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“How Could Paul Ryan Have Known?”: Super-Wonk, Budget Wizard And Speaker-Designate Ryan Didn’t Know What His Staff Was Up To?

One of the more ridiculous and cynical features of this whole surprise budget deal is Paul Ryan’s expressions of horror and anger. Aside from the fact that the Republican House leadership is not about to blindside their hand-picked Speaker on something this big, there’s the little issue that Ryan’s staff helped draft a big chunk of it. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney has the story:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday morning that he hadn’t seen the new bipartisan budget deal and that the secretive process used to craft it “stinks,” but there’s stuff in the bill that should smell good and familiar to him.

One of its most important provisions makes changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, and some of those changes came from the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Social Security and which Ryan chairs.

“Paul Ryan’s staff was involved in crafting the provision for weeks,” a Democratic aide told HuffPost. “His staff signed off on the provision, his staff also signed off on other key provisions” related to tax compliance and Medicare.

Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck denied that Ryan’s committee staff crafted the disability provision within the context of the legislation, which was negotiated by the White House with party leaders in the House and Senate. The committee had been working on changes to disability benefits earlier this year; Buck acknowledged that Ways and Means staff were aware the disability provision would be included.

At 52 pages, the disability insurance provision comprises a significant portion of the 144 page bill. It would prevent a 20 percent benefit cut scheduled to kick in next year for SSDI’s 11 million beneficiaries by diverting revenue from Social Security’s better-known retirement insurance program — a strategy some Republicans previously said amounted to “raiding” that program’s coffers.

The bill is also supposed to save $4 or $5 billion by tightening eligibility requirements for disability benefits, partly by requiring the Social Security Administration to make sure all initial applications include a medical screening.

But we’re supposed to believe super-wonk, budget wizard and Speaker-designate Ryan didn’t know what his staff was up to or how it related to an overall budget deal. Give me a break.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Paul Ryan, Social Security | , , , , | 3 Comments

“IRS Hearings Are Another Republican Circus”: A Folly Wrapped In A Charade And Shrouded By Farce

Dave Camp had a secret.

The House Ways and Means Committee chairman was ready to send the panel’s files on former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for a possible prosecution — a handover that could have been accomplished with a simple phone call to the attorney general. Instead, Camp put on a show.

The Michigan Republican invited the press and the public to the committee’s storied hearing room Wednesday, only to call an immediate vote to kick them out. This way, the panel could meet in a closed session to debate Lerner’s fate — a dramatic but meaningless gesture because the sole purpose of the secret meeting was to authorize releasing the committee’s files on Lerner to the public.

Republicans said the closed session was required to make the information public, but the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sandy Levin (Mich.), said the debate should be held in the open.

“Mr. Chairman?” he inquired after the plan to go into secret session was announced.

Camp ignored Levin. “The clerk will call the roll,” he said.

“Mr. Chairman?”

“The clerk will call the roll.”

“Mr. Chairman?”

“The clerk will call the roll.”

Levin pressed on, patiently raising a point of order.

“Just chill out,” the 60-year-old Camp finally snapped at his 82-year-old colleague.

“I’m very chilled out,” Levin replied.

This was true. Levin hadn’t raised his voice at all. Camp, on the other hand, was agitated — for good reason.

The lawmaker, who is retiring at the end of this term, has built a solid reputation over the years, and he recently won plaudits for releasing a thoughtful proposal to overhaul the tax code. Camp was on course to retire with dignity — at least until he allowed his committee room to be turned into a circus tent Wednesday. It was a folly wrapped in a charade and shrouded by farce.

Folly: There was no need to have a formal hearing to convey the information to the Justice Department, which is already investigating the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.

Charade: The committee made a big show of having its secret hearing, even though it was a foregone conclusion that the members would vote along party lines to release its “secret” information — including the transcript of the secret hearing — to the public.

Farce: Camp said Lerner could be prosecuted for releasing private taxpayer information. Yet in making public its Lerner files, the committee used its authority to do legally the same thing it accused her of doing illegally: releasing confidential taxpayer information. That hadn’t been done in at least 40 years.

Of course, the taxpayers whose information was released — mostly related to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS group — may not mind, because they have an interest in seeing somebody pay for the IRS’s targeting of a disproportionate number of tea party groups for extra scrutiny.

The IRS scandal didn’t come close to the “culture of corruption” Camp promised or the “targeting of the president’s political enemies” and coverup alleged by Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose committee is holding the contempt vote. Instead, the investigations didn’t go beyond Lerner, a civil servant who led the agency’s tax-exempt division. “This was a career employee in the IRS potentially who did all these things,” Camp said after Wednesday’s secret session. “So we have to make sure that the signal goes out that this doesn’t happen again.”

That’s a reasonable sentiment, and one shared by Levin, who on Wednesday said Lerner had been guilty of “clear mismanagement.” Democrats objected not to Camp turning over the committee’s information on Lerner, but to the cloak-and-dagger hearing followed by the wholesale release of tax records.

The AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher asked Camp why he didn’t just “pick up the phone” rather than make private taxpayer files public.

Camp agreed that such a release was unprecedented but said, “This is so important that I think the public has a right to know.” He repeatedly called the matter “important” and “a very serious thing.”

But the chairman’s claims of importance were undermined by his committee’s antics, including its showy secrecy. Reporters, waiting out the two-hour closed session in the hallway, were treated to Krispy Kreme doughnuts by the committee’s staff. But inside the room, other staffers were unplugging the journalists’ cables, just to be sure nobody pierced the veil.

When Camp reconvened the hearing after the secret session, cameramen called out for him to wait as they reassembled their equipment. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) complained. “Are you guys ready?” he moaned.

But Camp waited, which was wise. What good is a farce if it isn’t on film?


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 9, 2014

April 11, 2014 Posted by | IRS, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not Too Smart”: How The IRS Planted The Question That Sparked The Tea Party Scandal

Washington tax lawyer Celia Roady acknowledged that at the behest of the IRS, she asked a question at a May 10 conference that would ignite the controversy over inappropriate targeting of conservative groups.

Four days before a damning Inspector General’s report was due to be released, the IRS wanted to get out ahead and potentially defuse some of the backlash.

Roady serves on the IRS Advisory Committee on Tax-Exempt and Government Entities. She asked the planted question to Lois Lerner, the IRS’ director of the tax-exempt division. Within minutes, it sparked shock and a firestorm that the IRS had revealed it inappropriately targeted certain groups, particularly with the words “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their title.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the firm that employs Roady, released a statement on her behalf explaining her role in asking the question:

“On May 9, I received a call from Lois Lerner, who told me that she wanted to address an issue after her prepared remarks at the ABA Tax Section’s Exempt Organizations Committee Meeting, and asked if I would pose a question to her after her remarks.  I agreed to do so, and she then gave me the question that I asked at the meeting the next day. We had no discussion thereafter on the topic of the question, nor had we spoken about any of this before I received her call. She did not tell me, and I did not know, how she would answer the question.”

Outgoing Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller confirmed during testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday that the question had been planted.

That led to intense questioning from members of Congress, who wondered why Lerner did not reveal the news during testimony before the committee on May 8, two days before the conference.

Miller said that the plan had been to simultaneously notify Congress after Lerner’s public admission, but acknowledged that “didn’t happen.”

“She has been directly involved in this matter,” Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said on Friday. “She failed to disclose what she knew to this committee, choosing instead to do so at an ABA conference two days later.

“This is wholly unacceptable.”


By: Bret LoGiurato, Business Insider, May 18, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Under The Money Tree”: Corporations Aren’t The Only Ones Benefiting From Low Corporate Taxes

If you are Exxon Mobil, Verizon or General Electric, chances are filing taxes over the past few years has been significantly less painful than for the average American.

And Sunlight Foundation senior fellow Lee Drutman says that’s because everyday Americans don’t have lobbyists on the hill fighting for them.

“If you think you wound up paying too much in taxes this year, maybe you ought to hire a lobbyist or two or 20,” Drutman writes in a recent report. A Sunlight Foundation study shows that of the country’s 200 largest corporations, the eight companies that dished out the most money for lobbying on Capitol Hill between 2007 and 2010 saw major savings in corporate taxes. Six of the companies even saw a more than 7 percent drop in their tax rate over the years.

AT&T for example, a company that spent more than $70 million on federal lobbying saw a 40.4 percent decrease in their rate, a more than $7 billion savings on corporate taxes. Northrop Grumman’s tax rate also decreased from nearly 33 percent to just over 20 percent after they doled out $57 million for lobbyists to pitch their causes on Capitol Hill.

All together the “Big Eight” paid $540 million for federal lobbying and saved over $11 billion in taxes. Drutman estimates the return on investment to be roughly 2,000 percent.

With all of the changes in tax code, it’s easy to see how companies can save so much in just a few years.

“In 2005, the President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform counted approximately 15,000 separate changes to the tax code since 1986,” Drutman said.

And the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, the country’s written tax code document, has more than doubled from 33,000 pages in the mid-1980s to more than 72,000 pages today.

However, corporations are not the only ones benefiting from low corporate taxes.

Drutman says that congressmen who sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, the congressional arm in control of tax regulation, receive about $250,000 more in fundraising contributions than their fellow lawmakers.

“Being on Ways and Means is like having Christmas every day,” says Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University and expert on influence in politics. “They barely have to raise any money. It rains down upon them. They are standing under the money tree.”


By: Lauren Fox, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World report, April 17, 2012

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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