If Mitt Romney had taken a moment to thank the wait staff at a Boca Raton fundraiser last year, he may now be president, or at least could have removed one of his biggest obstacles to the White House: the so-called 47 percent tape that clouded the last two months of the race.
The anonymous person who filmed the tape turns out to be a bartender with a local catering company who is coming forward now that the election is over. He’ll reveal his identity tomorrow in an hour-long interview on “The Ed Show” on MSNBC, but in an interview with the Huffington Post Tuesday night, he suggested that he was disappointed that Romney never thanked the wait staff, as Bill Clinton had years before at a different event the same bartender happened to staff. Ryan Grim and Jason Cherkis report:
Romney, of course, did not speak to any of the staff, bussers or waiters. He was late to the event, and rushed out. He told his dinner guests that the event was off the record, but never bothered to repeat the admonition to the people working there.
One of them had brought along a Canon camera. He set it on the bar and hit the record button. The bartender said he never planned to distribute the video. But after Romney spoke, the man said he felt he had no choice.
The tape came to define Romney and was the fodder for several ads, giving the candidate a noticeable dip in the polls. Even when he recovered after Obama’s disastrous debate performance in Denver, the tape remained a weight around his neck.
Romney probably still would have lost without the tape, and maybe the bartender would still have revealed the video if Romney came back and shook his hand, but there’s some poetic justice in the idea of an hourly worker bringing down a presidential candidate for dismissing the importance of his vote.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, March 13, 2013
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has created quite a stir with his estimates that every household below the poverty level receives an average of $168-a-day (or about $61,000-a-year) in government welfare.
Sessions’ calculations are extremely controversial and overstate the amount of government assistance for those in poverty. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s right. How would $61,000 in direct government spending and refundable tax credits for the poor stack up against tax subsidies for the rich?
It isn’t even close. Indeed, my colleagues at the Tax Policy Center figure that in 2011 households making $1 million and up got that much in average tax benefits from just two deductions–for charitable gifts and state and local taxes. Add a fistful of other preferences–such as deductions for mortgage interest and exclusions such as the one for employer-sponsored health insurance– and top-bracket households got far more in tax benefits than the poor got in means-tested assistance.
These estimates exclude low tax rates on capital gains and dividends which are, arguably, very different from, say, subsidies for mortgage interest or employer-sponsored health insurance. If you include preferential rates on investment income, households making $1 million or more got an additional $119,000 in tax benefits, on average, in 2011.
Keep in mind that tax rates on ordinary income were relatively low in 2011. Now that the rate for high-income households has gone up significantly, their tax subsidies will be even more generous.
I readily admit that on one level, this is a fairly silly exercise. But there is an important point here: In much public discourse, direct government aid for the poor is easily dismissed by the pejorative “welfare.” Yet, spending-like subsidies administered through the revenue code provoke far less outrage. This is true even though many of these tax preferences are economically indistinguishable from direct spending and often add far more to the deficit.
Take housing, for instance. CBO figures that the lowest-income 20 percent of households get an average of about $1,100-a-year in means-tested rental housing assistance. TPC estimates that the lowest-income households got no benefit from tax deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes in 2011. But those in the top 20 percent, who make more than $100,000, got an average tax benefit of $2,900. Those in the top 1 percent, who make an average of $1.5 million, did even better. They got an average tax break of $5,700, more than five times the benefit the government provided low-income renters.
As with so much of the tax code, these homeowner tax benefits are upside down. On average, the more you make, the more you get. This seems an odd design in an era when fiscal restraint is all the rage. Yet politicians still recoil when tax expenditures—the vast bulk of which go to middle-class and high-income households—are described as subsidies.
In recent years, both Democrats and Republicans (including their recent presidential candidates) did talk about capping or limiting tax preferences for the highest income households. But so far, at least, that talk has come to nothing. It would be helpful if Sen. Sessions directed some of his outrage to the more than $1 trillion in tax expenditures that litter the revenue code—much of which go to those who need help the least.
By: Howard Gleckman, Tax Policy Center, February 26, 2013
The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear the case that opens the door to the final destruction of the campaign finance laws that place a limit on how much money an individual can contribute directly to a federal candidate or national political party.
Now that the infamous Citizens United case, decided in 2010, has removed limits on how much a corporation, union and individual can contribute to groups that are ‘unaffiliated’ with candidates and political parties—leading to the creation and domination of the Super PAC—the Court, by agreeing to hear yet another challenge to campaign finance laws, is poised to take the next step toward finishing off all campaign limits by freeing individuals to give candidates and their political parties unlimited sums of money.
As the law currently stands for calendar years 2013-14, individual donors are limited to giving contributions to candidates for federal offices up to a maximum of $123,200 during an election cycle (two years) with a limit of $2,600 to an individual candidate, $32,400 to a national political party, $10,000 to a state political party and $5,000 to any other political committee affiliated with a candidate or political party.
However, an Alabama political donor—joined by the Republican National Committee—believes that the limitation of $123,200 placed on an individual donor during an election cycle is ‘unconstitutionally low’ and wants the highest court in the land to remove the cap.
The case now set to come before the Supreme Court will challenge only the total contribution cap and does not go after the limits placed on money given to individual candidates and political parties. However, based on the Court’s ruling in Citizens United, it is widely anticipated that were the Supreme Court to side with the plaintiffs in this matter and end the limits on the total contribution amount, the Court will have telegraphed its intention to do away with limitations of any kind or nature—making it only a matter of time until limits on individual contributions to candidates and political parties are also tossed into the dustbin of history.
While ending the existing limitation would put political parties on an even keel with the Super PACs in the race for big money, it would also mean the latest evisceration of the campaign finance limits put in place during the 1970’s when Congress reacted to the growing influence of money in politics—money that placed wealthy, individual donors in a position of undue influence over the nation’s elected officials.
The case that will now be heard by SCOTUS was argued last year in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit where a three judge panel ruled that the challenged campaign limit laws were, indeed, constitutional. In issuing the Circuit Court ruling, Judge Janice Rogers Brown noted that the Supreme Court had previously held that limiting an individual’s political contributions had only a marginal effect on that person’s freedom of speech and that it was within Congress’ authority to place such limits on individual contributions.
Judge Brown added, “Although we acknowledge the constitutional line between political speech and political contributions grows increasingly difficult to discern, we decline plaintiffs’ invitation to anticipate the Supreme Court’s agenda.”
The Supreme Court has now accepted that invitation, leading many experts to worry that the latest blow to campaign finance laws in about to descend.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, February 20, 2013
“Flabbergasted Or Intoxicated?: John Boehner Says There’s No Difference Between Raising Revenue From Middle Class Or Wealthy
In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner told host Chris Wallace that it doesn’t make a difference whether new revenue in a deal to avert the fiscal cliff comes from the middle class or from the wealthiest Americans.
Boehner, who said that he was “flabbergasted” by the White House’s opening offer (despite the fact that it’s exactly what President Obama campaigned on), blasted the president as “not serious” for demanding an increase in tax rates on the wealthiest earners.
When Wallace asked if Obama has a mandate on the issue — given that raising taxes on the wealthy was arguably the central issue dividing the president and Mitt Romney in the presidential election — Boehner argued that it doesn’t matter whether new revenue comes from the wealthy or the middle class.
Listen, what is this difference where the money comes from? We put $800 billion worth of revenue, which is what he is asking for, out of eliminating the top two tax rates. But, here’s the problem, Chris, when you go and increase tax rates, you make it more difficult for our economy to grow, after that income, the small business income, it is going to get taxed at a higher rate and as a result we’re gonna see slower economic growth, we can’t cut our way out of this problem, nor can we grow our way out of the problem, we have to have a balanced approach and what the president wants to do will slow our economy at a time when he says he wants the economy to grow and create jobs.
Boehner is wrong on two points. First, there is no reason to believe that restoring Clinton-era tax rates on incomes over $250,000 will prevent the economy from growing; on the contrary, rate increases on the wealthy in 1992 and 1994 were followed by a tremendous economic boom. Second, it clearly matters where the revenue comes from; as Boehner and the Republicans’ own rhetoric acknowledges, the middle class needs fiscal relief — not an increased burden.
The full interview between Boehner and Wallace can be seen here; the exchange on tax rates begins at the 5:33 mark.
Perhaps Boehner doesn’t care where new revenue comes from because he hasn’t yet figured it out. When Wallace pressed Boehner to name specific loopholes and deductions that he’d be willing to eliminate in order to make up the revenue lost by extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, Boehner declined — as Romney and Paul Ryan did repeatedly during the campaign – telling Wallace, “I’m not going to debate this or negotiate this with you.”
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, December 3, 2012
As we go into the final days of a dismal presidential campaign where too many issues have been fudged or eluded — and the media only want to talk about is who’s up and who’s down — the biggest issue on which the candidates have given us the clearest choice is whether the rich should pay more in taxes.
President Obama says emphatically yes. He proposes ending the Bush tax cut for people earning more than $250,000 a year, and requiring that the richest 1 percent pay no less than a third of their income in taxes, the so-called “Buffett Rule.”
Mitt Romney says emphatically no. He proposes cutting tax rates on the rich by 20 percent, extending the Bush tax cut for the wealthy, and reducing or eliminating taxes on dividends and capital gains.
Romney says he’ll close loopholes and eliminate deductions used by the rich so that their share of total taxes remains the same as it is now, although he refuses to specify what loopholes or deductions. But even if we take him at his word, under no circumstances would he increase the amount of taxes they pay.
Obama is right.
America faces a huge budget deficit. And just about everyone who’s looked at how to reduce it — the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, and almost all independent economists and analysts — have come up with some combination of spending cuts and tax increases that raise revenue.
Just last Thursday, executives of more than eighty large American corporations called for tax reform that “raises revenues and reduces the deficit.”
The practical question is who pays for those additional revenues. If Romney’s view prevails and the rich don’t pay more, everyone else has to.
That’s nonsensical. The rich are far richer than they used to be, while most of the rest of us are poorer. The latest data show the top 1 percent garnering 93 percent of all the gains from the recovery so far. But median family income is 8 percent lower than it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation.
The gap has been widening for three decades. Since 1980 the top 1 percent has doubled its share of the nation’s total income — from 10 percent to 20 percent. The share of the top one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled. The share of the top-most one-one hundredth of 1 percent — 16,000 families — has quadrupled. The richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.
Meanwhile, the tax rates paid by the wealthy have dropped precipitously. Before 1981 the top marginal tax rate was never lower than 70 percent. Under President Dwight Eisenhower it was 93 percent. Even after taking all the deductions and tax credits available to them, the rich paid around 54 percent.
The top tax rate is now only 35 percent and the tax on capital gains (increases in the value of investments) is only 15 percent. Since so much of what they earn is from capital gains, many of the super-rich, like Mitt Romney himself, pay 14 percent or less. That’s a lower tax rate than many middle-class Americans pay.
In fact, if you add up all the taxes paid — not just on income and capital gains but also payroll taxes (which don’t apply to income above incomes of $110,100), and sales taxes — most of us are paying a higher percent of our income in taxes than are those at the top.
So how can anyone argue against raising taxes on the rich? Easy. They say it will slow the economy because the rich are “job creators.”
In the immortal words of Joe Biden, that’s malarky.
The economy did just fine during the three decades after World War II, when the top tax rate never fell below 70 percent. Average yearly economic growth was higher in those years than it’s been since, when taxes on the rich have been far lower.
Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich and the economy did wonderfully well. George W. Bush cut them and the economy slowed.
The real job creators are America’s vast middle class, whose spending encourages businesses to expand and hire — and whose lack of spending has the opposite effect.
That’s why the recovery has been painfully slow. So much income and wealth have gone to the top that the vast majority of Americans in the middle don’t have the purchasing power to get the economy moving again. The rich save most of what they earn, and their savings go anywhere around the world where they can get the highest return.
It would be insane to compound the damage by raising taxes on the middle class and not on the rich.
Logic, fairness, and common sense dictate that the rich pay more in taxes. It’s the key to avoiding January’s fiscal cliff and coming up with a “grand bargain” on taming the budget deficit. And it’s central to getting the economy back on track.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, October 28, 2012