mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Marco Rubio’s Terrible New Idea”: Pandering To Voters’ Most Simplistic And Uninformed Impulses

Campaigning for president requires one to come up with policy proposals, a need that from time to time produces innovative and promising ideas. But it also produces some extraordinarily dumb ones, as Marco Rubio is now demonstrating. Here’s his latest plan to fix what’s wrong with Washington:

Shortly after 11 a.m. on the East Coast, Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign alerted the media to their candidate’s latest position, inspired by the Founding Fathers and by Congress’s seeming inability to pass conservative legislation.

“One of the things I’m going to do on my first day in office is I will put the prestige and power of the presidency behind a constitutional convention of the states,” Rubio said as he campaigned in Iowa. “You know why? Because that is the only way that we are ever going to get term limits on members of Congress or the judiciary and that is the only way we are ever going to get a balanced-budget amendment.”

With this, Rubio manages to combine a promise for something that will never happen with a spectacularly terrible idea.

We’ll start with the constitutional convention. There are two ways an amendment to the Constitution can be proposed: when two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to do so, or when two-thirds of the states call for a convention to propose amendments. Rubio is saying that because you couldn’t get super-majorities in Congress to support his three ideas, he wants to push for the states to assemble a convention to offer these amendments.

The first thing to understand is that the president has nothing to do with this process. What Rubio is promising is that in between trying to pass his tax cuts and outlaw abortion and repeal Obamacare and wage war on the Islamic State, he’ll use the bully pulpit to advocate for a constitutional convention. So President Rubio will give a speech or two about it? Mention it in the State of the Union? That’s fine, but at best it might bring the chances of getting two-thirds of the states to sign on from approximately zero to ever slightly more than zero. Getting a constitutional convention might be a bit easier than assembling two-thirds majorities in Congress, but not by much.

So he can’t make these constitutional amendments happen. But what about the amendments themselves? Term limits for judges is the only one that might not be all that problematic, but it’s a little hard to tell what the problem is that Rubio is trying to solve. Lifetime tenure for judges is supposed to insulate them from momentary political concerns, but in practice it turns out that there’s plenty of politics on the bench. Presidents pick nominees they hope will reflect their own political values, and most of the time they’re right, with an occasional exception here and there. Some have suggested that the Supreme Court could use more turnover, so there should be a limit of some long but not endless stretch for justices (18 years is one common number). That might be fine, but it’s hard to see what kind of transformation in American justice would result from limiting all federal judges’ terms. If anything, the nominating and confirmation process would become even more political, since you’d need more judges.

But that’s the least bad of these ideas. The next is term limits for Congress, an idea that fell out of favor for a while and Rubio now wants to bring back. But what is it supposed to accomplish? Is Washington going to run more smoothly with more members who don’t know how to pass legislation? We’ve seen a huge influx of new members (mostly Republicans) in the last few congressional elections, and they haven’t exactly been committed to making government work. To the contrary, they’re the ones who care least about having a functioning government and are more likely to be nihilistic extremists who want to shut down the government, default on the national debt and govern by crisis.

Rubio is smart enough to know that the myth of the citizen legislator unsullied by contact with sinister lobbyists, who comes to Washington armed with nothing but common sense and a strong moral fiber and cleans up government, is just that — a myth. But he also knows that saying “Kick all the bums out!” is an easy way to pander to voters’ most simplistic and uninformed impulses.

I’ve saved the worst for last: a balanced-budget amendment. It has long been a popular item on the conservative wish list, but if you put it into practice, it would be an absolute disaster.

The childish way of thinking about it is that a requirement that the government spend no more than it takes in every year would impose fiscal discipline and make government live within its means. But in truth it would require radical cutbacks in everything government does — which means not only the programs Republicans don’t like anyway, but also the ones they do like. In the last half century, through Republican and Democratic presidencies and Republican and Democratic Congresses, we’ve had only five years when the government’s budget was balanced (four of which came during the boom of the Clinton years). Without the ability to issue bonds to cover each year’s shortfall, we’d be left without the ability to do what’s necessary to serve all of our many public needs.

Consider what would happen during an economic downturn if we had a balanced-budget amendment. What you want in that situation is for government to step in and help people — by providing things like food stamps and unemployment compensation to keep people from falling into truly desperate situations of hunger and homelessness, and also to do what it can to spur job creation and keep the recession from being worse than it would otherwise be.

But in a recession, tax revenue also falls, because people are losing jobs and incomes are plummeting; as an example, between 2008 and 2009, the federal government’s revenues declined by more than $400 billion. With a balanced-budget requirement in place, just at the moment when government’s help is needed most, not only would it be powerless to do anything to mitigate the toll of the recession, it also would be required to impose brutal budget cuts, pulling money out of the economy and making things even worse. If Rubio got his way, every recession the country experienced would be deeper, longer and more punishing.

Some conservatives say, “Nearly every state has a balanced-budget amendment, so why can’t the federal government have one too?” But that’s actually another reason why a federal balanced-budget amendment would be so dangerous. When a recession hits, states have no choice but to cut back, slashing needed services and firing workers just when their economies are suffering. At those times, the federal government can step in to limit the damage, boosting the hundreds of billions of dollars it already provides in aid to the states. As it happens, many of the states run by Republicans are the ones most dependent on federal government aid. In 2012, according to the Tax Foundation, the federal government picked up 31.5 percent of all state budgets, including 44 percent of Louisiana’s, 45 percent of Mississippi’s and 41 percent of Tennessee’s. So in places where Republicans are denouncing the federal government in the loudest terms, without the federal government’s help their state finances would utterly collapse.

The good news is that none of what Rubio is advocating for will ever happen. But advocating for constitutional amendments is what you do when you don’t have the stomach for actual governing. It’s certainly seductive — we’ll just change the Constitution, and that will sweep away all the messiness that comes with politics. But it’s a fantasy. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of presidential candidates who don’t respect the voters enough to tell them that passing laws and solving problems is difficult and complicated, and to get what you want to you have to slog your way through it. That’s not an inspiring campaign message, but it’s the truth.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 31, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Constitution, Governing, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“There’s Plenty Of Money, Really”: Congressional Republicans Continue To Make Believe That Spending Cuts Are Good For Everyone

Don’t think for a second that congressional Republicans sincerely believe draconian cuts in federal spending stimulate the economy.

I know. They uniformly claim that spending cuts spark growth. But consider this.

During the 15-day shutdown of the federal government one and a half years ago, the United States lost some $24 billion in economic activity, according to a 2013 Standard & Poor’s report. Only Texas senator Ted Cruz and the conservative wing wanted the shutdown, while the rest of the Republican Party bore the brunt of cratering public opinion polls.

So when House Budget Committee chair Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, introduced a plan last month to cut more than $5 trillion in spending to balance the budget in nine years, take it for what it is — a purely political ploy to arouse conservatives in preparation for 2016.

The Price plan has no chance of becoming law with a Democrat in the White House, and a slim chance even with a Republican president. In repealing the Affordable Care Act and eviscerating food stamps while allocating tens of billions in defense spending (more than requested), it’s irresponsible. But in calling for the partial privatization of Medicare, it’s politically toxic. Beyond that, a Price plan put into law would be downright destructive. Sucking that much money out of the economy could possibly trigger, at the very least, another painful recession.

Still, congressional Republicans will continue to make believe that spending cuts are good for everyone, because like all make-believe stories, the Price plan has the advantage of sounding plausible. And because it sounds plausible, it feels persuasive to many voters. After all, growth is sluggish. Wages are flat. There isn’t enough money. It’s time to get serious and cut. That’s why Price titled his plan “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America.”

In fact, there is enough money. Always has been. The trick is looking beyond one class of taxpayer dutifully paying its fair share to another class with the power, and the privilege, of avoiding paying its share.

According to a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), 304 of the 500 top U.S. corporations stashed more than $2 trillion in profits in offshore accounts in 2014, avoiding as much as $600 billion in U.S. taxes.

Among these are the most popular American brands: Apple, Nike, Microsoft, Safeway, and Clorox. These are among just 28 of the top 500 companies to report the tax rate they would pay if they had repatriated profits to the U.S. The rest didn’t bother. They don’t have to report.

But even those reporting to the IRS were probably lowballing their total U.S. tax liability. If they said they earned their enormous profits in tax havens, they probably didn’t, because the countries that shelter the money, like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, don’t have economies that can produce such enormous profits. Those profits can only be earned in countries with robust economies like the U.S.

Furthermore, the foreign tax rate they paid was far lower than the tax rate they would have paid in the U.S. Indeed, the 28 firms bothering to tell the IRS what they would have paid in U.S. taxes paid a foreign tax rate of about 10 percent on a total of $470 billion. You almost certainly paid a higher percentage on less income.

Ironically, the offshoring trend has grown since the economic collapse of 2008, the very event Republicans cite when calling for more and deeper spending cuts. The CTJ survey found 77 firms increased their caches by at least $500 million while another seven U.S. companies — Apple, General Electric, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Oracle, and Gilead Sciences — piled high their cash hoards with more than $5 billion.

The trend is poised to become permanent. CTJ researchers report an acceleration of what’s known as “corporate inversions,” meaning American firms reincorporate in foreign countries to avoid paying most or all taxes on profits earned in the U.S.

And — no surprise here — the firms with the most money overseas are the first to lobby Congress to avoid paying taxes on that money. To stop this vicious cycle, CTJ researchers recommend putting an end to something called “deferrals,” an SEC rule that incentivizes tax sheltering. Then all profits earned by U.S. corporations anywhere in the world would be subject to U.S. taxes in the year they were earned.

The CTJ report does more than offer advice on creating a more equitable tax code. It reminds us that the frame of our budget debate is much too narrow. It is typically limited to spending, not revenues, much to the benefit of Republicans, while Democrats are left complaining about the unfair treatment of the middle class.

But the CTJ report does something else, something its authors don’t come right out and say. Our very narrow budget debate is as much about patriotism and national character as it is about justice and fiscal responsibility. Or at least it should be.

Billions and billions are hidden overseas while the rest of us are forced to fight over crumbs. That’s degrading and undignified but also unpatriotic. Prosperity is not only for the very few with the power to enjoy it. This isn’t feudal England.

This is America.

 

By: John Stoehr, The National Memo, April 14, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Republicans, Spending Cuts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The ‘Cromnibus’ Isn’t Without An Upside”: Funding Certainty And A Better Deal Than Could Be Extracted In Next Congress

The so-called Cromnibus is an ugly piece of work. On balance, I’m glad — no, make that relieved — it passed the House.

The Cromnibus is the giant $1.1 trillion spending bill that will keep the government functioning — no, make that open — through the end of the fiscal year in September.

The nickname stems from its dual function as “continuing resolution” and “omnibus” spending bill, but I like the term for its echoes of cronut, the calorie-laden combination of croissant and doughnut. Like the cronut, the Cromnibus is stuffed with some things that aren’t necessarily good for you.

Such as a toxic change in the campaign finance laws that helps usher back the bad old days of multimillion-dollar “soft money” donations to national political parties from wealthy individuals.

Without notice, without the legislative fig leaf of debate, the Cromnibus raised the limit tenfold for individual donations to the national party committees.

With the change, an individual could contribute $1.5 million during a two-year election cycle. A married couple — call them Mr. and Mrs. Plutocrat — could contribute $3 million. That’s enough money to get the Republicans’, or Democrats’, attention. This is bipartisanship in the service of self-interest.

There is a reasonable argument against tight caps on giving to political parties in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision and other developments that enhanced the power of super PACs and even less-transparent outside groups. With the cacophony of outside voices, the parties lose control of their message and their candidates, and the voters lose the ability to know what interests are financing the elections. The playing field could use some leveling.

Yes, but there remains a difference between the corrupting influence of money that flows straight to political parties and money that goes to outside groups. There was a reason Congress, just a dozen years ago, banned unlimited soft money donations from wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions.

With this move, what comes next? And by what undemocratic, last-minute sleight of hand?

A similar case could be made against the stealth dismantling of part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, passed in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse. As the White House said in not threatening to veto the spending bill, the Citigroup-authored change would “weaken a critical component of financial system reform aimed at reducing taxpayer risk.”

That provision, known as Section 716, required banks and other institutions to move certain risky financial instruments into separate entities in order to limit the exposure of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve — i.e., taxpayers — from having to bail the financial institutions out if the deals should go south. Banks remained able to trade in nearly all derivatives, just not the more exotic ones.

Again, there are some reasonable arguments for undoing the remaining restriction. The change doesn’t unravel Dodd-Frank’s regulation of derivative instruments. Section 716 was controversial from the start, with some bank regulators arguing it would increase systemic risk, not reduce it. The impact of the change is debatable; after all, according to FDIC Vice Chairman Tom Hoenig, who opposes undoing the provision, it would not affect 95 percent of derivatives.

Of course, changes like these should be made in the ordinary course of legislative business, not stuffed into a Cromnibus. So why would I express relief about the Cromnibus’s passage?

Because, to some extent, my reference to the ordinary course of legislative business is civics textbook hooey. In practice, it has long been true that special-interest goodies are tucked into must-pass bills. Real-world legislating requires a horrific amount of nose-holding.

The reason is simple: The imperative for horse-trading and compromising is an immutable fact of political life. And so the question, for lawmakers and the Obama administration, is not whether the measure is perfect — it’s whether the trade-offs are acceptable. This is a judgment call; reasonable people, even reasonable Democrats, can differ.

In the case of the Cromnibus, the upside is a year of funding certainty and a better deal than could be extracted in the next Congress. Democrats avoid being blamed for causing a shutdown but, post-floor fight, reap the benefit of having fired a shot across the bow of Republicans and the White House as their caucus revolted.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had a legitimate point in contending that House Democrats were being “blackmailed” to vote for the spending bill. Still, there is something worse than legislative sausage-making in Washington. That is the inability to produce any sausage at all.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Columnist, The Washington Post, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Campaign Financing, Omnibus Spending Bill | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: