by parmenides08, Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 06:43:36 PM EST
by Jonathan Singer, Sat Nov 03, 2007 at 11:42:48 AM EDT
For the better part of the past three decades the Republican Party has promoted itself as the party of tax cuts. What happens, though, when Republicans filibuster legislation that would ensure that as many as 50 million Americans don't get caught in the net of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was originally designed to ensure that the wealthiest among us weren't able to get out of paying federal income taxes? That might not be the way the media is framing this story -- or even how the Democrats are, for that matter -- but that question comes at the heart of the debate over how to deal with the AMT this session of Congress. Edmund L. Andrews reports.
Senate Democrats face an agonizing choice in the days ahead: find a way to raise at least $50 billion in new taxes, or undermine their most important rule for enforcing budget discipline.
With the end of the year fast approaching, Congress has to pass another one-year fix to prevent the alternative minimum tax -- a tax originally created to make sure millionaires paid income taxes -- from engulfing about 23 million households with incomes as low as $50,000.
Democrats and Republicans alike want to prevent that increase, just as they have in the past, but the one-year cost has ballooned and Democratic "pay as you go" rules now require Congress to make up for the lost revenue.
On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a $76 billion bill that would freeze the alternative minimum tax, extend several other tax breaks and pay for that mainly by eliminating a major tax break for people who run private equity funds and scores of other investment partnerships.
But Senate Democrats are less than enthusiastic about that tax increase, and they worry that they cannot muster the 60-vote majority they will need to pass any measure that would comply with the pay-as-you-go rule. [empphasis added]
First of all, shame on Andrews for calling Charlie Rangel's AMT legislation a "tax increase." It is not a tax increase. Not whatsoever. The measure being forwarded in the House by Ways and Means chairman Rangel is a tax reform, one intended to be revenue neutral. While some will see their tax liabilities go up, others -- in fact many others -- will see their tax liabilities go down. In the aggregate, there will be no increase in the amount of taxes being paid by the American people. Ronald Reagan, along with the Democratic House and the Republican Senate, passed tax reform legislation in 1986 that cut taxes for some and raised taxes for other. That measure was not deemed a "tax increase" -- and neither should Rangel's bill.
Leaving aside that shoddy word usage by Andrews, if the Democrats want to have any success on this issue, they're going to have to begin talking about it in a cogent way. This means calling out the Republicans for threatening to filibuster legislation that would ensure that 23 million households don't all of the sudden find themselves subject to a tax initially aimed at the extremely conniving wealthy. That's exactly what Republicans are doing -- threatening to filibuster a reasonable tax reform bill that would save billions for millions of Americans because of their extremist ideology, on the basis of which they are unwilling to pay for pay for today through offsets rather than tomorrow through borrowing.
This is how this issue should be framed. Andrews says it, though not emphatically: "Republicans [are] insisting on 60 votes to limit debate," which is another way of saying they are filibustering the legislation. Now I'm under no delusion that this is necessarily the way this issue is going to play out. But if the Democrats want to win, they're going to have to play hardball -- and in this case that means beating the Republicans at their own game.
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Oct 18, 2007 at 04:35:19 PM EDT
Earlier this week Gallup released some data that quite questionably suggested that President Bush was on firm ground in vetoing the expansion of the SCHIP program and that, similarly, Republicans were on firm ground for upholding that veto. The survey yielded some criticism (for instance here on Pollster.com) -- and for good reason. Their numbers just don't jibe with the vast majority of the other available data on SCHIP. Take a look, for example, at the latest CBS News poll (.pdf).
Currently, a government program provides health insurance for some children in low-income families. Would you favor or oppose expanding this program to include some middle-class uninsured children? TotalRepDemIndFavor81709081Oppose1523715
Would you be willing to pay more in taxes in order to fund the expansion of this program?
** AMONG THOSE WHO SAID FAVOR IN Q67 **TotalRepDemIndYes74688271No17231318
Looking at these results, not only does a 70 percent majority of Republicans favor an expansion of the SCHIP program to cover some middle-class children, which is in effect what the Democrats have proposed (and which some congressional Republicans have supported as well), but a a 47.6 percent plurality of Republicans also favor such a move even if it means that their own taxes were increased. Overall, roughly 60 percent (well, 59.94 percent) of respondents indicated that they themselves would be willing to pay more in taxes in order to extend the SCHIP program to cover some middle class children. These numbers are quite unambiguous.
Even despite these numbers, it's not terribly surprising that the Republicans in the House were able to band together to find enough support to sustain President Bush's veto. In recent history it's been extremely difficult for Congress to override a President. For instance, the Republicans overrode just two of President Clinton's 36 vetoes; the Democrats overrode just one of George H.W. Bush's 29 vetoes; and from August 1974 through 1976, during most of which time the Democrats had a two-thirds majority in the House and a 60-seat majority in the Senate, the Democratic Congress overrode just 12 of Gerald Ford's 48 vetoes.
And with the risk of coming off crass and overly political, on a policy level I don't know that it's the worst thing in the world that the Congress was not able to override this veto. Certainly, I strongly believe in the expansion of healthcare to children. What's more, given that actual people's lives are at stake time is certainly of the essence. That said, the prospect of a Democratic Congress working together with a Democratic President for an even better bill in 2009 -- according to an earlier CBS News/New York Timespoll, 49 percent of Americans would accept seeing their own taxes be raised in return for universal healthcare, and 67 percent of Americans would accept paying higher taxes in return for every American child being covered with healthcare -- isn't a terrible alternative.
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Oct 15, 2007 at 09:22:53 PM EDT
Back in March I pointed to the possibility that North Carolina Republican Congressman Walter Jones, a conservative on most issues other than Iraq, where he has staked out an anti-war position, would leave the GOP and join the Democrats. Well, it hasn't happened yet, but perhaps it may soon given the way Jones' caucus is treating him. The Hill's Jackie Kucinich has the story.
Rep. Walter Jones's (N.C.) position on the Iraq war is likely to keep him out of the Armed Services Committee's Republican leadership despite his seniority, as the panel's ranking member mulls who will succeed former Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) as Readiness subcommittee ranking member, according to sources on both sides of the aisle.
A spokesman for Armed Services ranking member Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said he has yet to make a decision and is working through the process of naming a successor to Davis, who died Oct. 6 following a two-year battle with breast cancer.
Jones most likely will be passed over for the subcommittee's ranking member position for the second time in the 110th Congress, according to a congressional source familiar with the discussions. The anti-war Republican has been slighted in the past for siding with Democratic leadership on Iraq war resolutions.
Despite his party's dissatisfaction, Jones has found it easier to get things done for his district by working with Democrats, he said in an April interview with The Hill.
As I noted back in March, Jones has already previously been a member of the Democratic Party, having unsuccessfully run as a Democrat for the congressional seat being vacated by his father, also a Democrat, in 1992, before winning his current seat as a Republican in 1994. Were he to switch parties during this Congress, he would put a seat (North Carolina 3) that is otherwise not really in play for the Democrats (it leans about 15 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections, according to the Cook PVI) on the map.
There is little doubt that he would be among the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus were he to join it (either as a Democrat or a Democratic-leaning independent). To take one example, Jones voted against the expansion of SCHIP earlier this year -- though that can at least in part be chalked up to the fact that he represents a state uniquely hit by the increased tax on cigarettes (given the prominent role the tobacco industry plays in the North Carolina economy). That said, at least according to the 2006 National Journalvote rankings, Jones lines up on the left side of the aisle, voting liberally than 53.5 percent of his colleagues in the second session of the 109th Congress, which is about as good as one could ask for from a district as inherently Republican as North Carolina's third. So I, for one, would be happy to see Jones jump ship from the Republican Party.
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 10:34:14 PM EDT
I haven't been following the debate over extension of the domestic surveillance bill as closely as others, like those at Open Left or FDL to take two examples, but I'm having quite a bit of difficulty wrapping my head around the rationale here. From The New York Times' Eric Lichtblau and Carl Hulse:
Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.
Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.
As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.
Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence. [emphasis added]
Of course the public still trusts the Democrats more than the Republicans on the issue of terrorism even though Republicans and the conservative media with which they are allied still consistently question the "strength" and "patriotism" of the Democrats (one need look no further than the flap over Barack Obama's decision not to wear an American flag pin for a clear illustration of this continuing effort). What's more, other polling indicates that the American public sides squarely with progressives on the slightly different though related issue of Habeas Corpus.
But for as much as these numbers matter, perhaps more important is the fact that the Bush administration is clearly remiss in defending America against the threat of terrorism. The article on the front page of Tuesday's Washington Post by Jody Warrick, for instance, provides a great (however depressing) retort to suggestions that it is the Democrats, not President Bush and the Republicans, who are weak on national defense.
A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.
Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company's Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.
The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group's communications network.
"Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless," said Rita Katz, the firm's 44-year-old founder, who has garnered wide attention by publicizing statements and videos from extremist chat rooms and Web sites, while attracting controversy over the secrecy of SITE's methodology. Her firm provides intelligence about terrorist groups to a wide range of paying clients, including private firms and military and intelligence agencies from the United States and several other countries.
Here we have a clear example of the Bush administration's lack of regard for the sensitivity of the material that they had on hand (and perhaps their determination to leak such material for political use) leading to a decrease in our ability to monitor and respond to the potential threat posed by Al Qaeda. When the right comes after the Democrats for being weak -- as they will, by the way, whether or not the Congress enacts into law additional domestic surveillance powers -- wouldn't this, or other similar examples, be more effective to point to than a bill passed by Democrats that could potentially shield telecom corporations from liability for allowing the government to eavesdrop on their customers in the past without warrant? I certainly think so. So why, then, pass this legislation out of fear that Democrats would "be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence"?