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Commentary: Budget Pains

It's been two weeks since the dreaded sequester took effect, and so far, the only casualty has been the White House tour. There actually have been some positives, with both parties presenting budgets. However, both the GOP budget and the Democratic plan have one major similarity: Each is dead on arrival and destined to at best be a one-house budget, which leaves the country back where it was. Setting a target for practical balance would bring us closer to reducing the deficit and with less pain.

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Commentary: Go With The Flow

Perhaps the most important piece of economic news in the last few days was not the continued drop in the unemployment rate or the positive blurbs in the Beige Book or even the Dow reaching a new record high, but Thursday's quarterly Flow of Funds report. According to the report for Q4 2012, household assets grew to $79.5 trillion in the fourth quarter, an increase of $1.3 trillion--not too shabby. Household financial assets were up $784 billion to $54.4 billion but home equity (the value of household real estate less loans against that real estate) grew $452.8 billion, the result of two moving parts: real estate values (which increased) and household mortgage liabilities, which dropped.

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Commentary: Impact of Sequestration–People Will Die

The sad fact of the budget sequestration being played out in Washington is how avoidable it was. The sadder fact is that however temporary it might prove to be--and that appears from a distance to be more of a wish than a forecast--it will affect real people, and not well. The effects of sequestration go beyond the impact of jobs loss because defense or other contractors are not hired or because federal workers are furloughed. The effects will put even more homeowners at risk of delinquency, or worse, foreclosure, just at a time when the housing sector is recovering.

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Commentary: Minimal Minimum

President Obama unleashed a predictable firestorm when he proposed during the State of the Union address that the minimum wage be increased to $9.00 an hour from the current $7.25. The reactions were expected: conservative economists criticizing the suggestion while progressives either endorsed it outright or noted the proposal was less than the $9.50 minimum wage proposed by then-candidate Obama.

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Commentary: A Capital Idea

President Obama faces a budget obstacle in his plans to rebuild crumbling bridges and address other pressing infrastructure needs. Unlike many governments, the United States does not have a separate budget for capital spending, which means each tax dollar is as likely to go to the construction of, say, a courthouse, as it is to paying the salary of a judge or court clerk who works there. What would having a separate capital budget do for the country? For starters, it would rationalize our spending and make it more difficult for lawmakers to lard up spending bills with long-term projects.

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Commentary: Will Sunday Football Supersize The Economy?

So, there's some sort of football game this weekend. Like many economists, I’m a bigger baseball fan than football, intrigued by the statistics in baseball, statistically a zero-sum game unlike most other sports. Just about every positive statistic in baseball for one player has a corresponding negative statistic for another.

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Commentary: Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the Water

Two housing reports in the week just demonstrated, yet again, economists are not infallible. On Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported existing home sales for December: 4.94 million against a consensus forecast of 5.1 million. Then on Friday, the Census Bureau and HUD reported jointly 369,000 new homes were sold in December compared with a consensus forecast of 388,000. There are several important housing related reports due out next week, but they will take a backseat to the report on fourth quarter GDP and Friday's report on the employment situation.

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Commentary: Let Them Eat…Nothing

The disagreement over the nation's borrowing limit took a back seat to gun control and perhaps lost some urgency when House Republicans floated the idea of a temporary extension, which would do what Washington seems to be famous for--kicking the can down the road. But, the controversy and its impact on the nation's financial credibility demands a solution that will last for more than just a few months. Just a week after unveiling new rules for mortgage originations, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stepped up its game by turning to the other end of the mortgage business, collecting on loans.

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Commentary: Filling The Void

President Obama opened a big hole in his White House by tapping Jack Lew to replace Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury, leaving empty for the moment the role of Chief of Staff. Meanwhile, it may take a while before the impact of the long-awaited Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's rules on qualified mortgages will be felt. The CFPB heard the pleas of lenders and housing advocates to avoid taking steps to slow the incipient housing recovery.

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Commentary: From Fiscal Cliff to Fiscal Mudslide

It may not have been a fiscal cliff, but how about a fiscal mudslide? The deal reached by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and forced down the throats of House Republicans (without involving their leader, Speaker John Boehner) wound up to be a glorified version of kicking the can down the road--a short road, as the next ""crisis"" comes in just two months, when the nation runs up against the debt ceiling. Too many words have already been written about the crises manufactured by setting arbitrary deadlines.

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