Monday, April 25, 2005

Hypocrisy

The link above is to an animation put together by the Alliance for Justice. It depicts a cute and cuddly cartoon character talking about the Republicans effort to squash the filibuster. No mention is paid however to the fact that the Republicans' efforts are limited to judicial nominees. While I can understand we're all afraid of the "slippery slope of politics," I don't believe anyone in the Senate Republicans thinks they have the votes to suspend all filibusters, nor would they desire to completely abolish Senate Rule XIII. That piece of misinformation aside, I would like to point out some of my favorite tid bits from the website. If the people of America allow those maniacal Republicans to get rid of the filibuster they would essentially be rubber-stamping the following policies, which have been condoned by those "crazy right-wing" judges:

Paved the way for the U.S. government to torture people it detains, and for U.S. citizens to be imprisoned without getting a lawyer or going to court

Compared federal laws protecting the environment to the tyranny of King George III over the colonists

Suggested that Social Security is unconstitutional, and accused senior citizens who receive it of "blithely cannibaliz[ing] their grandchildren because they have a right to get as much free stuff" as they can.

Okay, so the website is ridiculous. We can all agree on that...I hope. But what gets me is the fact that for all that cute "Phil A. Buster" talks about the Right Wing's attempts to ride rough shod over 200 years of Senate precedent (well it's actually about 198 years, but who's counting?) , he never mentions that the last, and more serious, effort to abolish the filibuster came from DEMOCRATS.

On January 5, 1995 the Senate, led by Senators Harkin, Lieberman, and Pell (D-RI), considered an amendment to S. Res. 14, providing for the erosion of the ability to filibuster all bills (not just judicial nominees!). Harkin proposed a decreasing system, in which over the course of a month the requirement for cloture on bills would slowly be decreased from 60 to 51. This is similar to what Senator Trent Lott has proposed to do about judicial nominees, which coincidentally all Democrats have opposed. The opposition to the amendment was led by none other than Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who advocated a reverence for tradition and used similar rhetoric to his current floor speeches. Needless to say, I have much more respect for Senator Byrd's attack on Republican attempts today, as he attacked Democrats with equal vigor in 1995. In the end, all Senate Republicans voted for tabling the amendment and not discussing it further, whereas 19 Democrats voted for continued consideration of the amendment. Some of those Democrats are still in the Senate today: Bingaman, Boxer, Feingold, Harkin, Kennedy, Kerry, Lautenberg, Lieberman. Below are a few choice quotes from two of these members, who have remarkably stayed quiet in recent days on their previous support for ending the filibuster:

Lieberman:
The filibuster may have made some sense at one point; it may have been a reasonable idea, but it in fact has been badly misused in our time. You can pick your favorite statistic, but the one that I saw a while ago was that there were more filibusters in the last session of the Senate than in the first 108 years combined.
Others will tell you there have been more since 1990 than the preceding 140 years combined. Whatever the years, it is pretty obvious we have come to a point in the history of this Chamber where the filibuster, the ability of one Member to stand up and stop the body from functioning effectively and to block the will of the majority, is a contributor to gridlock and to our inability to produce and, therefore, to public frustration which is in the air and we are attempting as best we can to respond to them.
...
This right of unlimited speech for Members of the Senate in the particular context of our rules, it seems to me, requires at this point, based on what we have experienced, limitations. Because the ability of an individual Senator to stop the process, the capacity of a minority to make it impossible for a majority to work its will and represent the majority of constituents back home, has come to a point where it has too often threatened the ability of this Chamber to function, to represent, to lead, to be truly deliberative in the sense that we mean it.

Harkin:
I think, Mr. President, that it is important or at least noteworthy, let me put it that way, it is noteworthy that the first vote of this new Congress in the Senate will be a vote on whether we slay this dinosaur called a filibuster. It will be our first vote. It will take place at 11:30, a little over an hour from now. Will we heed what the voters have said, that they want this place to change? That they want us to be more productive. Or is it going to be ''business as usual?'' Stick with a filibuster.
You know the very word ''filibuster'' conjures up images of the past, horses and buggies, outdoor privies, lamplighters. The very word itself conjures up the 18th and 19th century. So, the first vote of this session, are we for change? Or are we for the status quo? Did we get the message in the election? Or are we going to give the American people more of the same of what they had over the last several years?

Anyways, whatever your opinion on modifying Rule XIII, we can thank goodness Republicans are not prepared, as some Democrats were, to completely discard filibusters in all legislative business. But hey, on the bright side, had Democrats gotten their way back then we wouldn't be having these problems with judicial confirmations.

Note: To any would-be commenter (ahem, Rabbit...), I'd rather not discuss the
ads that I neither endorse or agree with from places like the Family Research Council. This is merely a commentary on the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party on this issue. While it is true the Republicans did vote against the Harkin Amendment to S. Res. 14 in 1995, this is not a blatant show of hypocrisy. To reiterate my earlier point, the current Republican tactic is not a full fledged attack on "Phil A. Buster" but rather a limited restriction on its exercise. But for the Democrats to somehow support the broader exercise of majority authority and disagree with this minor exercise seems hypocritical to me. But what do I know?

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Dems Get Beat Down in Fundraising

I'll admit the Republicans main concern shouldn't necessarily be how much cash-on-hand the DNC has, since George Soros is probably willing to finance these next elections entirely, but these last figures have got to please those at the RNC. Democrats were not just beat this last quarter but completely and utterly demolished. I'm not saying this is going to change anything (we should all remember that Bush lead all the Democrats combined by leaps and bounds about 1 year prior to Election Day) but hey as someone that's looking forward to 2006, at least it gives me some optimism about the coming election. Now, if only we could get decent opponents for Senators Maria Cantwell, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Nelson...

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Happy April 15th...

Tax reform has long been a traditional issue of contention between the Republican and Democratic parties. The 2004 presidential election was no different. Always a staple of the Republican platform, tax reform is a key component to President Bush’s second term domestic agenda. With the re-election of President Bush and the Republican domination of Congress, the possibilities for reform have taken a new turn in the form of consumption taxes, specifically a national retail sales tax.

However, the push for a sweeping transformation of the current tax system will be difficult to achieve in the near future. Despite overwhelming support by GOP Congressional candidates to abolish income taxes in favor for the increasingly popular national retail sales tax, the prevailing institutional forces of the current tax system are too deeply entrenched. Yet, significant reform—such as a switch to a consumption tax—is possible in the long term.

In fact, President Bush’s tax cuts may have prodded the country down the path of reform. Although tax cuts have reached a political glass ceiling due to a record budget deficit, this has propelled the President and Congress to advocate significant reform. Earlier last summer while on the campaign trail, the President created an uproar in his acknowledgement that the national retail sales tax was an “interesting idea.” Moreover, two days after re-election he clearly stated, “We must reform our complicated and outdated tax code.”

Currently, the consensus among the dissatisfied is that the system is burdensome, complex and full of loopholes. Considered a burden upon society, Americans are spending up to 6.1 billion hours filing tax returns, meeting with financial planners, and keeping records. True to its complexity, the Internal Revenue Service has roughly 97,000 employees and a 2005 budget of $10.7 billion. Fees for business compliance and tax preparation accounted for 29 percent of revenue for the top 100 accounting firms in the nation.

Opponents have identified a deadweight loss, as this effort could otherwise produce services and products of greater use. Indeed, the intricacies of the tax system have created a huge industry devoted to its implementation and an incentive in the exploitation of loopholes and tax shelters.

The national retail sales tax may be the long-term solution. Levied at the retail stage where the final transaction occurs, the national retail sales tax allows the retailer to collect the designated percentage markup and submit it to the proper tax authority. The most prominent of its legislation is the Fair Tax Act of 2003, which would substitute a 23 percent national retails sales tax for individual and corporate income taxes, as well as all payroll, estate, and gift taxes. This Act proposes a rebate on spending up to the federal poverty level (dependent on family size) as a means to counter the regressive nature of a consumption tax on lower-income families.

Many economists defend its efficiency over income taxes because consumption taxes eliminate the distortion between present and future consumption. Supporters view it as a tax on wages as it removes the automatic penalty incurred by the current system on savings. It also serves as a “lump-sum tax” on overall wealth by guaranteeing that all persons pay taxes upon consumption regardless of the amount earned.

According to supporters, the income tax is an inferior measure of wealth since it only taxes wages and return on capital. However, the ability to consume serves as a better measure as it is directly proportional to the amount of wealth available. A wealthy individual can escape the full payment of income taxes through clever schemes and shelters. For example, Teresa Heinz-Kerry, wife of 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry, best epitomizes the scenario: In 2003, she paid an effective income tax rate of 12.8 percent, which is much lower than the average middle-class rate of 20 percent. Under the consumption tax, Heinz-Kerry could not escape paying taxes.

The consumption tax concept is not brand new and traces its roots to the musings of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Revolutionary for his time (and certainly ahead of his contemporary peers), Hamilton supports consumption taxes in Federalist #21:

“…all duties upon articles of consumption, may be compared to a fluid, which will in time find its level with the means of paying them. The amount to be contributed by each citizen will be in a degree be at his own option, and can be regulated by an attention to his resources. The rich may be extravagant, the poor can be frugal, and private oppression may always be avoided by a judicious selection of objects proper for such impositions.”

The innovative Secretary of Treasury possessed incredible foresight by recognizing the merit of a consumption tax. It would leave to the individual the choice of economic decision and provide the fairest means of taxation.

Although the national retail sales tax is appealing in theory—consequently gaining momentum in its popularity—the difficulty lies in convincing the American people of its merits. Reformers must engage in an aggressive outreach campaign to overcome the entrenched nature of the current system. While a complete system overhaul is impossible, a graduate shift may be what pushes support of a consumption tax over the top. Until then, the best that reformers can hope for is the extension of tax cuts and simplification of tax code.

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