Californians have recently voted to enact laws banning the sale and production of both eggs from cruelly housed hens and foie gras, a delicacy created by force-feeding ducks. While this may seem within the legal bounds of a state’s ability to regulate local commerce, one Congressman is up in arms about it: Steve King (R, IA). King, despite being one of the most outspoken proponents of states’ rights in Congress, is so convinced that California’s laws violate the Commerce Clause that he pushed through legislation overturning the animal rights acts and similar statutes in other states:
Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who represents the country’s leading egg-producing state, said he introduced the amendment because the California law and others like it “scrambles and creates a patchwork quilt of state regulations.”
“If California wants to regulate eggs that come into the state, fine,” King said. “But don’t be telling the states that are producing a product that’s already approved by the USDA or the FDA how to produce that product.”
He said that the California requirement violates the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over interstate commerce issues.
King believes the entire Affordable Care Act – not simply the mandate, but the whole law – is an unconstitutional use of federal power under the Commerce Clause. This means that, according to King, any federal regulation of the insurance industry is unconstitutional. King also thinks states can ban contraception. These radical beliefs aren’t a surprise: King adheres to an extreme interpretation of the Tenth Amendment which aims to gut federal power.
So King appears to to think federal regulation of farming is constitutional, but regulation of the health care industry is not. A state ban on birth control is fine, but banning foie gras isn’t.
Of course, King has a perfectly good reason for going against his principles: saving his own skin. King is in the midst of a bruising reelection battle as a consequence of redistricting. The largest industry spending on his behalf is big agribusiness, which isn’t thrilled about California’s laws. King’s home state of Iowa has no standards for ethical caging of egg-producing hens, a fact which was linked to a significant salmonella outbreak in 2010.
King’s bill is so broadly worded that it might also overturn state safety standards for other agricultural products, including fruit, milk, and vegetables. It is currently attached as an amendment to the House Farm Bill, which would also take food stamps away from millions of needy Americans.
By: Zack Beauchamp, Think Progress, July 14, 2012
At a recent town hall in Osage, Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) responded to a question about the Labor Department’s stricter limits on child labor by claiming that they could exacerbate the child obesity epidemicby making kids less “active”:
Concern was raised about the proposed Department of Labor’s intent to greatly limit child labor on family farms.
“This farm bill will greatly affect our FFA and 4-H programs,” said Grassley. “Kids won’t be able to help on farms not owned by their parents.
“It’s interesting that this child labor bill goes against Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative,” said Grassley. “How can kids be active if they are limited by this law?“
Grassley represents a farm state that both relies on child labor and contributes to the national obesity epidemic through its production of corn products like high-fructose corn syrup. Iowa farmers benefit from billions of dollars in corn subsidies that allow them to put a glut of cheap, unhealthy foods on the market.
As for his Dickensian defense of child labor, that’s sadly par for the course for Republicans these days. Several GOP-led states have rolled back child labor laws. In December, seventy rural state lawmakers led by Rep. Danny Rehberg (R-MT) denounced the Labor Department’s new protections for the country’s most vulnerable workers. They argued that hard manual labor teaches children important “life lessons.”
Under current law, 400,000 children working on farms are not protected from exploitation and dangerous labor. The proposed rules would forbid children younger than 16 from working with pesticides, timber operations, handling “power-driven equipment, or contributing to the “cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.”
Contrary to Grassley’s suggestion, the physical activity children endure during farm labor is no picnic. The fatality rate for child farm workers is four times higher than that of nonagricultural child workers.
Many Republicans have mocked First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity initiative, but Grassley in particular has powerful financial motivations for supporting some of epidemic’s worst culprits. As a member of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry committee, he’s raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Food & Beverage, Food Processing & Sales, and Agricultural Services and Products industries.
By: Marie Diamond, Think Progress, January 17, 2012
Gov. Rick Perry has anchored his presidential campaign to his claims of creating jobs.
With no business record of his own, Perry must contrast his ability to create jobs with public money against the records of two front-runners, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, who tout credentials as private employers.
His GOP opponents already have sniped at his gubernatorial record, saying Perry inflates his job-creation numbers and takes credit for a business climate he inherited. Perry’s efforts to create jobs and spur agribusinesses as the state’s agriculture commissioner during the 1990s might provide even more fodder for the opposition.
Over his eight years as Texas’ farmer-in-chief, Perry oversaw a loan guarantee program with so many defaults that the state had to stop guaranteeing bank loans to startups in agribusiness and eventually bailed out the program with taxpayer money.
The state auditor panned Perry’s claims of creating jobs and criticized Perry and his fellow board members at the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority for not following their own lending guidelines.
In some instances, the auditor said, Perry and the authority guaranteed loans to applicants with a negative net worth or too much debt. Citing growing debts, the auditor finally suggested that state officials consider dismantling the program.
Even as the first alarms were sounded, Perry defended the program, saying no taxpayer money was at risk, blaming others and claiming he had fixed it.
It only got worse.
By 2002, Perry’s successor, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, a Republican, stopped making loans as the percentage of bad loans neared 30 percent.
By 2009, her successor, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, also a Republican, asked the Legislature to pay off the loan guarantees with a $14.7 million appropriation. The finance authority could no longer afford the $541,000 to cover the annual interest on the bad debts, almost all of which dated back to Perry’s tenure.
“It’s bad,” Staples told the American-Statesman at the time. “Unfortunately, taxpayers are on the hook for something that happened as long ago as 1987.”
In effect, Perry, as governor, signed his own government bailout when he approved the 2009 appropriations bill.
The Perry campaign did not respond to questions about whether Perry, as president, would use public money in economic development programs and what lessons he learned from his experience guaranteeing risky business loans with public money.
Mired in partisan politics
When the Legislature created the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority in 1987, the intent was to boost the state’s agricultural economy by selling state-backed bonds to guarantee bank loans to entrepreneurs who could not get commercial loans. The goal was to create small businesses and jobs by processing — rather than simply growing — Texas agricultural products.
The program immediately got mired in partisan politics, with Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, a Democrat, on one side, and the Republican members of the finance authority appointed by Gov. Bill Clements on the other.
The impasse ensured that no loans were made during Hightower’s term.
In 1990, Perry campaigned on a promise to create jobs and expand the rural economy by making loans to agribusiness startups that would process the state’s agricultural products.
Clements’ appointees to the finance authority board gave Perry, a board member, sole authority to guarantee loans before newly elected Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, could replace them.
Under the program, the state would guarantee 90 percent of a lender’s loan — up to a maximum of $5 million — to an applicant.
Entrepreneurs lined up for money to spin cotton into yarn, process meats, develop cotton insulation, market canna bulbs to wholesale nurseries and sell pinto beans as a ready-to-eat frozen meal, to name a few.
‘This has not cost Texans money’
Perry had made four loan guarantees for $5.8 million by the time the attorney general ruled that he had to share that authority with his fellow board members. Even then, Perry and his staff drove the decisions.
Mary Webb, a Richards appointee who joined the finance authority as chairwoman in 1992, said the part-time board members had to rely on Perry’s staff at the agriculture department when screening loan applications.
“They did the legwork,” she said. “We looked at the deals to see if they fit with the legislation: Would they create jobs and help the agriculture community?”
By the time Webb left the board in 1995, she said she knew a couple of loans were in trouble. She said she learned only later the scope of the problems with other loans.
The first loan guarantees were financed by selling $25 million in bonds.
Twice, in 1993 and 1995, Perry campaigned for voters to approve more bonding authority.
Perry claimed the first two years of the program had created 4,100 jobs and pumped $390 million into the economy by guaranteeing loans to 47 companies. He predicted more than 40,000 jobs could be created with the additional bonding authority.
He didn’t mention troubled loans as he touted the program’s virtues at a 1993 Capitol press conference: “We think that this Texas Ag Finance Authority is, without a doubt, one of the finest programs that the Texas Legislature, that the citizens of Texas have ever gone forward with.”
At another stop, Perry said, “We can truly say it has not cost the taxpayers of Texas any money.”
Voters turned him down in 1993, but Perry finally won an extra $200 million in bonding authority two years later.
“This is one of the few government programs that truly has worked,” Perry said. “This has not cost Texans money.”
In January 1997, State Auditor Lawrence Alwin first alerted state officials, saying Perry and the board had violated their own lending guidelines.
He said 10 of the 48 companies had defaulted, and six more were in trouble. The first bad loans were written off as uncollectible in 1995, according to records.
Alwin also debunked a $40,000 report by a state-paid consultant claiming the program had created or retained more than 5,000 jobs at a cost of $412 per job as well as contributing $600 million to the economy.
The consultant’s data, which Perry submitted to the Legislature, were “unverifiable, incomplete, untimely, and inconsistent” and based on unrealistic assumptions about job creation, Alwin concluded.
A year later, Alwin warned that the situation had gotten worse. The program was $5.7 million in the red because of bad loans.
The issue hit the newspapers.
Perry and his lieutenants defended the program.
Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Larry Soward told The Dallas Morning News that the audit reflected a number of bad loans made early in the program to farmers and ranchers trying their first business ventures.
“The business acumen of the people behind them might not have been as strong as possible,” Soward said.
But he insisted the program would rebound: “The fact that there is a negative balance does not mean the program is in trouble.”
Perry echoed a similar refrain in a guest column in the Amarillo Daily News.
“By their very nature, TAFA loans are considered higher risk. Because of this, some defaults were inevitable and a negative balance was expected in the early years of the program,” he wrote.
He blamed the problems on “some unfortunate decisions made by the previous TAFA board early in the program.”
Perry promised the problem was fixed. “Today, TAFA is on solid footing with a positive balance projected by 2010,” he wrote.
He reminded readers that the loans were funded by debt — commercial paper: “No taxpayer money has ever been used to make TAFA loans.”
In 1998, Perry was elected lieutenant governor, and Combs succeeded him as agriculture commissioner.
She talked of expanding the loan guarantee program to other borrowers beyond food and fiber processors. But she asked Alwin to do a follow-up audit.
His warning was prescient. He said a program that guaranteed loans to people who typically couldn’t qualify for commercial loans would have a hard time finding enough good loans to generate the income to offset the losses from the bad ones.
In 2002, Combs and the agricultural finance authority bowed to that reality, suspending any new loans.
Twenty-nine of 102 guaranteed loans defaulted, almost all of them during Perry’s tenure, according to the records provided this month by the agriculture department.
While the majority of the loans were in good standing, the majority of the original $25 million — $14.7 million — was bad debt. Just as the auditor warned, the income from the good loans could not generate enough cash to make the program self-sustaining.
“We hit a brick wall,” Staples said in 2009.
By: Laylan Copelin, American-Statesman Staff, Statesman.com, October 22, 2011
Washington is a town currently gripped by deficit hysteria. Various commissions and congressional “gangs” have formed (and broken up) with the goal of crafting a plan to bring the nation’s budget into balance. Even the media has been sucked into this vortex, dedicating far more of its time to covering the deficit than other economic issues, such as unemployment.
At the same time, both parties seem to agree that the nation’s corporate tax code needs to be reformed. President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan each dedicated a portion of their respective budget plans to overhauling the federal corporate income tax, which is high on paper, but so riddled with loopholes, deductions, and outright giveaways that few corporations pay the full statutory rate (and several corporations pay no corporate income tax at all).
This, then, should be an excellent opportunity to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone: cleaning up the corporate tax code, lowering the corporate tax rate, and still raising more revenue that can be put towards deficit reduction.
Despite all the hyperventilating over the deficit, both Republicans and Democrats have said that they want corporate tax reform to be revenue neutral, meaning no more or less revenue will be raised by the new system than was raised by the old. President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner have each extolled the virtues of deficit-neutral corporate tax reform. But if this is actually the road that’s taken, it will constitute a colossal missed opportunity.
At the moment, corporate tax revenue has plunged to historic lows. In 1960, the corporate income tax provided more than 23 percent of federal revenue; the Office of Management and Budget estimates that it will provide less than 10 percent this year.
During the 1960s, the United States consistently raised nearly 4 percent of GDP in corporate revenue. During the 1970s, the total was still above 2.5 percent of GDP. Now, the U.S. raises less than 1.5 percent of GDP from the corporate income tax. As the Congressional Research Service put it, “Despite concerns expressed about the size of the corporate tax rate, current corporate taxes are extremely low by historical standards.”
The United States effective corporate tax rate is also low by international standards (though the 35 percent statutory rate is the second highest in the world). There are plenty of reasons for this drop, but chief among them is the proliferation of loopholes and credits clogging up the corporate tax code (alongside the growing use of offshore tax havens and the ability of corporations to defer taxes on offshore profits indefinitely).
Huge corporations, such as ExxonMobil, have recently had years where they paid literally nothing to the U.S. Treasury, despite making huge profits. The New York Times made waves by finding that General Electric paid no federal income tax last year, instead pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax benefits. Mega-manufacturer Boeing has done the same, paying no federal taxes in 2009 while collecting $132 million in tax benefits. Google last year had a 2.4 percent effective tax rate, while California-based Broadcom’s rate was just 1.4 percent, far below the rate that the average American pays.
The Treasury Department estimated in 2007 that corporate tax preferences cost $1.2 trillion in lost revenue over a decade. So there is ample room to remove credits and deductions (like those that benefit, amongst others, hugely profitable oil companies and agribusinesses), lower the statutory rate, while still bringing in more revenue. Some companies would see their taxes go up, but others would see their tax bills drop, and the corporate tax code would be more fair, efficient, and competitive, while ensuring that all corporations pay their fair share.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it, “corporate tax reform is a solid candidate to make a contribution to fiscal improvement … Taking a major revenue source off the table for deficit reduction at the outset would be ill-advised.” Indeed, with corporate profits skyrocketing—up 81 percent over a year ago—and corporations sitting on trillions in cash reserves, there is no reason that corporate tax reform should be done in a way that is deficit neutral, besides the fact that raising more revenue will be politically difficult, as corporations will likely throw their considerable lobbying weight against such a move. But in the end, failing to raise additional corporate tax revenue will simply shift more of the deficit reduction burden onto a middle-class already battered by the Great Recession.
By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, May 25, 2011