The government efficiency argument

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein  says that “How government is run, more than what exactly it does, seems set to be the main battleground of American politics in coming years.”  He then cites articles from the New America Foundation that say the government’s approach is to build a  kludge (“a clumsy, inelegant, difficult to extend, hard to maintain yet effective and quick solution to a problem”) and to function like “a giant coupon machine.”  Explains Klein:  “Think clunky Obamacare versus streamlined single-payer health care, or government’s tendency to deliver benefits via the tax code, through deductions, credits and exclusions, rather than by direct payments.”

Do you see where this is going?  But is there a valid point here? [Read more…]

Checking and balancing the President

The Constitution’s separation of powers and checks and balances at work:  A federal appeals court has said President Obama’s practice of recess appointments to avoid congressional approval is unconstitutional.  Presidents have had the authority to appoint people to office temporarily between Congressional sessions, but Obama has construed that to include holiday breaks and other pauses in the ongoing sessions. [Read more…]

The federal program that wouldn’t die

There is a line item in the budget that costs nearly a half million dollars.  Republicans oppose it.  Democrats oppose it.  President Obama wants to kill it.  The House Republican leadership wants to kill it.  And yet, this program has gone on for twenty years and NO ONE CAN END IT. [Read more…]

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.