Will the Republicans Actually Close the Government?

At midnight on Monday we will find out if the hard-liners within the Republican party (read: the Tea Party) will follow through on their threat to close the government as they refuse to negotiate in good faith on a deal to expand the debt ceiling. Whether one agrees with ObamaCare or not, I think it’s reprehensible that the right-wing members of the Republican party led by Congressman Ted Cruz of Texas, seeks to draft policy after losing the election, rather than focus on what is important right now: ensuring that the government can pay its bills. Now is not the time for extreme partisan politics. Now is the time for statesmanship; for cool heads to find common ground and a compromise that is in the best interests of the country.

I’ve ranted countless time in my newsletter, this blog and my twitter feed about the gutless and selfish sycophants that pretend to be our leaders in Congress. I won’t bore you by repeating the same withering criticisms. Suffice it to say that these morons are once again holding America hostage as their inability to put aside partisan politics in order to draft a federal budget leaves us a scant three days shy of a partial government shutdown. I can make an argument that, in certain circumstances, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the government to close for a while. I do believe that we’d all be better off with a much small federal government. But that’s a conversation for another day. In this case though, it would be a very bad thing for all concerned. I still hold out hope that a deal will be struck before October 1 as our Congressional leaders are concerned first and foremost with their own re-election, and to be blamed for shutting down the government won’t help any of them at the ballot box.

As I write this about 30 minutes after the market opened for trading on the last day before the weekend, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 100 points thanks to all of the uncertainty regarding the fight to raise the debt ceiling and agree on a budget for fiscal 2014. The Treasury Secretary has stated that the government will run out of money no later than October 17 and will thereby begin to default on its debts. Before that there will likely be furloughs and other cost cutting measures employed to stretch the deadline out as long as possible. None of those measures are likely to be good for workers or for an already weak economy.

I don’t believe that a crisis will come to pass. I think that the moderates in the Republican party will bring the extremists to heel and that a deal will get done. I do think the Democrats will have to agree to some spending cuts to get a budget deal done. But I don’t believe that any aspect of ObamaCare will be on the table, although the inter-party fight over this legislation will likely continue for the remainder of this Presidency. Hopefully the budget will include a combination of spending cuts and tax enhancements that will make a meaningful impact on the deficit.

So what does this mean for investors? I think the market will likely close lower today, and losses could continue through the close on Monday. I think a stop-gap measure will be agreed to sometime Monday night, allowing the government to continue in business. That agreement will likely trigger a rally in the market. Therefore, I think Monday may provide a nice buying opportunity. Stay tuned.

Thoughts on the 3rd Presidential Debate

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that’s over with. We’re in the home stretch now with only two more weeks until the general election. Then we’ll have two whole years until the machinery cranks back up again for the next one.

Let me start by saying that sitting presidents have a major advantage when it comes to a debate on foreign policy because unlike their opponents, they can run on what they’ve actually done, rather than on what they say they’ll do. And as we all know, it’s much easier to be a Monday morning quarterback than to actually put troops in harm’s way. They also get to call themselves the Commander-in-Chief, as Obama did a few times.

That being said, I’d say President Obama had the slight edge although Mr. Romney didn’t cause himself any harm. I found that the candidates had shared much fundamental common ground and had to look for specific areas in which they differed. They also both spent a lot of time pandering to the Jewish/Israeli vote. Each one claimed to be Israel’s best friend. It got a little sickening after a while.

Romney started the debate trying to take the high road but Obama quickly went on the attack, after which Romney retorted that “attacking me is not an agenda”. I thought that was a good line on his part. I thought Romney also made a great statement when he said that it is America’s role in the world to defend freedom and promote the principle of rights, freedom, etc. and that we must be strong to lead. His other good soundbite came when he said “America has not dictated to other nations, it has freed nations from dictators”. I wonder who wrote that for him?

Obama blamed Romney for “wrong and reckless policies” and tried to associate him with Bush and Cheney, which is time we’d all like to forget.

Romney said he would pay for his increase in the defense budget by eliminating Obamacare and other (unnamed) unnecessary programs. Obama rightly pointed out that the math simply didn’t add up and that we’re already spending more than the next largest 10 countries combined and that he’s increased the budget every year in office. Obama kept pointing out that Romney wants to increase the budget when the military leaders haven’t even asked for the increase. Obama clearly won that argument.

Obama also scored points by rightly pointing out that Al Qaeda is weaker now than when he entered office. That is simply inarguable.

I also loved it when Obama quipped that Romney kept “trying to airbrush history” when referring to Romney’s position on letting Detroit go bankrupt during the financial collapse in 2008. The speechwriter who came up with that one should get a raise.

They each went on to talk tough about China and what they’re doing or what they’d do to bring big bad China to heel. The reality is that there is little they can do or will do. We cannot dictate economic policy to China as they are our largest creditor and our largest supplier of goods. We’re lucky China continues to trade their goods for our declining currency.

Again, no new policies or character traits were revealed. Each candidate stuck closely to their well rehearsed platforms and tried whenever possible to steer the discussion back to the domestic economy and their rivals failings. It was decent theater; nothing more.

Before I finish this I’d like to share an interesting theory being discussed today on CNBC as the market plunged almost 250 points. There is a thought floating around that a win by Romney would be bad for the stock market because he would likely replace Fed Chief Bernanke with someone less inclined to continue the current policy of quantitative easing. And if that’s the case, that could precipitate a dramatic plunge in the market as the punch bowl will have been taken away. I’m not sure if this is a valid premise or not, but it’s food for thought.

Thoughts on the 1st Presidential Debate

Last week President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney squared off in the first of three debates. It is widely reported that Romney “won” the debate and gained some momentum in his otherwise stagnant campaign. Personally, I thought Romney came off as a bit more forceful and more conversational than I had seen him previously, while Obama didn’t seem to bring his A game. That being said, I don’t think it will swing the election to Romney; I still believe Obama will win a tight race.

Clearly Romney was prepped very well. While both candidates hammered their messages wherever possible, the former governor appeared more decisive and engaged. A few thoughts:

  • Romney asserts that his energy program would create 4 million new jobs. That’s an absurd claim and one that he never bothered to back up with any facts. Even more implausible was his proclamation that he would somehow create 12 million total new jobs. We are creating around 125,000 jobs a month now. If we double that, which isn’t likely, it would take five years of uninterrupted growth to get there. Does that seem reasonable to you? It simply can’t happen.
  • Throughout the debate Romney tried to position himself as the champion of the middle class, which after his 47% remark came off as a bit disingenuous to me. That being said, he was absolutely correct when he said that price increases crush the middle class. That is the brutal effect of inflation.
  • Romney was clearly pandering to middle America by claiming to support coal, which is on its way out as an important power source in this country. It is too dirty and has been supplanted by cheaper natural gas.
  • Romney hammered Obama for proposed tax cuts on the military. The truth is that our military budget is larger than the next dozen countries combined and can easily be reduced without sacrificing our defense one bit. Cuts must be made as part of a larger effort to reduce the deficit.
  • Romney was correct when he stated that raising taxes, as Obama proposes, will likely slow economic growth and stunt job creation. The best way to increase tax revenue is to broaden the tax base, not increase the tax burden. I also agree that we should move more spending from the national to the state levels.
  • I don’t understand how Romney can justify his opposition to Obamacare when it is build on virtually the same model as the health care program he instituted as the Governor of MA.
  • Obama correctly hammered Romney on his lack of specific details in his economic plans. It’s easy to say you’ll reduce taxes, add jobs and reduce the deficit. It’s harder to show how that’s actually possible. 
  • Romney had the best line of the night accusing Obama, with a nod to the Reagan-era, of “trickle down government”. I like that a lot.

Overall, Romney came across as better prepared, more on point and better engaged while Obama was hesitant and disengaged as he attempted to remain above the fray. I’m sure that will change with the next debate. Still, the debate is simply a beauty contest; more style than substance. It’s still Obama’s election to lose. And it’s one in which every American should vote because it affect’s your money and your life.