Congress scrambles back up the cliff

Congress stayed up late last night and at 10:35 p.m. voted 257 to 167 to approve the Fiscal Cliff compromise.  And the good thing is that since taxes automatically went up for everyone when the day began, with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, Congressmen could keep their no-tax-hike pledges because their action was now a tax cut; that is, for everyone except those who make over $450,000. Also, people making over $250,000 may no longer claim the personal exemptions on their tax forms, so their taxes will go up slightly, allowing President Obama to keep his campaign promise.

The bill that had already been approved by the Senate also extended the Farm Bill, backing us away from the Dairy Cliff that would have doubled milk milk prices.  The automatic spending cuts that were scheduled to go into effect when the Bush tax rates expired were postponed for two months.  Nor does it raise the debt ceiling.  Nor does it do much for the deficit.  So the battles and brinkmanship will continue.

via Congress approves ‘fiscal cliff’ measure – The Washington Post.

How much the fiscal cliff will cost you

To descend from the theoretical to the tangible, here is how much your taxes will increase once the Bush tax cuts expire on Tuesday, unless Congress cuts a deal to extend them:

Annual income of $20,000 to $30,000: $1,064 average tax increase

Annual income of $40,000 to $50,000: $1,729 average tax increase. . . .

Annual income of $50,000 to $75,000: $2,399 average tax increase

Annual income of $75,000 to $100,000: $3,688 average tax increase

Annual income of $100,000 to $200,000: $6,662 average tax increase. . . .

Annual income of $200,000 to $500,000: $14,643 average tax increase

Annual income of $500,000 to $1 million: $38,969 average tax increase

Annual income of more than $1 million: $254,637 average tax increase

via What falling off the “fiscal cliff” means for you – CBS News.

If these expire, the much-reviled George W. Bush will surge in popularity once people realize how much money he kept in their pockets.  But the popularity of the president and especially Republicans will plummet.

Breaking pledges

Republican lawmakers are bailing on the formal pledge they made not to vote for a tax increase.

Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge has been a sacred and unchallenged keystone of the Republican platform for more than two decades, playing a central role in almost every budget battle in Congress since 1986. But Norquist and his pledge, signed by 95 percent of congressional Republicans, are now in danger of becoming Washington relics as more and more defectors inch toward accepting tax increases to avert the “fiscal cliff.”

On Monday, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) became the latest in a handful of prominent Republican lawmakers to take to the airwaves in recent days and say they are willing to break their pledge to oppose all tax increases.

“I’m not obligated on the pledge,” Corker told CBS’s Charlie Rose. “I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, the only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I serve when I’m sworn in this January.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also suggested Monday that Norquist’s anti-tax pledge would not dictate the GOP’s strategy on the fiscal cliff, raising questions across Washington about whether Norquist’s ironclad hold on the Republican Party has loosened. . . .

Even House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed dismay with Norquist’s pledge and his role in the GOP at the time. . . .

Last November, 100 House members, 40 of them Republicans, wrote a letter to Congress’s deficit-reduction “supercommittee” urging it to consider all options — a vague pronouncement that, at least in theory, endorsed tax increases forbidden by Norquist. A number of House members, including freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), said openly that they no longer felt bound by the pledge they had signed when running for office. Rigell was reelected this month. . . .

And now, with severe cuts in line if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, coming to an agreement is paramount. Analysts have a hard time forecasting a deal that doesn’t include tax increases — especially after President Obama won reelection, having run in large part on letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

Some Republicans are bowing to that version of reality. Over the weekend and on Monday, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Corker (Tenn.), along with Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), said they would be willing to violate the pledge under the right circumstances.

via Will the fiscal cliff break Grover Norquist’s hold on Republicans? – The Washington Post.

Now I can agree that it is foolish to bind oneself in a pledge like this.  There may well be a time when it is in the republic’s interest to raise taxes.  Perhaps this is such a time.  But it is still highly unethical to violate one’s word.  (And how about Scott Rigell not feeling bound by the pledge because he made it while running for office?  As if campaign promises, by definition, don’t need to be kept!)

But if lawmakers no longer believe in what they once pledged, they still are obliged to keep that pledge.   The honorable course of action would be to resign their office so that their governor can appoint someone who has not made the pledge.

Republicans will raise taxes if Obama wins

Republicans have used their majority in the House of Representatives to foil President Obama’s attempts to raise taxes.  But don’t expect them to keep doing that if Obama is re-elected.  Republicans are saying they will interpret his re-election as a “referendum on taxes”–a sign that voters are willing to pay more–which will trigger a change in strategy that would trade tax increases for other Republican causes:

Senior Republicans say they will be forced to retreat on taxes if President Obama wins a second term in November, clearing the biggest obstacle to a deal with Democrats to defuse a year-end budget bomb that threatens to rock the U.S. economy.

Republicans have long resisted tax increases of any kind. But taxes are a major battleground in the campaign between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, Capitol Hill veterans say, and the victor will be able to claim a mandate for his policies.

“This is a referendum on taxes,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of the House Budget Committee. “If the president wins reelection, taxes are going up” for the nation’s wealthiest households, and “there’s not a lot we can do about that.”

With Election Day still more than six weeks away and the president holding a thin lead in national polls, Republicans say they are not conceding that an Obama victory is the likely outcome. But they are beginning to plan for that possibility.

Lawmakers expect to leave town Friday and will not return until mid-November, when they will have little time to head off $500 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 2.

If Romney wins the White House, Republicans say, their strategy is clear: They would push to maintain current tax rates through 2013, giving the new president time to draft a blueprint for overhauling the tax code and taming the $16 trillion national debt.

But if Obama wins, the GOP would have no leverage — political or procedural — to force him to abandon his pledge to raise taxes on family income over $250,000, according to senior Republicans in the House and the Senate.

So they are beginning to contemplate a compromise that would let taxes go up in exchange for Democratic concessions on GOP priorities.

via GOP retreat on taxes likely if Obama wins – The Washington Post.

Congress letting bureaucrats make the laws

Another practice in which Congress evades its constitutional responsibilities:  Passing laws that consist largely of vague frameworks and enabling bureaucrats from the executive branch to fill in the blanks with the substance of the law.  George Will on a bill that would put regulations back under Congressional scrutiny:

John Marini of the University of Nevada, Reno, writes in the Claremont Review of Books that the 2,500-page Obamacare legislation exemplifies current lawmaking, which serves principally to expand the administrative state’s unfettered discretion. Congress merely established the legal requirements necessary to create a vast executive-branch administrative apparatus to formulate rules governing health care’s 18 percent of the economy.

The Hudson Institute’s Chris DeMuth, in an essay for National Affairs quarterly, notes that Congress often contents itself with enacting “velleities” such as the wish in the 900-page Dodd-Frank financial reform act that “all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services . . . [that are] fair, transparent, and competitive.” How many legislators voting for the bill even read this language? And how many who did understood that they were authorizing federal rulemakers to micromanage overdraft fees? In Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and much else, the essential lawmaking is done off Capitol Hill by unaccountable bureaucratic rulemaking.

via A check on the regulatory state – The Washington Post.

Politics swallowing up the task of governing

We touched on this with the bill prohibiting sex-selection abortion, but here it is again, reported in a matter-of-fact way:

Democrats will bring to the Senate floor on Tuesday the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that is supposed to help close the wage gap between men and women.

The measure will fail, as intended, because at its core it is not so much a legislative vehicle as a political one intended to embarrass Republicans and help President Obama and congressional Democrats with female voters in November.

Democrats are making an obvious connection between the two as the ‘war on women’ loses traction as an election issue.

The bill, which needs 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles, faces almost certain defeat because most Republicans plan to vote against it. But Obama and Senate Democrats are hoping those votes will give them the opportunity to paint congressional Republicans as hostile to women’s interests.

The strategy is part of an increasingly common practice in Congress of moving legislation aimed solely at producing political results. For House Republicans, the strategy means votes to roll back parts of the Obama 2010 health-care reform bill or votes to highlight rising gasoline prices.

In the Senate, Democrats believe a sustained focus on women’s issues should help them maintain a slim majority after the November elections.

via Paycheck Fairness Act expected to fail – The Washington Post.

“The measure will fail as intended”!  The purpose of the legislation is just to score political points by embarrassing those who vote against it.   Of course, bills before the legislature often have a political sub-text.  But here Congress isn’t even trying to govern.  The members are only trying to get re-elected with seemingly no thought of the constitutional purpose of their institution; namely, to govern the country.


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