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Category Archives: taxes

Jay Z Gets It Right on Tax Increases

Jay Z was asked about paying more taxes recently:

I’m willing to bet that he isn’t the only high income earner who feels that way. Its not that they aren’t willing to pay more. They simply want more accountability regarding how taxpayer money is spent.

I doubt we’ll see that from either party anytime soon.

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We Need Some Sane Tax Policy in Washington

President Obama has launched his campaign for reelection by using “fairness” as a theme.  His main rallying cry is that the rich need to pay their fair share of taxes.  No one knows what this exact fair share is; all he and his supporters know is that it’s a number that is higher than what high income earners pay now.

I realize, however, that I can’t just be mad at the left and their blatant attempt to tax more in order to spend more.  Upon reflection, it’s obvious that there hasn’t been sane tax policy in years.  Good tax policy would involve taxes and spending in the same conversation.

Washington has a history of doing one without the other.  People are critical of Reagan and his marginal rates cut from the early 80s.  What was supposed to happen was that for every $1 in cuts, the Democrat-led Congress was supposed to impose $3 in spending cuts.  Instead, the cuts were never implemented.  Ironically, in what has become a prominent talking point, the left even now points to Reagan as a big spender.  The idea that there was a deal that was reneged on is never mentioned.

In the 90s, Clinton and a Dem-led Congress increased taxes in 1993.  The fact that the economy continued to grow on the strength of the tech bubble gives ammunition to those who say the increases helped fuel the economy.  In 1996, after the Republican takeover in congress, tax cuts were pushed through.  Clinton didn’t want them but signed them nonetheless.  The economy continued to grow and tax receipts to the government increased.  Yes, increased.

Then came the Bush cuts.  Sure, with two wars going on, there was lots of distraction.  But the administration and Congress missed the boat.  Based on tax receipts, the deficit got down to $400 billion before the economy collapsed in 2007.   That’s important to point out because without any real spending cuts, tax receipts were going up.  If there had been a real effort to cut spending, it’s possible there may have been a surplus in the future.  Instead, the Bush administration and the Republicans (then the Dems in 2007 and 2008) continued to spend.

Further, Republicans used the pending expiration of the Bush tax cuts to yell about how Obama would preside over the largest tax increase in history.  Not only is that assertion probably false, but it also ignores the fact that the cuts had to have a sunset provision of 10 years in order to be passed in the first place.  The fact is, they all should have been allowed to expire.  But how often does Congress do the right thing?  Republicans want all to be extended, while Democrats have made it a priority to raise taxes on the top 1%-2% of earners, saying they need to pay their “fair share.”  If there was going to be serious, SERIOUS discussion of tax policy, ALL the rates would be returned to pre-Bush levels.  It is funny, though, that critics say how the Bush cuts put the economy in a hole, yet only lobby for ending the cuts for the highest earners.  The estimated cost of the cuts for the middle class and below is three times that of the amount for high earners.  But to point that out would be political suicide.

Speaking of Democrats, Obama put a small tax cut into the stimulus, then extended the Bush cuts for two years as part of the debt ceiling deal.  But Democrats are pounding the war drums for higher taxes on higher earners, saying its about “fairness.”  They have yet to acknowledge that in terms of the amount of taxes paid, effective rate comparisons, or burden distribution, higher earners do more than their less well-to-do countrymen.  Plus, Democrats are lobbying to extend a payroll tax cut from 2011.  While Republicans went after the Democrats before about not raising taxes during a down economy-something Obama said he wouldn’t do), Democrats have taken that page from the playbook in order to get the payroll tax cut extended through 2012.

This is just more insanity.  In this case, we’re not just talking less in tax receipts.  We are now reducing the amount of money going to Social Security, which is already heading towards insolvency.  It’s as though they won’t realize that they are playing with fire until the house burns down.

We can’t forget to mention the failure of the debt commission to come up with a deficit reducing solution.  Republicans should at the very least agree to close loopholes.  Democrats should admit that, as has been proven successful in other countries, there should be a lot more spending cuts than tax increase.  There should be consideration of the suggestions made by the Simpson-Bowles committee to raise revenues, even if it means a lower tax rate for the rich–which, with fewer loopholes would lead to more tax receipts.

Let’s see who will be the first to step up and actually make some sense.

 

What’s More Important–Jumpstarting the Economy, or Raising Taxes on the Rich?

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is advocating a plan to overhaul the current tax structure in order to jumpstart the economy.  You can read the details at his website http://www.hermancain.com/999plan.  In a nutshell, his 9-9-9 plan would lower corporate taxes to 9%, personal income taxes to 9%, and introduce a 9% consumption tax.  Loopholes and deductions (with the exception of charity) would go away, as would the inheritance tax and capital gains taxes.  Businesses would save billions in tax compliance costs, and individuals would have more to spend, since it also eliminates payroll taxes.

I see two problems that stand in the way of such a change being passed.

First, politicians would probably balk.  For the plan to be effective, the constitution would need to be amended to prevent politicians from enacting other taxes on top of the 9-9-9 plan.  But we know how politicians are.  They like to provide favors for the donors.  So not being able to provide tax breaks for their favorite people or companies wouldn’t fly.

Second, Democrats wouldn’t go for it either.  Simply put, regardless of whether or not the plan would help the economy, their complaint would be that the rich weren’t paying enough.  Need proof?  In an exchange between Cain and the talking heads from MSNBCRachel Maddow, Al Sharpton, Eugene Robinson, Ed Schultz, and that O’Donnell guy, each asked Cain a question.  Of course, the good Rev. Sharpton asked a question racially related, asking if Cain’s talk of states having more control over certain things doesn’t equate to the classic “states rights” debate from the civil war and civil rights eras (thank goodness Cain shot him down quickly).  O’Donnell and Robinson went after him over Social Security–“personalization” vs “privatization.”  But around the 4:30 mark, Shultz plays the class card.  His worry?  That the 9-9-9 plan not only hits the lower class hardest, but that the rich wouldn’t pay their “fair share.”

Well, we know what the real priority is!  (Video can be seen here).

By the way, because reminding folks about it never gets old, a strong argument can be made that high income earners, by virtue of their piece of the tax pie, already pay their fair share, if not more. Here is a piece that breaks down the income tax burden pie in 20% increments.

The President and the False Blame Game

This article was brought to my attention by a friend of mine (shoutout to Kovarik Glasco, fellow Georgia Tech grad and fellow fan of the “Song of Ice and Fire” series).

There is a narrative that President Obama and many on the left engage in when discussing the economy.  Even two-plus years into the new presidency, the “blame Bush” technique is still used.  In this narrative, the picture painted shows runaway spending and runaway deficits during the Bush years.  And the main point he uses is that the year he entered office he inherited a deficit of nearly $1 trillion.

But in an article found on the Huffington Post, Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, shows how this narrative just isn’t true:

This is simply not true. In its budget projections from January 2008, the last set before the impact of the collapse of the housing bubble was clear, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a deficit of just $198 billion for 2009. This is less than one-fifth of the “on track to top $1 trillion” figure that President Obama gave in his speech. This is a serious error. One trillion is a much bigger number than $198 billion.

This difference is central to the budget debate. People can argue that the $198 billion deficit projected for 2008 was too large. But it would be absurd to claim it was out of control or represented any remotely serious threat to the nation’s solvency. In fact, over the five years 2003-2007 the country’s debt to GDP ratio was virtually unchanged, meaning that the country could run deficits of the same size (relative to the economy) literally forever.

This changed with the recession caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. It was the recession, and the response to it, that pushed the deficit in 2009 from the $198 billion projected by CBO to the over $1 trillion noted by President Obama in his speech.

Further, Dick Morris explains where the President is getting his numbers from:

In 2008, George W. Bush ran a deficit of $485 billion. By the time the fiscal year started, on Oct. 1, 2008, it had gone up by another $100 billion due to increased recession-related spending and depressed revenues. So it was about $600 billion at the start of the fiscal crisis. That was the real Bush deficit.

But when the fiscal crisis hit, Bush had to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the final months of his presidency, which cost $700 billion. Under the federal budget rules, a loan and a grant are treated the same. So the $700 billion pushed the deficit — officially — up to $1.3 trillion. But not really. The $700 billion was a short-term loan. $500 billion of it has already been repaid.

So what was the real deficit Obama inherited? The $600 billion deficit Bush was running plus the $200 billion of TARP money that probably won’t be repaid (mainly AIG and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). That totals $800 billion. That was the real deficit Obama inherited.

Then … he added $300 billion in his stimulus package, bringing the deficit to $1.1 trillion. This $300 billion was, of course, totally qualitatively different from the TARP money in that it was spending, not lending. It would never be paid back. Once it was out the door, it was gone. Other spending and falling revenues due to the recession pushed the final numbers for Obama’s 2009 deficit up to $1.4 trillion.

One important note that both writers mentioned: the important thing being missed is JOBS. Job creation will create income earners, which will boost the economy and help revenues. This is what the debate in Washington should be all about.

Let’s Put the “We Can’t Guarantee the Checks Will Go Out” Myth to Bed, Shall We?

Once more, with feeling!

If you haven’t heard, President Obama said he couldn’t guarantee that Social Security checks would go out on August 3rd, the day after the US is projected to go past the debt ceiling and somehow default on every debt under the sun.  While some of us recognize that even after that point, the money coming IN to the Social Security Administration will still be coming in, which means the money going OUT in terms of checks will still be going out, the scare tactic is being echoed by those on the left as though its a done deal that recipients (along with recipients of veterans benefits) won’t be getting their money.  How could the mean, rich-loving Republicans do that?

Then we find out that there is plenty of tax revenue to cover the benefits:

he Daily Treasury Statement for June 30—which any American, including the president, can look up on the U.S. Treasury Department’s website at this link—says the government took in $196.994 billion in revenue during the month.

The same statement says that the government paid out $50.719 billion in Social Security benefits in June, $4.196 billion in veterans’ benefits, and $2.961 billion for other Veteran Affairs department programs.

The combined $57.876 billion that the federal government paid out for Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits and other veterans programs during June equaled 29.4 percent of federal revenue for the month.

The only way the checks don’t get paid is if the government DECIDES not to send them out.  And we know who is in charge of the government in DC right now, no?

So, let’s do the math. The government had about $140 billion extra over what they paid out in benefits. And unless time stops, there is a very good chance the same thing could happen during July as well. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that there will be money to pay out those benefit checks, right?  Ding  Ding!  Ding!  We have a winner!  Now, go to the front of the line and get that Social Security check!

It will be waiting for you on August 3rd.

President Obama says “Hey! You Don’t Need That Money!”

Yesterday amongst my online pals, I was lamenting a new law that pushes for light bulbs to be more efficient, but in effect ends up pushing the masses to use more efficient but also more expensive and more hazardous CFC bulbs.  The focus of my complain was a statement from Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who said: “We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.”  Yes, we the masses would be lost if we didn’t have the government guiding our way.

Now, we have President Obama, who is currently trying to get a deal done to raise the debt limit.  During a press conference, he stated:

I don’t want a deal in which I am able to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars that I don’t need, while a parent struggling to send her kid to college finds they have a couple thousand dollars less in grants and student loans.

For now, let’s move past the second part of the statement, where he invokes the time honored tradition of scare tactics. Let’s talk about the “need.”

On the surface, Mr. Obama is talking about himself not needing a tax break, and not needing money he considers to be extra money.  It’s quite humorous that he states this, since as President, he has everything taken care of.  But let’s go below the surface.  Obviously, his statement implicitly implies that the higher income earners should be happy to pay more in taxes because they don’t “need” the extra money they have in the bank.  Once again, here is the government to our rescue, to guide us!

Hey!  You’ve earned enough money!  It doesn’t matter what your plans are for you money, we the government have decided FOR you that you have more than you need!  Ignore that we are notorious for overspending!  Its your patriotic duty to pay up anytime we feel we need more money!

Oh, and let’s do revisit the second part of the statement, regarding grants and loans. We are in a dire financial situation.  Isn’t it a natural assumption that folks are going to feel the pain? And even if taxes go up, wouldn’t that money go to pay down the debt?  Evidently, even in a situation where cuts should be the priority, and paying down deficit and debt right behind that, the administration will find ways to either increase spending somewhere or attempt to keep things status quo.  Hello!  McFly!  Is that what Joe Public does when he needs to cut spending in his own household?

Just remember:  the government knows what’s best!

GOP Claims “Reagan Conservatism” but Reagan Would Disagree

I’d written before that if Ronald Reagan ran for president, he wouldn’t make it our of the Republican primaries these days. Why? Because of his stance on taxes. You see, for all the railing today’s GOP is doing about no tax increases or ending of tax breaks, what gets overlooked is Reagan’s overall record on taxes and revenue.

Surely we’ve all heard that Reagan cut taxes. The storyline goes “Reagan cut taxes and the economy grew.” But therein lies some serious policy omission. After a massive tax rate cut in 1981, Reagan along with Congress (which included a Republican-led Senate) proceeded to pass a number of measures designed to raise revenue. Any of those measures would be criticized today as tax increases.

I’d been surprised that little has been said about this. But finally, an article in Politico spells it out:

The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA) is the most famous, because of its historic size and timing, a dramatic course correction that quickly followed Reagan’s signature income tax cuts in 1981. But in the six years after were four more deficit-reduction acts, which combined to almost double TEFRA’s revenue impact on an annual basis.

Translated into current dollars, the total revenue increases for the five bills would then be equal to about $190 billion a year. That’s far in excess of anything that has been proposed by the White House in recent deficit talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden, yet most of these increases were approved when Republicans controlled the Senate in the 1980’s.

Democrats could really bash Republicans’ heads with this. Instead of the insipid arguments we keep hearing about “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires” and “tax breaks for Big Oil” a simple tack of “well, Reagan did it” would be nearly impossible for Republicans to counter. After all, Reagan is patron saint of conservatism.

Dems Say They Just Want to Go Back to pre-Bush Tax Rates. Don’t Be Fooled.

For years now, Democrats have been lobbying to have the current tax rates pushed back up to where they were before Bush II cut the rates.  The top marginal rate, now 35%, would go up to 39.6% for individuals earning more than $200,000 per year and families earning more than $250,000 per year.  Claims such as the rich need to pay their “fair share” (a term that is an undefined value, but effective in getting folks riled up), or that the rich have benefitted for long enough and need to pay up, are always used to try and bolster the argument.  I support the idea of raising the marginal rates for EVERYONE to where they were before the Bush tax rate cuts, and have said so many times.  But I discovered that, under further review, Democrats are attempting to go even further in their quest to turn high income earners into bigger cash cows for the government.

What most people don’t realize–and Dems aren’t going to hip folks to it–is that once the healthcare reform plan (“Obamacare”) goes into full effect, the tax rates for $200k/$250k earners will be more than they were pre-Bush.  How?  I’m glad you asked.

Baked into Obamacare are a number of tax rate increases designed to raise revenue to pay for the bill.  The number of taxes built in varies depending on which source you use, but there were two that jumped out at me.

First, there is a new 3.8% surtax on investment income for the over $200k/$250k crowd.  Currently, the tax rate on capital gains (profit made from an investment) and dividends (cash received for owning stock in a company) is at 15%.  The new surtax will push that rate up to 18.3%.  When the argument is made to go back up to the pre-Bush rate, which was 20%, there is no mention of the surtax.  If Democrats have their way, the rate for capital gains and dividends would be at least 23.5%.

Next, there is the 0.9% Medicare surtax, also for the $200k/$250k people.  Currently, 1.45% of everyone’s income is deducted to pay for Medicare.  Unlike Social Security, there is no cap on taxable income, so everything the person makes in income is taxed at the 1.45% rate.  However, with the new surtax, income over the $200k/$250k threshold will see a 0.9% tax increase, making the new tax rate 2.35%.  Instead of raising the top rate 4.6% to get it back to pre-Bush levels, the increase would actually be 5.5%.

A different discussion for another day is the laundry list of other taxes built in, such as the tanning tax, the medical device tax, the health insurers tax, ect.  The bottom line is, these taxes make the “we just want to go back to pre-Bush rates” argument nothing more than political foolery.  And, as usual, most of the masses fall for it.

Where Does Tax Rhetoric Meet Reality?

There has been a lot of talk lately about taxes.  George W. Bush lowered tax rates twice while in office.  Democrats portray those cuts as “tax cuts for the rich” as though no one else benefitted–not even the large number of folks who were removed completely from the tax rolls due to the minimum taxable amount being increased.  Democrats also complain about the cost of the cut for the richest folks, constantly ignoring that the cost of the cut for the other brackets was 3 times as much.  Obama then extended those cuts, much to the chagrin of the Dems.

Now, as talk of deficit reduction and debt reduction heats up, there is much hand wringing going on regarding what to cut and where to get more revenue.  Democrats, of course, say raise taxes.  Republicans say no.

Republicans are playing hardball in terms of tax policy, saying no tax increases will be on the table.  In a way, I can agree, as the more important thing is to lower spending.  Not only that, but the government has a pattern in place:  every time more money comes in, they find a way to spend it.  Without going into detail, the fact that by law, surplus Social Security money is put into the general fund for spending purposes is a prime example.  Anyway, Republicans have their own tax mantra that they will say over and over and over again:

Tax cuts spur economic growth.  But tax increases destroy the economy and destroy jobs!

Having heard this so many times, I finally wondered how much truth there is to this.  Nevermind that I personally believe that taxes can be increased with with no devastating effect to the economy.  I wanted to know what history has shown.  Was there any conclusive proof that showed where tax increases had really hurt the economy?

From what I knew already, I knew that there were examples where tax rate cuts had at least helped spur the economy.  Higher taxes helped fund World War II.  JFK also decreased taxes, which led to economic growth.  Even under G.W. Bush, the economy grew after his tax rate cuts, though in a very tepid fashion.  But what about tax increases?

I was skeptical that I would find evidence and was convinced that the notion was simply a Republican talking point, but there is indeed proof.

  • President Herbert Hoover signed a major tax increase in 1932.  The top marginal rate was increased from 25% to 63%, among other rate increases.  Tax revenues in 1933 were 42% of what they were just two years prior.  Unemployment rose to nearly 25%.  Slowly, though, the economy recovered until…
  • In 1937, Roosevelt signed into law new tax increases.  The result was that the economy went back into recession and didn’t come back until during WWII.  Truman actually cut taxes during that time and by the end of the decade there were budget surpluses.
  • Reagan signed a major tax rate cut in 1981.  Many Republicans like to point this out about Reagan and say that those cuts are why the economy grew during the Reagan years.  But that leaves out part of the story.  Reagan signed a number of tax increases starting in 1982.  Tax loopholes were closed and Social Security was overhauled.  Businesses ended up paying more taxes as a result.  Despite this, there was still economic growth.
  • During the 90s, Clinton raised taxes.  The country was coming out of a recession, and even with the tax increases, the economy grew.  Clinton did, however, also lower taxes on capital gains in the mid-90s.  Many say it was actually the tax cut and not the increase that provided the huge boost in revenue to the government.

So, what is the outcome of my info hunt?  Well, as usual, both sides will make declarations without telling the entire story.  But right now, Republicans are most guilty of cherry picking.  While it’s true that some tax increases did real damage, both Reagan and Clinton showed tax increases can be done and they NOT throw the economy into chaos.  I will also point out that they are especially guilty of ignoring Reagan’s tax increases (yes plural) when talking about how his cuts grew the economy.

Bottom line, rolling tax rates back to pre-Bush levels will not damage the economy.  Just like before, businesses will still find a way to survive and eventually thrive, the economy will grow, and there will be jobs.

Clark Howard Nails It: The Country is “Sailing Up Denial” About Taxing Our Way Out of Debt

I happened to hear Clark Howard on the radio while driving back to the office from a business event.  For those that don’t know, Clark Howard (like Dave Ramsey) is a consumer guru known for giving out advice and tips to the masses via his radio and TV programs.  During his program today, he mentioned that the country as a whole was “sailing up denial” when it comes to solutions to fix the country’s long-term debt issues.  While I will still be more of a fan of the saying “denial is a river in Egypt,” Howard definitely nailed the thought process that currently occupies the minds of many Americans–that increasing taxes on the top earners, without making cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is a viable option for debt reduction over the long term.

The fact that a poll was taken on this subject is quite humorous.  There are a couple of ideas that rule the hearts and minds of many Americans.  The first is that they wouldn’t support the reduction of government benefit programs, knowing they would be affected by the reductions.  Seems to be the simple law of self preservation to me.  The second is that people feel if a person is rich (or seems that way) then regardless of whether or not they actually paid into a benefit, they have money and can do without the government entitlements.  These thoughts reflect, as Howard also stated, that in America, we don’t have a notion of shared sacrifice on the issue.  “Don’t change MY stuff, just make the rich fund it.”  Tricky thing is, as Howard explained, you could tax the upper 1%-2% of income earners all the way to destitution, and the debt problem still wouldn’t be solved.  Further–and I thought this was spot on–if the solution used was more taxes with no benefits cuts, eventually there wouldn’t be enough money coming into the government to pay for benefits.  Before long, individuals would find themselves solely responsible for their own welfare and wellbeing, just like in the old days.  One can only imagine the outcry THAT would produce.

Here’s to hoping that Congress gets it right for a change and puts the sacrifice on everyone, not just a few people.

Uncle Sam Wants to Tax You…By the Mile

In the US there is always the need for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  Unfortunately, funds are short these days.  So, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has floated an idea for a new tax to raise funds.  What’s the new tax?  Simple.  Drivers would get taxed for every mile they drive:

The report discussed the proposal in great detail, including the development of technology that would allow total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to be tracked, reported and taxed, as well as the pros and cons of mandating the installation of this technology in all vehicles.

CBO’s report stressed it was making no recommendations but seemed to support a VMT tax as a more accurate way of having drivers pay for the costs of highway maintenance. The report said miles driven is a larger factor in highway repairs than fuel consumption and suggested that having drivers pay for the real costs of highways “would involve imposing a combination of fuel taxes and per-mile charges.”

On the one hand, funds have to be raised somehow, and this may be a viable option. However, it also would penalize folks who got more fuel efficient vehicles (less gas purchased at the pump means less gas tax revenue). Also, for folks like me, who are in sales, we would bear a disproportionate share of the tax bill.

We will see how this one pans out.

See, It’s Not Just the “Tax Cuts for the Wealthy” That Are Adding to the Deficit!

As mentioned here before, arguments complaining about how the “tax cuts for the rich” are unpaid for and adding to the deficit is disingenuous without an accompanying argument about the similarly “unpaid for” tax rate cuts for everybody else–which cost three times as much.  Somehow, no one wants to talk about that.

Today the CBO released an analysis of President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal.  According to the analysis, while the Obama administration predicted $7.2 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years, the CBO stated that the number is more like $9.5  trillion.

Nine-point-five.  Trillion.  With a “T.”

But what also jumped out of the analysis is that the CBO predicts that tax rate cuts for the middle class will be made permanent–and the cost of that cut is going to help increase the deficit:

CBO said the biggest reasons for the deficits, compared to the status quo, are the permanent extension of the Bush-era tax rates for the middle class and changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax that Obama favors in this budget. As a result of the tax policy, there is a $2.7 trillion net increase in the deficit over the next 10 years.

There you have it, folks. criticizing the rich may be en vogue, but if there is to be honesty in this, all tax rate cuts must be discussed.

And then, rolled back.

Follow up to my story on protesting at private residences

A quick follow-up to my previous post as to whether or not it goes to far to protest at someone’s private home:  Here is a good Washington Examiner article about how DC residents went and protested at the home of the Speaker of the House:

Nearly two dozen activists from DC Vote swarmed House Speaker John Boehner’s Capitol Hill residence at 7:30 Thursday morning, chanting “Don’t tread of D.C.” and “No taxation without representation” to protest congressional “meddling” in the District’s local affairs, in particular a House continuing budget resolution that would cut $80 million in federal payments and prohibit the city from using local funds to pay for needle exchange programs and abortions.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: Group targets Speaker Boehner’s (small-h) house

Neither party is serious about debt, and the joke is on us

As of today, to pay off the entire US debt would require every US citizen to write a check for $45,400.  EVERY citizen.  The total debt is right at $14.1 TRILLION.  And neither party is really serious about doing something about it.

On the right, they are making a lot of noise, but as the saying goes, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  First, after promising to cut $100 billion in spending from the next budget, they are only able to come up with about $65 billion.  After being called to task by the Tea Party, they are able to dig and find the promised $100 billion.  The problem?  Not only are the cuts based on a budget that President Obama never sent to the House, but they also used the infamous “baseline budgeting” tricks.

Quick refresher:  Baseline budgeting is a technique where by the budget of a particular department or organization is projected years in advance.  Typically, those budgets include an already-applied increase in funding.  So, a department may already have on paper that in 2011, they will be funded at $10 million, but due to a budget increase already factored in, they may know that their budget in 2012 will have $10.3 million due to an expected 3% increase in funding.

What republicans have done is to say “we are going to cut x billions,” not acknowledging that instead of truly cutting funding, they are simply reducing the already scheduled budget increase.  So instead of cutting a department’s funding from $10 million to $9 million, they are simply advocating cutting the 3% increase to 2% or some other number.  The cut isn’t really a cut.

Further, in the “fraud waste and abuse” category, some republicans are on board with funding a 2nd, alternative engine for the F-35 Lightning II project.  The F-35 is slated to replace thousands of fighter jets in the US inventory, and the building effort is being shared across many countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and Turkey.  The engines for the plane are made by Rolls Royce, but there is an effort in Congress to secure funding for a second engine.  The reasoning given is “in case the first one has problems,” but the real reason is to secure jobs and a contract for an American firm.  Even the Pentagon has said they don’t want it.

Democrats aren’t helping.  Even thought the White House has proposed cutting funding to some programs (like a heating oil assistance program), many Dems refuse to go along with any proposed cuts in “entitlement” spending.   Though everything should be on the table, dems are resisting anything that might touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Obama and the democrats have also been using the baseline budgeting trick, especially with the healthcare reform bill.  Once again, a cut isn’t really a cut.

For there to be real solutions, someone on both sides needs to wake up and wake up their fellow politicians to the real threat they all know about but are afraid to do something about (don’t want to mess up their reelection chances!).  The recommendations of the Debt Committee would be a good place to start.

Reagan is Conservatism’s Patron Saint But Would Never Get Elected By Today’s GOP

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan

Image via Wikipedia

Aside from Feb. 6th being Super Bowl Sunday, it was also what would’ve been President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.  As Reagan is considered a hero by many on the right, there have been remembrances, dedications, shout outs, flashbacks, and countless other looks back on Reagan and his legacy in the last week.  Of course, folks on the left are having none of that, understandably choosing to focus more on those “accomplishments” that they feel did more bad than good.

I (as is often the case) am in the middle on Reagan.  I wouldn’t call him a hero, but then again, I wouldn’t try to back over him with a MARTA bus, either.  But I’m pretty convinced that based on his overall record, if an exact Reagan clone popped up today and attempted to run for President saying he would do exactly as Reagan did and be exactly as Reagan was, he wouldn’t even make it out of the primaries.  Why?  Simple.  Reagan doesn’t fit the mold of today’s Republican.

First, there is his track record on taxes.  In 1981, Reagan signed the The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 also known as the ERTA or “Kemp-Roth Tax Cut.”  The top marginal rate for personal income taxes went from 70% to 50%, and the bottom rate dropped from 14% to 11%.   In general, the Act lowered marginal tax rates on average 23% across the board.  He also lowered taxes in 1986.  After that, the top marginal rate was 28%.  While tax revenues decreased over the short term, over the long term there was not only an increase in the amount of tax revenues to the government, but also a long period of economic growth.  But, that’s not the entire story.

As the budget deficit grew, Reagan knew something had to be done.  So, he signed into law legislation that, in essence, were tax increases.   Bills signed in 1982 and 1984 closed tax loopholes and increased the tax base by making more transactions taxable.  The 1986 reform bill eliminated many deductions that high income earners had been allowed to use, increasing their tax bills.  In the end, his tax increases actually increased tax revenue to the government and offset much of the revenue lost from the earlier tax cuts.

In 1982, Reagan led efforts to privatize Social Security.  Not only did it not work, but (as is usually the case in midterms) the GOP lost many seats in the following elections.  In 1983 he signed legislation that bailed out Social Security.  Pricetag:  $165 billion. Results of the bailout included higher  payroll taxes for higher income earners and the self-employed, expanded the system to include federal workers, and made Social Security benefits taxable.

These tax increases are rarely mentioned.  In today’s environment, once it came to light, the Reagan-clone would get skewered for ever considering tax increases as fiscal policy.

The national debt also tripled under Reagan.  It went over $1 trillion during his first year, and was $3 trillion when he left.  Of course, that was a bipartisan effort, as the House was under Democrat control all 8 years of his presidency, and the Senate was for 2 of his 8 years.  But evidently, veto wasn’t an option.  Of course, many will say that much of the spending was to counter the Soviet Union.  But SOMEONE has to account for the money vacuum that was SDI, which never worked.

Among other things that are rarely mentioned:

  • Reagan promised to reduce the size of government, in part by eliminating the Departments of Energy and Education.  Instead, he added a new Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • There was little done in the way to reduce government spending over Reagan’s 2 terms.
  • Many will always repeat Reagan’s call to Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and say “see?  you have to be tough!”  In actuality, Reagan and Gorbachev nearly agreed to eliminate ALL nuclear weapons from each country’s arsenal.  Plus, to help Gorbachev enact reform, the US reduced defense spending in the latter part of Reagan’s second term.  How’s that for “peace through strength?”

Finally, the the proverbial straw that would bring our Reagan-clone’s hopes to an end–and yet one more point rarely mentioned–is immigration.  In 1982, Reagan signed a bill that allowed any illegal alien in the US before that year to be eligible for amnesty.  Yep, blanket amnesty.  In today’s environment, that would be a big no-no.

In the end, Reagan gains sainthood by default.  For those keeping up with conservative politics, there is no one else that can take his place.  Nixon resigned.  Ford was considered weak.  Bush I lost his reelection bid despite removing Saddam Hussein from Kuwait (taxes played a role in his defeat).  Bush II had two terms, but many on the right don’t consider him conservative enough.  So who is left?  No one but the Gipper.  But he’d never make it today.

to pass a bill they say we can’t afford, let’s make it MORE expensive

An article out today explains how Senator Harry Reid has added some things to the Obama tax cut deal to help get it passed. Confusing, since much has been said about how the agreement does nothing to help with the deficit, and how the tax rate cuts for the higher income earners is unaffordable:

The sweeping tax cut bill introduced Thursday night by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is chock-full of sweeteners which could serve as a legislative pacifier for Democrats outraged over the concessions President Obama has handed to Republicans.

The stimulus-sized package includes about $55 billion worth of short-term tax extensions for businesses and individuals. They cover a host of alternative energy credits, a potential salve for environmentally conscious lawmakers, as well as targeted benefits for everything from the film and television industry to mining companies to rum producers.

Senate Tax Cut Package Filled With Sweeteners, Obama Predicts Passage

So, the answer to unaffordability? Make it more expensive!

QuickHit: tax rate cuts

http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b04241

Image via Wikipedia

An interesting quote from then-Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, in regards to the tax rate cuts of the 1920s:

The history of taxation shows that taxes which are inherently excessive are not paid. The high rates inevitably put pressure upon the taxpayer to withdraw his capital from productive business and invest it in tax-exempt securities or to find other lawful methods of avoiding the realization of taxable income. The result is that the sources of taxation are drying up; wealth is failing to carry its share of the tax burden; and capital is being diverted into channels which yield neither revenue to the Government nor profit to the people.

Debt reduction: Andy Stern wants MORE taxes!

Who is Andy Stern?

Andy Stern is one of the people President Obama appointed to the Debt Reduction commission.  In the final vote, Stern voted no.  But this shouldn’t be surprising.  Stern is the past president of the Service Employees International Union (if you didn’t know unions are one of Obama’s favorite special interests, now you know).  His take on the plan?  from the NY Post:

“This is the issue of our time that must be solved,” said labor leader Andy Stern, who nonetheless voted “no” because he favored fewer spending cuts and more tax increases.
Unfortunately (and my left-leaning friends can’t deny this), it is a trait of the left that the answer to all revenue problems is to increase taxes.  Nevermind that there is proof from history that lowering taxes raises revenue in many cases.  The further problem is, even if the tax revenues did increase from higher tax rates, history has shown that often, the Democrat way is to increase spending instead of cutting spending.
As for Stern, do a search on him and the SIEU.  He didn’t leave the union in the best shape financially, so one has to wonder how he ended up on the commission.  Then again, he is one of the most frequent visitors to the White House…

Republicans inciting violence! oh, wait. She’s a Democrat. Will she get condemned?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen those on the left calling for condemnation of statements made by folks on the right.  But what about when one of their own says something in the same category?   It seems a senator was suggesting that americans take up pitchforks…she’s a Democrat!

But lets look at some of what she says:

“…they insist on a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest americans, completely unpaid for”

Lets look at this the way it should be looked at. If the projected loss in revenue is indeed $700 billion over 10 years, that means spending would need to be cut from elsewhere for it to be “paid for.” The problem is, instead of suggesting that cuts be found, its easier to criticize the cost. Further, someone should ask a pertinent question: if continuing a tax cut that is unpaid for is such a bad thing, how is continuing ANY of the tax cuts good, since NONE of it is paid for?

“we are fighting for the middle class”

No. you are pulling the wool over the eyes of the middle class in hopes of getting them vote for you and keep you in office.

“70% of Americans don’t itemize deductions.”

So what? That has nothing to do with extending tax cuts. Wait…unless you’re building towards a bigger point…

“so that big ol complex tax code? its been written for wealthy america.”

Ah, there it is! Let’s dig at the high income earners! THATS what you were getting at! Unless there are rules in the tax code that say “only wealthy americans can get these deductions,” you just bent the truth, Senator.

“they have all kinds of ways that they can use the tax code to avoid paying taxes.”

Ah, yes, a famous tactic, used often by Democrats. Let’s imply that the high income earners aren’t paying their “fair share.” Too bad that the top 5% of income earners (making over $158k/yr) make 35% of all adjusted gross income (AGI) in the US, but pay almost 60% of all income taxes paid. The top 10% ($114k and up) make 46% of US AGI, but pay 70% of all income taxes paid. So, that leaves the bottom 90% of income earners to pay the remaining 30% of income taxes paid. This includes the bottom 50% of income earners, who pay less than 3%. The point? High income earners pay a lot in taxes, as they should, but implying they aren’t paying their share is rediculous.

“Its about leveling the playing field”

Its not the government’s job to redistribute wealth and calling it “leveling the playing field!”

“If they think its ok to raise taxes for the embattled middle class because theyre gonna pout if we don’t give more money to millionaires, it really is time for the people of america to take up pitchforks.”

Where do I start on this one? First, Republicans want to extend tax cuts for EVERYONE, not just the wealthy. Second, can someone explain to the Senator that a tax rate cut is not giving money away? To give something away implies there was possession in the first place. When someone has a tax cut, that means they get to keep more of THEIR OWN MONEY! I can only assume that she and other Democrats feel the government is entitled to everyone’s money and should be able to tell folks what they can and can’t do with it. Finally, the pitchfork comment, which is what came to my attention in the first place. I’ve heard many of my left-leaning friends screaming about something someone on the right said, how it should be condemned, and implying that Dems don’t do such. Well, let’s see if those people step forward and comment on this one.
The rest isn’t worth breaking down, other than to mention that she throws in a few digs at the wealthy just to get her constituents even more ticked off at Republicans and at the filthy rich people. It’s a shame that Congress can’t have serious discussions about this type of thing, but also a shame that people don’t realize people like her are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

QuickHit: Just a question or 3

Why is raising the retirement age for earning Social Security such a big deal, when the changes wouldn’t be implemented until 2050 and 2075?  That means the folks most affected by the changes either a)haven’t had much chance to start contributing to social security or b)haven’t been born yet!  Further, where is this idea coming from that keeping the retirement age where it is is some kind of right?

Speaking of rights, do people realize what the concept of a “right” is?  Its as though anything that someone feels a person should be entitled to is a right, even if it involves forcefully taking time, talent, or treasure from someone else.

Is it not possible that allowing the tax rate cut for those over the $250k mark may not end up costing $700 billion over ten years?  Can we really predict how people and revenues will behave 10 years out?  If the economy improves, wouldn’t that number come down?

And finally, will someone recognize that the problem isn’t just revenues, its also spending?  That the main excuse for wanting to let the cuts expire and supposedly bring in the $700 billion is to try and fund the government WITHOUT cutting spending?

Just a few thoughts.

QuickHit: very good article about tax cuts and small businesses

today on Yahoo, there is a very good fact checking article about tax cuts and small businesses. As is usually the case, both parties are bending numbers to make their argument look better, but the truth is in the middle:
FACT CHECK: Small business caught in tax battle