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GOP ‘Jobs Agenda’ Revives Ineffective Business Tax Giveaway

This week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a memo outlining the House GOP’s supposed “jobs agenda.” In addition to being an assault on organized labor and recommending the elimination of environmental regulations that save tens of thousands of lives every year, the document proposes reviving some of the GOP’s favorite tax cuts, including the so-called “20% Small Business Tax Deduction.”

This particular idea made an appearance in both an “economic plan” that Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) presented to President Obama in 2009 and the GOP’s 2010 Pledge to America. The policy would allow businesses to deduct 20 percent of their income from their taxes, and in Cantor’s words, “immediately free up funds for small business people to retain and hire new employees, and reinvest in and grow their businesses.”

However, as Citizens for Tax Justice pointed out in 2009, there is little reason to think this tax break would be anything but a boondoggle:

The Republican plan proposes to allow a “small business” to take a tax deduction of 20 percent of its pretax income, whether the small business is a corporation or a sole proprietor. The plan defines a “small business” as one with 500 or fewer employees. It makes no distinction based on income. A “small business” making $100 million would get to deduct $20 million of its income right off the top. (Apparently, a company with slightly more than 500 employees would have an incentive to lay off staff to qualify for the tax break!) […]

A business tax cut is just about the least effective stimulus measure Congress could possibly enact. The tax cuts put more money in the hands of business. But there is very little correlation between a corporation’s cash position and its plans for investment—whether expanding capacity or hiring new employees. Businesses invest in expansion when they believe there will be an increase in the demand for the goods and services they provide. If they don’t anticipate a sales increase, they won’t expand no matter how many tax breaks the federal government gives them.

And the Center for American Progress’ Christian Weller noted in 2010 that, while the credit is restricted to business with fewer than 500 employees, it’s still “an ‘upside-down’ tax break that gives the largest benefits to those who already have the highest incomes” because the amount of the deduction is contingent on which tax bracket a business files in (the higher the tax bracket, the more the deduction is worth):

A deduction reduces the taxable income and thus the taxes that somebody has to pay. A business owner with lots of business and other income will thus get a government subsidy of 35 cents for each dollar in deduction, while a small business owner in the 15 percent tax bracket will get 15 cents for each dollar in deductions…Larger businesses could easily use this windfall to outcompete smaller businesses. A larger business owner with a 35 percent marginal tax rate will get a benefit that is 133 percent greater than the benefit that a smaller business owner with a 15 percent marginal tax rate gets for each dollar in tax deduction.

But for the GOP, this idea is so good that it’s worth bringing up over and over again.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, ThinkProgress, September 3, 2011

September 4, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Economy, Environment, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Small Businesses, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Unemployment | , , , | Leave a comment

The Fake James Madison: Conservatives Selective Reading Of The Founding Fathers Threatens Social Security And Medicare

The House Republican plan to phase out Medicare is crashing and burning. Rep.-elect Kathy Hochul (D-NY) just won an impossible election victory by campaigning to keep Medicare alive. The Senate just soundly rejected the House GOP’s plan. Even former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who once shut down the government in a failed attempt to force President Bill Clinton to support draconian Medicare cuts, blasted this Medicare-killing plan as “radical right-wing social engineering.”

Yet even as this concerted assault on Medicare hemorrhages support from elected officials, conservatives have a backdoor plan to get the courts to kill Medicare for them. Numerous lawmakers embrace a discredited theory of the Constitution that would not only end Medicare outright but also cause countless other cherished programs to be declared unconstitutional. Under this theory, Pell Grants, federal student loans, food stamps, federal disaster relief, Medicaid, income assistance for the poor, and even Social Security must all be eliminated as offensive to the Constitution.

In essence, supporters of this constitutional theory would so completely rewrite America’s social contract that they make Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the author of the House GOP plan, look like Martin Luther King Jr. This issue brief explores the legal and historical gymnastics required to accept the conservative position that programs like Medicare and Social Security violate the Constitution.

The general welfare

Although Congress’s authority is limited to an itemized list of powers contained in the text of the Constitution itself, these powers are quite sweeping. They include the authority to regulate the national economy, build a national postal system, create comprehensive immigration and intellectual property regulation, maintain a military, and raise and spend money.

This last power, the authority to raise and spend money, is among Congress’s broadest powers. Under the Constitution, national leaders are free to spend money in any way they choose so long as they do so to “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”  For this reason, laws such as Medicare and Social Security are obviously constitutional because they both raise and spend money to the benefit of all Americans upon their retirement.

Many members of Congress, however, do not believe the Constitution’s words mean what they say they mean. Consider the words of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who recently explained the origin of the increasingly common belief that Congress’s constitutional spending power is so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub:

If you read [James] Madison, Madison will tell you what he thought of the Welfare Clause. He said, “Yeah, there is a General Welfare Clause, but if we meant that you can do anything, why would we have listed the enumerated powers?” Really, the Welfare Clause is bound by the enumerated powers that we gave the federal government.

In essence, Paul and many of his fellow conservatives believe Congress’s power to collect taxes and “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States” really only enables Congress to build post offices or fund wars or take other actions expressly authorized by some other part of the Constitution. According to this view, the spending power is not—as it is almost universally understood —itself an independent enumerated power authorizing Congress to spend money.

Paul’s understanding of the Spending Clause is not simply the idiosyncratic view of an outlier senator. Indeed, there is strong reason to believe his view is shared by the majority of his caucus. In the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections, congressional Republicans released a “Pledge to America,” which broadly outlined their plans for governing if they were to prevail that November.  In it, the lawmakers claimed that “lack of respect for the clear constitutional limits and authorities has allowed Congress to create ineffective and costly programs that add to the massive deficit year after year.”

This language suggests that many conservatives agree with Sen. Paul that Congress is somehow exceeding its constitutional authority to spend money. But there is no support for this view in constitutional text or in Supreme Court precedent.

In its very first decision to consider the issue—its 1936 decision in United States v. Butler—the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that “the power of Congress to authorize expenditure of public moneys for public purposes is not limited by the direct grants of legislative power found in the Constitution,” as Sen. Paul would claim.  Similarly, while the text of the Constitution establishes that “the exercise of the spending power must be in pursuit of ‘the general welfare,’” neither Sen. Paul nor the Pledge cites examples of laws that fail to meet this criterion.

Selectively reading Madison

While conservatives’ narrow understanding of the spending power finds no support in the text of the Constitution or in the Supreme Court’s decisions, Sen. Paul is correct that it does have one very famous supporter. In an 1831 missive, former President James Madison claimed that the best way to read the Spending Clause is to ignore its literal meaning and impose an extra-textual limit on Congressional power:

With respect to the words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.

Sen. Paul suggests that Madison’s extra-textual limit is both authoritative and binding—even if it means that programs ranging from Social Security to Medicare to Pell Grants must all cease to exist. But it is a mistake to assume that Madison’s preferred construction of the Spending Clause must restrict modern-day congressional action.

First of all, even the most prominent supporters of “originalism”—the belief that the Constitution must be read exactly as it was understood at the time it was written—reject the view that an individual framer’s intentions can change constitutional meaning. As the nation’s leading originalist, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, explains, “I don’t care if the framers of the Constitution had some secret meaning in mind when they adopted its words. I take the words as they were promulgated to the people of the United States, and what is the fairly understood meaning of those words.”

Indeed, Madison himself would have been dismayed by the claim that an established understanding of the Constitution must bend to his own singular views. Like Scalia, Madison rejected the notion that the framers’ personal desires can defeat the words they actually committed to text. As he explained to future President Martin Van Buren, “I am aware that the document must speak for itself, and that that intention cannot be substituted for [the intention derived through] the established rules of interpretation.”

Secondly, Madison embraced a way of interpreting the Constitution reminiscent of the evolving theories of constitutional interpretation that are so widely decried by modern conservatives. Although Rep. Madison opposed on constitutional grounds the creation of the First Bank of the United States in 1791, President Madison signed into law an act creating the Second Bank in 1816. He “recognized that Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, and (most important, by failing to use their amending power) the American people had for two decades accepted” the First Bank, and he viewed this acceptance as “a construction put on the Constitution by the nation, which, having made it, had the supreme right to declare its meaning.”

The Constitution is not a scavenger hunt

Even if we must, as Sen. Paul suggests, be bound by the Founding Fathers’ subjective intentions, Madison’s understanding of the Constitution hardly reflects the consensus view among those who created it. The truth is that Madison’s voice was merely one of many competing voices among the founding generation—and his vision of the Constitution was eventually rejected by no less a figure than George Washington himself.

Madison’s chief antagonist in early debates about constitutional meaning was Alexander Hamilton. As the nation’s first secretary of the treasury, Hamilton offered an interpretation of the Spending Clause that closely resembles the modern understanding:

These three qualifications excepted, the power to raise money is plenary, and indefinite; and the objects to which it may be appropriated are no less comprehensive, than the payment of the public debts and the providing for the common defence and “general Welfare.” The terms “general Welfare” were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which Preceded; otherwise numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a Nation would have been left without a provision. The phrase is as comprehensive as any that could have been used; because it was not fit that the constitutional authority of the Union, to appropriate its revenues shou’d have been restricted within narrower limits than the “General Welfare” and because this necessarily embraces a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition.

Hamilton’s understanding of the spending power was one part of a broader, more expansive vision of congressional power that also included a robust interpretation of Congress’s power under the Constitution’s Necessary and Proper Clause.  This broader understanding of Congress’s role prevailed over Madison’s very limited one during the earliest days of the Republic. Hamilton was the chief advocate who convinced President George Washington to sign the First Bank bill over Madison’s objections.

The point here is not that constitutional interpretations should be played like the card game “War,” where conservatives play the Madison card and everyone else plays the Washington card, and whoever plays the higher card wins. Rather, the point is simply that conservatives are wrong to treat the Founding Fathers’ statements as if they were a menu that lawmakers can search through and order the kind of Constitution they want. The Constitution is not a scavenger hunt.

Moreover, it is hardly necessary to dismiss Madison’s tremendous contributions to the Constitution itself in order to recognize why America should not relitigate a 230-year-old argument about America’s power to spend money on programs like Medicare.  Hamilton was undoubtedly correct that his own reading of the Spending Clause is more consistent with the Constitution’s text than the reading offered by Madison—Madison himself concedes as much—but Madison was also correct to warn that the nation rejects a longstanding and widely accepted constitutional interpretation at its peril.

Millions of Americans depend upon programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and federal student loans, and America has grown into the wealthiest and most prosperous nation ever to exist in the years since these programs were enacted. Throughout this golden age, not one Supreme Court justice has questioned what Justice Scalia recently told a gathering of members of Congress: “It’s up to Congress how you want to appropriate, basically.”

Conclusion

Few things are certain in American politics, but after this week one thing is crystal clear—the American people cherish Medicare and they want no truck with an agenda that would destroy it. Sadly, far too many conservative lawmakers refuse to listen to their constituents on this basic and obvious point—to the extent of inventing a theory of constitutional interpretation that would achieve their goal of ending Medicare far sooner than the House Republicans’ ill-considered budget.

Conservatives will tell you that killing Medicare is the only way to read the Constitution consistently with the framers’ intent. Don’t believe them. The truth is that the only way to reach this conclusion is to hunt through the framers’ statements, cherry pick statements that conservatives like, and ignore the very text of the Constitution itself in the process.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, Center for American Progress, May 27, 2011

May 27, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Supreme Court, Taxes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember When The GOP Hated Medicare Cuts?

You’ve seen hypocrisy in politics before. But rarely have you seen the brazen kind Republicans just showed on the House floor, when they voted for Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity.”

Ryan’s budget calls for repealing most of the Affordable Care Act, including both the insurance coverage expansions and creation of an independent board to help restrain Medicare costs. But it would leave in place the rest of the planned reductions in Medicare spending, at least for the next ten years. Among those cuts are $136 billion in reductions to Medicare Advantage plans.

As you may know, Medicare Advantage plans are the private insurance alternative, already in existence, for seniors who prefer to opt out of the traditional, government-run insurance plan. About a quarter of all seniors now use them. The government pays insurers a fee for every senior who enrolls, but studies have shown the government is paying too much. That’s how supporters of the Affordable Care Act have justified the $136 billion reduction.

Throughout the health care debate, Republicans not only rejected these and other arguments for Medicare cuts. They made the cuts a centerpiece of their attacks on Democrats, as the Associated Press noted recently:

“The new law’s massive Medicare cuts will fall squarely on the backs of seniors, millions of whom will be forced off their current Medicare coverage,” the GOP wrote in their Pledge to America, an election-season manifesto. …

In addition to the Pledge to America, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and individual Republican candidates all criticized the cuts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee featured them in ads attacking Democrats in numerous campaign commercials, and some individual candidates made use of the cuts as well.

Ryan and his supporters claim the Medicare reductions in the new Republican budget are different, because Democrats used their cuts to finance more government spending. And that’s partially true. Although Democrats bolstered Medicare drug coverage and arguably put in place policies that will lead to higher quality care, they used the bulk of the saved Medicare money to offset the cost of subsidizing insurance for working-age Americans.

But, by the same logic, Republicans are also diverting most of the Medicare Advantage money away from Medicare. They’re using that money to underwrite the cost of tax cuts for the wealthy.

So Democrats are cutting Medicare to make sure everybody has health insurance, while Republicans are cutting Medicare to make sure millionaires have tax cuts. This is really an argument the Republicans want to make?

By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, April 15, 2011

April 17, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Medicare, Neo-Cons, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Reason on the Budget: House Republicans Have Finally Revealed There Real Vision

After two years of raging at President Obama’s spending plans, House Republican leaders have finally revealed their real vision of small government: tens of billions in ideologically driven cuts to job training, environmental protection, disease control, crime protection and dozens of other critical functions that only the government can perform.

In all, they want more than $32 billion in cuts below current spending packed into the next seven months. They would be terribly damaging to a frail recovery and, while spending reductions must be part of long-term deficit control, these are the wrong cuts, to the wrong programs, at the wrong time.

But they are not deep enough for many Tea Party members, freshmen and other extremists in the House Republican caucus. In a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, they forced the leadership to abandon its cuts and prepare to double them. The new list is expected on Friday and promises to be one of the most irresponsible budget documents ever issued by a House majority.

The Senate should make it clear that it is not worthy of consideration, and President Obama should back them up with a veto threat.

If House Republicans don’t come to their senses, they could shut down the government on March 4 when the stopgap measure that is now financing it runs out. If that does take place, it will at least be clear to voters that their essential government services were turned off in the service of two single-minded and destructive goals: giving the appearance of cutting a deficit that was deliberately inflated by years of tax cuts for the rich, and going after programs that the Republicans never liked in good times or bad.

Many of the Republican freshmen want to stick to the “Pledge to America” that they would cut $100 billion from the president’s 2011 budget, a nice round number apparently plucked from thin air. More experienced Republican leaders knew it would be impossible to cut that much in the remaining few months of the fiscal year and said they would trim the equivalent percentage. Harold Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, warned that the full cut would require laying off F.B.I. agents and air traffic controllers.

If he was trying to make his $32 billion in cutbacks seem modest by comparison, he failed. The list would cut $2 billion from job training programs — precisely what is needed to help employ workers mismatched with the job market. It would cut $1.6 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is struggling to keep up with the growth of greenhouse gases. There would be significant cuts to legal assistance for the poor and renewable energy programs and an end to all spending for AmeriCorps, public broadcasting and high-speed rail.

The battle over the rest of the 2011 budget is only a prelude, of course, to the bigger fight about to begin over the 2012 budget. President Obama is scheduled to unveil his budget on Monday, and already he seems willing to feed the bottomless Republican hunger for cuts rather than fight them. An ominous early sign is his proposal to cut the low-income heating assistance program nearly in half to $2.57 billion. Administration officials say that energy prices have fallen, but, as Democratic lawmakers from the frostbitten Northeast have pointed out to him, there are many more unemployed people now.

Some cuts will have to be made, but strategically it seems to make little sense to start giving away important ones before reaching the negotiating table. Republican lawmakers in the House have already made it clear that they are indifferent to the suffering and increased joblessness their cuts will cause. As the extreme reductions are heaped up in the next few days, Democrats in Congress and in the White House need to make a clear case to the public that quality of the nation’s civic life is at stake.

By: Editorial-Opinion Pages, The New York Times, February 10, 2011

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits, Jobs | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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