Topic: Government and Politics

Congress Is Getting a Special Exemption from ObamaCare—and No, It’s Not Legal

The Heritage Foundation’s John Malcolm and I have a new oped where we draw from newly uncovered to documents to show that the officials who bestowed upon Congress its own special exemption from ObamaCare likely violated numerous federal laws. Malcolm is a former assistant U.S. attorney, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, and the current chairman of the Criminal Law Practice Group of the Federalist Society.

First, a little background. The Affordable Care Act threw members and staff out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and basically says they can only get health benefits through one of the law’s new Exchanges. Under pressure from Congress and the president himself, the federal Office of Personnel Management (which administers benefits for federal workers, including Congress) decided the House and Senate would participate in the District of Columbia’s “Small Business Health Options Program,” or “SHOP” Exchange, rather than the Exchanges that exist for individuals. The reason is that federal law would not allow members and staff to keep receiving a taxpayer contribution of up to $12,000 toward their premiums if they enrolled in individual-market Exchanges. Yet putting Congress in a small-business Exchange isn’t exactly legal, either. Both federal and D.C. law expressly prohibited any employer with more than 50 employees from participating D.C.’s SHOP Exchange. The House and Senate each employ thousands upon thousands of people.

Poll: Americans Would Rather Pay Lower Prices than Purchase Items Made in the U.S.

“We don’t win anymore!” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tells us. One of the main reasons, according to Trump, is due to free trade agreements. At a rally in North Carolina he declared: “All this free trade, you know what, it is free trade for them, not for us. We’re losing our shirts.” Trump has proposed imposing various taxes on foreign imports to the US because he believes this will help facilitate bringing back jobs to the US (my colleague Daniel Ikenson has written about this here and here).

Trump’s talk of unfair trade and his proposals to punish importers has resonated with many Americans. In fact, a recent CBS/New York Times survey finds that 61% of Americans agree that “trade restrictions are necessary to protect domestic industries” whereas 29% say free trade should be allowed even if domestic industries are hurt by competition abroad. 

Yet, Americans may not be willing to foot the bill of goods’ higher prices that will result from Trump’s proposed trade restrictions. A recent AP/GfK poll finds that 67% of Americans would rather buy cheaper products made in another country rather than pay more for the same product made in the United States. Thirty percent (30%) say they’d rather pay more to buy American made products. That being said, 71% report that they’d like to buy American made items, but that they are often too costly or difficult to find. Furthermore, only 9% say they hold firm to only buying American made goods even if they cost more.

These poll results give some insight into Americans’ revealed preferences, or their actual consumer behavior. While in theory Americans like the idea of buying items made closer to home by their fellow citizens, ultimately their pocketbook may prove more relevant to their behavior.

When it comes to free trade agreements impact on American jobs and wages, Americans are divided but tend not to be concerned. Fifty-four percent (54%) do not believe that free trade agreements decrease wages for American workers while 43% think these agreements do harm wages. Similarly 51% do not think that free trade agreements cost American jobs, while 46% think they do.

Overall, Americans are quite divided over the general benefits of free trade with a third who believe free trade agreements are good for the economy, 37% who say they don’t make a difference, and about a quarter who think these agreements harm the economy.

Rep. Roger Williams on Tax Reform

The House Ways and Means Committee is holding hearings on tax reform in advance of major restructuring next year should a Republican win the White House.

Today, Rep. Roger Williams presents his plan to the committee. The congressman’s Jumpstart America legislation is a good plan, but I would make it better in these ways:

  • Individual Income Tax Rates. Williams would reduce the current seven tax rates (10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, and 39.6 percent) to four (10, 15, 20, and 30). I would go to two rates (10 and 25), as envisioned in a previous Paul Ryan tax plan.
  • Individual Savings. Williams would cut the top tax rates on dividends and capital gains from 23.8 to 15 percent. That’s great, but I would add Universal Savings Accounts to any tax overhaul, as I’ve proposed and Sen. Flake and Rep. Brat have introduced.
  • Corporate Income Tax Rates. Williams would cut the federal corporate rate from 35 to 20 percent. I would slash it further to Donald Trump’s proposed 15 percent.
  • Corporate Foreign Earnings. Williams would reduce taxes on repatriated foreign earnings. I would scrap worldwide taxation of corporations and go to a territorial system, allowing tax-free repatriation.
  • Estate Tax. Williams would eliminate the estate or death tax. I agree.
  • Depreciation. Williams would scrap the business depreciation system and go to expensing, or immediate write-off, of capital investments. I agree.
  • Payroll Taxes. Williams would cut the federal payroll tax rate by 2 percentage points. Instead, I would allow workers to redirect 6 percentage points of the tax into private Social Security accounts, while cutting traditional benefits. To workers, that would feel like a large tax cut because they would gain ownership of their retirement contributions, which currently disappear from their paychecks into a government black hole.

The current tax code is a mess, and it should be overhauled. We should transition to a low-rate flat tax, and the Williams plan and my improvements would be good first steps.

So kudos to Rep. Williams for putting a specific pro-growth plan on the table. Other members of Congress should follow suit to aid the Ways and Means Committee in drafting legislation.

Americans For Tax Reform provides a useful summary of Williams’ plan. I provide an overview of tax reform options here.

Overtime Brings House Democrats Woe

Well, isn’t this a shame:

Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16 that House “Democratic chiefs of staff are freaking out” about finding room in their budget for overtime wages.

It’s not clear whether the Obama administration’s forthcoming edict on overtime will apply to legislative staffers, but House Democratic leadership decided it would be prudent for their members to at least gesture toward the spirit of the controversial rule by preparing for compliance. [BNA Daily Labor Report] Now “the rule is creating administrative headaches” and more:

“We don’t have a set-hour kind of situation here; some kids work 12, 14, 16 hours a day, weekends, and I feel terrible that I cannot afford to give raises to the staff,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 11.

With $320,000 slashed from members’ representational allowances (MRAs) over the past four years, “I don’t see how we could pay overtime” for the “17 or 18 people that each of us is allowed to have—that’s problematic for me,” added Hastings, a senior member of the House Rules Committee.

Some members fear that an overtime mandate will result in having to send staffers home at 5 p.m., leaving phones unanswered and impairing constituent service. “Most members are of the sentiment that it’s impractical to be paying overtime,” said former Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, now a lobbyist, who suggests that members choose to close one of their district offices or reduce constituent correspondence to adjust to a smaller staff number.

If only there were some way for the U.S. Congress to influence federal labor law!

[cross-posted, slightly adapted, from Overlawyered]

What’s Killing U.S. Growth

On April 6th, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial that merits careful examination: “Jack Lew’s Political Economy”. The Journal correctly points out that the Obama administration’s meddling with regulations and red tape is killing U.S. investment and jobs. The most recent example being the Treasury’s new rules on so-called tax inversions, which burried a merger between Pfizer, Inc. and Allergan PLC.

As the Journal concluded: “This politicization has spread across most of the economy during the Obama years, as regulators rewrite longstanding interpretations of longstanding laws in order to achieve the policy goals they can’t or won’t negotiate with Congress. Telecoms, consumer finance, for-profit education, carbon energy, auto lending, auto-fuel economy, truck emissions, home mortgages, health care and so much more.”

The 1994 Clinton Crime Bill

With the New York primary just days away, a policy fight has erupted on the left regarding the 1994 Clinton Crime Bill.  I have a piece today over at Newsweek on the subject.  Here’s an excerpt:

The Crime Bill maddens today’s BLM activists because it earmarked $7.9 billion in grants to the states for the building of prisons. To be eligible for the funds, states had to meet certain conditions. The idea was to encourage the states to embrace the stricter policies found in the federal system, which had abolished parole and limited good time credits for prisoners, which allow well behaved inmates to earn an earlier release date.

Many states were eager to do just that. During the 1990s, America was building a new prison every week, on average. And as soon as those facilities opened up, they were soon operating beyond their original design capacity.

Many of the prisoners were young minority men, nonviolent drug offenders who were serving mandatory minimum sentences….

Hillary has tried to sound like a reformer, saying, “We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.”  

Such throwaway lines are not nearly enough for BLM activists. For them (and others too), support for the 1994 Crime Bill is the political equivalent of Hillary’s vote to support the Iraq war: It was a key indicator of policy judgment—and the Clintons failed the test.

I also point out that Cato’s 1995 Handbook for Congress called for repealing the Clinton Crime Bill precisely because it would lock up thousands and thousands of people who do not belong there.  We urged policymakers to call off the drug war and to reserve prison space for violent offenders.  Alas, Congress turned away from our policy advice. 

Balancing the Federal Budget

Donald Trump says, “we’ve got to start balancing budgets,” and promises that he is “going to cut spending big league.” Trump provides few specifics, but his impulse is certainly commendable.

Ted Cruz offers a much more detailed plan, which includes abolishing four cabinet departments and a couple dozen agencies and programs. The presidential candidate is right that the “current and projected rates of government growth are unsustainable, irresponsible, and constitutionally indefensible.”

Large spending cuts should be on the agenda when the next president enters office in 2017. Spending cuts would spur economic growth by shifting resources from lower-valued government activities to higher-valued private ones. Cuts would expand freedom by giving people more control over their lives and reducing the regulations that come with spending programs.

What should the next president cut? I have updated a plan at DownsizingGovernment to cut dozens of agencies and programs across the budget. I’ve included cuts to entitlements, business subsidies, aid to the states, and other items. The cuts would not only balance the budget and begin reducing the government’s massive debt, but they would also enhance our civil liberties by dispersing power from Washington.

See the new spending cut plan here.