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I’ve had several reporters ask me to comment on the philosophical and policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

I’m always happy to oblige, yet I don’t think any of them have included my comments in their stories because I always give what seems to be a very unsatisfactory response.  My standard line is that Sanders and Clinton are two peas in a statist pod.

Yes, I realize that Sanders has a more aggressive us-vs-them approach, while Hillary is calculated and cautious, but those are merely differences in rhetoric and style.

What matters is action. And if you look at the Senate voting records of Sanders and Clinton, there’s almost no difference between them (or, for that matter, between them and Obama).

Let’s look at some of their policy proposals. Here are some excerpts from a Townhall column on Sanders’ statist agenda.

According to Bernienomics, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would prevent greedy capitalists from exploiting their workers and paying below a “living wage.” …Sanders…is…fighting for European style “free college”…Sanders supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s CO2 emission standards, even though these will raise the costs of energy and manufacturing. Sanders also supported allowing the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the internet as public utility… Sanders wants to raise taxes on the rich as much as possible…he has stated his desire to tax the rich at more than a 50 percent income tax rate. Sanders also recently proposed a massive increase in the estate tax… Sanders believes that Social Security is the “most successful government programs in American history,” so it only makes sense that he wants to expand it. …Sanders is also a major proponent of a single-payer health care system.

In other words, a typical statist agenda.

What about Hillary? Well, she’s must more guarded in what she says, but you can get a sense for her ideological mindset by looking at her new scheme to boost the capital gains tax.

Here’s some of what Ryan Ellis wrote for Americans for Tax Reform.

Hillary Clinton today proposed the most complex and Byzantine capital gains tax rate regime in history. …Under the Clinton plan, there would be six – yes, six — capital gains tax rates for those whose total taxable income puts them in the top 39.6 percent bracket. …or taxpayers not in the 39.6 percent bracket, we already have a graduated capital gains structure on assets held longer than a year. For taxpayers in this range, the rates could be 0, 15, 18.8, 20, or 23.8 percent. …her plan actually creates 10 different tax rates on capital gains, not counting those gains taxed as ordinary income due to their shorter duration of ownership. By anyone’s definition that’s really stupid tax policy. It will only serve to distort capital markets as investors will buy and sell not based on rational market signals, but on exogenous, arbitrary tax holding period considerations.

Not to mention that higher tax rates on investment will discourage risk-taking and entrepreneurship. And let’s not forget that it’s not a smart idea, from the perspective of competitiveness, to have the world’s highest capital gains tax rate. Or to pursue policies that will depress capital formation and thus lead to lower wages.

Now let’s get back to the main question. Is there a difference between Sanders and Clinton?

One could argue that Sanders has a more robust left-wing agenda. But that doesn’t make Clinton a moderate. Indeed, I challenge anyone to identify a single position she holds that would result in smaller government or less intervention.

The bottom line, as illustrated by this cartoon prepared by Jonathan Babington-Heina, is that Sanders and Clinton only differ in how fast they want to travel in the wrong direction.

P.S. This is the second cartoon from Jonathan I’ve shared. He also put together a superb cartoon that depicts the senseless damage caused by double taxation.

P.P.S. You also can get a sense of Hillary’s leftist mindest by looking at some of the crazy things she’s said over the years.

And to be balanced, Bernie also says crazy things. Let’s close with this example of political humor I saw on Twitter.

And here’s some more Hillary humor if you still haven’t received your recommended daily allowance.

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A few days ago, I had some fun by writing a tongue-in-cheek column about the world’s most misleading headlines.

Today, I want to share a strong contestant for the world’s most depressing headline.

It’s from The Hill, and it’s the lead to a story about giddy times for Washington’s lobbying community.

So why are lobbyists rolling in cash? What accounts for all the dollars flowing to the influence-peddling community?

The answer, as noted in the article, is that there’s been an end to gridlock.

Nearly all of Washington’s top lobby shops saw gains in revenue in the first half of 2015 as an uptick in activity within both Congress and the Obama administration translated to a boon for K Street. Following a period of relative stagnation in the two-year span preceding the 2014 elections, the Beltway’s biggest lobbying firms have broken through the malaise… “Corporations are a lot more optimistic about whether to invest in Washington,” said Marc Lampkin, a former aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)… K Street’s top firm — Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld — continued to bolster its advocacy revenue, earning $10.23 million in the second quarter. …“I think our success during the first half of 2015 reflects the…high degree of activity in Congress,” said Don Pongrace, head of the firm’s public law and policy practice.

In other words, an “uptick in activity” in what gives special interests an incentive to “invest in Washington.”

So the obvious lesson is that if you want to reduce lobbying in Washington, the best option is for Washington to do nothing. My personal preference is to make Congress a part-time legislature. That’s worked out quite well for Texas, so why not try it in the nation’s capital?

But if that option isn’t available, then I’m a big fan of gridlock. Simply stated, if my choices are for politicians to do nothing or to have politicians make government bigger, the answer is obvious.

Which is why I was initially very worried when I saw this headline from another story published by The Hill.

This sounds like my worst nightmare. The last thing we should want is productive politicians!

That’s sort of like having productive pickpockets.

But if you read the story, Governor Bush says he wants a lot of activity as part of an effort to shrink “the federal footprint.”

…the GOP presidential candidate said he’d announce tax and regulatory reform proposals over the “coming months,” as well as changes to entitlement programs and a replacement for ObamaCare. …”The overspending, the overreaching, the arrogance and the sheer incompetence in that city — these problems have been with us so long that they are sometimes accepted as facts of life…” Bush criticized Washington for operating on autopilot, ticking off a slew of pitches meant to push back against what he characterized as a needless expansion of the federal footprint.

And it’s true. Fixing all these problem will require lots of legislation.

So while I’m generally very uneasy with the notion of a “productive” Congress, I also realize that lots of reforms will be needed to restore economic vitality.

Now let’s consider one final headline. This one is from a report in the New York Times, and it also revolves around Jeb Bush and his campaign.

And here’s some of what’s in the article.

Jeb Bush…outlined a wide-ranging plan on Monday to rein in the size of the federal government and curb the influence of lobbyists who live off it. …His proposals, modeled on his record as a budget-cutting governor, amounted to…an assault on the culture of Congress

By and large, this sounds good.

But here’s the catch. You don’t need specific anti-lobbying reforms (such as Bush’s proposed six-year ban on lobbying when Senators and Representatives leave office) if you actually are serious about reducing the size and scope of the federal government.

Reducing the power of Washington is the best way of starving DC’s special-interest community.

Indeed, it’s the only genuinely effective way. I explain in this video that laws to control corruption in Washington don’t work because they don’t address the real problem of politicians having far too much influence over the economy.

I hope you noticed the balloon analogy at the end of the video. If you don’t like Washington’s parasite class, the only way to curtail their privileged existence is with smaller government.

By the way, I don’t want to imply that all lobbying is bad. It all depends on whether lobbyists are engaged in self-defense or extortion. Here’s some of what I wrote last year.

…lobbying is not necessarily bad. If a handful of business owners want to join forces to fight against higher taxes or more regulation, I’m all in favor of that kind of lobbying. They’re fighting to be left alone. But a big chunk of the lobbying in Washington is not about being left alone. It’s about seeking undeserved benefits by using the coercive power of government.

Moreover, I also pointed out two years ago that we need to respect what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

…the First Amendment protects our rights to petition the government and to engage in political speech.

So at the risk of repeating myself, I urge people to fix the real problem of big government and not get overly distracted by the symptom of favor-swapping and corruption in Washington.

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There’s an old saying that states are the laboratories of democracy. But since I’m a policy wonk, I focus more on the lessons we can learn from the states about public policy.

Such as the importance of limiting the destructive nature of taxes.

Such as the economic benefits of not having an income tax.

Such as the horrible consequences of adopting an income tax.

Such as the negative effects of excessive compensation of bureaucrats.

Such as better job creation in states with less government.

But it’s always good to have more data and evidence.

So I was very interested to see that the Mercatus Center at George Mason University has a new report that ranks states based on their fiscal solvency.

Here are some of the details.

Budgetary balance is only one aspect of a state’s fiscal health, indicating that revenues are sufficient to cover a desired level of spending. But a balanced budget by itself does not mean the state is in a strong fiscal position. State spending may be large relative to the economy and thus be a drain on resources. …How can states establish healthier fiscal foundations? And how can states guard against economic shocks or identify long-term fiscal risks? Before taking policy or budgetary action, it is important to identify where states may have fiscal weaknesses. One approach to help states evaluate their ongoing fiscal performance is to use basic financial indicators that measure short- and long-run fiscal position.

Here are some of the findings.

The five dimensions (or indexes) of solvency in this study—cash, budget, long-run, service-level, and trust fund—are…combined into one overall ranking of state fiscal condition. …States with large long-term debts, large unfunded pension liabilities, and structural budgetary imbalances continue to hover near the bottom of the rankings. These states are Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. Just as they did last year, states that depend on natural resources for revenues and that have low levels of debt and spending place at the top of the rankings. The top five states are Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Florida.

And here’s a map so you can see the rankings of each state. Dark green is good and yellow is bad.

I’m shocked and amazed to see California, Illinois, and New York near the bottom of the list.

Here’s the same information, but in a table so you can see the specific scores for each state.

So what should we learn from these rankings?

According to an editorial from Investor’s Business Daily, there are some very obvious lessons.

What do the most fiscally sound states have in common? Good weather? Oil? Blind luck? Or is it conservative policies such as keeping taxes low, regulations reasonable and spending under control? …There’s only one factor these fiscal winners and losers share in common. And that’s their political leanings. …if you look at the 25 best-performing states, only three could be considered reliably liberal. …There’s only one factor these fiscal winners and losers share in common. And that’s their political leanings. Of the top 10 states in the Mercatus ranking, just two — Florida and Ohio — voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the past four elections, and just one — Montana — has a Democratic governor. Even if you look at the 25 best-performing states, only three could be considered reliably liberal.

Now let’s shift from policy lessons to political implications. There are several governors and former governors running for President.

Based on the Mercatus ranking, can we draw any conclusions about whether these candidates are in favor of taxpayers? Or do they support big government instead?

We’ll start with the current governors.

Kasich – Ohio ranks surprisingly high on the list, particularly given the Ohio governor’s expansion of Obamacare in the state. Maybe the state’s #7 ranking is due to fiscal restraint by his predecessors.

Christie – New Jersey ranks low on the list, and this isn’t a surprise. The relevant question is whether Christie can argue, based on some of the fights he’s had, that the state legislature is an insurmountable impediment to pro-growth reforms.

Jindal – The governor of Louisiana has proposed some big reforms, but the state’s #35 ranking doesn’t give him any bragging rights on fiscal policy (though the state is leading the way on education reform).

Walker – Thanks to his high-profile fight with unionized bureaucrats, Walker has a very strong reputation. But his state doesn’t rank very high, and he can’t blame the legislature because it’s GOP-controlled as well. But perhaps the low ranking is a legacy of the state’s historically left-wing orientation.

What about former governors?

Well, there’s probably not much we can say because we don’t have long-run data. There was a similar Mercatus study last year, but that obviously doesn’t help with the analysis of governors that left office years ago.

Nonetheless, here are a few observations.

Bush – I’m very suspicious of politicians who express an openness to tax hikes, and Bush is in that group. But he did govern Florida for a couple of terms and never flirted with imposing an income tax. And former governors, particularly from recent history, presumably can take some credit for Florida’s relatively high ranking.

Pataki – Since New York is one of the worst states, Pataki has guilt by implication. But he did lower a few taxes during his tenure, and you also have the same issue that exists with Christie, which is whether a governor should be blamed when the state legislature is hostile to good policy.

Perry – It’s hard to argue with the success Texas has enjoyed in recent years, and Perry (like Bush) never even hinted at the imposition of a state income tax. Though the #19 ranking shows that there are issues that should have been addressed during Perry’s several terms in office.

Huckabee – There aren’t many conclusions to draw about Arkansas and Huckabee. He’s been out of office for a while and the state is in the middle of the pack.

The bottom line is that the Mercatus study is very helpful in identifying well-governed (and not-so-well-governed) states, but the newness of the project means we can’t make any sweeping statements about governors because of limited data.

Fortunately, the Cato Institute for years has been publishing a Report Card that grades governors based on fiscal policy. So fans (or opponents) of different candidates can peruse past issues to see the degree to which governors pushed policy in the right or wrong direction.

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I can understand why immigration reform is so contentious since it touches on all sorts of hot-button issues, such as jobs, politics, national identity, and the welfare state.

But I don’t understand why there’s a controversy just because Governor Walker of Wisconsin supports a specific part of the immigration system that provides easier access for foreigners who are willing to invest money and create jobs in America.

Seems like a win-win situation, but check out these excerpts from a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

We’ll start with a description of the program.

Congress created the EB-5 program in 1990… Under the Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Immigrant Investor Program, foreigners can obtain these visas by investing $500,000 in high unemployment areas — or $1 million elsewhere — in projects generating or saving 10 jobs over two years. According to The New York Times, the federal government puts the green card applications from these foreign investors on the fast track. In general, it takes about two years to obtain legal residency through the program; other visa programs take much longer.

Not let’s get to the controversy over Governor Walker’s support.

…there’s one federal visa program you won’t hear him attack. It’s the controversial and deeply troubled immigrant investor program. The program — known as EB-5 — puts wealthy foreigners on the path to U.S. citizenship if they invest at least $500,000 in an American commercial project that will create or preserve 10 jobs. Critics have called the abuse-riddled program a “scam” that essentially sells green cards to the affluent and their families, with more than 80% of those in the program coming from China. …David North, a fellow with the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, said…the program is flawed in its premise. “I think it’s immoral, fattening and otherwise unattractive to sell visas, which is what we’re doing now,” North said.

By thew way, there are reasons to be unhappy about the EB-5 program, at least in the way it operates.

I’ve already shared examples of how political insiders are manipulating the program for cronyist purposes.

But today let’s look at the concept of whether it’s good to have an “economic citizenship” program.

And we’ll start the very relevant point that any immigration system is going to be arbitrary.

  • A lottery system is arbitrary because you get to come to America because of luck.
  • A family-reunification system is arbitrary because you get to come to America because of your genes.
  • A system based on refugee status is arbitrary because you get to come to America based on geopolitical circumstances.
  • Even an “open borders” system is arbitrary because you don’t get to come to America if you’re a terrorist, criminal, have communicable diseases, etc.

So if a system is going to be based on arbitrary factors, what’s wrong with deciding that one of the criteria is economic benefit to the United States?

Indeed, maybe I’m too myopic because of my background and training, but it seems like economic benefit should be a factor that everyone can support. After all, these won’t be people seeking handouts from the welfare system.

Consider these passages from a recent New York Times story about all the EB-5 money that’s boosting the Empire State’s economy.

Through a federal visa program known as EB-5, foreigners, more than 80 percent of them from China, are investing billions of dollars in hotels, condominiums, office towers and public/private works in the hope it will result in green cards. Twelve-hundred foreigners have poured $600 million into projects at Hudson Yards; 1,154 have invested $577 million in Pacific Park Brooklyn, the development formerly known as Atlantic Yards; and 500 have put $250 million into the Four Seasons hotel and condominium in the financial district. The list of projects involving EB-5 investments also includes the International Gem Tower on West 47th Street and the New York Wheel on Staten Island. …In the last four years, the program’s popularity has surged. In fiscal year 2010, 1,885 visas were issued. But by fiscal year 2013 that figure jumped 354 percent to 8,564, according to government data. Last year, the entire annual allotment of 10,000 visas had been claimed by August — before the end of the fiscal year in October. This year the quota was reached even earlier, on May 1.

As an aside, this program isn’t attractive to those with lots of money because of America’s punitive tax system.

“This program is not for the very rich in China, because the superwealthy do not want to pay U.S. taxes.” Instead, he said, the wealthiest Chinese prefer to have their legal residences in low tax jurisdictions like Hong Kong or Singapore, and then take advantage of 10-year tourist visas to the United States.

While I’m tempted to now explain why we should fix our bad tax system, let’s stick to the topic of immigration and delve further into the issue of whether it’s good to attract economically successful foreigners to America.

Some scholars say the answer is yes, but they think the EB-5 program is inefficient.

Here’s some of what Professor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School wrote for Slate.

The program is a mess. …it’s almost impossible to figure out whether a specific investment generates jobs rather than reshuffles them from one place to another. There have also been examples of outright fraud and political cronyism. Part of the problem is a lack of documentation but the real problem is that the program is misconceived. …the price we charge for citizenship is extraordinarily low. …A shrewd investor will find an investment that pays a couple percentage points below the market rate. If he invests $500,000 in order to obtain, say, a 6 percent return rather than an 8 percent return, then the true price he pays for U.S. citizenship is $10,000 in foregone return.

So what’s the alternative?

Gary Becker, the late University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate, once proposed that the United States should sell citizenship to foreigners for a flat fee. The EB-5 program approximates Becker’s proposal, albeit in the most inefficient way possible. Becker argued that citizenship is a scarce good just like tomatoes and hula hoops, and is thus subject to the law of supply and demand. America owns visas and should sell them to willing buyers at the market-clearing price. We would attract immigrants who are skilled enough to earn wages that would cover the fee, and we would gain again from the tax on their wages once they began work in this country. These types of immigrants—the ones who could afford the fee—would be least likely to burden the public fisc by needing welfare payments.

The Becker plan, which Posner basically supports, certainly would be simpler than the EB-5 program.

And it presumably eliminates the instances of corrupt cronyism that taint that otherwise good system.

Moreover, many of the nations with economic citizenship programs use this approach.

But here’s the downside. If you sell citizenship directly, the money goes to the government rather than to the productive sector of the economy.

That might be acceptable if it meant that the politicians reduced or eliminated some tax. But I fear the real-world impact would be to simply give the crowd in Washington more money to waste.

So perhaps the real challenge is to figure out some smarter way of operating the EB-5 program so we get even more private investment and job creation while also reducing opportunities for cronyist intervention.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some immigration-themed humor, here’s some involving Peru and Canada.

P.P.S. While I don’t like government getting more money, that shouldn’t be the only factor when grading a policy proposal. I fretted, for instance, that pot legalization in Colorado would be a mixed blessing because it would generate more tax revenue. But thanks to Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the politicians haven’t been able to spend all the new money, so it’s unambiguously a win-win situation.

P.P.P.S. The Princess of the Levant is in America because of the immigration lottery, so I certainly won’t be complaining too much about arbitrary systems. [correction: The PoTL has informed me that her U.S. residency is the result of her grandfather’s application and not the lottery]

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It’s not often that I disagree with the folks who put together the Wall Street Journal editorial page. For instance, they just published a great editorial on that cesspool of cronyism and corruption that is otherwise known as the Export-Import Bank.

Isn’t it great that the voice of capitalism actually supports genuine free markets!

That being said, a recent editorial rubs me the wrong way.

It’s about the presumably quixotic presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders. These excerpts will give you a flavor of what the WSJ wrote.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed independent Socialist, has decided to run for the Democratic presidential nomination… He thinks the American economy is fundamentally unfair, and that government must tax and spend even more heavily… He thinks Social Security should increase benefits, no matter that it is heading toward insolvency. Higher taxes can make up the difference. …He wants single-payer health care, though his own state gave up the experiment as too expensive.

So what’s my disagreement?

I realize I’m being a nit-picker, but I don’t like the fact that the WSJ editorial is entitled “An Honest Socialist.”

My gripe is that Sanders isn’t honest. A genuine socialist believes in government ownership of the means of production. In other words, nationalized factories, government-run businesses, and collective farms. If Sanders believes in these policies, he’s remarkably reluctant to share his perspective.

In reality, Sanders is like Obama. You can call him a statist, a corporatist, or even (as Tom Sowell correctly notes) a fascist.

In other words, lots of redistribution and lots of back-door government control of the private sector, but not a lot of People’s Factory #58 or People’s Farm #91.

Though it is true that Sanders wants the government to directly run the healthcare system (akin to the horrifying U.K. approach), but at most that means he’s a “partial socialist” (or, to modify the WSJ‘s title, a “mostly dishonest socialist”).

Moreover, he doesn’t bring anything new to the presidential race, at least from a policy perspective.

There’s only a trivially small difference, for instance, between Hillary Clinton’s lifetime rating of 10.6 from the National Taxpayers Union and Bernie Sanders’ lifetime rating of 9.4. They both earned their failing grades by spending other people’s money with reckless abandon.

Though it’s worth noting that both Clinton and Sanders are “more frugal” than Barack Obama, who earned a lifetime rating of 9.0. I guess this is why the phrase “damning with faint praise” was invented.

The only difference between Hillary, Obama, and Sanders is tone. Here’s some of what Charles Cooke wrote for National Review.

Sanders does not play games with words…he steadfastly refuses to pretend that he represents moderation. …Sanders is to public policy and professional politicking what Joe Biden is to personality. He is open, blunt, unapologetic, compelling, ready to debate.

Which is in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton’s pabulum.

…the Democratic primary is being dominated by a corrupt, controlling, soulless, cynical, entitled, and mostly synthetic avatar named Hillary Clinton, and, in consequence, it is almost entirely devoid of ideas. …Hillary and her team stick to meaningless and saccharine banalities, almost all of which, one presumes, have been poll-tested within a fraction of an inch. …At no time does she stake out a vision. At no time does she adopt a controversial or momentous position. Instead, she hides behind corporately assembled strings of mawkish, semi-literate tosh.

So the difference between Clinton and Sanders is that he’s proud of his statism and she wants to hide her radical agenda.

But it doesn’t matter what they say or what they call themselves, the bottom line is that their policies are destructive, both economically and morally.

P.S. Since Senator Sanders is from Vermont, it’s both amusing and ironic that the Green Mountain State’s government-run healthcare system self destructed.

P.P.S. Since we’re on the topic of socialism, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus wasn’t in that camp. Though I’m not sure we can say the same thing about the Pope.

P.P.P.S. Heck, Jesus may have been a libertarian.

P.P.P.P.S. If you like socialism humor, click here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Switching to another topic (and one where there’s zero humor), you may remember that I wrote a few days ago about the horror of so-called civil asset forfeiture.

This happens when the government arbitrarily seizes your money and/or property without convicting you of a crime. Or even without charging you with a crime.

Well, here’s a video from the Institute for Justice about a new tragic example of theft by government.

If this doesn’t get you angry, you probably need counseling. This story reminds me of the Michigan family that was similarly victimized.

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I’m a huge fan of a simple and fair flat tax.

Simply stated, if we’re going to have some sort of broad-based tax, it makes sense to collect revenue in the least-damaging fashion possible.

And a flat tax achieves that goal by adhering to the principles of good tax policy.

  1. A low tax rate – This is the best-known feature of the flat tax. A low tax rate is designed to minimize the penalty on work, entrepreneurship, and other forms of productive behavior.
  2. No double taxation of saving and investment – The flat tax gets rid of the tax bias against income that is saved and invested. The capital gains tax, double tax on dividends, and death tax are all abolished. Shifting to a system that taxes economic activity only one time will boost capital formation, thus facilitating an increase in productivity and wages.
  3. No distorting loopholes – With the exception of a family-based allowance designed to protect lower-income people, the flat tax eliminates all deductions, exemptions, shelters, preference, exclusions, and credits. By creating a neutral tax system, this ensures that decisions are made on the basis of economic fundamentals, not tax distortions.

All three features are equally important, sort of akin to the legs of a stool. And if we succeeded with fundamental reform, it would mean an end to the disgraceful internal revenue code.

But just because an idea is good policy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s also good politics.

So let’s delve into the debate over whether the flat tax is a winning political issue as well as a pro-growth reform.

Writing for the Weekly Standard, Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation thinks the flat tax has political legs.

…the flat tax is again the rage in a presidential primary. A number of GOP candidates, including Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker, are looking to go flat with a radically simplified postcard tax return. …Ripping up the 70,000-page tax code has visceral appeal to voters.The way to sell the flat tax is as the ultimate Washington versus America issue. The only people who benefit from a complicated, barnacle-encrusted 70,000-page tax code are tax attorneys, accountants, lobbyists, IRS agents, and politicians who use the tax code as a way to buy and sell favors. The belly of the beast of corruption in American politics is the IRS tax code. The left keeps saying it wants to end the corrupting influence of big money in politics. Fine. By far the best way to do that is enact a flat tax and D.C. becomes the Sahara Desert.

I like what Steve is saying.

And I specifically agree that the best way of selling tax reform is to point out that it’s a Washington-versus-America issue.

When I first started giving speeches about the flat tax in the 1990s, I focused on the pro-growth and pro-competitive impact of lower marginal tax rates and reductions in double taxation.

People largely agreed with those points, but they didn’t get excited.

I soon learned that they instinctively liked the flat tax because they saw it as a way of cleaning out the stables of a corrupt system. In other words, they wanted tax reform mostly for reasons of fairness.

But with fairness properly defined, meaning all taxpayers playing by the same rules. Not the left’s definition, which is based on punishing success with high marginal tax rates.

Steve concurs.

So can the flat tax catch the populist tide of voter rage and angst over an economy that has squeezed the middle class for nearly a decade? Who knows? What seems certain is Democrats will run a class warfare campaign of raising tax rates on the rich. But envy isn’t an economic revival policy. Republicans can win this debate by going on the offensive and reminding voters that the best way to grow the economy, create jobs, and increase tax payments by the rich is to flatten the code. Flat is the new fair.

So does this mean the flat tax is a slam-dunk issue?

Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review is unconvinced. Here’s some of what he wrote about the candidates pushing fundamental reform.

They may have some creative ideas to get around problems with previous flat-tax proposals. But I have my doubts about whether a flat tax could be…as politically attractive as Moore suggests.

Ramesh is particularly skeptical whether the flat tax can be more appealing than the Lee-Rubio tax plan.

I have my doubts about whether a flat tax could be free from the objections Moore raises against Lee-Rubio… A 15 percent flat tax could also expose many more millions of people to tax increases than Lee-Rubio does; and it seems highly unlikely to reduce tax bills for as many people as Lee-Rubio does.

At the risk of sounding like a politician, I agree with both Steve and Ramesh.

Taking them in reverse order, Ramesh is correct that a flat tax faces an uphill battle. He specifically warns that a flat tax might result in higher fiscal burdens for millions of middle-class taxpayers.

Ultimately, that would depend on the tax rate, the size of the family-based allowance, and whether tax reform also was a tax cut. And those choices could be easier to make if Republicans actually demonstrated some political acumen and modernized the revenue-estimating system at the Joint Committee on Taxation.

And Ramesh also points out, quite appropriately, that the flat tax will create strong opposition from interest groups that benefit from provisions in the current system.

But Steve is correct that people want bold reform, which is a proxy for ending tax-code corruption. I’ve already praised the Lee-Rubio plan, which Ramesh likes, but I have a hard time imagining that such a plan will seize the public imagination like a flat tax.

Moreover, the Lee-Rubio plan is a huge tax cut. Since I think good reform is more likely if a plan lowers the overall tax burden, I consider that to be a feature rather than a bug.

But it does mean you have to fight a two-front war, battling both those who benefit from the current system as well as those who don’t want to reduce the flow of revenue to Washington.

These are big obstacles, whether we’re talking about an incremental plan like Lee-Rubio or big-picture reform like a flat tax.

Which is why, regardless of what happens with elections, I’m not overly optimistic about making progress. Unless, of course, we figure out some way of dealing the growing burden of federal spending. Which necessarily requires genuine entitlement reform.

P.S. Don’t forget that Barack Obama reportedly will be introducing a very simple tax reform plan.

P.P.S. Since we’re talking about the impact of policies on the election, my colleague Michael Cannon points to some very low-hanging fruit.

For more than five years, the executive branch has been issuing illegal subsidies that personally benefit the most powerful interest group in the nation’s capital: members of Congress and their staffs. …executive-branch agencies have broken the law, over and over, to protect ObamaCare. …The longest-running and perhaps most significant way the administration has broken the law to protect ObamaCare is by issuing illegal subsidies to members of Congress.

What’s Michael talking about?

When congressional Democrats passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), they were so desperate to pass a health care law that the ACA did not receive the scrutiny most bills do. Many members of Congress and their staffs were therefore surprised to learn that, as of the moment the president signed the ACA, that very law threw them out of their health plans. The ACA prohibits members of Congress and their staffs from receiving health coverage through the Federal Employees’ Health Benefits Program. They remained free to purchase health insurance on their own, but they would have to do so without the $10,000 or so the federal government “contributed” to their FEHBP premiums.

But who cares what the law says.

Rather than risk Congress reopening the ACA to restore their lost health coverage — because who knows what other changes Congress might make in the process — the administration simply pretended that that part of the law didn’t exist. The Office of Personnel Management announced that members of Congress and their staffs could remain in the FEHBP until the ACA’s Exchanges launched in 2014.  …That still didn’t solve the president’s problems, however. The ACA says that as of 2014, the only coverage the federal government can offer members of Congress in connection with their employment is coverage created under the Act. In effect, that means Exchange coverage. But the law still cut off that $10,000 “employer contribution” to their health benefits. According to Politico, “OPM initially ruled that lawmakers and staffers couldn’t receive the subsidies once they went into the exchanges.” After the president intervened, OPM just ignored that part of the law and started issuing (illegal) subsidies on the order of $10,000 to hundreds of individual members of Congress and thousands of individual congressional staffers.

So what does all this have to do with the 2016 elections?

Well, as Michael points out, the GOP could make a lot of hay by going after the Obama Administration’s illegal favor for Capitol Hill.

Ending Congress’ special ObamaCare exemption — i.e., the bribes individual members of Congress and their staffs are receiving not to reopen ObamaCare — polls off the charts. More than 90 percent of voters believe this exemption is unfair.

The goal, of course, isn’t to deny the folks on Capitol Hill from getting pre-Obamacare subsidies for their health plans.

Instead, Michael is saying that these subsidies have to be restored in the proper fashion, which means amending the law, which will also open the door to other changes.

Which might mean actually addressing the real problems in our healthcare system.

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There’s a lot of navel-gazing analysis in Washington about whether to expect some sort of bipartisanship over the next two years.

I find such discussions very irritating because they assume that you automatically get good results when Republicans and Democrats both agree on a policy. My reaction, to put it mildly, is “these people are f@*&#^@g crazy!!!”

Was it progress when Republicans and Democrats conspired to bail out their contributors on Wall Street with TARP?

Was it progress when Republicans and Democrats joined hands to impose Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind education scheme?

Was it progress when the first President Bush broke his read-my-lips promise and sided with Democrats to boost taxes and spending in 1990?

So you can see why I instinctively like gridlock. Simply stated, it’s better to do nothing if the alternative is to have more bad laws that expand the burden of government.

But perhaps I’m being too cynical. After all, sometimes bipartisanship accidentally produces good policies. Like when we got the Budget Control Act as part of the 2011 debt limit fight, which then led to the sequester.

Though I’m not holding my breath expecting similar good results over the next two years.

Why? Because as I said in my first comments during last week’s John Stossel show, the President is simply too far to the left to expect any progress.

I do acknowledge in the interview that you have to give Obama credit for ideological consistency, but his agenda of bigger government and more dependency doesn’t lead me to think we’ll get any good policy in the near future.

Here are a few additional points from the interview that are worth highlighting.

*This is still a weak recovery, perhaps most compelling illustrated by comparing what happened under Reagan with what’s been happening under Obama.

*But things have improved in the past couple of years, in part because there’s been progress in restraining the burden of government spending.

*Ironically, the President bragged that America’s been creating more jobs than Europe even though he wants to copy European policies.

*It’s also galling that the President says he wants to make America more competitive even though he’s pushing class-warfare taxation.

*Republicans also deserve criticism since some of them are advocating for higher gas taxes rather than the federalist approach of decentralization.

*On tax reform, if you give politicians a new tax, it’s very likely they will use the money to finance bigger government instead of abolishing an existing tax.

*My final comment from the interview brings us back to the central point of today’s post. Simply stated, bipartisanship isn’t good if it means more government.

P.S. I goofed last week when I wrote that median household income fell every year under Obama, and I repeated that mistake in the Stossel interview, which took place before I discovered that there was a very small increase in 2013. Well, I also made another mistake in the interview. I said that Kate Upton was the daughter of Congressman Fred Upton. That’s wrong. She’s actually his niece. Alas, yet another sign that I’m clueless about popular culture. I guess that means Kate won’t date me after the PotL finds another boyfriend.

P.P.S. Since we’re still debating over the issues Obama raised in his speech, I may as well call attention once again to my contribution to the U.S. News and World Report online debate on whether the State of the Union is strong. I’m doing okay in the overall reader rankings, but (as I write these words) I do have the third-highest number of “down” votes, so I gather that some of our leftist friends must not like what I wrote. So feel free to go to the article and click on the “up” arrow if you want to help me out.

P.P.P.S. Shifting to a less narcissistic topic, I wrote in 2013 that the Ohio Governor should be known as John “Barack” Kasich because he chose to expand Obamacare in his state. Now, as explained by Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner, we have Mike “Barack” Pence from Indiana.

…on Tuesday, he betrayed taxpayers when he embraced an expansion of Medicaid through President Obama’s healthcare law. …Pence buckled under pressure from hospital lobbyists who are eager to receive more federal money… Myopic Republican governors think they can fool conservatives by gaining token concessions on what remains a government-run healthcare program and calling it “free market reform.” But the Obama administration is playing the long game, realizing that if it keeps adding beneficiaries to the books, big government liberalism wins.

How disappointing. Yes, GOP governors are getting pressured by in-state lobbyists because of the lure of “free” federal money, but that’s no excuse for adopting a policy that will hurt federal taxpayers in the short run and state taxpayers in the long run.

This is yet another reason why we need to replace the federal Medicaid entitlement with a block grant.

P.P.P.P.S. I don’t want to close on a dour note, so let’s shift to sequestration, which was one of the topics in the Stossel interview. That was not only an unambiguous victory over big government, but it also resulted in some great political humor. You can see some of my favorite cartoons on the topic by clicking herehere, here, here, here, and here.

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