Category Archives: Taxation

Obama’s April Fools Joke

Yesterday, President Obama announced a new plan that supposedly announced new drilling off the nation’s East Coast, Alaskan Coast, and Gulf of Mexico. State run media proclaimed it as Obama moving to the center and striking a balance between environmentalists and the “drill, baby, drill” crowd. However, once you look at Obama’s actual proposal the truth is much different.

Rick Moran writes a piece for Pajamas Media today that illustrates the bait and switch Obama pulls on the American people.

Sounding for all the world like someone who just experienced a “road to Damascus” moment on energy, Barack Obama embraced offshore drilling for oil and ordered wide swaths of previously pristine ocean open to the depredations of greedy and rapacious oil companies.

Or if you’re not one of Obama’s wacky green supporters, Obama gave the go-ahead for tapping the biggest expansion of energy reserves in history.

Or did he?

In fact, what Obama giveth with one hand, he taketh away with another. Some leases already in motion have been canceled while potentially huge deposits of oil and natural gas are still off-limits, including the entire Pacific coastline of the United States from the Mexican border to Canada. In addition, in order to expand drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the president must get the authorization of Congress. This would have been a snap when gas was $4 a gallon, but is much less a certainty today.

Other leases that had been approved in Alaska have also been canceled for further environmental study. Of course, the president didn’t even bother to mention the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — sacred calving grounds of the porcupine caribou — which would yield as many barrels of oil as all the areas the president opened for drilling combined. And the slow motion approval process guarantees that I will be retired and getting to and from our little grocery store here in Streator, Illinois, riding a donkey before a drop of that East Coast oil makes it to market.

What is the point of this welcome but ultimately less-than-half measure to expand our domestic oil production? Note the word “drill” used in just about every headline in the media about this story. The president is sending a signal to the American people that he has heard their cries of “drill, baby drill” and has deigned to respond favorably. Citizens will think better of him for it, despite the fact that it will not increase domestic oil production until the president is long out of office and considered an elder statesmen. Perhaps he will have been elected president of the world by then, but if we’re still in Afghanistan I wouldn’t bet on it.

Yeah, so much for “drill, baby, drill”. Plus, Obama made this announcement in front of a F/A-18 Hornet fighter that is slated to run on a mix of 50% jet fuel and 50% biofuels on Earth Day. This “drilling” announcement was designed to position Obama towards the center while at the same time bribing squishy Republicans who are open towards voting for cap and tax along with “moderate” and “conservative” Democrats who are reluctant to vote for it. As expected, state run media lapped it up and dutifully reported it as Obama wanted them to and to complete the disinformation campaign, they even found far left politicians and activists who were outraged.

Ultimately, this proposal is simply just an early April Fool’s joke by Barack Obama on the American people. It takes away existing oil leases and ultimately does not expand drilling in the US while at the same time giving Obama political cover to push cap and tax and the rest of his “green energy” subsidies. Unlike most April Fool’s jokes, this one is not funny. Instead, it will ultimately cost the average American family at least $1500 more a year in energy costs.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The Social Security Trust Fund In Kindergarten Terms

Yesterday I had $10 in my right pocket.

I loaned that money to my left pocket, which I like to call my “Right Pocket Trust Fund”. I put an IOU from my left pocket into my right pocket to document the loan.

I then spent that $10 on lunch.

Today my right pocket wants to start collecting on that loan.

——————————

That’s the Social Security Trust Fund. An IOU that requires new taxation, NOT drawing down on savings, to be repaid.

(Inspired by Megan McArdle)

The Cost Of Repeal

So, the CBO says this bill lowers the deficit. And thus, says Ezra Klein, it’ll be tougher for the Republicans to repeal, should they win control of Congress:

And as a reader reminds me, people should also remember that “now that the reform bill is the law of the land, [repeal] would increase the budget deficit relative to current law, at least in the eyes of the CBO.” So if they weren’t going to find offsets, they’d also need to overrule pay-go.

Cue AHA! moment:

If spending needs to be accounted for within pay-go, then the doc-fix will require $200B of offsetting cuts!

…until I found out that the doc-fix was exempted from PAYGO rules.

Presumably if the Republicans regained control of Congress, they could similarly exempt certain things from PAYGO accounting.

But let’s just assume for a moment that they didn’t want to cut such — I’ve found an answer!

Based on the results of this study (h/t Megan McArdle), maybe they can just find offsetting cuts in our stupid policy of subsidizing corn and taxing sugar.

Nah, never mind, the Republicans know that won’t play in Iowa.

ObamaCare’s Immediate Impact

As we all know, most of ObamaCare is pushed out to 2014 or so. But Ezra Klein, ever helpful, points out this nice PDF which explains what will occur nearly immediately. Ezra is always celebrating the cost-control measures of ObamaCare, so let’s see how these provisions stack up:

1. SMALL BUSINESS TAX CREDITS—Offers tax credits to small businesses to make employee coverage more affordable. Tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums will be immediately available to firms that choose to offer coverage. Effective beginning for calendar year 2010. (Beginning in 2014, the small business tax credits will cover 50 percent of premiums.)

Okay, an immediate hit to Uncle Sugar here, but probably not big unless it really changes behavior immediately. So we start hurting the deficit right away. This is a net hit on government spending, but one might think that it probably won’t do much to private healthcare costs in the short run. I expect this will result in marginally increased coverage and thus will show no real change to health insurance premiums.

2. BEGINS TO CLOSE THE MEDICARE PART D DONUT HOLE—Provides a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010. Effective for calendar year 2010. (Beginning in 2011, institutes a 50% discount on brand?name drugs in the donut hole; also completely closes the donut hole by 2020.)

Another government spending hit on drug coverage. In 2011, a 0% subsidy in this range jumps to 50%. According to Wikipedia, this may affect somewhere in the range of 25% of Medicare Part D enrollees. I’ll leave it to others to quantify this, but this is another spending measure.

3. FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER MEDICARE—Eliminates co?payments for preventive services and exempts preventive services from deductibles under the Medicare program. Effective beginning January 1, 2011.

Oh, look! Another government spending increase subsidy! And as one of Ezra’s colleagues at WaPo points out, preventative care doesn’t really lower total medical spending costs. So overall this is not a cost-control measure for government budgets or spending in general.

4. HELP FOR EARLY RETIREES—Creates a temporary re?insurance program (until the Exchanges are available) to help offset the costs of expensive health claims for employers that provide health benefits for retirees age 55?64. Effective 90 days after enactment

Another subsidy. This’ll mainly hit government, I don’t see a major change to insurance premiums here. There may be additional companies who provide early-retiree benefits, but only union jobs and government tend to do so. Most who are wealthy enough to retire early on their own will cover their own medical insurance costs — not their employer.

5. ENDS RESCISSIONS—Bans health plans from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. Effective 6 months after enactment.

And here we go. The first of [many] provisions that will raise private insurance premiums. Of course, this depends on how common rescissions are. The left says they happen OMG like ALL THE TIME, so if they’re right, it’s a big hit. I don’t think it’s a huge change, but it’s definitely going to raise premiums.

6. NO DISCRIMINATON AGAINST CHILDREN WITH PRE?EXISTING CONDITIONS—Prohibits health plans from denying coverage to children with pre?existing conditions. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, this prohibition would apply to all persons.)

Again, an increase to private health insurance premiums. But hey, who’ll complain? After all, it’s for the children.

7. BANS LIFETIME LIMITS ON COVERAGE—Prohibits health plans from placing lifetime caps on coverage. Effective 6 months after enactment.

Again, if you think anything other than that this will increase premiums up front, you’re smoking something. And you shouldn’t be smoking, because it’s bad for you. But on the bright side, in 6 months you can be assured your lung cancer will be treated with no limits. And don’t worry about lying about that smoking habit on your insurance application, because rescissions are banned too.

(UPDATE 7:55 AM PDT: Commenter Fabio Escobar notes that rescissions are still allowed in cases of fraud, so it would be best not to lie on those applications, folks.)

8. BANS RESTRICTIVE ANNUAL LIMITS ON COVERAGE—Tightly restricts new plans’ use of annual limits to ensure access to needed care. These tight restrictions will be defined by HHS. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, the use of any annual limits would be prohibited for all plans.)

Again, we have a regulation that’ll up private premiums. [Do you see a pattern here?] Costs must be amortized, so this added risk is going to show up in premium hikes rather than limits on annual coverage. Insurance is built to hedge risk, and its increasingly looking like the risks to the insurer don’t expire [until you do].

9. FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER NEW PRIVATE PLANS—Requires new private plans to cover preventive services with no co?payments and with preventive services being exempt from deductibles. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2018, this requirement applies to all plans.)

Ahh, two fun ones here. Immediate premium increase (costs must be amortized, you know), and a probable increase in total healthcare costs, for the aforementioned reason that preventative care doesn’t lower total spending.

10. NEW, INDEPENDENT APPEALS PROCESS—Ensures consumers in new plans have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal decisions by their health insurance plan. Effective 6 months after enactment.

Again, here come higher premiums. Unless you think the external appeals boards are going to rule less in favor of the patient than the insurance companies would have, of course. Since the left believes insurers deny care left and right, this has to be a big impact, right?

11. ENSURING VALUE FOR PREMIUM PAYMENTS—Requires plans in the individual and small group market to spend 80 percent of premium dollars on medical services, and plans in the large group market to spend 85 percent. Insurers that do not meet these thresholds must provide rebates to policyholders. Effective on January 1, 2011.

“Ensuring value for premium payments” sounds a lot nicer than “capping profit margins”, doesn’t it? If the left’s belief that insurers are fat and happy and spend all their money on lavish bonuses instead of medical services, this would in fact be a cost control measure. One story from late last year suggests insurers already spend above 80% (Wall Street analysts say low 80’s, industry says 87%). Overall, my read is that this probably isn’t a major component either way.

12. IMMEDIATE HELP FOR THE UNINSURED UNTIL EXCHANGE IS AVAILABLE (INTERIM HIGH?RISK POOL)—Provides immediate access to insurance for Americans who are uninsured because of a pre?existing condition ? through a temporary high?risk pool. Effective 90 days after enactment.

Initially there’ll be $5B in subsidy for this risk pool. It’s unclear whether some of this funding will replace existing state gov’t funding (35 states already have high-risk pools), so I’m not sure how much of that $5B is a net adder to the total cost. But the simple fact is this — while it might be better for some of those people currently denied due to pre-existing conditions (i.e. 100% risks), much of the cost will come out of *OUR* pockets.

13. EXTENDS COVERAGE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE UP TO 26TH BIRTHDAY THROUGH PARENTS’ INSURANCE – Requires health plans to allow young people up to their 26th birthday to remain on their parents’ insurance policy, at the parents’ choice. Effective 6 months after enactment.

This one just baffles me. Should we really be disincentivizing kids adults to get good jobs where they might be covered? I can understand an exemption for people on the 7+ year college program (hopefully grad school, not this guy), but if your offspring is 24 and not in school, it seems to me that it’s not your employer’s problem to provide them with health insurance (since it’s usually the cheapest method). Perhaps this *IS* actually a cost-control measure, since most 23-25 year olds are healthy and will add to the risk pool. But even so, I can imagine “Employee + Family” or “Employee + Children” plans increasing in premium, because they’re not usually charged based on how many kids are specifically enrolled.

14. COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS—Increases funding for Community Health Centers to allow for nearly a doubling of the number of patients seen by the centers over the next 5 years. Effective beginning in fiscal year 2010.

There’s short-run deficit cost here, but the goal is understandable. Clinics are likely a better way of treating immediate non-emergency medical needs than emergency rooms, so there may be some cost-reduction in the delivery method of care. Presumably not all of the supposed “doubling” of patients will be people whose only alternative was a regular doctor visit or ER visit, so there may be some gross increase in the total number of patients served. This one could go either way, and I’ll leave it to the statisticians to score it. But I’ll grant that there’s at least a possibility of cost-control here.

15. INCREASING NUMBER OF PRIMARY CARE DOCTORS—Provides new investment in training programs to increase the number of primary care doctors, nurses, and public health professionals. Effective beginning in fiscal year 2010.

Again, another big subsidy. Gives 10% bonuses to PCP and General Surgeons starting in 2011, and it’s unclear here what “new investment in training programs” really amounts to, but the early notes I’ve seen suggest it’s largely student loan repayment changes. I don’t see that much here that will blunt the existing trend for doctors to head into specialization rather than primary care. 10% is nice but it’s nowhere near the difference between a specialist’s salary and a primary care doctor.

16. PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON SALARY—Prohibits new group health plans from establishing any eligibility rules for health care coverage that have the effect of discriminating in favor of higher wage employees. Effective 6 months after enactment.

This one is also somewhat vague. But usually when I hear about plans to avoid “eligibility rules” that “discriminate”, I think they’re trying to find ways to make it impossible to discriminate against bad health risks. Richer people tend to be healthier people, so it seems that if they accomplish their goal, it necessarily raises premiums.

17. HEALTH INSURANCE CONSUMER INFORMATION—Provides aid to states in establishing offices of health insurance consumer assistance in order to help individuals with the filing of complaints and appeals. Effective beginning in FY 2010.

Ahh, a two-fer! First is the direct government subsidy to states to hire new “consultants”. The second is the premium increase by pushing harder against health providers regarding complaints and appeals, which will likely often be adjudicated by the external appeals boards mentioned in point 10.

18. CREATES NEW, VOLUNTARY, PUBLIC LONG?TERM CARE INSURANCE PROGRAM—Creates a long?term care insurance program to be financed by voluntary payroll deductions to provide benefits to adults who become functionally disabled. Effective on January 1, 2011.

Voluntary? I wonder how long it will remain so. And how exactly does this different from the disability portion of Social Security? All I see here is a big new shiny bureaucracy, that will work as quickly as possible to entrench themselves by making this as involuntary as possible.

Conclusion:

So there you have it, folks. Of 18 highlighted points, most or all of them will increase payments made by government or increase health insurance premiums. This is “bending the cost curve”.

UPDATE 7:09 AM PDT: Welcome Instapundit, Powerline, and Tigerhawk readers! Feel free to take a look around to find out more about us, and we hope a few of you may come back from time to time.

How To Shrink The Size Of Government

It’s very simple… Just require federal employees to follow the law, and they’ll make themselves ineligible for service:

`SUBCHAPTER VIII–INELIGIBILITY OF PERSONS HAVING SERIOUSLY DELINQUENT TAX DEBTS FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYMENT

`Sec. 7381. Ineligibility of persons having seriously delinquent tax debts for Federal employment

`(a) Definition- For purposes of this section–

`(1) the term `seriously delinquent tax debt’ means an outstanding debt under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for which a notice of lien has been filed in public records pursuant to section 6323 of such Code, except that such term does not include–

`(A) a debt that is being paid in a timely manner pursuant to an agreement under section 6159 or section 7122 of such Code; and

`(B) a debt with respect to which a collection due process hearing under section 6330 of such Code, or relief under subsection (a), (b), or (f) of section 6015 of such Code, is requested or pending; and

`(2) the term `Federal employee’ means–

`(A) an employee, as defined by section 2105; and

`(B) an employee of the United States Postal Service or of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

`(b) Ineligibility for Federal Employment- An individual who has a seriously delinquent tax debt shall be ineligible to be appointed, or to continue serving, as a Federal employee.

`(c) Regulations- The Office of Personnel Management shall, for purposes of carrying out this section with respect to the executive branch, prescribe any regulations which the Office considers necessary.’.

(b) Clerical Amendment- The analysis for chapter 73 of title 5, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

`subchapter viii–ineligibility of persons having seriously delinquent tax debts for federal employment

`7381. Ineligibility of persons having seriously delinquent tax debts for Federal employment.’.

Sounds like it’s time to get some folks with clout to push this. Get Ron Paul on board, get Jeff Flake on board, and get the TEA Party folks on board. I say we make this happen.

Hat Tip: Reason

The Lean Years?

It seems that a town in Northern California, Tracy, is having some budget problems. So what do they suggest? Charge for 911* calls! And it has aroused the ire of Thomas Friedman:

A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Welcome to the lean years.

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

Did I hear that right? Do we have a return to the Clintonian pronouncement that “The era of big government is over”, where Thomas Friedman has just suggested that we’ve seen the end of the “age of government handouts”? I suppose we’ll see a quick retraction from $3.8T federal budgets down to less exospheric levels.

Wait, let’s step back a bit. I’ve heard nobody else suggest that we’re going to see major cuts in budgets. So what exactly is the issue here? Why would a local government cut funding for something that is so highly visible, so near and dear to city residents’ hearts, and such a vital service? Particularly when I’m sure that the revenue raised by this move will not be exactly world-changing (I’m hearing numbers of between $400K and $800K, when the city is facing a $9M shortfall).

I was struck by something I’ve read over and over at Coyote’s place:

The second thing that governments do is cut their MOST important, MOST valuable operations. In Seattle, it was always fire and ambulance services that would be cut. Because the whole game was to find the cuts that would most upset the public to try to avoid the necessity of having to make cuts at all. Its an incredibly disingenuous process. Any staffer of a private company that made cost savings prioritization decisions like government officials would be fired in about 2 minutes.

It becomes immediately clear that the city of Tracy isn’t doing this to raise revenue — they’re doing this to piss off residents. An easier way to cut the budget would be to scour the books for non-essential services, or bloated departments, or redundancies and inefficiencies in their system. I would find it hard to believe that there’s no padding in the city government. I’ve worked in the corporate world, and I know that during times of heavy growth and good days for the balance sheet, departments sometimes grow fat and happy. But something happens differently in the corporate world when the balance sheets start bleeding red — the departments shrink.

Tracy does not want to cut their budget, and they don’t want to make hard choices. If they really wanted to raise $400-800K, I’ll bet they could find all sorts of hidden fees, taxes, regulatory compliance nightmares, etc to put together that money. But they want to bluff the residents into the false choice of paying more in taxes or seeing vital services taken away. They want local residents to make the tough choices — or maybe just scream to Sacramento or Washington for relief — so they can remain fat and happy.

Thomas Friedman suggests the lean years are upon us. Somehow I have a feeling that my tax bill and our federal debt won’t reflect this.

* Note — the charges don’t apply to every 911 call, they are targeted at calls where medical response is necessary but provided by city personnel rather than an EMT. This does not change the fundamental analysis of the situation, but I want to be clear lest someone suggest I’m not providing a clear picture.

Also Blogging: Bruce at QandO. He went a different route with his response, so I had no need to quote him, but his take is valuable as well, so I suggest you head over and give it a read. And of course there’s Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek, who is much closer to my line of argument.

A Must Watch on “Climate Change” from Climate Skeptic

Warren is local to me (he lives about three miles away actually), and runs both the excellent libertarian small business and economics blog CoyoteBlog, and the absolutely essential climate blog Climate Skeptic.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The Reports Of CA’s Jobs Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Ezra Klein links an interesting story by econoblogger Ryan Avent about declining cities. His post is a fairly interesting read about how (or whether to) try to save dying manufacturing cities.

But one of his passages discusses a greatly different topic. As a California resident, I’m stuck with a very high-tax, heavy-regulating, dysfunctional state government that tries to milk its residents of their lifeblood to pay for bloated, inefficient, and overpriced social services. Like most governments, even when facing a brutal economic clime like the one we’re currently in, they don’t want to face the music and truly cut spending to the bone, they’re going to try to clamor for federal help. Even with crippling taxation on the nation’s largest economy, they can’t make ends meet.

So what do they constantly do? They make it worse (I’ll have a post on 2010’s new CA laws making it worse soon). Each time they do so, the pronouncement from all those with right-of-center economics is that they’re going to destroy jobs and kill our state economy.

This is true — to an extent. Their policies do harm the economy. But its effect is greatly overstated for a reason that Avent points out:

The value in economically dynamic cities is the people that populate them. Where once, firms would pay high land prices to be near coal deposits or harbors, based on the economic advantages those amenities conferred, they now pay high land prices to be near talent. This yen to concentrate in particular areas has a number of dynamics. Firms want to be near customers and clients. Workers want to be near firms. Firms want to be near workers. Where there are lots of firms and workers, there will also be businesses serving those workers — in business and in the provision of consumption opportunities — and those services attract additional firms and workers. Everyone wants to be where everyone is, and it’s tough for anyone to go somewhere else because somewhere else is where people aren’t.

As every reader here knows, I’m a pretty hardcore libertarian. I hate California’s 9.3% state income tax, sales taxes hovering around the 8% mark, property taxes which aren’t high on a percentage basis (if you can avoid mello-roos) but are very high due to the cost of housing, nanny-state restrictions, and generally the higher price for almost all goods and services brought on by the taxes and regulations imposed on businesses. As a frequent traveler, I’m sometimes shocked at how much cheaper FOOD is elsewhere in the country. You’d think that the biggest thing I’d want to do in life would be to leave.

But I’m still here. Why? Because there’s a lot here worth living for. The job market is plentiful. If I were to leave my current employer there’s plenty of other engineering opportunities within very close proximity. The weather is absolutely perfect (something many readers may hate me for saying on January 5). I’m in close proximity to beaches and mountains, to great entertainment and dining options, and generally live in a very culturally rich and diverse place.

So what happens? Educated professionals want to be here. Companies want to be here to make use of the talents of those educated people. Support and service industries want to locate here to cater to those people. Those industries need labor, so labor all across the education spectrum is in demand. And this creates a cycle, attracting more professionals starting more companies requiring more services requiring more labor. The region grows.

And this attracts government. Make no mistake — economic activity is a tasty morsel, and government is a parasite that grows fatter and fatter on that morsel. Parasites steal from their hosts, they act as a drag and harm their hosts, but the good ones ensure that they never grow large enough to kill their host. Economic activity comes first, and government feeds on it second.

Why do the booming economic areas of the country correlate with some of the highest-taxed and highest-regulated locales of the world (think Massachusetts, New York, SoCal and NorCal, Chicago, etc)? Because the economic activity and the people came first, and once enough people wanted to live in the location the government knew it could feed and grow fat. While CA and MA have both been struggling with a domestic outflow of migration (Americans moving from those states to other US states), they are both growing in population due to international inflow. Despite the growth of government, these states are still alive. Where are the hottest “new” areas of growth? Places with critical mass of talent, such as Atlanta, Austin, or Minneapolis, but without a highly-developed parasite. The parasite is getting ready to feed, though.

To bring this back to Ryan Avent’s point, places like California and the northeast corridor, or Chicago, are not dying because their economies haven’t changed. The talent in the locale is still generating economic activity. The areas getting killed are the manufacturing-heavy rust belt areas, where as labor-intensive manufacturing is offshored and only capital-intensive manufacturing is retained, there is much less need for people. The talent in those locales has been made obsolete, and the “critical mass” of the newer type of talent was already established elsewhere.

There are a lot of things I like about California, and a lot of things I don’t like. But despite the proclamations of my right-leaning colleagues, the rest of the country need not write their eulogies for California yet.

Bruce Bartlett, May Your Chains Set Lightly Upon You

Ezra Klein quotes approvingly from Bruce Bartlett’s new book, The New American Economy: The Failure Of Reaganomics And A New Way Forward:

The reality is that even before spending exploded to deal with the economic crisis, the government was set to grow by about 50 percent of GDP over the next generation just to pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits under current law. When the crunch comes and the need for a major increase in revenue becomes overwhelming, I expect that Republicans will refuse to participate in the process. If Democrats have to raise taxes with no bipartisan support, then they will have no choice but to cater to the demand of their party’s most liberal wing. This will mean higher rates on businesses and entrepreneurs, and soak-the-rich policies that would make Franklin D. Roosevelt blush.

Shorter: “Hey conservatives, you’ve completely and hopelessly lost the spending war. If you don’t play nice, you’re going to get even more screwed by the tax man than if you sit at the table.”

To which Samuel Adams might have responded: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom — go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!”

In short, Bruce Bartlett has surrendered. He has taken the view “posit a giant welfare state — now what’s the best way to pay for it?” He suggests that if conservatives try to set the menu at — as Billy Beck would call it — the cannibal pot, that MAYBE they’ll just lose an arm and not the leg to go along with it.

All in all, Bartlett’s view is probably the calmest and most peaceful answer. But it gives us a nation that is so unlike America that I’m not sure I want a part of it. The peaceful way out is to accept that Democracy has given us a giant welfare state, that Democracy is never going to rescind it, and that therefore we might as well pay for it. He’s taking Mencken’s quote at face value:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Bartlett is arguing that if we’re all to be slaves, it’s best to suck up and hope for the job of overseer, holding the whip rather than tasting its lash.

But I’m not ready to surrender.

Bruce Bartlett says that if we don’t find a way to pay for the monstrosity growing out of Washington, the whole system will come crashing down. I say I’d prefer that to the “success” of the system as the social democrats want it to exist.

Bruce Bartlett says that the “starve the beast” tactic doesn’t work, as the beast keeps on growing. Well consider me a cancerous tumor hoping to infect the populace into becoming an ever-growing resistance that eats away at the beast’s insides until it dies of rot.

Bruce Bartlett wants conservatives to make sure they have a seat at the table to divvy up the “spoils”. Well, if he wants to be a good little Tory, that’s his choice. He’s taken sides, and despite his pleas, the fight will rage on.

Somewhere deep inside, despite a century of statism trying to weaken it with bread and circuses, the spirit of America still exists. Until that’s no longer the case, I’ll take the side of Freedom.

Results Not Typical

The Federal Trade Commission has taken a solid step towards regulation of bloggers, first by declaring that any “in-kind” contribution for a product review must be considered an official endorsement and requires disclosure. Despite the fact that I — of my own volition — did so on the one occasion I was actually given something free to review, I think that’s a process I’m going to have to discontinue. So from this point forward, if I review something, you won’t know whether I’ve received any compensation for it. So take it for what its worth. (As a side note, if anyone wants to send me something free to review, I’ll gladly accept it!)

But their regulations changed in another way… It used to be that if you were advertising a product with customer testimonials that highlighted non-typical results — i.e. “I lost 243 lbs on BulimiaRX dietary supplement!” or “Cheatypants McSweatervest’s revolutionary system has me making $25K a month from home with only 10 minutes a day of work!” — would need to not only provide their current small-font “Results not typical” disclaimer, but would now have to clearly document typical results:

Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect. In contrast to the 1980 version of the Guides – which allowed advertisers to describe unusual results in a testimonial as long as they included a disclaimer such as “results not typical” – the revised Guides no longer contain this safe harbor.

So I think I’ve got the solution:

Barack Obama, Sept 12, 2008
And I can make a firm pledge: under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase* – not your income taxes, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

* Results not typical. Families making less than $250,000 can expect to see rises in cigarette taxes, increased energy costs through cap and trade and/or gasoline taxes, soda taxes, and mandates to buy costly insurance plans they can’t afford. They can expect to pay all the taxes levied on “corporations”, as well as the cost of new regulations, who will pass those on in the cost of goods. Families can expect taxation through the form of inflation, eating away at the buying power of their paychecks. Firm pledges have not taken Viagra and should not be expected to last more than 4 hours.

There. Thanks, FTC. You’ve cleared up a lot with these new regulations.

The Other Bad Healthcare “Reform” Bill

The Senate Finance Committee is finishing up work this week on a “compromise” Obamacare bill that’s being billed as better than pure Obamacare because it doesn’t include “death panels”, a public option, and free healthcare for illegal aliens.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said Monday that he will propose an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system that addresses a host of GOP concerns, including blocking illegal immigrants from gaining access to subsidized insurance, urging limits on medical malpractice lawsuits and banning federal subsidies for abortion.

But even after Max Baucus (D-Mont.) spoke optimistically of gaining bipartisan backing, lawmakers continued to haggle over a question at the heart of the debate: How can the government force people to buy insurance without imposing a huge new financial burden on millions of middle-class Americans?

Finally this bill is debating the real issue, what right does the Federal government have to force Americans to buy health insurance? Surprisingly, one of the most outspoken opponents of the individual mandate in this form is from the left.

Even within his own party, Baucus confronted a fresh wave of concern about affordability. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) declared himself dissatisfied with the chairman’s plan, which, like other congressional reform proposals, would require every American to buy health insurance by 2013.

“Additional steps are going to have to be taken to make coverage more affordable,” Wyden said, “and my sense is that will be a concern to members on both sides of the aisle.”

Under the Baucus plan, described in a “framework” he released last week, as many as 4 million of the 46 million people who are currently uninsured would be required to buy coverage on their own, without government help, by some estimates. Millions more would qualify for federal tax credits, but could still end up paying as much as 13 percent of their income for insurance premiums — far more than most Americans now pay for coverage.

People further down the income scale would receive much bigger tax credits, effectively limiting their premiums at 3 percent of their earnings. But experts on affordability say even those families could find it difficult to meet the new mandate without straining their wallets.

“We’re talking about the equivalent of a middle-class tax increase,” said Michael D. Tanner, a health-care expert at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Yes, they’re paying it to an insurance company instead of to the government. But, suddenly, these people are paying more money to somebody.”

So American taxpayers will have to pay higher insurance premiums than they have to now or be fined by the government under this “compromise” bill. So far, this bill does nothing to solve the biggest problem with American healthcare, the high cost of it. Opponents of this bill on the left characterize this bill as nothing more than a giveaway to the insurance companies, and they’re right. The way to reduce the cost of healthcare is to increase competition and the free market’s role in healthcare and again, this bill does nothing to reduce regulation, increase competition, or promote the free market.

But there’s even more….

Also unresolved Monday was the question of how to pay for an expansion of Medicaid to cover every U.S. citizen whose income falls below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, about $14,500 for an individual or $29,500 for a family of four. Governors in both parties strongly oppose an expansion that is not fully financed by the federal government. The Senate negotiators are scheduled to brief governors by conference call Tuesday afternoon, and Baucus predicted they would be “pleasantly surprised.”

“The Medicaid costs,” he said, “are not going to cost states near as much as feared.”

Max Baucus wants the states to just “trust him”. In addition to higher insurance premiums and tax increases for those who don’t buy health insurance, Baucus plans on making the bad financial conditions that every state is in even worse with this unfunded mandate. States have to close their budget deficits some how and that some how is usually tax increases.

But there’s even more….from the Wall Street Journal

Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) raised concerns about Mr. Baucus’s mix of new taxes and other means of paying for the plan. Among other things, Mr. Baucus is proposing to levy a new tax on so-called gold-plated health policies. He also wants to levy new fees on health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and other health-care industries.

“There may be a better way to find that revenue,” Sen. Kerry said. He suggested he’ll be looking for changes, though he declined to offer specifics. “We are going to have a tug of war,” he said, describing the chairman’s soon-to-be-unveiled bill as a “starting point” for a new round of negotiations on details. “That’s the process of legislating,” he said.

So there’s even more tax increases, this time on health insurance companies (which will be a wash for them since they’re getting bailed out in this bill), drug companies, and the health care industry in general. In addition, if Max Baucus doesn’t like your health insurance policy, he’s going to tax it too. Well, the taxed businesses have to make up that lost revenue some how by raising their products’ prices or cutting jobs.

To recap, the Baucus “compromise” Obamacare/health insurance companies bailout plan:

Requires all Americans to buy “approved” health insurance plans and raises taxes on those who don’t buy health insurance plans Max Baucus likes

Gives the IRS more power to levy higher taxes, without due process

Raises taxes on health care related businesses

Makes every state’s financial situation even worse, which will lead to more budget cuts or tax increases through an unfunded mandate to increase Medicaid enrollment.

Increases the cost of health care for most Americans

“Hope and Change” indeed, comrades.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Obama Raises Taxes Without Vote of Congress

“I can make a firm pledge….no family making less than $250,000 will see any form of tax increase…..not any of your taxes”-Barack Obama, September 12, 2008

Once again, President Obama has lied to the country. After raising cigarette taxes earlier this year, Obama just ordered another tax increase. This time, he raised every American’s taxes without a vote of Congress and with the simple stroke of a pen. Obama increased taxes on Chinese-made tires.

In one of his first major decisions on trade policy, President Obama opted Friday to impose a tariff on tires from China, a move that fulfills his campaign promise to “crack down” on imports that unfairly undermine American workers but risks angering the nation’s second-largest trading partner.

The decision is intended to bolster the ailing U.S. tire industry, in which more than 5,000 jobs have been lost over the past five years as the volume of Chinese tires in the market has tripled.

It comes at a sensitive time, however. Leaders from the world’s largest economies are preparing to gather in Pittsburgh in less than two weeks to discuss more cooperation amid tensions over trade.

The tire tariff will amount to 35 percent the first year, 30 percent the second and 25 percent the third.

Which means American consumers will see an increase in prices of at least 35% for their tires in the name of saving 5,000 jobs. Chinese and US companies with factories overseas are not going to pay the tariffs, they’ll pass them on to consumers. There is also the latest example of the Obama administration diplomatic ineptness of angering trade partners before major trade talks with China among other countries. Also, there was not much public debate over this, since this decision was reached behind closed doors with the help of an obscure Federal trade panel with no citizen input.

Of course with the Obama administration, there’s always someone or some group to be paid back.

Although a federal trade panel had recommended higher levies — of 55, 45 and 35 percent, respectively — the decision is considered a victory for the United Steelworkers union, which filed the trade complaint.

The United Steelworkers union endorsed Obama’s presidential bid and the Steelworkers had a massive grassroots effort that claimed credit for helping win Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia; among other states.

“Hope and Change” indeed.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Taxation And Morality

There have been plenty of books and policy papers written, plenty of speeches and television and radio interviews, about the economic reasons that high progressive taxation is a bad idea. We’ve heard many times about how it restricts innovation by discouraging investments, or how higher tax rates actually have the seemingly perverse impact of decreasing government revenue, while lower tax rates lead to more money in the Treasury. Those arguments have been made and re-made, stated and re-stated, so many times that most fiscal conservatives can restate them on their own.

What we haven’t seen very often, though, is an argument about tax policy from a moral perspective, an examination of the impact that tax policy has on society in the manner that it punishes good behavior and rewards bad behavior. That is exactly the argument that Leslie Carbone takes up in Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform, and it’s a welcome addition to the debate.

Through a combination of history, economic analysis, and good old-fashioned common sense, Carbone demonstrates quite clearly how tax policies over the past 70 years or longer have succeeded in sending the wrong signals to citizens and helped to encourage behaviors that have adverse consequences for individuals and society as a whole. In one compelling section, Carbone examines the immorality behind the IRS’s tax enforcement mechanism and concludes with this devastating point:

When a government does to people not convicted of any wrongdoing what the people cannot do to one another, the march toward tyranny has begun. When it takes from some just because they have more than others, when it places its interests in self-support above the privacy of its citizens, when its enforcement of unnatural law is identical to its enforcement of heinous natural offenses, when it can’t even understand it’s own laws, it has shifted from enforcing justice to enforcing injustice and sows disrespect for the Rule of Law. It becomes an instrument of the very wrongs it is instituted to subdue.

That’s the America we live in today.

The book concludes with an insightful analysis of the various tax reform proposals that have been made in recent years, ranging from the flat tax to the national sales tax, and makes clear that only reform that allows the people to keep more of what they earn can ever be considered moral.

For a quick read, this is an excellent edition to the voluminous literature condemning the leviathan that has become America’s tax system.

Lies, Damn Lies, and California Budget Proposals

The news out of Sacramento appears good for the California middle class:

The good news, Schwarzenegger glowed, is no new taxes.

Digging a little deeper, of course, reveals the truth:

REVENUES

* Accelerate income tax withholding — $1.7 billion
* Increase estimated tax payments for businesses and the self-employed — $610 million

Between now and the end of the year, $2.3 billion will be extracted from the economy in more aggressive tax collection. Where is that money going to come from? Everyone who works:

It also raises $4 billion by in part accelerating personal and corporate income tax withholdings and increasing income tax withholding schedules by 10 percent.

The state will take 10% more than it does today out of every paycheck issued in the State of California. That means that the Californian trying to stay afloat on a mortgage, pay medical bills, or send a kid to school will have less money to do it. The Californian out trying to support local businesses will have less money to do it. The Californian who lives paycheck-to-paycheck will have less money to survive.

Since this is a withholding change, the taxpayer should get the excess withheld back on next year’s tax return. That, though, won’t undo the foreclosure that happened because a Californian couldn’t pay his mortgage. It won’t make right the bankruptcy that occurred because a Californian couldn’t pay her medical bills. It won’t bring back the corner store that went under because people couldn’t afford to shop there.

The simple fact is that this budgetary shell game will cause each and every worker to pay more to the State of California in taxes. The state is so desperate to pass a budget that it is almost certain that this tax hike will pass. All I ask is that the clowns in Sacramento have enough respect for the taxpayers to level with us and admit that their budget contains $2.3 billion in tax hikes…

Fat chance.

Charts Of The Day

Kevin Drum sees this and weeps.

blog_tax_top_1_percent

My god! The rich aren’t paying any taxes any more! Look at how steep those lines are! Those greedy rich bastards are getting off easy!

Or, maybe if you rescale the image, you make a different point (my apologies for an inability to make a chart, this in Excel is about the limit of my skillz):

blog_tax_top_1_percent-rescaled

Ahh, now I see. It hasn’t changed much, has it?

But that whole line is far higher than it should be! Those greedy Washington bastards think they deserve 30% of our hard-earned money!

A few thoughts about last weekend’s Tea Parties

While I’ve not had enough time to take a comprehensive look at Tea Parties held around the nation on or around Independence Day, here are some quick observations from this full-time Tea Party enthusiast and part-time skeptic.

First of all, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) was booed when he spoke in Austin, Texas.  The key reason reason seems to be that he voted for the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout in order to protect “free market capitalism, with our civil liberties, [which are] are the foundation of American exceptionalism.”  In the hyperlinked explanation for his vote, he quoted Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in order to help spread the blame.  “This bill does not represent a new and sudden departure from free market principles…” explained Cornyn, who was quoting Coburn.

Coburn has also infuriated fiscal conservatives because, in his role as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he sided with “establishment candidate, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, in a Senate primary against young conservative leader, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio” in the Florida Senate race.

Coburn probably wasn’t the only Republican Party leader booed in Texas.  I’ve seen some video of Texas Governor Rick Perry speaking in San Antonio, but I’ve not seen any video with jeers from the audience from anywhere in Texas (he wasn’t allowed to speak at the major Dallas event).  However, there are multiple reports that he was booed for “his advocacy of toll roads to relieve traffic congestion.” I tried to obtain additional information on Twitter and it seems my suspicions were correct: He received some sporadic booing, not specifically because of toll roads, but that the road in question is the “NAFTA Superhighway” or “Trans-Texas Corridor”.  Based upon observations during my campaign work in east Texas in 2006, there are probably quite a few Birchers who still vehemently oppose this effort.

The least biased view of the Austin event which I’ve read comes from Robbie Cooper: » Read more

California’s problem is taxation

Instapundit links to a NYT Magazine propaganda piece about governing California, and the part about taxation reads as if it were written by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, right down to euphemistically renaming taxes “revenue”:

In the view of many, the origins of the mud slog began with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the landmark referendum that capped property taxes. “Over 50 percent of our revenue is dependent on personal income tax, and that’s a very important part of explaining the boom-and-bust cycle,” according to another Republican candidate for governor, Tom Campbell, an immaculately credentialed policy marvel who graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude and who later studied under the conservative economist Milton Friedman before going on to represent Silicon Valley for five terms in the United States Congress.

This dependence on income tax was the first thing Dianne Feinstein mentioned when I asked her to assess California’s problems. “In most states, it’s one-third property tax, one-third sales tax and one-third income tax,” Feinstein said. “It’s 55 percent income tax in California. And 45 percent of that comes from the top brackets.”

When the economy is booming, the stock market soaring and jobs abundant, relying on income taxes is not a problem. That was the case in the years after Schwarzenegger first became governor in 2003, and he was hailed as a “postpartisan” leader who cut taxes and appealed to Democrats by aggressively tackling issues like global warming. But in today’s cratering economy — in which California faces a decline in personal income for the first time since 1938 and unemployment sits at 11.5 percent — the state’s coffers have shriveled up quickly, along with the governor’s popularity.

Passing a budget or increasing revenues in California is dicey in the best of times. The state constitution requires that two-thirds of the Legislature agree on a budget or higher taxes — the kind of overwhelming political consensus, in other words, usually reserved for amendments to the federal Constitution. (California is one of just a handful states that require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.)

These words were written not by Speaker Bass, but rather by the Times’ own Mark Leibovich. He gets some of the facts right, but draws from them a woefully wrong conclusion. Where Liebovich sees a state that would be better off if only politicians could increase property taxes without limit or one party had total control of the budgeting process, I see a state that manages to overtax its citizens despite some pretty robust taxpayer protections in the state constitution. What’s the difference between me and Mark Leibovich? I actually have to pay for the excesses of Sacramento.

Let me list out for you the taxes and fees I remember having to pay in the last year:

  • Income tax
  • Sales tax
  • Property tax
  • Gas tax
  • Vehicle License fee

This doesn’t include the various line items about government surcharges and fees on every utility bill I pay, some of which I’m sure is attributable to the state. Even so, the taxes and fees I listed above still amount to about 25% of my income. On top of the 30% of my income that goes to Washington D.C., that’s more than half my income.

You might think that such a fate could only happen to someone who was rich enough not to worry about only having 55% of his income go to Washington and Sacramento. You’d be wrong. I’m very solidly in the middle class, and it would be even harder making ends meet if California’s political class could force me to surrender even more of my hard-earned income. I hear the same from nearly everyone I know.

I’m a Californian, and I pay more for government than I do for anything else. From the perspective of a citizen, California’s problem is taxation–too much, not too little.

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