You Cannot Be Too Cynical About the Republican Tax Bill

The rush to enact the tax bill was designed to mask — as a break for the middle class — what is in fact a $1.4 trillion package of benefits for key donors and lobbyists, the richest members of Congress, President Trump, his family and other families like his.

.. The speed from introduction to passage — seven weeks, with no substantive hearings — effectively precluded expert examination of the legislation’s regressive core, its special interest provisions and the long-term penalties it imposes on the working poor and middle class through the use of an alternative measure of inflation — the “chained CPI.”

.. The primary authors of the report — Ari Glogower, David Kamin, Rebecca Kysar, and Darien Shanske — describe the legislation as “a substantial blow to the basic integrity of the income tax” that will “advantage the well-advised in ways that are both deliberate and inadvertent.”

.. The most serious structural problems with the bill are unavoidable outcomes of Congress’s choice to preference certain taxpayers and activities while disfavoring others — and for no discernible policy rationale.

These haphazard lines are fundamentally unfair and inefficient, and invite tax planning by sophisticated taxpayers to get within the preferred categories.

..  The game is clear: Don’t be an employee, instead be an independent contractor or partner in a firm.” The ability to make this shift is available primarily to the well-paid.

.. It means that old property can still get the benefit of expensing, but only if it is sold to another party. If the original owner holds it, they have to depreciate according to the old rules; if they sell it to another party, then suddenly the full cost is eligible for expensing

.. It appears that the buyer of the asset could even lease it back to the existing owner, so that the property doesn’t even have to go anywhere.

.. create new incentives to shift tangible assets (and jobs) abroad. Given President Trump’s relentless message about U.S. jobs, it is incomprehensible to me that we are about to pass something that has this effect without any kind of meaningful discussion of the issue.

.. lower and middle-income families, who are especially dependent upon inflation-indexed deductions, credits, and bracket thresholds, will feel the impact increasingly as time goes on.

.. In the long term, Hemel argued,

this is a very subtle way to increase taxes on the lower and middle classes and then use those revenues to pay for a massive tax cut for corporations.

.. the shift to chained CPI — a less generous, slower-growing measure of inflation than the one currently in use — would not only result in a tax increase over time, it would set a precedent for Republicans who would like to use the same method to pare back so-called entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. It is, in effect, a backdoor method of reducing benefits for the elderly and the disadvantaged without public scrutiny or debate.

.. offers little redress to workers who have grown to believe that the country’s tax law thicket advantages those with power, political connections and lawyers on retainer.

.. (2) Carried interest provision. When Trump was careening around in his populist candidate mode, he promised to end it. Here is one campaign promise that he “somehow” failed to redeem when the clear and available chance presented itself.

(3) Restriction on state and C local tax deduction — consciously vindictive imposition of double taxation on citizens of certain Democratic states

.. (4) Expanding the standard deduction but financing the cost of so doing by repealing the personal exemptions is a bit of a bait and switch maneuver. Some people might be worse off.

(5) In a bill in which 100s of billions of dollars were sloshing around to provide steep tax cuts for already wealthy and highly prosperous corporations and pass through businesses, the Republicans could only find the will to raise the refundable portion of the child care tax credit from $1000 to $1400. Rubio wanted it to be raised to $2000 and his Republican brethren refused to even meet him halfway. Pitiful.

.. (6) Deduction for extraordinary medical expenses — retention of this deduction did not even get the five-year sunset window applied to all the other individual tax provisions, two years only. Vicious.

.. How well does this procedure stand up to the requirements Senator Ben Sasse specified in his maiden Senate speech on Nov. 3, 2015? In it, Sasse argued that the Senate was failing in its responsibility to fully air and debate the important issues before the county, calling for what he called “a cultural recovery inside the Senate”:

.. Good teachers don’t shut down debate; they try to model Socratic seriousness by putting the best possible construction on arguments, even — and especially — if one doesn’t hold those positions.

.. How could nearly every Republican representative — and all 52 Republican senators — support the tax bill? The best answer may be the most cynical: because it benefits key leaders, their friends, their heirs and their donors.

.. it is difficult to conclude that the motivations of its sponsors are either benevolent or somehow in the best interests of the country. More likely it is hypocrisy and venality mixed up into one awful bill.

The rise and fall of the Podestas, Washington’s powerful political brother act

Fox News is calling the Podesta brothers “central figures” in the Mueller probe.

.. Tony is obviously a big Democrat, but he has Republican friends and represents some clients that have more in common with the Republican side than the Democratic side. John is a hard partisan — a lot of people think of him as more strident, doing things that have never been done before to get your way.”

.. Tony built his firm into one of the top lobbying shops in the country — walks a delicate line between principle and profit. For every feel-good cause or nonprofit client, there’s a corporation or a foreign government with public relations problems and buckets of money to spend.

.. Tony’s work for Saudi Arabia has caused some raised eyebrows among human rights activists. Last year, the Podesta Group — one of several lobbying and PR shops the Saudis hired — was paid $140,000 a month by the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court

.. “You try to help people tell their story, and you try to make them better. I think that’s all to the good.”

.. Podesta and the other firm, Mercury Public Affairs, say that they were hired by the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, a nonprofit group based in Brussels, to boost Ukraine’s reputation in the United States and increase its chances of joining the European Union.

.. the question among lobbyists in Washington is why someone at the top of his game like Tony would have anything to do with Manafort, whom one Republican lobbyist described as a “shady businessman advocating for murderers, thugs and thieves — even if those criminals were heads of states.

Gorka: Roy Moore’s Victory in Alabama Primary a ‘Revolutionary Moment in American Politics’

Dr. Sebastian Gorka, chief strategist for the MAGA Coalition and former deputy assistant to President Trump, told SiriusXM hosts Steve Bannon and Raheem Kassam on Wednesday’s Breitbart News Daily that Roy Moore’s victory in the Alabama Senate primary “changed American politics.”

.. For me it’s a reassertion of sovereignty and a reassertion of democracy, where the wishes of the people are actually expressed in a way that the money and the influence of the establishment totally fails.”

.. “When you look at, what’s the latest count? $30 million spent by the Swamp. For the local people’s voices just to reject that attempt by the establishment to hijack that primary, I think it really, truly is a revolutionary moment in American politics.”

.. “If you think that the Swamp is going to give back our nation without a fight, then you’re sorely mistaken.”

.. this isn’t just about the lobbyists. It’s not just about the people on Capitol Hill. The Swamp – I don’t like the phrase ‘Deep State’; I like the phrase ‘the permanent state’ – is also largely about the bureaucrats who just think they know better than anybody else,” Gorka said.

.. When you’ve got somebody who’s a GS-14 who thinks, ‘Nope, I’ve been here for 20 years, I’m going to be here after the president leaves, and I know better, and I’m just going to do my own thing,’ that’s what we have to fight as well – the idea that there’s this entrenched political elite that’s not just politicians, but also bureaucrats that think they know better,” he said.

.. Gorka agreed with Bannon’s critique that too much of the Republican consultant class thinks big campaign money is the only necessary ingredient for political victory.

“They think the politics of personal assassination, of political assassination and triangulation, is it,” Gorka said. “They’re just going to throw more money at it. They don’t need to convince you of anything. They don’t need to argue their policies. They just wish to destroy you. They just don’t get it.”

.. “As long as they don’t understand that, we are going to win every single time because you cannot buy Americans.”

Wrecking the Ship of State

as insurers themselves have been explaining, the problem is the uncertainty created by Trump and company, especially the failure to make clear whether crucial subsidies will be maintained. In North Carolina, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has filed for a 23 percent rise in premiums, but declared that it would have asked for only 9 percent if it were sure that cost-sharing subsidies would continue.

.. So why hasn’t it received that assurance? Is it because Trump believes his own assertions that he can cause Obamacare to collapse, then get voters to blame Democrats? Or is it because he’s too busy rage-tweeting and golfing to deal with the issue?

..Or take the remarkable decision to take Saudi Arabia’s side in its dispute with Qatar .. there are no good guys in this quarrel, but every reason for the U.S. to stay out of the middle.

.. So what was Trump doing? There’s no hint of a strategic vision; some sources suggest that he may not even have known about the large U.S. base in Qatar and its crucial role.

.. The most likely explanation of his actions .. is that the Saudis flattered him — the Ritz-Carlton projected a five-story image of his face on the side of its Riyadh property — and their lobbyists spent large sums at the Trump Washington hotel.

.. it’s worth considering that Trump apparently ranted to European Union leaders about the difficulty of setting up golf courses in their nations. So maybe it was sheer petulance.