Trump Claims Saudi Arabia Will Boost Oil Production

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom will increase oil production, “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels” in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets.

Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to boost oil production “to make up the difference…Prices to (sic) high! He has agreed!”

A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on the call, but offered few details.

“During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said.

It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies.” It did not elaborate.

Oil prices have edged higher as the Trump administration has pushed allies to end all purchases of oil from Iran following the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Prices also have risen with ongoing unrest in Venezuela and fighting in Libya over control of that country’s oil infrastructure.

Last week, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel led by Saudi Arabia and non-cartel members agreed to pump 1 million barrels more crude oil per day, a move that should help contain the recent rise in global energy prices. However, summer months in the U.S. usually lead to increased demand for oil, pushing up the price of gasoline in a midterm election year. A gallon of regular gasoline sold on average in the U.S. for $2.85, up from $2.23 a gallon last year, according to AAA.

If Trump’s comments are accurate, oil analyst Phil Flynn said it could immediately knock $2 or $3 off a barrel of oil. But he said it’s unlikely that decrease could sustain itself as demand spikes, leading prices to rise by wintertime.

“We’ll need more oil down the road and there’ll be nowhere to get it,” said Flynn, of the Price Futures Group. “This leaves the world in kind of a vulnerable state.”

Trump is trying to exert maximum pressure on Iran while at the same time not upsetting potential U.S. midterm voters with higher gas prices, said Antoine Halff, a Columbia University researcher and former chief oil analyst for the International Energy Agency.

“The Trump support base is probably the part of the U.S. electorate that will be the most sensitive to an increase in U.S. gasoline prices,” Halff said.

Trump’s comments came Saturday as global financial markets were closed. Brent crude stood at $79.42 a barrel, while U.S. benchmark crude was at $74.15.

Saudi Arabia currently produces some 10 million barrels of crude oil a day. Its record is 10.72 million barrels a day. Trump’s tweet offered no timeframe for the additional 2 million barrels — whether that meant per day or per month.

However, Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser told journalists in India on Monday that the state oil company has spare capacity of 2 million barrels of oil a day. That was after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom would honor the OPEC decision to stick to a 1-million-barrel increase.

“Saudi Arabia obviously can deliver as much as the market would need, but we’re going to be respectful of the 1-million-barrel cap — and at the same time be respectful of allocating some of that to countries that deliver it,” al-Falih said then.

The Trump administration has been counting on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members to supply enough oil to offset the lost Iranian exports and prevent oil prices from rising sharply. But broadcasting its requests on Twitter with a number that stretches credibility opens a new chapter in U.S.-Saudi relations, Halff said.

“Saudis are used to U.S. requests for oil,” Halff said. “They’re not used to this kind of public messaging. I think the difficulty for them is to distinguish what is a real ask from what is public posturing.”

The administration has threatened close allies such as South Korea with sanctions if they don’t cut off Iranian imports by early November. South Korea accounted for 14 percent of Iran’s oil exports last year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

China is the largest importer of Iranian oil with 24 percent, followed by India with 18 percent. Turkey stood at 9 percent and Italy at 7 percent.

The State Department has said it expects the “vast majority” of countries will comply with the U.S. request.

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AP Fact Check: Were Tax Cuts an ‘Economic Miracle?’

Editor’s note: A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

President Donald Trump has elevated his tax cuts to an act of biblical proportions, misleadingly claiming at a White House speech Friday that they triggered an “economic miracle.”

Not quite.

Also Friday, the president’s top economics aide, Larry Kudlow, appeared on the Fox Business Network to address one of the major problems with the tax cuts — that they’ll heap more than $1 trillion onto the national debt. Kudlow falsely countered that the budget deficit was falling because of growth generated by the tax cuts. The deficit is actually rising.

A look at the statements and the fact:

TRUMP: “Six months ago, we unleashed an economic miracle by signing the biggest tax cuts and reforms … the biggest tax cuts in American history.”

THE FACTS: The president is exaggerating, if not being outright deceptive.

Rather than achieving a miracle, his tax cuts have helped stoke additional growth in an economic expansion that was already approaching its 10th year. The additional growth is largely fueled by government borrowing, as the federal deficit rises because of the tax cut. The pace of growth is expected to taper off after next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Reserve and outside analysts.

And while the $1.5 trillion worth of tax reductions over the next decade are substantial, they’re far from the largest in U.S. history as a share of the overall economy. The Trump tax cut ranks behind Ronald Reagan’s in the early 1980s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several more, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates for deficit reduction.

Trump proudly went through a list of economic achievements that build on the progress begun under former President Barack Obama. The 3.8 percent unemployment rate and the historically low level of requests for jobless aid are both the result of a steady and gradual recovery from the worst economic meltdown since 1929.

Several hundred companies responded to the tax cuts by paying workers bonuses or hiking hourly wages, but any significant income growth has yet to surface in the overall economy.

The tax cuts have added on average $17 a month to people’s incomes, according to an analysis by Ernie Tedeschi, head of fiscal policy analysis at the investment firm Evercore ISI and a former Treasury Department economist. The analysis is based off consumer spending, income and inflation data released Friday.

That $17 monthly gain is helpful, but it’s far from miraculous.

​KUDLOW: “As the economy gears up, more people working, better jobs and careers, those revenues come rolling in, and the deficit, which is one of the other criticisms, is coming down, and it’s coming down rapidly.”

THE FACTS: Nope.

Since the fiscal year started in October, Treasury Department reports show the federal government has recorded a $385.4 billion deficit, a 12 percent jump from the same period in the previous year.

The Congressional Budget Office was even more blunt in a long-term assessment released Tuesday.

It estimates that the national debt — the sum of yearly deficits — will be $2.2 trillion higher in 2027 than it had previously forecast, largely a consequence of Trump’s 10 year, $1.5 trillion tax cut. The size of the debt could be even higher if provisions of the tax cut that are set to expire are, instead, renewed.

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GM: US Import Tariffs Could Mean Fewer Jobs

General Motors Co warned on Friday that higher tariffs on imported vehicles under consideration by the Trump administration could cost jobs and lead to a “a smaller GM” while isolating U.S. businesses from the global market.

The administration in May launched an investigation into whether imported vehicles pose a national security threat, and U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to impose a 20 percent vehicle import tariff.

The largest U.S. automaker said in comments filed with the U.S. Commerce Department that overly broad tariffs could “lead to a smaller GM, a reduced presence at home and abroad for this iconic American company, and risk less — not more — U.S. jobs.”

Higher tariffs could also hike vehicle prices and reduce sales, GM said.

​Less investment, fewer workers

Its comments echoed those from two major U.S. auto trade groups Wednesday, when they warned that tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported vehicles would cost hundreds of thousands of auto jobs, dramatically raise prices on vehicles and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars.

Even if automakers opted not to pass on higher costs “this could still lead to less investment, fewer jobs, and lower wages for our employees. The carry-on effect of less investment and a smaller workforce could delay breakthrough technologies,” GM said.

GM operates 47 U.S. manufacturing facilities and employs about 110,000 people in the United States. It buys tens of billions of dollars worth of parts from U.S. suppliers every year, and has invested more than $22 billion in U.S. manufacturing operations since 2009.

Still, 30 percent of the vehicles GM sold on the U.S. market in 2017 were manufactured abroad, according to the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. Eighty-six percent of those vehicles came from Canada and Mexico, while others came from Europe and China.

Detroit automakers Ford Motor Co and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles NV also import many of the vehicles they sell in the United States.

“The overbroad and steep application of import tariffs on our trading partners risks isolating U.S. businesses like GM from the global market that helps to preserve and grow our strength here at home,” GM said.

GM shares closed down about 2.8 percent on Friday at $39.40. 

National security probe

Some aides have said that Trump is pursuing the national security probe to put pressure on Canada and Mexico to agree to concessions in talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Toyota Motor Corp filed separate comments opposing the tariffs on Friday saying they would “threaten U.S. manufacturing, jobs, exports, and economic prosperity.”

The company noted that Trump has repeatedly praised the Japanese automaker for investing in the United States, including a new $1.3 billion joint venture assembly plant in Alabama with Mazda.

“These investments reflect our confidence in the U.S. economy and in the power of the administration’s tax cuts,” Toyota said.

Toyota noted that international automakers assembling vehicles in the United States are based in countries including Japan, German and South Korea “that are America’s closest allies.”

The Commerce Department plans two days of public hearings next month, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week he aimed to wrap up the probe into whether imported vehicles represent a national security threat by late July or August.

“We have received approximately 2,500 comments already,” Ross said in a statement Friday, adding that he expected more before a midnight deadline.

“The purpose of the comment period and of the public hearing scheduled for July 19th and 20th is to make sure that all stakeholders’ views are heard, both pro and con. That will enable us to make our best informed recommendation to the president,” the statement said.

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Trump Celebrates Tax Cut Law at 6-Month Mark

U.S. President Donald Trump touted the Republican tax cut plan Friday, six months after he signed it into law, saying it was strengthening the U.S. economy and helping average Americans by increasing investment, jobs and wages.

“It is my great honor to welcome you back to the White House to celebrate six months of new jobs, bigger paychecks and keeping more of your hard-earned money where it belongs: in your pocket or wherever else you want to spend it,” he said.

A recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, however, projects a gloomy fiscal outlook in the U.S., which is experiencing rising debt under the Trump administration.

The CBO report predicts the country’s debt burden will double in 30 years, exceeding even the U.S. debt load during World War II.

The tax law, officially titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was the largest overhaul of the country’s complex tax laws in three decades. It cut the corporate tax rate, which was among the highest in the industrialized world, from 35 to 21 percent. It trimmed rates for millions of individual taxpayers as well, with the biggest cuts mostly benefiting the wealthiest earners, although some taxpayers saw bigger tax bills because of various changes in the tax regulations.

The CBO report, which cautioned the high debt levels also increase chances of a fiscal crisis, projects the tax cuts could spur short-term economic growth, but it quickly would fall back to a long-term average of 1.9 percent.

While most of the rising debt is due to increasing entitlement spending and other problems that existed before Trump’s 2016 election, the report said the new tax law is contributing to the short-term debt by cutting government revenue. Spending increases approved by both Republicans and Democrats are also raising deficits.

The Republicans’ $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and $1.3 trillion in spending enacted earlier this year have already helped push the CBO’s debt projections higher through 2041, the report said.

Some analysts say the country’s fiscal health is quickly deteriorating because of higher spending for entitlement programs such as Social Security, insufficient government revenue and spiraling interest payments on debt.

“The massive deficits caused by policymakers’ recent tax and budget decisions have drastically worsened the country’s long-term finances,” said Bipartisan Policy Center economic policy director Shai Akabas. 

The Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center concluded in a June 13 report that “the new tax law will raise deficits and make the distribution of after-tax income more unequal.”

Former Federal Reserve Bank chair Janet Yellen, a Democratic appointee whom Trump replaced with Republican Jerome Powell, said Thursday that the tax cuts would probably provide only a meager boost to the growth of the U.S. economy.

“The calculations that I’ve seen and seem reasonable to me suggest that the payoff is likely to be in tenths of a percent, which in growth is a lot, but may not be what some people are hoping for,” she said.

Tariffs

Any benefits for individuals and corporations from the tax cuts may be undermined by Trump’s imposition of tariffs on foreign countries.

Tariffs have already been announced on Chinese products, foreign aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and on solar panels and washing machines and Canadian lumber and paper. Trump has also threatened tariffs on automobile imports and on other foreign products and materials.

“Tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are a tax hike on Americans and will have damaging consequences for consumers, manufacturers and workers,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican, said May 31.

The Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady of Texas, said last month that the tariffs “hurt our efforts to create good-paying jobs by selling more ‘Made in America’ products to customers in these countries.”

Retaliatory tariffs imposed by Canada, China, the EU and Mexico could hinder the ability of U.S. companies to sell products to other countries, which could in turn kill American jobs and suppress wages.

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Concerns Mount About US Commitment to Allies, Global Order

President Donald Trump is denying any immediate plan to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We have been treated very badly by the WTO,” Trump said to reporters on Air Force One during a short Friday afternoon flight from Maryland to New Jersey.

But asked if he intends to pull the United States from the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations, Trump replied, “Not at this point, but they have to treat us fairly.”

The remarks come as Trump appears increasingly intent on confrontation, rather than cooperation, with the European Union, the Group of Seven (G-7) nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the WTO. He has repeatedly suggested the United States would be better off pursuing trade and strategic deals with nations one on one.

“Rather than playing the U.S. president’s traditional role as leader of the free world, Trump looks like he is declaring war on the international rules-based order: undermining the G-7 and WTO, raising doubts about continued U.S. support for a strong NATO to counter Russia, and falsely declaring that the European Union was invented to take advantage of the United States,” Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and a former NATO deputy secretary general, tells VOA News.

Trump, in less than two weeks, heads to Europe for the annual NATO summit before separate meetings in Britain with Prime Minister Theresa May and then, in neutral Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin couldn’t have scripted this better himself. And the Helsinki meeting could cement a new partnership between Trump and Putin at our allies’ expense,” adds Vershbow, who also has been a U.S. ambassador to Russia, South Korea and NATO.

Trump, on Friday’s Air Force One flight, said he would raise with Putin the issue of Russian election meddling, as well as differences between Washington and Moscow about Ukraine and Syria.

Macron mum

French President Emmanuel Macron was asked Friday if it was true that Trump had suggested to him that France should leave the EU.

“What was said in the room stays in that room,” replied Macron about his private meeting with the U.S. president at the White House in April.

Trump, at the annual G-7 leaders’ meeting in Canada early this month, clashed with some of Washington’s closest allies and advocated readmitting Russia, which was suspended from the group in 2014 for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

NATO

The president, according to the online Axios news site, said to the other G-7 leaders, “NATO is as bad as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump wants renegotiated). It’s much too costly for the U.S.”

Asked about NATO on Air Force One, Trump on Friday said Germany, Spain and France have to spend more money on the defense alliance. 

“It’s not fair what they’ve done to the United States,” the president said. 

Trump, last year, told The New York Times that the United States would only come to the aid of its NATO allies if they “fulfill their obligations to us,” a reference to required spending by members of 2 percent of their gross domestic production on defense, a promise not kept by many NATO states.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty declares that an attack on one member is an attack on all. That is a cornerstone of the 1949 pact, the first peacetime military alliance the United States entered outside the Western Hemisphere.

According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking last week to the Wall Street Journal, Trump is attempting to “reset” the liberal world order, not wreck it.

“The president is committed to both American leadership and American sovereignty. The president is willing to question the usefulness of rules that disadvantage American interests and American workers,” a National Security Council spokesman told VOA News on condition of not being named. “When rules have outlived their usefulness and are no longer fair and equitable, the president is willing to stand up for Americans and advocate for reform.”

The official adds “American leadership means we will continue to meet our global commitments, and in return we expect our allies to shoulder their fair share of our common defense burden and to do more in areas that most affect them. American leadership also means the President can no longer tolerate chronic trade abuses, and the United States will promote free, fair and reciprocal economic relationships.”

That does not reassure globalists, such as former White House and State Department official Harry Blaney.

“The harsh truth today is that there is a wide consensus among foreign affairs experts on all sides of the ideological spectrum of fear and skepticism about the outcome of the NATO and Putin meetings,” Blaney told VOA.

“There is a clear sense of foreboding,” Trump is making an effort to undermine both the defense alliance and the EU, said Blaney, who was a key U.S. official for decades dealing with the EU and NATO.

“The sad fact is that these actions together spell for, not just the developed world, but for the entire global community a period of high risk and uncertainty for its economies, security, and brings a high level of risk for everyone,” Blaney predicted.

“What we don’t have, and everyone is asking, is why is he (Trump) doing this?” Blaney said.

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