Nel's New Day

November 3, 2017

Tax Cuts: Who Matters to Republicans in Congress

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 11:26 PM
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The big GOP tax plan was to be released on November 1, but problems delayed it–perhaps because it wasn’t written and because Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) insisted it be called “The Cut Cut Cut Act.” As Stephen Colbert pointed out, at least he didn’t spell the bill with three Ks. So far, the name has been DDT’s only contribution to the tax “reform” bill; all the other disasters come directly from GOP legislators. Most Republicans and all Democrats were left out of the process that had $5.5 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade while adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit. The proposed bill emerged on November 2 to more publicity than the fast-developing investigation into DDT’s connection to Russia.

As always, DDT was largely ignorant about the nuts and bolts, but he loved the idea of filing taxes on post-card sized papers. DDT was so excited that he kissed the form, but like other relationships, it rapidly disappeared. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said that people won’t be filing taxes on the card. DDT will need to go back to his love affair with the flag.

At the very end of 429-page document is a roll-back of a 1954 law that prevents the endorsement of political candidates in tax-exempt houses of worship, but the GOP pride of the bill is a permanent corporate tax rate reduction from 35 percent to 20 percent to benefit companies’ owners. Stockholders will become wealthier without taking any action. Only half the people own stock, and most households own very little. Households in the top 1 percent get 36 percent of their income from financial assets, and the 400 wealthiest households get almost 75 percent of their income from capital gains and dividends. The bottom half of the population will enrich the top half, especially the top 1 percent.

Lowering corporate tax rates also leads to increasing CEO pay and stock buybacks. Profits were not used in either investment or increasing wages and hiring. George W. Bush’s “repatriation” of stashed offshore profits went to shareholder payouts. Today’s enormous deficit comes from Bush’s tax cuts and war—which DDT plans. The corporate cut will cost almost $7 trillion in the next two decades with only $1.4 trillion offset from individual taxpayers.

When Bill Clinton raised taxes on top earners from 31 percent to 39.6 percent in 1993, the economy boomed. It created 23 million jobs and grew the economy for 32 straight quarters, at that time the longest expansion in history.

Winners:

  • The maximum rate for small business is lowered to 25 percent, giving a huge advantage to real estate companies, hedge funds, and private equity funds.
  • Eighty-five percent of this tax cut goes to the top 1 percent of earners because true small businesses don’t make enough to be taxed more than 25 percent.
  • The repeal of the estate tax over $11 million saves the wealthy $170 billion and comprises about 11 percent of the cuts. Estates grow when stock prices increase because of a drop in corporate tax.
  • Taxes owed on $2.6 trillion in profits are cut from 35 percent to 12 percent.
  • Fully three-fourths of tax cuts are directed at businesses and large estates.
  • The top 1 percent, those earning at least $733,000 a year, will each annually receive $130,000.

Losers:

  • The special low tax rate for lobbyists, corporate lawyers and wealthy business owners isn’t available for people who work for a salary or hourly wage.
  • Education, job training, and social services lose $200 billion.
  • The loss of jobs comes from wealthy corporations encouraged to outsource jobs in the U.S. and shift profits offshore through slashed tax rates on foreign profits.
  • The slightly expanded child tax credit from $1,000 to $1,600 expires after five years, followed by increases in taxes, whereas the 20-percent corporate rate is permanent.
  • Even Republicans who tend to “spin” advantages of their bills can’t promise that taxes won’t be increased on middle-class families.
  • Deductions for mortgage interest on new homes stops at $500,000 instead of $1 million. Two heavy hitters, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of REALTORS, oppose this provision.
  • Deductions for property taxes ends at $10,000.
  • State income taxes won’t be deducted, causing double taxation.
  • Raising the “standard deduction” $11,300 to $24,000 for married couples while eliminating personal exemptions hurts families with multiple children.
  • Itemized deductions on charitable contributions will continue, but others disappear: property and casualty losses, student loans, the adoption tax credit, teachers’ $250 out-of-pocket expenses for the classroom, alimony payments, and medical expenses. Because the medical deduction doesn’t start until costs over ten percent of income, poor people are the biggest losers, especially because they can no longer deduct nursing home costs.
  • People with disabilities will face more barriers: small businesses will no longer receive a credit for making their businesses more accessible or hiring disabled people.
  • People who earn less than $23,700 a year might expect a tax cut of only $80 a year.
  • About 13 million filers making under $100,000 will have tax increases, a number that will grow as benefits are phased out.
  • The repeal of credits for drug companies to develop new treatments hurts people with rare diseases.
  • Other repealed credits are for electric vehicles and rehabilitation of old or historic buildings, that created 2.4 million jobs and returned $1.20 for every taxpayer dollar.
  • Over one-third of taxpayers have incomes below their standard deduction and personal exemptions.
  • DDT has also pulled any DACA solution from the bill.

Flaws in GOP tax cuts:

  • Giving unearned benefits to people who own or inherit financial assets is not good for growth or productivity. Allowing companies to write off the full value of new capital investments instead of spreading it over years gives a one-time jolt without future growth. The deficit of $1.5 trillion could fund all federal education spending, job training, the threatened Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, homeless assistance, and welfare many times over.
  • The supply-side economics giving cuts to businesses to create jobs may have worked during the Reagan administration when the highest tax rate was 70 percent—twice what they are now. Now corporations won’t add jobs for products until there is a demand, and giving the bulk of the tax cuts to the wealthy doesn’t create that demand.
  • The growth can also be hurt by an increase in U.S. debt because investors get concerned when the debt-to-GDP-ratio is over 100 percent. That concerns translates into higher interest rates on bonds. The increased debt also takes money from building infrastructure and other job-creation uses.
  • The more than $100 billion in tax cuts to the top 1 percent of earners could fund food stamps (SNAP) and other federal nutrition programs.

The biggest debate about the tax bill may be dropping the corporate tax rate. Although less than half of the people think that taxes on businesses are too high, 60 percent of them want to lower corporate taxes. The going current rate for these taxes may be 35 percent, but most of them don’t pay more than 15 percent. Some examples of corporate tax cheats.

 

DDT blatantly threatened Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and economic adviser Gary Cohn for any glitches in passing the tax cuts. Before he left on his 12-day trip to Asia, DDT said that they will be staying back from the trip to Asia to remain vigilant and making sure the tax cuts pass. So if I have any problems, I will be blaming Mnuchin and Cohn. Believe me, they’ll be hearing from me.” He gave the same spiel about former HHS Secretary Tom Price who is not longer with the administration. Cohn’s arguments will be interesting; he’s already told people that they can use their $1,000 savings to remodel their kitchens or buy new cars.

“Conservative leaders would have slammed this Big-Government Budget under Pres. Obama. Now, they demand Republicans in Congress vote for it,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “2011-2016: Principles! 2017: End justifies the means.” The “ends” are getting back donations that dried up after the GOP continually failed to pass any major bills.

A huge winner from the bill is the man who can sign it into law. John Cassidy described how DDT can benefit in three ways:

  • The proposed bill eliminates the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) legislated to stop the very rich from abusing loopholes. In 2005, DDT paid $31 million because of the tax on his income of $152.7 million. Without the AMT, he would have paid $7.1 million—five percent of his taxable income at an 80-percent reduction.
  • The proposed flat rate for pass-through income would benefit DDT in his hundreds of unincorporated businesses. His $67.4 million in income from these businesses in 2005 would have been subject to the 39.6 percent rate, but his unexplained losses have probably disappeared by now. The proposed bill drops his tax rate to 25 percent.
  • Abolishing the estate tax would eliminate a possible $800 million that his heirs would have to pay from his potential $2 billion of unsheltered assets. When DDT promised people a “big, beautiful Christmas present,” he meant that the gift would be for himself.

Republicans are still tweaking the tax bill. One idea is repealing the individual mandate to purchase health care. The other cuts $81 billion from tax breaks for individual taxpayers by changing the way that the bill measures inflation and move taxpayers into higher-tax brackets more quickly. Again, the proposal would hurt middle-class taxpayers and leave the wealthy to collect their money. Kevin Brady said that more changes would come next week.

Kansas proved that the GOP tax plan won’t work. Children paid for that disaster in the state; they will pay for the disaster in the United States if the bill passes.

April 26, 2017

Announcement of Tax ‘Reform’ (aka Tax Cuts for Wealthy) to Cover for Flynn, Trumpcare

Almost all the news today has been about the new tax plan from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). The time is probably to divert media coverage from the scandal surrounding DDT’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and the struggles of the new Trumpcare health plan that he said would pass the House today. At this time, the conservative Freedom Caucus is on board with Trumpcare because it removes healthcare from many people, but the moderates haven’t confirmed that they will vote for it yet. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has enough trouble figuring out how to keep the government open past Friday without passing the budget that has not even been considered.

Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell under George W. Bush, said that Flynn is either “one of the dumbest individuals who’s ever lived or … he really had some nefarious purposes.” Even GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the Oversight Committee, admitted that Flynn might not have complied with the law, but he blamed former President Obama after DDT refuses to reveal any documents about vetting, hiring, and dismissing Flynn for his 24-day tenure with the current White House administration. Flynn became the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 but left in 2014, over a year before he took the undisclosed payment from Russia’s state-owned news agency, Russia Today, in December 2015. Chaffetz has said that he won’t be running for re-election in 2018 and that he may resign from Congress before that.

By “nefarious purposes,” Wilkerson wrote that he meant activities ranging from “taking money for influencing your government on behalf of another government, to using your influence with the President and his cabinet on an issue for another government whom you are privately advising, even if pro bono. “The $33,000 that Flynn received for a speaking engagement in December 2015 was not on his application. Chaffetz said.

“I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law. He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment, but to engage in that activity.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), top minority member on the Oversight Committee, said that Flynn’s negligence on his SF86 forms could be punished by up to five years in prison but that decision was not up to the congressional committee. Flynn’s secret conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, is being investigated by the House Intelligence Committee, which Chaffetz said would take the lead on examining whether those contacts themselves were inappropriate. Last month, he asked for immunity in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but neither committee has accepted his offer.

Another high official, DDT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has also filed applications with omissions such as dozens of foreign contacts, including those with Kislyak and Russian bank CEO Sergey Gorkov in December. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted earlier this week:

“Dear Jared Kushner: Lying on the SF-86 security clearance form is a crime. Michael Flynn hired a lawyer. You may also want to hire a lawyer.”

Back to the tax plan. Here it is—all 226 words, including the title:

 

2017 Tax Reform for Economic Growth and American Jobs

The Biggest Individual And Business Tax Cut in American History

Goals for Tax Reform

  • Grow the economy and create millions of jobs
  • Simplify our burdensome tax code
  • Provide tax relief to American families—especially middle-income families
  • Lower the business tax rate from one of the highest in the world to one of the lowest
  • Individual Reform

Tax relief for American families, especially middle-income families:

  • Reducing the 7 tax brackets to 3 tax brackets for 10%, 25% and 35%
  • Doubling the standard deduction
  • Providing tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses

Simplification:

  • Eliminate targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers.
  • Protect the home ownership and charitable gift tax deductions.
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.
  • Repeal the death tax.
  • Repeal the 3.8% Obamacare tax that hits small businesses and investment income.

Business Reform:

  • 15% business tax rate
  • Territorial tax system to level the playing field for American companies
  • One-time tax on trillions of dollars held overseas
  • Eliminate tax breaks for special interests

Process:

Throughout the month of May, the Trump administration will hold listening sessions with stakeholders to receive their input and will continue working with the House and Senate to develop the details of a plan that provides massive tax relief, creates jobs, and makes America more competitive — and can pass both chambers.

 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that 100 people in his department worked on the tax plan, making it about two words per person. Lily Batchelder, former chief tax counsel of the Senate Finance committee, tweeted that the plan was “immensely costly and regressive.”

Benefitting from DDT’s plan are the popular “pass-through entities,” 94 percent of all companies in the nation by 2011, that distribute profits among owners instead of paying corporate taxes. Owners then have these profits taxed as normal income. This organization is popular not only with small companies but also highly profitable ones such as major law firms, hedge funds, and real estate developers. The Trump Organization is a pass-through that would greatly benefit from DDT’s plan, as would all his friends. At this time, 70 percent of income from these corporations goes to the top one percent of people in the nation. Today, Mnuchin said that the new 15-percent rate would be only for small and medium-sized businesses with no definition of “medium.” A business worth $5 million is considered “small.” The plan would allow high-wage workers into pass-through entities by setting themselves up as S corporations to “sell” their freelance services.

A comparison to DDT’s tax plan is Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts in Kansas which ended up being a monumental failure. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded and suffers from an ongoing budget crisis, including horrific cuts in such vital areas as education, from a $1.1 billion shortfall. The GOP is now rebelling against the governor, voting to undo the cuts and almost overruling Brownback’s veto. When Kansas completely exempted pass-through profits from state income tax, a large number of people filed for the break, but few new jobs were created. In 2016, Kansas had the fifth worst employment growth in the nation, and its economy has grown at half the national rate. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded and suffers from an ongoing budget crisis, including horrific cuts in such vital areas as education, from a $1.1 billion shortfall. The GOP is now rebelling against the governor, voting to undo the cuts and almost overruling Brownback’s veto.

Research showed that the Kansas plan, now proposed for the United States, merely encourages people to play the system. DDT’s system could take 20 percent from their taxes According to the conservative Tax Foundation, dropping the rate to 15 percent would reduce government revenue by $2 trillion over a decade, or about 5 percent. Allowing pass-throughs to pay the lower rate would add another $1.5 trillion loss of revenue to the country. DDT claims that his plan will increase economic growth. Alan Cole, a staff economist for the Tax Foundation, stated that the country’s annual growth rate could add about 0.12 percent, which, he said, isn’t a good trade for a cost of $1.5 trillion. “This would be Kansas on steroids,” Eric Toder, co-director of the Tax Policy Center, said about DDT’s plan.

Without looking at DDT’s tax returns, we can almost guarantee that he would vastly benefit from his tax plan. He reports owning more than 200 LLCs, and his approximately 500 businesses are almost all pass-throughs. So much for his promises of helping the “little guys.”

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.

April 3, 2014

Ryan’s Budget: Steal from the Poor, Give to the Rich

paulryanspeaking630x354Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the man who thinks that the country’s problems would be solved if only men in the inner city would get to work, has released his fourth annual budget proposal, again full of welfare subsidies for the wealthy. Today the man with a position that even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have condemned as immoral received an award for public service from the Catholic Marquette University. People are paying up to $25,000 for tickets and sponsorships for its fancy luncheon.

Budgets reflect a political party’s priorities and values. Ryan (public service award winner) has created that cuts $5.1 trillion over ten years by increasing defense spending, giving money to the wealthy, and taking money from the rest of the people in the country:

  • Reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and drop the highest income tax bracketed (90 percent in the 1950s) from 39.6 percent to 25 percent with any necessary taxes taken from middle-class taxpayers.
  • Protection of $45 billion in tax subsidies over 10 years to oil companies, the top five of which already reaped $93 billion in profits from 2013 alone.
  • Repeal of the Medicaid expansion provision in the Affordable Care Act by eliminating $1.5 trillion over ten years from the program that covered 67 million people in 2012, including 32 million children.
  • Cuts of $125 billion over ten years from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), also called food stamps.
  • Erasure of the ACA. Medicare staying the same for those receiving it at this time but future Medicare plans coming from an exchange of private insurers—just like ACA. Policing of these private sector plays “to avoid cherry-picking and ensure that Medicare’s sickest and highest-cost beneficiaries receive coverage.” Just like the ACA. Medicare forcing 55-year-olds into a new voucher system that would increase Medicare premiums by 50 percent, according to the CBO.
  • Massive cuts to infrastructure, science, medical research, college loans, education etc. past the current disastrous level caused by sequestration despite the fact that austerity has been proved to fail as shown by the damaged economy from the George W. Bush austerity. In Europe, the deeper the austerity, the higher the unemployment; Ryan’s budget could lose 1.1 million jobs in one year. Difference between unemployment with and without the GOP austerity.

Austerity comparison

  • Huge unspecified cuts in low-income programs such as school lunches, child nutrition programs, and Supplemental Security Income which helps severely poor disabled and elderly people as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which Ryan praised in his recent poverty report while saving farm programs.

(more…)

December 2, 2013

GOP Strategy: Block and Blank

Imagine your life if you were paid full time for working a little over one day a week. That’s life if you’re a member of Congress this next five weeks. The House is scheduled to “work” six days during that time, making a total of 113 work days in 2013. With their $174,000 salary, GOP House members made about $1,380 a day this year. In a little over ten days, members of the House make the same amount of money that a fulltime worker paid minimum wage makes in an entire year. At least the House members worked 19 days more than last year, but this year’s calendar is 13 days less than that scheduled next year.

Perhaps House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t find anything for the GOP to do in the next five weeks. It appears that the House has stopped repealing the Affordable Care Act because they’re afraid to take insurance away from people. Right now conservative lawmakers seem happy to just tell lies about people who are losing their insurance and having to pay more for other plans. The Senate doesn’t seem to be working any harder than the House as GOP senators sulk about the change in the filibuster rules.

What else is left for federal lawmakers to do this year?

  • Relief from sequester caps
  • Budget plans to keep the United States from shutting down or defaulting on the debt
  • Funding authority, which expires January 15
  • Pentagon policy bill blocked because of dissension over ways to stop sexual-assault cases and increased sanctions against Iran after the White House reached a tentative nuclear pact with that nation
  • Unemployment benefits, funding to help workers displaced by global trade, and business-friendly tax break including research and development
  • Fees paid to Medicare providers to keep doctors and hospitals from dropping patients from the program
  • Confirmation of the new Federal Reserve chair, head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—not to mention all the other nominees waiting in the wings
  • The farm policy that also includes the funding level for food stamps
  • Immigration reform? Ha!

My favorite problem is the expiration of laws banning plastic guns on December 9. The 25-year-old law that stops weapons manufacturers from making guns undetectable by security systems expires without Congressional renewal. If Congress doesn’t act, anyone can easily take a gun anywhere, including onto airplanes, because plastic weapons can’t be detected.

Over 18 months ago, political scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norma J. Ornstein published an article in The Washington Post entitled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” One conservative and the other progressive, they agreed:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Searching for reasons behind the dysfunction, they listed “the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs.”

According to the couple, however, the two people behind the move to the far right are Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. From his entrance into Congress in 1979, Gingrich worked to persuade voters that this branch of government was “so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority.” He spent 16 years bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders and provoking them into overreactions that united GOP voters into opposing Democratic initiatives. Then he exploited scandals to raise public disgust with politicians and recruited conservatives to run against the government.

When Gingrich became speaker, the self-serving leader compromised with President Bill Clinton to build up the House’s reputation, but it was too late. The hatred toward Washington, similar to that from the Tea Party, drove out moderate GOP House members. Some of the radical conservatives moved into the Senate and similarly polarized its culture.

At the same time that Gingrich was poisoning the House, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform and passed out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. Signers were bound to never vote for a tax increase, including closing tax loopholes. As of last year, 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators had given their souls to Norquist. Extremists liked the pledge so much that they created offshoots on issues such as climate change.

More recently, Ornstein wrote about the change in the Senate during the past decade. After 14 Senators, seven from each side of the aisle, compromised in confirming extremist judges Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander (TN) promised that they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Barack Obama’s move into the White House, however, turned “the filibuster into a routine weapon of mass obstruction.” No longer were filibusters based on qualifications. GOP senators abandoned their 2005-2006 commitments to not filibuster as  well as more recent ones in January 2013 to block everyone nominated for the bench.

In addition to filibusters, senators can block nominations for federal district court vacancies in their states, a practice known as “blue slips.” GOP senators, including Marco Rubio (FL) who actually recommended the nominee, are using this practice.

As the conservative Ornstein wrote:

“If the norms are blown up, which is what Senate Republicans under Mitch McConnell have done over the past five years—using the rules not to build bridges but to construct dams—it becomes almost inevitable that the rules will change to adapt.”

After the recent change in the filibuster rules, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threatened more judges like Scalia and Alito, but these judges, as well as Thomas, came with the filibuster rules. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), with others, expressed concern that the Senate would get worse in effecting the legislative process. It can’t.

House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will prevent any legislature not in his political interest and support any legislation that will benefit him. Even with the majority of Democrats in the Senate passing a bill, the House will most certainly block it. The immigration reform passed the Senate with supermajorities, and Boehner won’t touch it.

The Party of No recently revealed its plan for the coming year to finish up the 113th Congress as the worst in history. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) met with a group of House GOP members and handed out a blank piece of paper labeled Agenda 2014, proving that they had no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda.” As an aide described the GOP leadership: “We don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”

That’s the strategy of the GOP: blank.

November 27, 2013

A Wish List for Thanksgiving

In browsing the Internet I found Bernie Sander’s wish list from nine years ago to make the country better. Thanksgiving is a time to dream about a better nation. Let’s see how we have done in nine years:

Campaign Finance and Election Reform: The wealthy and large corporations cannot be allowed to continue to buy political parties and candidates. We must move to full public funding of elections. Same-day registration will encourage low-income people to vote, and stop the United States from having the lowest voter turnout of any industrialized nation on earth. Since that time: The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United to turn the corporations and wealthy loose and allowed voter suppression by overturning part of the Voters’ Rights Act.

Protect and Expand the Safety Net: We must beat back the efforts to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education, and the attacks on children and the poor. This country is wealthy enough so that every man, woman and child should be able to live in dignity and security. Since that time: The extremist GOP has worked to cut back food and housing for the poor increasing the number of homeless and hungry after the recession.

Revise Our National Priorities: We should eliminate funding for wasteful and duplicative weapons systems and the $125 billion we currently spend on corporate welfare. We should increase funding for job-creating improvements in our physical and human infrastructure, as well as the needs of our elderly and children. Since that time: The last two Congresses have completely ignored any help for the growing unemployment problem, and the military gets more and more money.

Reform the Tax System to Make It Fair: Over the last 20 years, the federal tax system has lowered taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, and raised taxes for the middle class and working families. In a nation which currently has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world, we must fight for a tax system which is progressive and fair. Since that time: The inequality of income in the United States has become the worst in almost a century.

Raise the Minimum Wage: In 1996, against tremendous opposition, Congress raised the minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.15. We must do better. The purchasing power of the minimum wage today is much lower than it was 20 years ago. Every American worker who works 40 hours a week must earn enough to live above the poverty line. That’s why I have introduced legislation which would raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Since that time: The federal minimum wage has been increased to $7.25 but still fails to match what people were paid 50 years ago.

A Fair Trade Policy: We are losing millions of well-paying manufacturing and information technology jobs as corporations “outsource” to China, Mexico, and India where workers are paid substantially lower wages. We need a new trade policy which protects the middle class of this country, and not the CEOs of large companies. Legislation that I have offered would radically alter our role in the global economy – protecting the workers of this country and the developing world. Since that time: The president is working to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership which would give most of the control to corporations and stopping Congress from protecting workers. Individual states controlled by GOP governors and legislatures have consistently destroyed unions to give money to corporations and the wealthy.

Protect Civil Rights for All: Against enormous and well-funded opposition, we must redouble our efforts to protect a woman’s right to choose, support affirmative action, and end discrimination against minorities and gay people. Since that time: The GOP has barraged women with restrictions on reproductive rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court is reducing affirmative action. Good News! Sixteen states and the federal government have legalized same-sex marriage, and ENDA, the bill to stop job discrimination for LGBT people, was passed in the Senate with ten Republicans voting in favor of it.

National Health Care: The health care crisis is getting worse, not better. More and more American lack health insurance; Medicare and Medicaid are under savage assault and millions of people are being forced into “managed care.” Despite all this, the United States continues to have the most costly and wasteful health care system in the world. We must continue our fight for a single-payer national health care system which guarantees health care for all Americans. We must also take on the pharmaceutical industry which is ripping off American consumers and charging us the highest drug prices in the world. Since that time: The Affordable Care Act has passed, although it’s under tremendous attack by the GOP. It lacks the single-payer provision that would help, and 25 states refuse to provide Medicaid at an acceptable level, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. But it’s a start. Sanders’ state has passed the single-payer health care system which will be fully operational by 2017.

People who live in the United States want to think that the country is exceptional. Below are ways to make this come true:

Raising the Minimum Wage: Seventy-one percent of people in the United States support raising the minimum wage to $9.00.  Doing this would still not make it equal to the minimum wage in the 1960s, but it would be a start.

Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases: Most people in the country support laws to start keeping  guns out of the hands of terrorists, felons, and mentally disabled.

Balanced Deficit Reduction: The country needs a balanced approach to reduce the debt, according to 76 percent of the nation’s voters.  Balanced means, to explain it to the GOP, both spending cuts and additional tax revenues. 

Job-Creating Infrastructure Investments: An investment in repairing and replacing the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure—roads, bridges, airports, etc.—would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. A majority of people support this, despite the continued opposition from federal GOP legislators who want to give more money to wealthy and corporate special interests such as the oil industry.

Pathway to Earned Citizenship: The 11 million immigrants without legal papers in the country contribute to the economy and work at jobs that others refuse to do. A majority of Republicans and 70 percent of all people in nation support the Senate bill that House GOP members refuse to vote on.

Expanding the Medicaid Program: Two-thirds of Americans favor the part of ObamaCare that calls for expanding the Medicaid program. All that stops health care across the United States are GOP governors and state legislators.

Marriage Equality: Marriage equality is now legal on a federal basis, but many states still refuse to legalize same-sex marriage, continuing the second-class situation for many of LGBT people across the nation. A study now shows that opposition to this equality is concentrated “among a few narrow demographic groups.”

Ending Job Discrimination for LGBT People: Transgender people can be discriminated against in 33 states and lesbians/gays in 29 states. Federal law needs to stop that.

Universal Access to Birth Control: ObamaCare requires health insurers to offer birth control at no additional cost, a policy supported by 70 percent of Americans. This policy is also supported by a majority of Catholics despite continuing opposition by Catholic bishops. Studies show that free contraception drastically reduces the number of abortions in the country, a goal for all

Expanded Early Childhood Education: Two-thirds of people in the country support universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and an expansion of other early childhood education programs. Without these and other education reforms, we have fallen far behind many other developed countries. And add higher education to reform by drastically reducing costs for public higher education.

Single-payer Health Care: Traditional Medicare administrative costs are 1 percent, costs for a combination of traditional and private insurer Medicare is 6 percent, and administrative costs for private insurers for the rest of the people is 20 percent—sometimes more. The solution to saving money is “Medicare for all.”

Environmental Protections: Industrial expansion and growth of cities are causing land resources to dwindle, factory waste is polluting water sources, poisonous gas is polluting the air, and deserts are spreading. Resources on this planet are finite, and humans need to make the Earth sustainable for future generations.

Equal Rights for Men and Women: Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923; it passed both chambers of Congress in 1972 but failed to get the necessary 28 number of ratifications by the deadline a decade later. The amendment very simply stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Twenty-one states have a version of the ERA in their constitutions.

Also think about the rest of Bernie Sanders’ agenda: Voting Rights, Cuts in Defense Spending, Public Funding of Campaigns for Elected Officials, Increased Social Security Benefits, Tax Reform to Reverse Income Inequity, Reproductive Rights (which helps both men and women), and Unemployment Reform. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

November 22, 2013

We Need to Return to JFK’s Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death from a gunman in Dallas (TX). For weeks, the media has discussed the controversy surrounding his murder and the tortured activities of the Warren Commission that investigated the killing. Fox network, however, took a slightly different approach.

Fox News host Chris Wallace, son of 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, tried to convince Kennedy’s niece, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, that the president was “quite conservative.” When Wallace insisted that the president lowered taxes because he thought this would spur the economy, Townsend Kennedy pointed out he lowered the top marginal rates from 90 percent to 70 percent, over double today’s 33 percent.

Wallace claimed that Kennedy was a “Cold Warrior”; Townsend Kennedy responded that he resisted generals who wanted to declare war during the Bay of Pigs incident.

Conservative columnist George Will asserted, “Well, he was a conventional liberal before liberalism changed in the late 1960s. He … did indeed believe in supply side tax cuts, increased revenues from lower rates.” According to Will, that was the reason Kennedy was killed, because he was too conservative. “We happen to know he was killed by a silly, squalid, little communist,” Will finished.

Fox contributor Brit Hume followed up by saying, “I think he was the coolest president we ever had. I think, however, despite the thinness of the record that [Wallace] just mentioned and that George mentioned, he has been the subject of the most successful public relations campaign in political history. It is a legend bordering, I think, on myth.”

Missing from Wallace’s narrative is that conservatives hated Kenndy because he supported equality for blacks, suggested that the U.S. should agree to a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and planned to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam after the 1964 election.

For his book JFK and the Unspeakable, endorsed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jim Douglass’  information from declassified government documents showed the actions of a man who was definitely not conservative:  

  • A major conflict with military contractor United States Steel because the corporation double-crossed the president by raising steel prices despite a deal between the two parties.
  • Refusal to start an all-out nuclear war despite regular pressure from the military-industrial complex.
  • A secret arrangement with Russia’s Nikita Krushchev for a nuclear disarmament treaty.
  • Open support for Castro in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Efforts to end the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.
  • Refusal to stage terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that would be blamed on Cuba.

Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, the government shows the destruction of conservative politicians. Minimum wage is 20 percent lower than 45 years ago, and Social Security benefits are 25 percent lower than 30 years. At the same time, 60 percent of the pensions disappeared, and the recent recession wiped out much of the retirement that some people had saved in 401(k)s.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a leader in moving the United States back to Kennedy’s dream. In response to a study by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of the current minimum wage, she said, “If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour.” Dube pointed out that growing the minimum wage at the same pace as the increase for the top 1 percent of income earners would make the minimum wage closer to $33.

Warren also spoke about other changes in the past 50 years:

“During the Great Depression and the years after World War II, our country made two remarkable decisions. First, in a boom-and-bust world, we created a basic set of fair rules that ended the financial panics and provided almost a half-century of economic stability and growth. Second, we invested in ourselves and our children, creating the basic building blocks for a strong middle class and a strong economy: education, roads and bridges, mass transit and rail, water and sewage, research, and energy. It worked. America’s middle class prospered. We celebrated success, but we always paid ahead, making sure that the basic ingredients would be in place so the next generation could do even better.

“But about a generation ago, Washington turned in a different direction and changed the rules.

“Financial cops were taken off the beat, and government regulators began to work for those they were supposed to regulate. We fought wars we didn’t pay for, recklessly piling on debt. Powerful companies got subsidies, and ordinary families and small businesses had to pick up the burden. We didn’t repair our roads and bridges, and we cut back on research.  We stopped investing in our future.”

An important piece of investment in the dream and the future is Social Security. Those wailing about how the program is going broke are forgetting about the free ride that the wealthy is getting. The current cap on deductions is under $114,000, much less than the $200,000 in 2013 several years ago. The wealthy also make most of their money now from capital gains which Social Security does not tax.

The growing wealth of the top percent of people in the United States might bring up the question of how people manage to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. People can have only so many mansions, jets, yachts, cars, and other expensive items yet still have left-over money. If that’s your problem, here’s help:

  • A $95,000 truffle: Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin recently ordered this at Nello, a Wall Street restaurant. To him, $95,000 wouldn’t seem like much money: the relationship of $95,000 to $1 billion is the same as $.95 to $10,000. Before going to Nello, however, you might want to read Yelp reviews—two stars and complaints about inedible food and rude service.
  • A $5,000 hamburger: In Las Vagas at Mandalay Bay, the Fleur de Lys restaurant offers the “Fleurburger 5000, a Kobe beef patty “topped with a rich truffle sauce and served on a brioche truffle bun.” For that price it comes with a bottle of 1990 Chateau Petrus served in Ichendorf Brunello stemware that you get to keep.
  • A $500 milkshake: The Powder Room restaurant in Los Angeles includes “special stuff: edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a crystal ring.”
  • A $117,000 bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem: If that’s not enough, the Le Clos wine shop in Dubai International Airport offers three 12-liter bottles of 2009 Château Margaux for $195,000–each.
  • A $142 million piece of art by Francis Bacon: At the same auction, three other pieces sold for more than $50 million; 11 for more than $20 million; and 16 sold for more than $10 million. An Andy Warhol piece sold for almost $60 million.

As Thomas Galbraith, of online auction house Paddle8, said, “Since the recession, the wealthy appear to be becoming even wealthier, while middle-class wages are more stagnant.”  Katherine Markley, artnet’s lead market analyst, added, “The 400 richest Americans [are] now worth a cumulative $2 trillion, up $300 billion from a year ago and with an average net worth of a record $5 billion, an $800 million increase from a year ago.”

As the first Catholic president of the United States, Kennedy swore he would not let his religion rule. His inspiring call to people of this nation led to the establishment of the Peace Corp, an organization that still sends thousands of U.S. volunteers around the world to help the needy. He was committed to land a human being on the moon; his support of space exploration helped that happen six years later. His Area Redevelopment Act helped states suffering from high unemployment rates, his laws ended segregation in interstate travel facilities, and his executive order stopped discrimination in housing sales and leases financed by the government. Kennedy also promoted the arts through concerts, plays, and musicals at the White House.

Fifty years later, the GOP wants its religion to rule the United States, works to deprive the poor of food and housing, fights the accomplishments of science through denial, increases unemployment rates by austerity, and demonstrates extreme racism. To the GOP, the arts are a waste of money.

Average hourly earnings have been flat for 50 years (after adjusting for inflation), as companies steer their wealth primarily to senior management and owners at the expense of average employees. Tax policies increasingly favor investors and high wage earners over middle-class and upper-middle-class wage-earners. An obsession with “shareholder value” at the expense of other stakeholders (namely, customers and employees) has led companies to cut employee costs to the bone.

These and other factors have contributed to the most radical redistribution of wealth that the United States has ever seen. Since the late 1970s, the country’s assets and income have moved steadily from “average” Americans to the richest Americans. The wealth inequality is the greatest since the 1920s. Consumers have little money to spend, businesses suffer and look for way to cut costs, and consumers are hurt even more.

Big companies and their owners and senior managers, however, are not suffering. They’re doing better than any other time in history. The free-market system, which worked well 50 years ago, is costing everyone except the top 1 percent. The result is a nation of over 300+ serfs who serve a few million overlords.

As Warren said, “The Republican vision is clear: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ ” That wasn’t John F. Kennedy’s dream, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

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