cash) to pay the estate tax. Liquid assets include trusts which could be used to pay the taxes. Additionally, there are many provisions such as 15 year, low interest rates loans to help minimize the burden.

NYC · Politics

Unemployment — not if you caused the crisis!

So if you lost your firm billions of dollars, laid off tens of thousands and indirectly caused millions to lose their jobs and drove the unemployment rate to 10.3% well, the good news is it didn’t cost you your job! 92% of management in TARP funds recipients still have their jobs!
From A Fair Deal for Taxpayer Investments:

The executive leadership of the financial sector remain largely unchanged—92 percent of the management and directors of the top 17 recipients of TARP funds are still in office.