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    Biden’s $7.3 Trillion Budget Proposal Highlights Divide With Trump and GOP

    President Biden proposed a $7.3 trillion budget on Monday packed with tax increases on corporations and high earners, new spending on social programs and a wide range of efforts to combat high consumer costs like housing and college tuition.The proposal includes only relatively small changes from the budget plan Mr. Biden submitted last year, which went nowhere in Congress, though it reiterates his call for lawmakers to spend about $100 billion to strengthen border security and deliver aid to Israel and Ukraine.Most of the new spending and tax increases included in the fiscal year 2025 budget again stand almost no chance of becoming law this year, given that Republicans control the House and roundly oppose Mr. Biden’s economic agenda. Last week, House Republicans passed a budget proposal outlining their priorities, which are far afield from what Democrats have called for.Instead, the document will serve as a draft of Mr. Biden’s policy platform as he seeks re-election in November, along with a series of contrasts intended to draw a distinction with his presumptive Republican opponent, former President Donald J. Trump.Mr. Biden has sought to reclaim strength on economic issues with voters who have given him low marks amid elevated inflation. This budget aims to portray him as a champion of increased government aid for workers, parents, manufacturers, retirees and students, as well as the fight against climate change.Speaking in New Hampshire on Monday, Mr. Biden heralded the budget as a way to raise revenue to pay for his priorities by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and big corporations.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Wall Street’s Bond ‘Vigilantes’ Are Back

    The financial world has been debating if market appetite for buying U.S. debt is near a limit. The ramifications for funding government priorities are immense.Typically, the esoteric inner workings of finance and the very public stakes of government spending are viewed as separate spheres.And bond trading is ordinarily a tidy arena driven by mechanical bets about where the economy and interest rates will be months or years from now.But those separations and that sense of order changed this year as a gargantuan, chaotic battle was waged by traders in the nearly $27 trillion Treasury bond market — the place where the U.S. government goes to borrow.In the summer and fall, many investors worried that federal deficits were rising so rapidly that the government would flood the market with Treasury debt that would be met with meager demand. They believed that deficits were a key source of inflation that would erode future returns on any U.S. bonds they bought.So they insisted that if they were to keep buying Treasury bonds, they would need to be compensated with an expensive premium, in the form of a much higher interest rate paid to them.In market parlance, they were acting as bond vigilantes. That vigilante mindset fueled a “buyers’ strike” in which many traders sold off Treasuries or held back from buying more.The basic math of bonds is that, generally, when there are fewer buyers of bonds, the rate, or yield, on that debt rises and the value of the bonds falls. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note — the benchmark interest rate the government pays — went from just above 3 percent in March to 5 percent in October. (In a market this large, that amounted to trillions of dollars in losses for the large crop of investors who bet on lower bond yields earlier this year.)Since then, momentum has shifted to a remarkable degree. Several analysts say some of the frenzy reflected mistimed and mispriced bets regarding recession and future Federal Reserve policy more than fiscal policy concerns. And as inflation retreats and the Fed eventually ratchets down interest rates, they expect bond yields to continue to ease.But even if the sell-off frenzy has abated, the issues that ignited it have not gone away. And that has intensified debates over what the government can afford to do down the road.Federal debt compared with the size of the U.S. economy neared peak levels during the pandemicFederal debt held by the public — the amount of interest-generating U.S. Treasury securities held by bondholders — relative to gross domestic product

    Note: Gross federal debt held by the public is the sum of debt held by all entities outside the federal government (individuals, businesses, banks, insurance companies, state governments, pension and mutual funds, foreign governments and more.) It also includes debt owned by the Federal Reserve.Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. LouisBy The New York TimesUnder current law, growing budget deficits increase the amount of debt the federal government must issue, and higher interest rates mean payments to bondholders will make up more of the federal budget. Interest paid to Treasury bondholders is now the government’s third-largest expenditure, after Medicare and Social Security.Powerful voices in finance and politics in New York, Washington and throughout the world are warning that the interest payments will crowd out other federal spending — in the realm of national security, government agencies, foreign aid, increased support for child care, climate change adaptation and more.“Do I think it really complicates fiscal policy in the coming five years, 10 years? Absolutely,” said the chief investment officer for Franklin Templeton Fixed Income, Sonal Desai, a portfolio manager who has bet that government bond yields will rise because of growing debt payments. “The math doesn’t add up on either side,” she added, “and the reality is neither the right or the left is willing to take sensible steps to try and bring that fiscal deficit down.”Fitch, one of the three major agencies that evaluate bond quality downgraded the credit rating on U.S. debt in August, citing an “erosion of governance” that has “manifested in repeated debt limit standoffs and last-minute resolutions.”Yet others are more sanguine. They do not think the U.S. government is at risk of default, because its debt payments are made in dollars that the government can create on demand. And they are generally less certain that fiscal deficits played the leading role in feeding inflation compared with the shocks from the pandemic.Joseph Quinlan, head of market strategy for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank, said in an interview that the U.S. federal debt “remains manageable” and that “fears are overdone at this juncture.”Samuel Rines, an economist and the managing director at Corbu, a market research firm, was more blunt — laconically dismissing worries that a bond vigilante response to debt levels could become such a financial strain on consumers and companies that it sinks markets and, in turn, the economy.“If you want to make money, yawn,” he said. “If you want to lose money, panic.”Interest payments for Treasuries have increased rapidlyFederal spending on interest payments to holders of Treasuries

    Note: Data is not adjusted for inflation.Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic AnalysisBy The New York TimesThe debate over public debt is as fierce as ever. And it echoes, in some ways, an earlier time — when the term “bond vigilantes” first emerged.In 1983, a rising Yale-trained economist named Ed Yardeni published a letter titled “Bond Investors Are the Economy’s Bond Vigilantes,” coining the phrase. He declared, to great applause on Wall Street, that “if the fiscal and monetary authorities won’t regulate the economy, the bond investors will” — by viciously selling off U.S. bonds, sending a message to stop spending at its heightened levels.On the fiscal side, Washington reined in spending on major social programs. (A bipartisan deal had actually been reached shortly before Mr. Yardeni’s letter.) On the monetary side, the Federal Reserve began a new series of interest rate increases to keep inflation at bay.The Treasury bond sell-off continued into 1984, but by the mid-1980s, bond yields had come down substantially. Inflation, while mild compared with the 1970s, averaged about 4 percent in the following years, a level not tolerable by contemporary standards. Yet interest payments on government debt peaked in 1991 as a share of the U.S. economy and then declined for several years.That sequence of events may be an imperfect guide to the Treasury bond market of the 2020s.This time around, the Peterson Foundation, a group that pushes for tighter fiscal policy, has joined with policy analysts, former public officials and current congressional leaders to push for a bipartisan fiscal commission aimed at imposing lower federal deficits. Many assert that “tough questions” and “hard choices” are ahead — including a need to slash the future benefits of some federal programs.But some economic experts say that even with a debt pile larger than in the past, federal borrowing rates are relatively tame, comparable with past periods.According to a recent report by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, benchmark bond yields will fall toward 3.4 percent in the coming years, while inflation will average 2.3 percent. Other analyses from major banks and research shops have offered similar forecasts.In that scenario, the “real” cost of federal borrowing, in inflation-adjusted terms — a measure many experts prefer — would probably be close to 1 percent, historically not a cause for concern.Adam Tooze, a professor and economic historian at Columbia University, argues that current interest rates are “not a cause for action of any type at all.”At 2 percent when adjusted for inflation, those rates are “quite a normal level,” he said on a recent podcast. “It is the level that was prevailing before 2008.”In the 1990s, when bond vigilantes helped prod Congress into running a balanced budget, real borrowing rates for the government were hovering higher than they are now, mostly around 3 percent. Government yields were historically low before recent riseThe inflation-adjusted rate for the 10-year Treasury note, a key market measure of “real” government borrowing cost, jumped well above its 2010s levels this year.

    Source: Federal Reserve Bank of ClevelandBy The New York TimesIn the broader context of the interest rate controversy, there is disagreement on whether to even characterize U.S. debt as primarily a burden.Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University, is a leading voice of modern monetary theory, which holds that inflation and the availability of resources (whether materials or labor) are the key limits to government spending, rather than traditional budget constraints.U.S. dollars issued through debt payments “exist in the form of interest-bearing dollars called Treasury securities,” said Dr. Kelton, a former chief economist for the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. She argues, “If you’re lucky enough to own some of them, congratulations, they’re part of your financial savings and wealth.”That framework has found some sympathetic ears on Wall Street, especially among those who think paying more interest on bonds to savers does not necessarily impede other government spending. While the total foreign holdings of Treasuries are roughly $7 trillion, most federal debt is held by U.S.-based institutions and investors or the government itself, meaning that the fruits of higher interest payments are often going directly into the portfolios of Americans.David Kotok, the chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors since 1973, argued in an interview that with some structural changes to the economy — such as immigration reform to increase growth and the ranks of young people paying into the tax base — a debt load as high as $60 trillion or more in coming decades would “not only not be troubling but would encourage you to use more of the debt because you would say, ‘Gee, we have the room right now to finance mitigation of climate change rather than incur the expenses of disaster.’”Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University and a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, said he thinks “there is a lot of misinformation” about current U.S. debt burdens but made clear he views them “as a big deal and a bad situation.”“The way I look at it, there are four ways out of this,” Mr. Harvey said in an interview. The first two — to substantially raise taxes or slash core social programs — are not “politically feasible,” he said. The third way is to inflate the U.S. currency until the debt obligations are worth less, which he called regressive because of its disproportionate impact on the poor. The most attractive way, he contends, is for the economy to grow near or above the 4 percent annual rate that the nation achieved for many years after World War II.Others think that even without such rapid growth, the Federal Reserve’s ability to coordinate demand for debt, and its attempts to orchestrate market stability, will play the more central role.“The system will not allow a situation where the United States cannot fund itself,” said Brent Johnson, a former banker at Credit Suisse who is now the chief executive of Santiago Capital, an investment firm.That confidence, to an extent, stems from the reality that the Fed and the U.S. Treasury remain linchpins of global financial power and have the mind-bending ability, between them, to both issue government debt and buy it.There are less extravagant tools, too. The Treasury can telegraph and rearrange the amount of debt that will be issued at Treasury bond auctions and determine the time scale of bond contracts based on investor appetite. The Fed can unilaterally change short-term borrowing rates, which in turn often influence long-term bond rates.“I think the fiscal sustainability discourse is generally quite dull and blind to how much the Fed shapes the outcome,” said Skanda Amarnath, a former analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the executive director at Employ America, a group that tracks labor markets and Fed policy.For now, according to the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, a leading group of Wall Street traders, auctions of U.S. debt “continue to be consistently oversubscribed” — a sign of steady structural demand for the dollar, which remains the world’s dominant currency.Adam Parker, the chief executive of Trivariate Research and a former director of quantitative research at Morgan Stanley, argues that concerns regarding an oversupply of Treasuries in the market are conceptually understandable but that they have proved unfounded in one cycle after another. Some think this time is different.“Maybe I’m just dismissive of it because I’ve heard the argument seven times in a row,” he said. More

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    Higher Rates Stoke a Growing Chorus of Deficit Concerns

    A long period of higher interest rates would make the government’s large debt pile costly, a possibility that is fueling a conversation about debt sustainability.The U.S. government’s persistent budget deficit and growing debts were low on Wall Street’s list of worries when interest rates were at rock bottom for years. But borrowing costs have risen so sharply that it is causing many investors and economists to fret that the United States’ big debt pile could prove less sustainable.Federal Reserve officials have raised interest rates to about 5.3 percent since early 2022 in a bid to control inflation. Officials predicted at their meeting last month that interest rates could remain high for years to come, shaking expectations among investors who had bet on rates falling notably as soon as next year.The realization that the Fed could keep borrowing costs high for a long time has combined with a cocktail of other factors to send long-term interest rates soaring in financial markets. The rate on 10-year Treasury bonds has been climbing since July, and reached a nearly two-decade high this week. That matters because the 10-year Treasury is like the market’s backbone: It helps drive many other borrowing costs, from mortgages to corporate debt.The exact cause of the latest run-up in Treasury rates is hard to pinpoint. Many economists say a combination of drivers is probably helping to drive the pop — including strong growth, fewer foreign buyers of America’s debt, and concerns about debt sustainability in and of itself.What’s clear is that if rates remain elevated, the federal government will need to pay investors more interest in order to fund its borrowing. America’s gross national debt stands just above $33 trillion, more than the total annual output of the American economy. The debt is projected to keep growing both in dollar figures and as a share of the economy.While the climbing cost of holding so much debt is stoking conversations among economists and investors about the appropriate size of the government’s annual borrowing, there is no consensus in Washington for deficit reduction in the form of either higher taxes or big spending cuts.Still, the renewed concern is a stark reversal after years in which mainstream economists increasingly thought that the United States might have been too timid when it came to its debt: Years of low interest rates had convinced many that the government could borrow cheap money to pay for relief in times of economic trouble and investments in the future.The deficit as a share of the economy rose this year under President Biden even though the economy was growing.Pete Marovich for The New York Times“How big of a problem deficits are depends — and it depends very critically on interest rates,” said Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard and former economic official under the Obama administration. “That’s changed a lot,” so “your view on the deficit should change as well.”Mr. Furman had previously estimated that the growing cost of interest on federal debt would remain sustainable for some time, after factoring in inflation and economic growth. But now that rates have climbed so much, the calculus has shifted, he said.Since 2000, the United States has run an annual budget deficit, meaning it spends more than it receives in taxes and other revenue. It has made up the gap by borrowing money.Tax cuts, spending increases and emergency economic assistance approved by both Democratic and Republican presidents has helped fuel the rising deficits in recent years. So has the aging of America’s population, which has driven up the costs of Social Security and Medicare without corresponding increases in federal tax rates. The deficit as a share of the economy rose this year under President Biden even though the economy was growing, just as it did in the prepandemic years under President Donald J. Trump.Now, borrowing costs are poised to add to the gap.Higher interest rates are a leading cause, along with surprisingly weak tax collections, of what the Congressional Budget Office projects will be a doubling of the federal budget deficit over the last year. The deficit, when properly measured, grew from $1 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year to an estimated $2 trillion in the 2023 fiscal year, which ended last month.If borrowing costs climb further — or simply remain where they are for an extended period — the government will accumulate debt at a much faster rate than officials expected even a few months ago. A budget update released by Biden administration economists in July predicted annual average interest rates on 10-year Treasury bonds would not exceed 3.7 percent at any time over the next decade. Those rates are now hovering around 4.7 percent.That recent surge in longer-term bond yields ties back to a number of factors.While the Federal Reserve has been raising short-term interest rates for roughly 18 months, rates on longer-term bonds had remained fairly stable over the first half of this year. But investors have been slowly coming around to the possibility that the Fed will leave interest rates higher for longer — partly because growth has remained solid even in the face of elevated borrowing costs.At the same time, there have been fewer buyers for government bonds. The Fed has been shrinking its balance sheet of bonds as it reverses a pandemic-era stimulus policy, which means that it is no longer buying Treasuries — taking away a source of demand. And key foreign governments have also pulled back from bond purchases.“We’ve whittled down to a smaller universe of buyers,” said Krishna Guha, head of global policy and central bank strategy at Evercore ISI.Some analysts have suggested that the pickup in bond yields could also tie back to concerns about debt sustainability. To pay higher interest costs, the government may need to issue even more debt, compounding the problem — and focusing attention on America’s mammoth debt pile, said Ajay Rajadhyaksha, global chairman of research at Barclays.“The problem is not just that number,” he said, referencing the increasing deficit. “The problem is that this economy is as good as it gets.”The economy has remained strong even though the Federal Reserve has raised borrowing costs. That has many expecting the Fed to leave rates higher for longer.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesThat, several economists have said, is the core of the issue: America is borrowing a lot even at a time when the unemployment rate is very low and growth is strong, so the economy does not need a lot of government help.“Right now we have an incredible amount of issuance at the same time as the Fed is messaging higher for longer,” said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist at PGIM Fixed Income, noting that typically higher issuance comes in periods of turmoil when central bank policy is more accommodative. “This is like a wartime budget deficit but without any help from the central bank. That is why this is so different.”White House officials say it is too early to know whether rising bond yields should spur Mr. Biden to add new deficit-reduction proposals to the $2.5 trillion in plans he included in this year’s budget. Those proposals consist largely of tax increases on corporations and high earners.“We might be having a different discussion about this a month from now,” said Jared Bernstein, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “And when you’re writing budgets, you don’t go back and change your path lightly.”The Treasury Department has sold close to $16 trillion of debt for the year through September, up roughly 25 percent from the same period last year, according to data from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. Much of that issuance replaced existing debt that was coming due, leaving a net debt issuance of around $1.7 trillion, more than at any other point over the past decade except for the pandemic-induced bond binge in 2020. The Treasury’s own advisory committee forecasts the size of government debt sales to rise another 23 percent in 2024.Maya MacGuineas, the president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and a longtime proponent of reducing deficits, said it was hard to tell what had caused rates to climb recently. Still, she said, the move serves as a “reminder.”“From a fiscal perspective, the story is very simple: If you borrow too much, you become increasingly vulnerable to higher interest rates,” she said.Santul Nerkar More

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    U.S. National Debt Tops $33 Trillion for First Time

    The fiscal milestone comes as Congress is facing a new spending fight with a government shutdown looming.America’s gross national debt exceeded $33 trillion for the first time on Monday, providing a stark reminder of the country’s shaky fiscal trajectory at a moment when Washington faces the prospect of a government shutdown this month amid another fight over federal spending.The Treasury Department noted the milestone in its daily report detailing the nation’s balance sheet. It came as Congress appeared to be faltering in its efforts to fund the government ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline. Unless Congress can pass a dozen appropriations bills or agree to a short-term extension of federal funding at existing levels, the United States will face its first government shutdown since 2019.Over the weekend, House Republicans considered a short-term proposal that would slash spending for most federal agencies and resurrect tough Trump-era border initiatives to extend funding through the end of October. But the plan had little hope of breaking the impasse on Capitol Hill, with Republicans still divided on their demands and Democrats unlikely to support whatever compromise they reach among themselves.The debate over the debt has grown louder this year, punctuated by an extended standoff over raising the nation’s borrowing cap.That fight ended with a bipartisan agreement to suspend the debt limit for two years and cut federal spending by $1.5 trillion over a decade by essentially freezing some funding that had been projected to increase next year and then limiting spending to 1 percent growth in 2025. But the debt is on track to top $50 trillion by the end of the decade, even after newly passed spending cuts are taken into account, as interest on the debt mounts and the cost of the nation’s social safety net programs keeps growing.But slowing the growth of the national debt continues to be daunting.Some federal spending programs that passed during the Biden administration are expected to be more costly than previously projected. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was previously estimated to cost about $400 billion over a decade, but according to estimates by the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model it could cost more than $1 trillion thanks to strong demand for the law’s generous clean energy tax credits.Pandemic-era relief programs are still costing the federal government money. The Internal Revenue Service said last week that claims for the Employee Retention Credit, a tax benefit that was originally projected to cost about $55 billion, have so far cost the federal government $230 billion. The I.R.S. is freezing the program because of fears about fraud and abuse.At the same time, several of President Biden’s attempts to raise more revenue through tax changes have been met with resistance.In late 2022, the I.R.S. delayed by one year a new tax policy that would require users of digital wallets and e-commerce platforms to start reporting small transactions to the agency. The policy was projected to raise about $8 billion in additional tax revenue over a decade.Last month, the I.R.S. delayed by two years a new provision that will stop high earners from being able to funnel extra money into their 401(k) retirement accounts. The agency described the delay as an “administrative transition period.”Meanwhile, lobbyists are pressing for loopholes in new taxes that have been enacted. The 15 percent corporate alternative minimum tax was devised to ensure that rich companies could no longer get away with paying single-digit tax rates because of creative use of deductions. However, many of these companies have been pushing the Treasury Department, which is currently writing the rules that will govern the tax, to create exceptions to preserve their most prized deductions. That tax is different from the global minimum tax that most countries, except the United States, are working to adopt.The pushback against efforts to raise revenue and cut spending has heightened the sense of alarm among budget watchdog groups that fear that a fiscal crisis is approaching.“As we have seen with recent growth in inflation and interest rates, the cost of debt can mount suddenly and rapidly,” said Michael A. Peterson, the chief executive of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which promotes fiscal restraint. “With more than $10 trillion of interest costs over the next decade, this compounding fiscal cycle will only continue to do damage to our kids and grandkids.”Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate continue to be divided on a path forward to avoid the near-term problem of a shutdown, and lawmakers have started pressing for leaders to begin focusing on a stopgap bill to keep the government operating past Sept. 30.But the red ink continues to mount.A Treasury Department report last week showed that the deficit — the gap between what the United States spends and what it collects through taxes and other revenue — was $1.5 trillion for the first 11 months of the fiscal year, a 61 percent increase from the same period a year ago.In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said she was comfortable with the nation’s fiscal course because interest costs as a share of the economy remained manageable. However, she suggested that it was important to be mindful of future spending.“The president has proposed a series of measures that would reduce our deficits over time while investing in the economy,” Ms. Yellen said, “and this is something we need to do going forward.” More

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    Biden Accuses Republicans of Undercutting Working-Class Americans

    President Biden trained his criticism on House Republicans who are threatening to shut down the federal government if their budget cuts are not enacted.President Biden challenged his Republican opponents on Thursday in their area of political strength, arguing that he has done a better job of managing the economy than former President Donald J. Trump did and accusing his predecessor’s congressional allies of undercutting working-class Americans.While Mr. Trump has long made his stewardship of the economy his most salient bragging point, Mr. Biden declared that his “Bidenomics” program had done more to help everyday Americans make a living than what he termed “MAGAnomics” ever did. He framed the argument in terms of the fall’s coming budget battles, but it also represented a preview of next year’s campaign.“They have a very different vision for America,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Md., just outside the nation’s capital, where he held up a copy of budget plans by House Republicans. “Their plan, MAGAnomics, is more extreme than anything America has ever seen before.”Mr. Biden trained his criticism on Republicans who are threatening to shut down the federal government if their plans are not enacted. The president accused the Republicans of caring more about the wealthy than the working class, pointing to proposals to cut taxes for high-income households and corporations; wring savings from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; and reverse initiatives to lower the cost of insulin and other prescription medicine.The intensified criticism of Republicans follows months of speeches and other messaging by the president and his team promoting the benefits of Bidenomics, a phrase used by critics that they have chosen to embrace. But the credit-taking has not budged Mr. Biden’s poll numbers, and so White House officials now plan to spend the next few weeks or longer emphasizing the contrast with his opponents.“House Republicans have understandably been reluctant to tout the MAGAnomics Budget — but the White House is going to spend much of this fall doing it for them,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the president, wrote in a memo released to reporters.Mr. Biden faces strong political headwinds on the economy. A new poll released on Thursday by USA Today and Suffolk University found that only 22 percent of Americans think the economy is improving while 70 percent think it is getting worse. Asked to volunteer a single word to describe the economy, a majority came up with terms like “horrible,” “terrible,” “crashing,” “shambles,” “chaotic” and “expensive.”Just 34 percent of Americans approved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the economy and, when asked to choose, more expressed faith in his predecessor to improve the country’s economic health than they did in the incumbent, 47 percent to 36 percent.Mr. Trump sought to rebut Mr. Biden even before the speech. “The public has not been fooled,” his campaign said in a statement. “They see Bidenomics for what it is: inflation, taxation, submission and failure.”“With polls confirming that Americans overwhelmingly reject Biden’s effort to whitewash his abysmal economic record,” the statement added, “he will now attempt to reverse his message 180 degrees, ludicrously trying to blame President Trump for the destruction and misery that Joe Biden himself has wrought.”Mr. Trump has always used superlatives to exaggerate the strength of the economy while he was in office. While he presided over a strong and generally healthy economy, it was not the best in history, as he has often stated, and before the pandemic it was roughly comparable in many ways to the economy of the last few years of his predecessor, President Barack Obama.During Mr. Trump’s first two years in office, the economy grew an average of 2.5 percent per quarter on an annualized basis, while it grew an average of 3.1 percent per quarter in Mr. Biden’s first two years coming out of the pandemic, according to a comparison by Barron’s. The stock market soared by 21 percent during the early part of Mr. Trump’s tenure compared with 8.5 percent during a comparable period under Mr. Biden.Unemployment has been roughly similar during the two administrations, at 3.8 percent near a record low, but job growth under Mr. Biden has far surpassed that under Mr. Trump as the economy rebounds from Covid-19 lockdowns. By last spring, monthly job growth had averaged 470,000 since Mr. Biden took office, compared with 180,000 in the start of Mr. Trump’s administration, Barron’s calculated.Where Mr. Biden has struggled most economically is with inflation, which averaged around 2 percent under Mr. Trump but peaked at 9 percent last year under Mr. Biden before falling to about 3.7 percent now. Inflation has increased the cost of groceries, clothes, household goods and housing, while eating away at rising wages. The federal deficit is also rising sharply, as have interest rates.Still, the recession many feared has yet to materialize, and many experts now are more optimistic about what they call a soft landing. Mr. Biden argues that his expansive legislative program has positioned the country for the future better than Mr. Trump ever did through new or repaired airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure; vast investment in the semiconductor industry; ambitious clean energy programs to combat climate change; and initiatives to bring down the cost of prescription drugs.“America has the strongest economy in the world of all major economics,” Mr. Biden said. “But all they do is attack it. But you notice something? For all the time they spend attacking me and my plan, here’s what they never do — they never talk about what they want to do.” He added: “It’s like they want to keep it a secret. I don’t blame them.” More

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    White House Hits Back on Fitch Credit Downgrade, Protecting Biden

    The president’s team has mobilized to counter the downgrade of Treasury debt by the Fitch Ratings agency, rushing to defend the story of an improving economic outlook.When the Fitch Ratings agency announced this week that it was downgrading its long-term credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA+, Biden administration officials were ready — and angry.Administration officials had been lobbying Fitch against the downgrade, which bewildered many economists but became immediate fodder for congressional Republicans and nonpartisan budget hawks to criticize the nation’s current fiscal direction.When the ratings agency went through with the move anyway, President Biden’s team mobilized a rapid response, with economic heavyweights inside and outside the administration criticizing the timing and substance of the announcement.The swift pushback was an effort to keep the downgrade from tarnishing Mr. Biden’s economic record amid a run of good news in key measures of the health of the American economy. And its aggressiveness reflected the critical importance of an improving economic outlook to Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign.“What was important to the president was to point out not only was the Fitch decision arbitrary and outdated, but his administration has taken action to accomplish things that go in the exact opposite of the markdown,” Jared Bernstein, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview, citing a bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit and modestly reduce federal spending.“One reason why we punched back hard is because Fitch completely ignored accomplishments under this president, both on fiscal policy and on economic growth,” he said.The White House got lucky in one respect. Coverage of the downgrade was immediately swamped by the third criminal indictment of former President Donald J. Trump.It was an extension of a trend that has both helped and hurt Mr. Biden so far this year: Over the past six months, according to a Stanford University database, television networks have focused as much on news about his predecessor as on news about Mr. Biden.Also helping Mr. Biden was that investors largely shrugged off the Fitch Ratings move. Researchers at Goldman Sachs wrote on Wednesday that “the downgrade should have little direct impact on financial markets.”The downgrade came just after 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Fitch released a statement that attributed the move to “the expected fiscal deterioration over the next three years, a high and growing general government debt burden and the erosion of governance” in the United States over the past two decades.Most notably, Fitch officials cited a series of high-stakes showdowns over raising the nation’s borrowing limit. “The repeated debt-limit political standoffs and last-minute resolutions have eroded confidence in fiscal management,” they wrote.The agency also expressed concerns over the rising costs of Medicare and Social Security benefits as more Americans retire, which are predicted to be the largest drivers of rising federal debt in the decade to come. Fitch predicted that the nation was headed for a mild recession by the end of the year. It was the second credit downgrade in American history, both directly linked to debt limit fights.Moments after the release, Biden administration officials hit back.Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said in a statement that she strongly disagreed with a ratings change that she called “arbitrary and based on outdated data.”Soon after, administration officials organized a call with reporters to criticize the move in more detail. They questioned why Fitch had not downgraded the rating when Mr. Trump was president, based on Fitch’s own ratings models, and why it had done so now, soon after a compromise with Republicans in Congress that had averted a fiscal crisis.They rejected the agency’s recession prediction, citing strong recent economic data. They said the president was committed to further spending cuts — along with tax increases on corporations and the wealthy — to further reduce budget deficits in the future.Officials also pointed reporters to a range of outside economists and analysts who criticized the decision.Republicans quickly used the downgrade to criticize Mr. Biden.“With annual deficits projected to double and interest costs expected to triple in just 10 years, our nation’s financial health is rapidly deteriorating and our debt trajectory is completely unsustainable,” said Representative Jodey C. Arrington of Texas, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. “This is a wake-up call to get our fiscal house in order before it’s too late.”Fiscal hawks have been warning for more than a decade that America’s debt could grow unsustainable. Those calls grew as lawmakers borrowed trillions to help people, businesses and governments endure the Covid-19 pandemic. The cost of federal borrowing rose sharply over the past year as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to combat inflation. More

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    U.S. Credit Rating Is Downgraded by Fitch

    The ratings agency, which lowered the U.S. long-term rating from its top mark, said debt-limit standoffs had eroded confidence in the nation’s fiscal management.The long-term credit rating of the United States was downgraded on Tuesday by the Fitch Ratings agency, which said the nation’s high and growing debt burden and penchant for brinkmanship over America’s authority to borrow money had eroded confidence in its fiscal management.Fitch lowered the U.S. long-term rating to AA+ from its top mark of AAA. The downgrade — the second in America’s history — came two months after the United States narrowly avoided defaulting on its debt. Lawmakers spent weeks negotiating over whether the United States, which ran up against a cap on its ability to borrow money on Jan. 19, should be allowed to take on more debt to pay its bills. The standoff threatened to tip the United States into default until Congress reached a last-minute agreement in May to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling, which allowed the United States to keep borrowing money.Despite that agreement, the federal government now faces the prospect of a shutdown this fall, as lawmakers spar over how, where and what level of federal funds should be spent. The nonstop dueling over federal spending was a major factor in Fitch’s decision to downgrade America’s debt.“The repeated debt-limit political standoffs and last-minute resolutions have eroded confidence in fiscal management,” Fitch said in a statement. “In addition, the government lacks a medium-term fiscal framework, unlike most peers, and has a complex budgeting process.”Fitch pointed to the growing levels of U.S. debt in recent years as lawmakers passed new tax cuts and spending initiatives. The firm noted that the U.S. had made only “limited progress” in tackling challenges related to the rising costs of programs such as Social Security and Medicare, whose costs are expected to soar as the U.S. population ages.Fitch is one of the three major credit ratings firms, along with Moody’s and S&P Global Ratings. In 2011, S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating amid a debt-limit standoff — the first time the United States was removed from a list of risk-free borrowers.By one common measure, Fitch’s move downgrades America’s credit rating not only under the rating agency’s own assessment, but also for the blended rating of the three largest agencies.At the margin, the move by Fitch could limit the number of investors able to buy U.S. government debt, analysts have warned. Some investors are bound by constraints on the quality of the debt they can buy, and those that require a pristine credit rating across the three major agencies will now need to look elsewhere to fulfill investment mandates.That could nudge up the cost of the government’s borrowing at a time when interest rates are already at a 22-year high. Most analysts, however, doubt that the impact will be severe given the sheer size of the Treasury market and the ongoing demand from investors for U.S. Treasury securities.Still, the downgrade is a blemish on the nation’s record of fiscal management. The Biden administration on Tuesday offered a forceful rebuttal of the Fitch decision — criticizing its methodology and arguing that the downgrade did not reflect the health of the U.S. economy.“Fitch’s decision does not change what Americans, investors, and people all around the world already know: that Treasury securities remain the world’s pre-eminent safe and liquid asset, and that the American economy is fundamentally strong,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement.Ms. Yellen described the change as “arbitrary” and noted that Fitch’s ratings model showed U.S. governance deteriorating from 2018 to 2020 but that it did not make changes to the U.S. rating until now.Biden administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that they had been briefed by Fitch ahead of the downgrade and made their disagreements known. They noted that Fitch representatives repeatedly brought up the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection as an area of concern about U.S. governance.The downgrade came on the same day that former President Donald J. Trump was indicted in connection with his widespread efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which fueled the Jan. 6 riot.Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said the Fitch downgrade was the fault of Republicans, who refused to raise America’s borrowing cap without steep concessions. He urged them to stop using the debt limit for political leverage.“The downgrade by Fitch shows that House Republicans’ reckless brinkmanship and flirtation with default has negative consequences for the country,” Mr. Schumer said.The debt limit agreement reached in June cuts federal spending by $1.5 trillion over a decade, in part by freezing some funding that was projected to increase next year and capping spending to 1 percent growth in 2025.Lawmakers and the White House avoided making big cuts to politically sensitive — and expensive — initiatives, including retirement programs. Even with the spending curbs the national debt — which is over $32 trillion — is poised to top $50 trillion by the end of the decade.It is unlikely that the downgrade by Fitch will convince lawmakers to drastically change the fiscal trajectory of the United States.“Instead of effectuating change, or fiscal discipline, our base case expectation is that Fitch will be pilloried by most members of Congress,” said Henrietta Treyz, director of macroeconomic policy research at Veda Partners. “It will not yield either deficit reduction, tax increases, reductions in military spending, entitlement reform or a change to the 12 appropriations bills that have already moved with substantial bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate.” More

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    U.S. National Debt Tops $32 Trillion for First Time

    The milestone follows a recent congressional showdown over lifting the debt ceiling. Another spending fight looms this year.The gross national debt exceeded $32 trillion for the first time on Friday, underscoring the country’s unsettling fiscal trajectory as Washington gears up for another fight over government spending.A Treasury Department report noted the milestone weeks after Congress agreed to suspend the nation’s statutory debt limit, ending a monthslong standoff.The $32 trillion mark arrived nine years sooner than prepandemic forecasts had projected, reflecting the trillions of dollars of emergency spending to address Covid-19’s impact along with a run of sluggish economic growth.Republicans and Democrats have expressed concern about the nation’s debt, but neither party has shown an appetite to tackle its biggest drivers, such as spending on Social Security and Medicare.The recent bipartisan agreement suspending the debt limit for two years cuts federal spending by $1.5 trillion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by essentially freezing some funding that had been projected to increase next year and then limiting spending to 1 percent growth in 2025. But the debt is on track to top $50 trillion by the end of the decade even after newly passed spending cuts are taken into account.Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said during the standoff in May that spending cuts proposed by lawmakers failed to address the costs of social safety net programs. While avoiding a default would prevent an immediate crisis, he said, the ballooning debt is a persistent problem that needs to be addressed.“The nation’s daunting long-term fiscal challenges remain,” Mr. Zandi said.This week, the House Appropriations Committee began considering its next spending bills and, to appease the Republican majority’s ultraconservative wing, signaled that it would fund federal agencies at levels lower than President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy had agreed to.A failure to pass and reconcile House and Senate bills by Oct. 1 could lead to a government shutdown. And if the individual bills are not approved by the end of the year, a 1 percent automatic cut will take effect.At the same time, House Republicans started considering a new round of tax cuts this week. The bill would expand the standard deduction for individual taxpayers and some business tax benefits that are intended to promote investment while curbing energy tax credits. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates lower spending levels, estimates that the proposed legislation would cost $80 billion over a decade or $1.1 trillion if the measures were made permanent.Some have called on Congress to form a bipartisan fiscal commission to tackle the long-term drivers of the national debt.“As we race past $32 trillion with no end in sight, it’s well past time to address the fundamental drivers of our debt, which are mandatory spending growth and the lack of sufficient revenues to fund it,” said Michael A. Peterson, the chief executive of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which promotes deficit reduction.The Peterson Foundation expressed concern about projections that show the United States adding $127 trillion in debt over the next 30 years and interest costs consuming nearly 40 percent of all federal revenues by 2053.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen defended the Biden administration’s handling of the nation’s finances at a House Financial Services Committee hearing this week, noting that the White House had released a budget this year reducing the deficit by $3 trillion. She also told the panel that interest rates were likely to decline over the medium term, making the debt burden more manageable.The Treasury secretary suggested that tax policies promoted by Republicans would worsen the fiscal situation.“They would benefit wealthy individuals and corporations and do nothing for working families,” Ms. Yellen said. “It’s not paid for, and it would exacerbate the debt.” More