The Rhetoric Behind the Presidential Candidates’ Tax Plans

Robert Litan in The Wall Street Journal writes that the winner of 2016’s presidential election may be forced by the score-keeping of the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office “to at least account for the fact that CBO has projected the steady retirement of baby boomers and increasing health-care costs, both of which will add to the federal deficit in absolute dollars and relative to gross domestic product.”

“None of the Republican candidates left in the race has put forward a plan to reverse this projection. To the contrary, there seems to be a bidding war among them to add to the deficit through their tax plans. Independent analysis of the plan of front-runner Donald Trump found that it would reduce revenue (in turn increasing the deficit) by $9.5 trillion over 10 years. The plan of former Florida governor Jeb Bush would cut revenue by $6.8 trillion over the same period.”

“An independent analysis found that Sen. Bernie Sanders’s proposed tax increases would fall short by at least $3 trillion over the next decade. Hillary Clinton’s spending and tax plans are much less ambitious, but what her campaign has proposed so far has not promised any cuts in the projected growth of the deficit.”

“Whoever wins the White House this fall will find that the JCT and CBO are watching closely. Voters might keep this in mind as they consider the promises coming from the campaign trail.”

U.S. Obesity Rate Continues to Climb to New Highs

Gallup: “The obesity rate among U.S. adults in 2015 climbed to a new high of 28.0%, up 2.5 percentage points since 2008. This represents an increase of about 6.1 million U.S. adults who are obese.”

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“The obesity rate has continued to rise in the U.S. after leveling off from 2011 to 2013, and has done so despite rising public concern. Past research has demonstrated that obesity and its associated chronic conditions including diabetes cost the U.S. economy $153 billion per year in unplanned absenteeism due to poor health, a figure that has increased since the time of that study. And while blacks suffer disproportionately from chronic conditions associated with obesity, the sharp increase in obesity measured among whites since 2008 signifies that this is not a problem isolated to one racial or ethnic group.”

Is it Time to Change our System of Government?

Charles Lane in The Washington Post comments on “The Perils of Presidentialism,” by Yale University’s Juan J. Linz, in which Linz argues that the Westminster-style parliamentary system is inherently more stable than our ‘presidentialist’ systems that divide executive and legislative power between separately elected presidents and assemblies.

“Linz identified the fundamental disadvantage of “presidentialist” democracy: “Whereas a prime minister owes his power to the same majority that produces parliament, the president and legislature in a presidentialist democracy can both claim to represent the national majority, a source of competition that can spawn conflict, even chaos, when rival parties control the two branches.”

“Presidential systems include a fixed term for the chief executive, to add predictability and to curb dictatorial tendencies. However, this intended stabilizer actually makes politics ‘rigid,’ … The rise and fall of prime ministers might give parliamentary countries … [an] appearance of political instability; but … their revolving door is actually a source of stability, since short-term kerfuffles help ‘avoid deeper crises.’”

“Adding to the drama, presidentialism makes the chief executive a personal repository ‘for whatever exaggerated expectations his supporters may harbor. They are prone to think that he has more power than he really has or should have.’ For his part, a president may ‘tend to conflate his supporters with ‘the people’ as a whole,’ making the ‘obstacles and opposition he encounters seem particularly annoying.’”

Which Key Issue was Ignored at Last Night’s Democratic Debate?

Think Progress: “When it comes to climate change and energy issues, both Democratic and Republican primary debates ignore them, even now, as a matter of routine.”

“This was bizarrely true again Thursday night after the PBS/Facebook-sponsored debate in Madison, Wisconsin between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. This week, the Supreme Court surprisingly dealt what could be a significant blow to a speedy national response to climate change when it held up the Obama administration’s centerpiece in its plan to cut carbon pollution and transition to a renewable energy, the Clean Power Plan.”

“The repercussions of the Supreme Court’s decision will likely stretch beyond Obama’s term and pose one of the first challenges for the new president. Yet neither Gwen Ifill nor Judy Woodruff, the night’s moderators, asked the candidates about the Clean Power Plan, nor anything broader about the energy or environment.”

“The broader trends affecting climate policy, such as the decline of the coal industry and the expansion of renewable energy as prices drop, make it feasible to think that the U.S. can continue to cut its carbon emissions even while the Clean Power Plan sorts out its legal hurdles.”

“The next president will have the ability to use the levers of executive power to either hasten these trends or stand in their way.”

Solar Energy is Ballooning Across the U.S.

Think Progress: “Solar energy is ballooning across the United States with California and Massachusetts leading the way, according to a Solar Foundation report unveiled Wednesday. The U.S. solar industry now employs slightly over 200,000 workers, representing a growth of 20 percent since November of 2014. What’s more, last year the industry added workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy.”

Total solar jobs by state.

Total solar jobs by state. Credit: The solar foundation

“’We are seeing solar in Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky, all over the place. Arkansas in fact just broke ground on their first community solar project,’ said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation.”

“California has five times more solar jobs than Massachusetts, the second highest ranking state. That’s not surprising to Luecke, ‘but for the first time Massachusetts hit the 15,000 mark. Between the two of them they have 50 percent of all the solar jobs.’”

“Solar companies expect to expand nearly 15 percent this year, and hire about 240,000 new workers. According to the report, that job growth is 13 times faster than the U.S. workforce as a whole. The exponential growth of solar energy is happening as coal use declined 25 percent in the United States since 2005. Moreover, solar technology is becoming cheaper. Since 2010, U.S. average installation costs declined 35 percent for residential use, and 67 percent for utility-scale installation.”

The Lingering Challenge of Universal Health Coverage

Drew Altman: “Both Democratic presidential candidates are calling for universal health coverage, though they disagree sharply on how to get there. Here’s the bottom line: There is no single program or policy likely to achieve full coverage of the complex collection of subgroups who make up the remaining uninsured in the U.S. except for a single-payer strategy. But Sen. Bernie Sanders has acknowledged that single-payer health care is not politically feasible in the foreseeable future and has said that it is unlikely without, among other things, campaign finance reform first.”

 

Kaiser Family Foundation chart of eligibility for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act among non-elderly uninsured Americans in 2015.

“More than 17 million people who previously did not have insurance have been covered so far by the Affordable Care Act. That’s enormous progress on one of health care’s biggest problems. But as the chart above shows, slightly more than 30 million people in the U.S. remained uninsured as of last year.”

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have staked out strong positions on universal coverage. The makeup of the uninsured population and political realities suggest that the most likely path to universal coverage is a series of incremental steps–implemented in combination or sequentially– that build on the progress made by the ACA and chip away at the remaining uninsured in the U.S. group by group.”

Economic Growth Decouples From Energy Consumption

Think Progress: “In a stunning trend with broad implications, the U.S. economy has grown significantly since 2007, while electricity consumption has been flat, and total energy demand actually dropped.

“The U.S. economy has now grown by 10% since 2007, while primary energy consumption has fallen by 2.4%,” reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) in its newly-released 2016 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.”

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“The decoupling of GDP growth from energy and electricity consumption has been a key reason the United States has been able to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions since 2005. In particular, flat electricity demand has meant that the explosive growth in renewables and natural gas power has come directly at the expense of dirty coal.”

“The key driver of the decoupling of electricity use and GDP growth is energy efficiency policy and investment. BNEF notes that in 2014 (the most recent year we have data for), ‘Natural gas and electric utility spending on efficiency reached $6.7bn, up 8.1% from the $6.2bn seen in 2013; Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) investment topped $6.4bn.’ The ESPC funding is generally distinct from the utility funding and ‘mainly focused on public buildings.’”

“Largely unheralded, ‘The key policy story of the past decade has been the uptake of EERS [Energy Efficiency Resource Standards] in US state targets and decoupling legislation among US states.'”

Colorado’s Legal Marijuana Industry Soars to $1 Billion

Quartz: “The 2015 figures are in, and the number is huge—legal marijuana sales in Colorado were $996 million in 2015, according to Colorado Department of Revenue figures, the Denver Post’s marijuana website the Cannabist reports.”

“Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes from marijuana sales in 2015. Of that, about $35 million will be put to school construction projects, the Cannabist reports. Since Colorado made it legal to use marijuana for recreational purposes state-wide in early 2014, taxes collected from marijuana sales have increased rapidly, and now far surpass taxes from alcohol.”

“To put the 2015 overall sales figure in some sort of perspective, in 2014—in the entire US—mustard sales hit about $430 million (paywall), and Advil sales were below $500 million.”

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The Upcoming Primary Race: More Like Iowa Than New Hampshire

Aaron Blake in The Washington Post: “The next few weeks of the GOP race look a whole lot more like Iowa than New Hampshire. And that is fantastic for Ted Cruz …. The most evangelical states are pretty heavily front-loaded in this process — thanks in large part to the “SEC Primary” on March 1.”

The below chart, from The Post’s graphics team (more here!) is in order of nominating contests.

Does the Future of the Climate Depend on the Supreme Court?

Zoe Carpenter in The Nation: Here’s the bad news about the Supreme Court’s decision to issue a stay ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan: “Although the justices did not explain their order, the 5-4 decision indicates that the majority think the challengers have a decent chance of winning their case.”

What’s remarkable about the stay is that the Supreme Court chose to step in even before lower courts had a chance to review the case … Just a few weeks ago a federal appeals court refused to block the plan, a move that was interpreted as a victory for the Obama administration. That court will hear oral arguments in early June, though it’s likely the Supreme Court will decide the fate of the plan. Until it does, states won’t be required to comply.”

Joe Romm in Think Progress: “If the Roberts court ultimately decides to kill the rule 5-4 then that decision will immediately become the leading contender for the worst Supreme Court decision in U.S. history. After all, if the nations of the world ultimately don’t avoid catastrophic warming and if the U.S. is seen as bearing a significant portion of the blame — two entirely plausible outcomes — then future generations and historians will be judging the Court’s decision while suffering in a world with a climate that has been irreversibly ruined for centuries.”

“That means the future of the climate will depend on the future shape of the Supreme Court and whoever wins the presidency this year. Yes, once again, this is the most important election ever for the climate.”

 

It’s About the Issues, Stupid

Gallup: Americans are about twice as likely to prefer that their party nominate a candidate who agrees with them on almost all the issues they care about but does not have the best chance of winning, rather than one who has the best chance of winning but doesn’t agree with them on the issues they care about. Republicans and Democrats have similar preferences.

Americans' Preferences for Their Party's Nomination, by Subgroup

“While Americans of all age groups prefer a candidate who largely agrees with them on the issues they care about, the percentage who have this preference is much higher among voters younger than 30. Between 46% and 59% of adults aged 30 or older are focused on issue agreement, compared with 82% of younger adults — those 18 to 29.”

“The preference for a nominee with greater issue agreement can prove challenging for ‘establishment’ candidates like Clinton, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio. Each walks a shaky political tightrope on myriad issues in an effort not to alienate key voting blocs — compared with some of their competitors who don’t seem to shy away from divisive positions that could complicate their chances in a general election.”

Oil Industry’s Trade Group Knew Early on About Global Warming

Inside Climate News: “A Columbia University report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute in 1982 cautioned that global warming ‘can have serious consequences for man’s comfort and survival.’ It is the latest indication that the oil industry learned of the possible threat it posed to the climate far earlier than previously known.”

“The report, ‘Climate Models and CO2 Warming, A Selective Review and Summary,’ was written by Alan Oppenheim and William L.  Donn of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory for API’s Climate and Energy task force, said James J. Nelson, the task force’s former director. From 1979 to 1983, API and the nation’s largest oil companies convened the task force to monitor and share climate research, including their in-house efforts. Exxon ran the most ambitious of the corporate programs, but other oil companies had their own projects, smaller than Exxon’s and focused largely on climate modeling.”

“The report did not focus on the forces behind the increase in CO2 concentrations, but it linked the phenomenon plainly to fossil fuel use. Atmospheric CO2, it said, ‘is expected to double some time in the next century. Just when depends on the particular estimate of the level of increasing energy use per year and the mix of carbon based fuels.'”

“A year after the task force circulated the report to API’s members, the organization disbanded the committee and shifted its work on climate change from the environment directorate to its lobbying arm.”

Young Americans: Socialism is Fine, But Don’t Take My Money

Nate Silver: “Bernie Sanders proudly describes himself as a ‘socialist’ (or more commonly, as a “democratic socialist”) … Views of socialism are highly correlated with a voter’s age. According to a May 2015 YouGov poll, conducted just before Sanders launched his campaign, a plurality of voters aged 18 to 29 had a favorable view of socialism. But among voters 65 and older, just 15 percent viewed socialism favorably, to 70 percent unfavorably.”

“That doesn’t mean America is undergoing a leftist or revolutionary awakening, however. The biennial General Social Survey has a long-standing question about wealth redistribution, asking Americans whether the ‘government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor … perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor.'”

“I’ve translated [the General Social Survey] responses to a 100-point scale, where 0 represents the most conservative/right-wing position (no redistribution!), and 100 the most liberal/left-wing position (hell yes, redistribution!). The chart below summarizes how both Americans overall and Americans aged 18-29 have responded to the question over time.”

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“In part, then, the “revolutions” that both Sanders and Paul speak of are revolutions of rising expectations.”