Nel's New Day

January 3, 2019

Shutdown, House Moves Forward

Day 13 of government shutdown: Thanks to the intransigence of Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT), ICE has immigration problems. Tens of thousands of immigration officers and agents have no pay while they show up for work at the Mexico border. Many judges and clerks in immigration courts, already backlogged by almost one million cases, have been sent home while over 2,000 migrants are taken into custody each day. Sixty-five of these border crossers are families and children who are being released in the streets of El Paso (TX), Yuma (AZ), and other border cities. The E-verify website to check on the immigration status of potential hires has been shut down.

In addition to delayed IRS refunds, the Emergency Food Assistance Program may have delayed delivery of food to soup kitchens, food banks, and pantries. Frozen guarantees to back loans from the Small Business Administration mean millions of small businesses lost access to federal assistance loans and technical assistance. Homebuyers will be delayed in getting mortgages. Access to marriage licenses in D.C. has been suspended.

Parks are filthy, restrooms are closed, and museums are closed. Because of health and safety concerns, campgrounds at the Joshua Tree National Park were closed. Areas around parks are losing an average $18 million a day from tourism, and the government is losing money from not collecting fees at the parks where people crawl over fences and gates. Staff shortages create a feeling of “lawlessness” in the parks.  [Trash at the Washington Monument.]

One of DDT’s arguments for the wall is his claim that the Obama D.C. home has a surrounding ten-foot wall. As usual, DDT is wrong. One of the Obama neighbors commented that DDT “has a very active imagination.” Fox “news” reported on DDT’s information but not the reality.

For the second time in a government shutdown, federal workers are suing in protest of the requirement that “essential” employees must work without pay. Some affected agencies, including the VA and Defense Department, have enough money to pay employees until next fall, but nine other departments and dozens of agencies have been closed except for “essential” individuals who not only won’t receive pay but can’t take vacations or sick leave. Even if employees are in the hospital, they can be fired for being absent without leave. Employees also sued during the 2013 shutdown, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims required that employees must be paid twice their back pay because the government violated the requirement that employees be paid on time for their services.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a woman elected as Speaker of the House for the 116th Congress, beat out Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a vote of 220-192 despite 15 Democratic dissidents. She celebrates her position in the 100th anniversary of women voting for federal candidates in the United States. Pelosi needed at least 216 votes for the position to obtain a simple majority of members on the chamber floor because one Republican was absent, one had not been seated, and three Democrats voted “present. Other votes went to Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), 4 votes); Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), 2 votes; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA); Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA); and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL). Two people who are not House members, former VP Joe Biden and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, each received one vote.

The Democratic and Blue Dog representative for my Oregon district, Kurt Schrader, voted for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). The super PAC for Schrader’s “No Labels” group spent over $2.5 million during the recent midterms to support vulnerable GOP House candidates trying to keep their position. Only half that amount supported Democrats. No Labels declared candidate DDT as one of their official “problem solvers,”  and No Labels tried to prevent Pelosi from becoming Speaker. Schrader maintained he wanted a younger House leadership before he voted for the 66-year-old Fudge for Speaker and supported older House representatives for other leadership positions.

The House promptly went to work today. In an effort to stop the shutdown, the House passed two bills with the support of a few Republicans. One package of six bills, passed by 239-192, funds agencies that are not considered controversial including the departments of Treasury, State, and Justice through the 2019 fiscal year at the end of September. The second bill, funding DHS through February 8, maintains the department’s funding at current levels which includes $3.1 billion for border security.

The first GOP senator has called for reopening the government with a CR that doesn’t give DDT his money for the wall. Cory Gardner (CO) suggested continuing negotiations after federal agencies open and “let Democrats explain why they no longer support border security.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) agreed with Gardner, but her opinion carries no weight because she never follows through with her promises. After the House passed a bill last month mandating $5.7 billion for DDT’s wall, the Senate approved a CR without that funding to keep the government open until February 8. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that no vote will occur without DDT’s previous sign-off. In essence, McConnell abdicated all the power of the Senate to the executive branch. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that the House bills are the same as the ones supported in the GOP Senate Appropriations Committee.

Pundits like to talk about how disliked Pelosi is. In the most recent Gallup poll, she is rated more favorably at 38 percent than either Senate leader (Democrat Chuck Schumer from New York at 32 percent and GOP Mitch McConnell from Kentucky at 30 percent) with the same unfavorable rating, 48 percent, as McConnell. Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) received a 34-percent favorable rating with his unfavorable 50 percent at two percent higher than Pelosi, but the media has had few comments about these ratings.

On fivethirtyeight.com, Perry Bacon wrote that all congressional leaders are unpopular. It’s the job and the fact that Congress is unpopular, but increasing partisan polarization has led to increasing partisan hatred of the leaders of the opposite party. As Bacon pointed out, any Democratic House Speaker will be disliked. Congressional leaders also receive negativity from the opposing party but little support of their own. The sexism adds to the mix: Pelosi is the only female congressional leader in the House or Senate, the country fails to elect a woman president, and almost half the states have never elected a woman for governor.

Republicans undoubtedly dislike Pelosi because she gets things done, including the vote for the Affordable Care Act. They complain that she is too liberal, but much of their distaste for the new House Speaker comes from her gender. The GOP wants women to vote for them, but they don’t want women in office. The 116th Congress is evidence of that philosophy.

The question is why some Democrats oppose Pelosi. Some might believe that she’s not progressive enough, although the 15 dissidents are so conservative that the Blue Dogs supported DDT before his election. Other Democrats blame her for their party losing Congress because they need someone to blame. Sometimes Democrats are offended when members of their party try to compromise while at the same time they excoriate the GOP for not working with the Democrats.

An overview of the House membership in the 116th Congress: Three Republicans come from districts that Clinton took in 2016, and 31 Democrats came from DDT-majority districts.

Today is a big milestone for DDT: it represents the longest period of time that DDT didn’t play golf since he was inaugurated. DDT hasn’t visited a golf course and one his personally owned properties for 39 days. Before that time, he spent 166 days at one of his golf clubs and another 22 days at one of his properties. President Obama didn’t hit even 100 rounds of golf until the end of his first term. On the campaign trail, DDT said that he wouldn’t be able to visit any of his properties while he was in office because “I’m going to be working for you.” The man who calls himself the best negotiator possible sat around the White House for two weeks and waited for Democrats to come talk to him.

April 15, 2014

Enjoy Tax Day!

Every year, April 15 brings moaning and groaning amid complaints about taxes. Yet if progressives suggest greater equity in taxes for the wealthy, as billionaire Warren Buffet has, Republicans tell us that we can make a gift to the U.S. Treasury. New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, said, “He should just write a check and shut up.” A letter-writer to our local newspaper sneered at me for claiming that taxes went to help people and gave me the address where I could send my money.

Somehow, conservatives don’t mind sending their money to the wealthy hedge-fund managers from Wall Street or the bankers, but they resent contributing to a badly-needed safety net for the poor. They ignore the facts that people in the United States pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than almost all other wealthy Western nations and that taxes as a share of GDP are at a 50-year low. Wealthy people claim to give money to charities, but these are usually places where they can look important such as museums or other forms of the arts.

When former hedge-fund manager John Arnold and his wife did donate $10 million during last fall’s government shutdown to keep Head Start programs open in six states, the general belief of people is that nonprofits can solve the problems of society. Only 56 percent trust the government to do that. Arnold admitted, “Private dollars cannot in the long term replace government commitments.” Press coverage, however, makes people believe that they don’t need to pay taxes for these programs because wealthy people will.

Scientific research is also moving into private hands, frequently the hands of corporations that will reap the benefits. This practice also puts research into the hands of donors’ personal preferences. Conservatives want lowered government funding of science along with “selective science.” The proposed House bill, The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act, would reduce funding in the sciences by 22 percent while removing a general allocation for the National Science Foundation so that lawmakers can use their personal ideologies to cherry-pick favorite science areas.

People in the United States have been levied a permanent income tax for the past 100 years. The current system came from a tax to pay for World War II. In the mid-20th century, voluntary giving helped support the morality of paying taxes. Tax revolts came with the highly conservative era of President Ronald Reagan who maintained that taxes were not a representation of democracy.

One idea of reviving an understanding of democratic tax-paying is to permit taxpayers to allocate part of their income taxes to a choice within the discretionary federal budget. Another is to educate people about their fantasy that charity can solve the immense problems of the nation.

Sister Simone has TPPSister Simone Campbell, the nun is trouble with the Vatican for her focus in caring for the poor, has another idea. She invites people to show their pride in what their taxes do:

“What do schools, parks, roads, firefighters, clean air and water, and the social safety net all have in common? You helped pay for them with your taxes! Why? Because what makes our country great is our commitment to everyone having enough and no one getting left behind.

“Many of our faith traditions call us to pool our financial resources for the common good. But fiscal extremists have made ‘taxes’ an ugly word.

“So this Tax Day, April 15th, the nuns and friends at NETWORK are celebrating #TaxpayerPride Day by taking selfies with things our taxes pay for that make us proud. Check out the selfies below and submit your own here!

Photos are available here.

Other solutions to the tax-complainers is education in what their taxes provide. When they complain about the safety net for foreign aid, they need to understand that food stamps, TANF, and foreign aid comprise 3 percent of their taxes. For those who pay $20,000 a year, that’s $600. On the other hand, military is at 25 percent–$5,000.

The $3.7 trillion federal budget is divided into mandatory spending required by Congress and discretionary spending that can be cut. Last year, over half of the discretionary spending went to defense. Some of the interest on the debt can also be attributed to defense spending because George W. Bush’s two wars cost at least $1.5 trillion, a sum that was all borrowed and went above the budget.

spending bubbles

No one knows for sure where the money for the defense budget goes because the Pentagon is too big to audit, despite a 1997 mandate that federal agencies have annual audits. We do know that the Pentagon supports 170 golf courses around the world.

Making the wealthy pay their share would even reduce taxes for most of the complainers. A sales tax on Wall Street transactions like those on clothes and food for most of the people in the nation would bring in hundreds of billions of dollars. The London stock exchange has had a tax of 0.5 percent for over 300 years; U.S. proposals are for only 0.025 percent. The wealthy also game the system by making sure that their income is at the 20 percent rate of capital gains rather the 39.6 percent income tax rate. This and other loopholes have made people like Mitt Romney wealthy.

There has been some discussion of limiting mortgage deductions which most people fight. If the amount of deductions were capped at $400,000, it wouldn’t hurt most of the complainers. Switching the deduction to a credit of 15 or 20 percent would level the playing field between the so-called middle class and the wealthy.

Another way to drop taxes for the complainers is to bring military expenditures back to the United States. The U.S. Navy has just spent $4 billion to create a stealthy destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, to patrol the coast of China for a lot more money required from U.S. taxpayers.

At the same time, President Obama’s budget for 2015 spends 55 percent of federal discretionary funds for the military.The Pentagon Overseas Contingency Operations (aka war funding) is a budget with no caps or sequestration caps. This $85 billion in 2014 was for “whatever” use by the Pentagon. The president’s 2014 budget includes $28 billion to enable the Pentagon to “accelerate the schedules for developing and buying new or upgraded systems.”

Justification for paying all this money is jobs. Last month Sen. Angus King (I-ME) wrote that cuts in defense would hurt his state’s industries. His complaint isn’t unique; senators and representatives around the country make the same justification for the ballooning defense budget.

Taxes don’t have to go to the Pentagon to create jobs. People can get jobs in working construction from light rail for public transit to energy-efficient. Reparation of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure would create jobs and bring home war dollars. Infrastructure spending would benefit the economy far more than defense spending would. The GOP reduction on infracture spending by 20 percent under President Obama will cost businesses $1 trillion in sales and lose people 3.5 million jobs.

Complainers about Social Security need to note that most of America’s wealthiest citizens stop paying Social Security taxes two days from now on April 17. Because the payroll contribution cap is $117,000, millionaires and billionaires don’t pay into the system after this date. Most of the people in the nation pay the entire year, with a higher percentage of their salary.

SocialSecurityTaxCaps03152012 The Reagan standard for payroll taxes was that 90 percent of wages are covered by the Social Security tax, bringing up the cap to almost $200,000. Instead the taxes cover less than 83 percent of wages. Four years ago, the New York Times reported that this one change would produce $50 billion in revenue in 2015. Keeping the cap constant at 90 percent would put it at $230,000. That would be an additional cost of $7,000 at the most and help reduce the deficit. That $7,000 doesn’t hurt as much for a person making $230,000 as it does for those making under $100,000.

The poorest 20 percent of families pay almost double the share of their income to state and local taxes as the richest one percent.

shares of taxes

Dreams: increase Social Security, decrease defense, fix the infrastructure, close tax loopholes for the wealthy, and enjoy what your taxes provide. Oh yes, take away subsidies from undeserving corporations and make them pay taxes. You can demand that here.

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