Budget & Taxation
• Four Tenets to Less Government Spending – e21 – Economic Policies for the 21st Century
• The Municipal Government Debt Crisis – Heartland Institute
• Proposed New Farm Programs: Costly and Risky for Taxpayers – The Heritage Foundation
• Soaring National Debt Remains a Grave Threat – The Heritage Foundation
• Taxing Online Sales: Should the Taxman’s Grasp Exceed His Reach? – The Heritage Foundation
• The Big Choice for Jobs and Growth: Lower Tax Rates Versus Expensing – The Heritage Foundation
• The Many Real Dangers of Soaring National Debt – The Heritage Foundation
• The Simple Economics of Pro-Growth Tax Reform – The Heritage Foundation
• Turn Down the Heat, Switch On the Light: A Rational Analysis of Tax Havens, Tax Policy and Tax Politics – Institute of Economic Affairs
• The Best Solution from Both Budgets: “Reverse Logrolling” Shows the Best Option for Government Spending and Tax Reform – John Locke Foundation
• Creating a Fair Property Tax System: Is it Possible? – Public Interest Institute
• Kansas 2013 Tax Reform Improves on Last Year’s Efforts – Tax Foundation
• New Zealand’s Experience with Territorial Taxation – Tax Foundation
• A Review of the 83rd Session of the Texas Legislature – Texas Public Policy Foundation
• Virginia Economic Forecast 2013-2014: State to Add Jobs Despite Sequestration – Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy
Crime, Justice & the Law
• Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse, But It Is Reality – The Heritage Foundation
• Comeback States Report: Reducing Juvenile Incarceration in the United States – Texas Public Policy Foundation
• Scientific Evidence in State Courts: Florida Reform as a Model – Washington Legal Foundation
• Beyond Retrofitting: Innovation in Higher Education – Hudson Institute
• College Credit: Repairing America’s Unhealthy Relationship with Student Debt – Manhattan Institute
Foreign Policy/International Affairs
• Beyond the Border: U.S. and Canada Expand Partnership in Trade and Security – The Heritage Foundation
• The Right Way to Fight Obesity – Hoover Institution
• An Analysis of the Proposed Medicaid Expansion in Michigan – National Center for Policy Analysis
• Veterans Affairs Fails to Curb Suicide Epidemic – National Center for Policy Analysis
• Advancing the Immigration Nation: Heritage’s Positive Path to Immigration and Border Security Reform – The Heritage Foundation
• Senate Immigration Bill Does Not Require Payment of All Back Taxes – The Heritage Foundation
• FCC Must Maintain Open Eligibility for Incentive Spectrum Auction – Free State Foundation
Monetary Policy/Financial Regulation
• Rethinking the FHA – American Enterprise Institute
• Recent Arguments against the Gold Standard – Cato Institute
• Obama’s Wish to Cut Nuclear Arsenal Undermines National Security – The Heritage Foundation
• Preventing the Next “Lone Wolf” Terrorist Attack Requires Stronger Federal–State–Local Capabilities – The Heritage Foundation
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & Science
• Efficiency Policy – American Action Forum
• Five Solutions for Addressing Environmental Overcriminalization – American Legislative Exchange Council
• Improving Incentives for Federal Land Managers: The Case for Recreation Fees – Cato Institute
• Denial of Supreme Court Review Leaves Ninth Circuit ESA Case Intact – Washington Legal Foundation
• Ohio Court Limits Localities’ Authority over Energy Exploration – Washington Legal Foundation
• Paint Is Cheaper Than Rails: Why Congress Should Abolish New Starts – Cato Institute
• Moving the Road Sector into the Market Economy – Institute of Economic Affairs
Notes on the Week
Rector on CBO on immigration: The Congressional Budget Office told us this week that letting large numbers of immigrants into the country and changing the status of those currently here illegally will be great for the economy and the federal budget. Robert Rector has a few things to say about the CBO’s scoring of the Gang of Eight immigration bill. Here are the highlights:
[T]he immigration coming in under this bill looks like previous immigration in the sense that its predominantly lower-skilled plus the fact that you’re taking 11 million illegal immigrants and giving them access to the welfare and entitlement states. They have an average education of 10th grade, so it’s very difficult to imagine that those households would somehow pay enough in taxes to equal their benefits […] .
The trick is the CBO 10-year budget window. […] For mysterious reasons, when an amnesty bill is written, the amnesty recipients become eligible for everything under the sun in about the 11th year. So that they pay taxes in the first 10 years and they don’t get additional benefits for some mysterious reason until you move outside the CBO budget window. […]
[T]he federal government, because of Social Security and Medicare, inherently transfers from the non-elderly to the elderly. State and local governments kind of do the opposite. If you just look at state and local governments you would find that they transfer from the elderly to the non-elderly to pay for education. The elderly pay a lot of property tax; they don’t get any education benefits any more. […] Of course immigrants are not elderly themselves. For a limited period of time they pay in but then they take out more than they have paid in. It’s important to put both flows together because the opposite process is happening down at the state and local level. […]
One of the interesting things that CBO does tell us is that the number of illegal immigrants who will enter the country over the next 20 years goes down by only 25 percent. There would have been, they estimate, 10 million illegal immigrants entering over the next 20 years. They estimate that that will drop to 7.5 million illegal immigrants entering the country […] . The net cost of those illegals alone would be about $400 billion over that period. […]
When you look at the Gang of Eight explain their bill they always say: Oh, we’re shifting from low-skill immigration to high-skill immigration. You can trust us. That’s what we do. But in fact the numbers from CBO show exactly the opposite. Roughly 80 … 85 to 90 percent of the individuals getting green card status are not skill-based. [The Foundry, June 21]
Turn on, tune in, pay up. Online learning may transform higher education someday, but right now it serves mainly as a prop in the familiar university system, say Andrew Kelly and Frederick Hess:
Many online programs generate large revenues because most colleges charge the same price (or more!) for students enrolled online as for those on campus. A survey of 199 universities by the educational technology arm of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education found that 93 percent of universities charged the same or higher tuition for their online programs. This is bizarre, given that online courses are less costly to deliver than in-person courses. But instead of competing on price (meaning that cost savings get passed to the student), institutions have maintained in-person prices for online courses—even as the cost of delivery has fallen.
What do colleges do with that extra revenue? They cross-subsidize activities on the brick and mortar campus: unfunded research, student life, institutional aid programs, and so on. Put more genteelly, they “reinvest” it in their traditional campus.
Real innovation, as Kelly and Hess point out, is about unbundling the research-based university, and that’s not going to happen until the government regulations, subsidies, and accreditation policies that protect that model from competition are reformed. [“Beyond Retrofitting: Innovation in Higher Education,” by Andrew P. Kelly and Frederick Hess, Hudson Institute, June 2013.]
Not even low-income workers can count on coming out ahead under ObamaCare. Some low-income workers could end up paying a lot more for health insurance than they paid before ObamaCare became law, reports Jillian Kay Melchior. ObamaCare requires employer-provided health insurance to cover at least 60 percent of health-care costs while not costing employees more than 9.5 percent of their household incomes. Since low-income households may have multiple sources of income, it can be difficult for companies to figure out if a particular plan is sufficient to avoid penalties. The federal government has proposed “safe harbor” standards in order to provide clarity: Companies offering plans that have a $3,500 deductible, a $6,000 cap on out-of-pocket costs, and premiums of $90 or less per month would put companies in the clear of any penalties. Under those standards, says Melchior, a low-income worker not eligible Medicaid has few good options:
He could take the employer’s plan — but if it’s a safe-harbor plan, it would cost, at minimum, $1,080 a year. And that’s before the deductible is even factored in. For someone who earns $28,725 a year, falling at 250 percent of the poverty level, these costs are sizeable.
Option two: He could shop around on the health exchange for an alternative. But because his employer provides a sanctioned plan, he’s disqualified from any subsidy he might have received to help offset costs. Even a very basic plan would cost up to $2,316 a year in premiums alone.
Option three: Forgo insurance altogether and pay the steadily increasing penalty to the federal government. In 2014, for an individual, that’s $95 for the year or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater. But by 2016, it will rise to either $695 or 2.5 percent of household income. And that’s not even factoring in whether the worker has kids. In that case, he could face an annual penalty of $2,085 or more by 2016. […]
Before, many employers who paid by the hour offered limited medical plans. These policies often got a bad rap because of their lack of catastrophic coverage. But to their credit, they were inexpensive and contributed to health-care costs immediately, without workers needing to first meet a deductible.
Now, these low-wage hourly workers would be forced to spend at least $5,300 before their coverage really begins to benefit them. [National Review, June 17]
Who elected those guys? ask teachers in Kansas. Last week, teachers in Deerfield, Kansas, did something that almost never happens, report James Sherk and Michael Cirrotti: They voted to decertify their union:
Unlike most public officials, unions do not stand for re-election, so their members cannot regularly hold them accountable. Workers can remove an unwanted union only by filing for decertification. But bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult to hold a vote on decertification. The hoops Deerfield’s teachers had to jump through illustrate this problem.
Joel McClure, the teacher who led the effort, submitted the appropriate paperwork to the Kansas Department of Labor in November 2012. But Kansas teachers can request a vote only in a two-month window every three years. KNEA officials contested the petition by claiming that the teachers missed the December 1 deadline. (The Department of Labor had misplaced the initial petition paperwork.) Then the KNEA objected that the teachers’ attorney was not certified in Kansas and that they did not have enough signatures. However, the teachers prevailed and voted out their union—in June, just eight months after the initial submission.
When asked why they went through such protracted effort, the teachers said their union ignored their concerns. They wanted instead to be actively involved in negotiations and work collaboratively with the school district. “The desire is for teachers to participate at the [bargaining] table, to have free access to information,” McClure said. “In our little school district, there’s no reason we can’t sit down at the table and work out our issues.” [The Foundry, June 18]
Did we mention that next week is National Employee Freedom Week?
The death panel is coming. Last week, a federal judge in Philadelphia blocked the enforcement of an age-limit rule on lung transplants, thus allowing a very sick 10-year-old girl to obtain a new set of lungs. Doctors had said the girl, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, would live only three to five weeks without new lungs. Earlier, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had said she would not to intervene in the case by overturning the rule.
When the ObamaCare-created Independent Payment Advisory Board is up and running in two years, it too will make decisions on matters of life and death, but unlike Sebelius’s decision on lung rules, the decisions of the IPAB cannot be reviewed by courts. Those decisions are also protected from politics in some extraordinary ways. As David Rivkin and Elizabeth Foley explain, the IPAB set-up is certainly unconstitutional, but likely not challengeable in the short run because no one would have standing to sue:
Once the board acts, its decisions can be overruled only by Congress, and only through unprecedented and constitutionally dubious legislative procedures—featuring restricted debate, short deadlines for actions by congressional committees and other steps of the process, and supermajoritarian voting requirements. The law allows Congress to kill the otherwise inextirpable board only by a three-fifths supermajority, and only by a vote that takes place in 2017 between Jan. 1 and Aug. 15. If the board fails to implement cuts, all of its powers are to be exercised by HHS Secretary Sebelius or her successor. […]
The power given by Congress to the Independent Payment Advisory Board is breathtaking. Congress has willingly abandoned its power to make tough spending decisions (how and where to cut) to an unaccountable board that neither the legislative branch nor the president can control. The law has also entrenched the board’s decisions to an unprecedented degree.
In Mistretta v. United States (1989), the Supreme Court emphasized that, in seeking assistance to fill in details not spelled out in the law, Congress must lay down an “intelligible principle” that “confine[s] the discretion of the authorities to whom Congress has delegated power.” The “intelligible principle” test ensures accountability by demanding that Congress take responsibility for fundamental policy decisions.
The IPAB is guided by no such intelligible principle. ObamaCare mandates that the board impose deep Medicare cuts, while simultaneously forbidding it to ration care. Reducing payments to doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers may cause them to limit or stop accepting Medicare patients, or even to close shop.
These actions will limit seniors’ access to care, causing them to wait longer or forego care—the essence of rationing. ObamaCare’s commands to the board are thus inherently contradictory and, consequently, unintelligible.
Moreover, authorizing the advisory board to make rules “relating to” Medicare gives the board virtually limitless power of the kind hitherto exercised by Congress. For instance, the board could decide to make cuts beyond the statutory target. It could mandate that providers expand benefits without additional payment. It could require that insurers or gynecologists make abortion services available to all their patients as a condition of doing business with Medicare, or that drug companies set aside a certain percentage of Medicare-related revenues to fund “prescription drug affordability.” There is no limit. [Wall Street Journal, June 19]
What is candy? Depends on which state wants to tax it online. Forcing online retailers to remit sales taxes to the state where the purchaser resides, as the federal Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) does, is not going to level the playing field between online and bricks-and-mortar retailers. Rather, as James Gattuso explains, it will tilt the playing field heavily against online retailers—especially smaller ones:
While the legislation does require states to provide retailers with free software for managing tax compliance, that software need only cover the individual state. Retailers are left on their own to get nationwide software, unless they want to integrate 46 individual software packages. No compensation is offered for recurring costs incurred by retailers, such as accounting services or online tax management services.
In addition, internal staff time would be needed for an array of tasks, including handling claims by tax-exempt customers, fielding inquiries from tax authorities, and addressing the inevitable glitches.
Even the simple act of classifying the item being sold can be problematic, with thousands of idiosyncratic distinctions and definitions through each state’s tax code. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin flag as well as the U.S. flag is not subject to tax. All other flags are taxable. Unless they are bundled with flagpoles, in which case the rules change yet again.
Similarly, candy is defined—under the “streamlined” sales tax agreement, as “a preparation of sugar, honey, or other natural or artificial sweeteners in combination with chocolate, fruits, nuts or other ingredients in the form of bars, drops, or pieces.” But sellers beware: “‘Candy’ shall not include any preparation containing flour and shall require no refrigeration.” Thus defined, states still vary on whether the concoction is taxable or not.
The problems do not end with the sale. Each of the 46 state tax authorities with which retailers would have to deal directly require tax returns to be completed, on an annual, quarterly, or even weekly basis. To ensure that it is all done correctly, sellers would be subject to audits from each of 46 states. (If tax authorities on Indian reservations are included—as they are in the MFA as passed by the Senate—the number of tax forms and potential audits jumps to the hundreds.) [The Heritage Foundation, June 19]
Carbon taxers forget the externalities of not using cheap, abundant energy. One reason putting a tax on carbon in order to price its negative externalities is not a free-market idea:
[E]ven if SCC [social cost of carbon] estimates were not assumption-driven hocus-pocus, their use by activists, policymakers, and agencies would still be biased and misleading, because proponents of “climate action” always ignore the social costs of carbon mitigation.
As Cato Institute scholar Indur Goklany explains in a recent study, fossil fuels are the chief energy source of a “cycle of progress” responsible for the amazing improvements of the past 250 years in life expectancy, health, nutrition, safety, comfort, human capital formation, and per capita income. The cycle of progress is to no small extent a “positive externality” of fossil fuels. Thus, policies that suppress the extraction, delivery, and consumption of fossil fuels, or that make fossil energy less affordable, have social costs in addition to whatever compliance burdens and economic losses the policies entail.
For example, the more stringent the carbon mitigation scheme, the more severe the impacts on household income and job creation. Numerous studies find that poverty and unemployment increase the risk of sickness and death. Carbon tax advocates never acknowledge this side of the ledger.
Given the continuing importance of fossil fuels to human flourishing and the undeniable connection between livelihoods, living standards, and life expectancy, carbon taxes can easily do more harm than good to public health—even if one accepts the IPCC’s version of the science.
That’s from Marlo Lewis’s excellent summary of the recent R Street-Heartland Institute debate on the carbon tax. [GlobalWarming.org, June 16]
Progressives make use of rights that progressives think should not exist. It’s a good thing for progressives—and everybody else—that one particular progressive idea hasn’t been adopted, observes Wendy Kaminer:
If progressives had their way, the ACLU’s latest challenge to the NSA’s domestic surveillance would easily be dismissed.ACLU v Clapper, filed in the wake of the Snowden revelations, is based on the ACLU’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, which, according to progressives, ACLU should not possess. It is, after all, a corporation, and constitutional amendments aggressively promoted by progressives would limit constitutional rights to “natural persons.”
“The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities,” the popular People’s Rights Amendment declares. [The Atlantic, June 17]
Arthur Koestler’s protagonist in Darkness at Noon referred to the first-person singular as a “grammatical fiction” because it conflicted with the logic of self sacrifice demanded by the party. Today’s real progressives are now trying to subvert the plural form. By insisting that only individuals, not corporations, have rights, they elide the fact that corporations are made up of individual people. Individuals can’t fully exercise their rights if the things they choose to do cooperatively with others do not have the same protections as the things they choose to do alone. Maybe the American Civil Liberties Union can spread the word.
• Find out what Russia is up to with its efforts to construct a Eurasian Union. The Heritage Foundation will host a half-day conference on June 27 in Washington, D.C.
• Reflect on the Battle of Gettysburg and its meaning for the nation, which happened 150 years ago this July. Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College will make remarks at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., at 4:30 p.m. on June 26.
• If you are a young, professional, conservative woman, come meet other young, professional, conservative women at the Network of enlightened Women’s National Conference. The conference will be held June 27 – June 28 at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Christina Hoff Summers will deliver a keynote address.
• Request a free copy of the movie Amazing Grace, which tells the true story of William Wilberforce’s fight to abolish slavery. The offer is part of the Foundation for Economic Education’s Blinking Lights Project, which educates about the importance of personal character as a vital element of free society. Be sure to check that out, too.
• Don’t forget that next week is National Employee Freedom Week, “a national effort to inform union employees of the freedom they have regarding opting out of union membership and making the decision about union membership that’s best for them.”
• Save the dates! These events are no longer classified, are they?
—The annual IEA Hayek Memorial Lecture, delivered this year by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, talking on “The Leave Us Alone Coalition vs. The Takings Coalition: The On-going Struggle” at 6:30 p.m. in London;
—The 42nd National Fourth of July Soiree, featuring barbeque, blue grass, balloon artists, and more at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville, Va., on July 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.;
—The Heritage Foundation’s annual Scholars & Scribes review of the Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 term, July 11, in Washington, D.C.;
—Freedom Fest, the largest gathering of free minds, July 10 – July 13 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas;
—and Cato University, July 28 – August 3 at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.