Not Extending Temporary Tax Cuts is NOT Increasing Taxes

A couple of days back, The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray penned a front page article examining the differences in the voting records of the two perceived frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. During the course of the study, Murray takes aim at the Senators' respective votes on matters of taxes, writing:

And Obama voted to increase taxes when he opposed a package of business breaks that included the extension of middle-class provisions. Clinton voted for the tax bill -- before she voted against it, as did Obama, in the legislation's final form.

This is shoddy reporting and just plain bad writing from Murray. Back in 2001, when the bulk of these tax cuts were debated and eventually passed in Congress, Republicans repeatedly stressed the fact that the measures were temporary, both to assuage those concerned about the immense debt of the federal government and enlist the support of those who believe in short-term fiscal stimuli for economic downturns but not long-term economic redistribution through tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy. Though Republicans may or may not have been able to slide these tax cuts through Congress by making them permanent rather than temporary, the fact is that they did not, in fact, sell them as permanent. As a result, calling opposition to extending temporary tax cuts support for tax increases is extremely disengenuous.

But it more than just that. It is an undue acceptance of deceitful Republican spin in covering the Democratic primaries -- a big no-no for a non-partisan reporter at a non-partisan newspaper like The Post. If this is the type of reporting and writing we are to expect from the Beltway's biggest newspaper, both in covering the race for the Democratic nomination but also the newly-minted Democratic Congress, we will certainly have our work cut out for us in ensuring that the media offers our side a fair shake. To begin, let Murray know, in the politest of terms, that you find this type of unbalanced writing unacceptable by filling out this email form. Hopefully she will get the message today so that we won't have to put up with this type of drivel in the future.

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Immigration Reform: Good Politics and Good Policy for the Dems

Over the past few weeks, I've been arguing fairly strenuously against the Democrats embracing the type of faux-bipartisanship so desperately sought by the Beltway media (here and here, for example). In short, both the White House and the leadership of the Republican caucuses in Congress have acted in such poor faith in recent years and reneged on so many deals with Democrats only to use those deals to try to defeat Democratic members that there is little reason to place any trust in either of them during the 110th Congress. But there are some exceptions to this rule, including immigration reform. And as Rachel L. Swarns reports for The New York Times today, it appears that things might be moving towards a deal on the issue.

Counting on the support of the new Democratic majority in Congress, Democratic lawmakers and their Republican allies are working on measures that could place millions of illegal immigrants on a more direct path to citizenship than would a bill that the Senate passed in the spring.

The lawmakers are considering abandoning a requirement in the Senate bill that would compel several million illegal immigrants to leave the United States before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.

The lawmakers are also considering denying financing for 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico, a law championed by Republicans that passed with significant Democratic support.

The details of the forthcoming immigration reform packages are still a bit hazy, in part because they have not necessarily been hammered out yet and in part because the bills' proponents are not likely interested in completely laying out their legislation to the public yet. That said, the ideas floating around -- allowing most of those here illegally to have a path to citizenship while removing much of the complicated and not easily implemented tiering (which would divide the  undocumented into categories based upon the length of time they have been in the country) from previously passed Senate legislation -- make for both good policy and good politics.

With regards to policy, it's not clear to me that a Democracy can thrive in the long term wth a permanent underclass of non-citizens living in their midst, whether or not such a situation is allowed under the law. And while legislation creating a path to citizenship for those here illegally today might not wholly alleviate this problem, it will move us much closer to attaining equity under the law for all of the inhabitants of this country.

On the politics side, there are a number of reasons why the Democrats should move forward with immigration reform legislation that would allow for the more than 10 million illegal immigrants to have an arduous, though passable path to citizenship. Two in particular stand out. First, many of these immigrants would likely become Democratic voters in future elections. Second, even bringing up immigration reform (and not necessarily even passing it) would put John McCain in a terribly difficult situation. Though he believes in passing a bill along these lines, which helps him position himself as a moderate and a maverick, joining in the effort to pass this legislation would put him in a tough spot with Republicans, particularly Republican primary voters, making it that much more difficult for him to either gain the Republican nomination or to run in a general election as even somewhat independent.

So once we get past the early stages of the 110th Congress and there have been significant efforts to pass the cornerstones of the Democratic platform, Congressional Democrats should try to make a serious pass at reforming America's immigration policy. Whether or not it ends up enacted into law, such a move will be a net positive for the Democratic Party.

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Copyleft and the 110th

It's probably best to warn you now that I have a lot of ideas stored up about the way things oughta be. And that I'll be unloading them on you over the next few weekends until I get them out of my system. Sorry about that. Next up is copyright.

The problem with the current copyright debate is that the argument for tight restrictions on the creative content is so easy to make. It's on the model of "you wouldn't walk into Tower Records and steal a CD, now would you? Hmm?" That's a story that's compelling in its simplicity and moral clarity. And the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) -- with their very big footprint on Capitol Hill -- have the chance to repeat that basic story again and again. Soon, there's not much room in the heads of legislators and staff for other ways of thinking about copyright.

But the challenge of dealing with the licensing of creative content isn't all that black and white, of course. Consider this, if you might. Documentary films are one of my favorite things in the whole world. I'm intrigued by the idea that non-fiction film has a power to show, rather than tell, why progressive ideas are the way to go. What docs are so great at is telling rich, compelling stories. And there's much power in that because, of course, it's through stories that we learn much of what we know about the world. With that in mind, yesterday morning I started pulling together a list of docs that I might be able to propose as a sort of a progressive non-fiction film "watch list" somewhere down the road.

A natural candidate for the list is Eyes on the Prize, a 14-part series on the American civil rights years from 1954 to 1965, from the early resistance to segregation through Martin Luther King's last years.

Well, to be honest, I'm going on faith that Eyes is a natural fit. I've never seen it. That's because when the filmmakers were assembling the doc, they were so struggling to just get by that they forwent the ideal but expensive "worldwide rights in perpetuity" and paid instead for cheaper but more restrictive terms -- limited-time use, and restrictions on via what formats the finished series could be distributed. As some of those terms have expired since its first-run in the late eighties and early nineties, it's quite tough to even see Eyes today. This prized piece of American cultural history can't legally be shown on TV or sold new. You can't get it on DVD through Netflix or anywhere else. Used non-bootlegged VHS tapes go for about $1300 online.

Eyes on the Prize is a good example of what's tough about making documentaries. There's a real problem now with non-fiction filmmakers having to license the pop-culture that shows up while they're shooting. For example, go here for what "Mad Hot Ballroom" had to go through to clear the music in the film, including the "Rocky" ring tone that plays on a woman's cell phone for six seconds. And then there's the Smithsonian's deal with Showtime that GAO says is stymying the efforts of some independent filmmakers to use footage from their archives.

As they say, history is written by the keepers of creative content rights. Okay, I just made that up. But what's true is that our current regime of content-control is structured to benefit centralized authority, and not the rest of us in the trenches. That won't do. The good news on this is that we do have champions on the Hill on these issues. Should copyright and the control of creative content come up in the 110th Congress, look to Rep. Rick Boucher of southwest Virginia and Rep. Zoe Lofgren of northern California to take the lead. Boucher in particular will likely reintroduce his Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act -- in Boucher's words, an attempt to "restore the historical balance in copyright law."

Update [2006-12-23 15:7:20 by Nancy Scola]: Through a grant from the Ford Foundation and the Gilder Foundation, Eyes on the Prize was re-run and issued on DVD by PBS is fall. See more in the comments.

Dems Can Remind Voters that Good Government IS Possible

Earlier this week we found out that the White House was unhappy that the incoming Democratic Appropriations Chairmen in the House and the Senate, David Obey and Robert Byrd, did not fall into the trap laid by the outgoing Republican Congress; instead of wasting many of the early hours of the 110th Congress trying to pass appropriations bills that the 109th Congress intentionally failed to pass, the Democrats decided to carry forward spending at levels authorized the previous year. Certainly there are downsides to this, most notably that it will cause a number of programs and agencies to be underfunded (which can certainly be changed later on during the session). Yet this quandry was predominantly a result of Republican games rather than Democratic decisions.

Tucked into a front page article in today's Washington Post by Jonathan Weisman and Lori Montgomery that seems to spread blame more evenly among parties than I believe is warranted, is an extremely important fact: Not once during the 12 years of Republican rule over Congress were GOP appropriators able to complete every one of the required funding bills on schedule. Not once.

It has been nearly 20 years since congressional failures left the government to be financed under spending guidelines and formulas rather than line-by-line policymaking. But to federal budget experts, this year's breakdown was hardly surprising. Not since 1994, the last year of Democratic control, has Congress actually passed all of its spending bills. Republican leaders almost ensured logjams by populating the House Budget Committee with conservative spending hawks whose views on the size of government were fundamentally different from many of the appropriators who would have to flesh out the committee's budget blueprints. Ultimately, compromises in those conservative principles have been laid at the feet of the Clinton White House, the demands of the post-Sept. 11 government, or a Democratic-controlled Senate, said Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.

Given the unsurprisingly terrible track record of the GOP Congress during the last two decades, Democrats will have ample opportunity to show voters that they are more able to make government function efficiently than Republicans. It is certainly true that good governance is not a sexy issue, nor is it the most salent issue for voters. But if the Democrats can get government working functioning properly again in short order -- a tough task, no doubt, but one I'm confident they can succeed at -- then they will have at least one accomplishment to run on that the Republicans never had.

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DCCC 100 Hours Survey

Last month I posted my suggestions for the incoming Democratic Congress on tax policy.  Yesterday the DCCC sent out an email surveying us on what we want the House to do in its first 100 hours.  Ignoring the timeframe, I added below some more actions our newly Democratic Congress should take in 2007-08--please take the survey yourself and send them these suggestions!  (Or just include the ones you like :)  I know I'm a bit of an inside the Beltway policy wonk, so I'm happy to explain anything or answer questions.  Thanks!

ban racial profiling, pass the Innocence Protection Act (DNA testing before someone is executed), ENDA (bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (formerly known as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act), end asbtinence-only "education", lift the cap on wages taxed for Social Security, update the 1978 Gas Guzzler Tax so it applies to all cars getting less than 25 mpg, raise fuel efficiency standards to 40mpg, raise the tobacco tax, give the FDA authority to regulate nicotine as a drug, fully fund NCLB, IDEA, Head Start, the Child Care Development Block Grant, and Section 8 (rental housing vouchers for the poor), extend paid FMLA coverage to workplaces of 25+ employees, restore the Clinton ergonomics rule, enact mental health parity, pass clean elections law, cut the Defense Dept, increase Pell Grants and Stafford Loans--not regressive tax deductions for tuition, spend more on rail and other transit and less on air and highway travel, BAN earmarks, create progressive Individual Development Accounts, create an affordable housing trust fund, pass the Kennedy-DeLauro sick leave bill.

DO NOT BE WIMPS!  Pass good bills and force Bush to sign or veto them!

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