GOP Hopefuls Offer Varied Tax Plans

Stan Veuger looks at the tax reform plans offered by the Republican presidential candidates who have announced so far: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

“Cruz has supported a nationwide 23 percent sales tax to replace the income tax in the past, but more recently he has also expressed support for a flat income tax that would presumably feature a similar rate (at 25 percent, it would be close to revenue-neutral).”

“Paul, who’s still a libertarian, has been a bit more specific on the tax policy front. Yes, he also wants to abolish the IRS, and the entire tax code while he’s at it, but he’s also announced what he wants instead: A flat tax, with a 17 percent rate for both individuals and firms, and no death or capital taxation.”

“The most specific by far of the three senators has been Rubio, who has been trying to adopt the role of the policy wonk in this field of presidential contenders. His plan is similar in some ways to Paul’s (it ends capital taxation at the individual level, eliminates most deductions and credits, for example, and reduces the corporate tax rate), but it is much more detailed and doesn’t lose nearly as much revenue. It lowers rates less drastically and even increases rates on income from work between $75,000 and $410,000 for single filers, and between $150,000 and $410,000 for and married couples.”

Lawmakers Push to Index Gas Tax to Inflation

“A bipartisan group of House members has filed legislation to hike the federal gas tax and index it to inflation to pay for a new transportation bill,” The Hill reports.

“The measure would increase the gas tax, which has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, to index it to inflation in January 2016 and set it to rise again in three years unless Congress comes up with a new way to pay for federal transportation projects.”

“If the gas tax has been indexed to inflation in 1993, it would be about 30 cents-per-gallon now. Transportation advocates have pushed to permanently increase the gas tax to that level to provide a recurring source of funding for future rounds of infrastructure spending instead of another of a one-time cash infusion. But lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump to help finance construction projects”

NSA Struggles to Retain Top Cyber Talent

“The National Security Agency is probably among the best-equipped parts of the federal government at recruiting, training and staffing an elite team of cybersecurity professionals… But even that’s not enough to stop some top-level technical talent from jumping ship,” according to Defense One.

“It stings all the more as most depart after they’ve undergone extensive, specialized NSA training… According to the report, 2014 marked the second year in a row in which the number of civilian federal cyber employees streaming for the exits outpaced the number of new hires.”

“Government’s ability to shell out the big bucks is no doubt part of the reason for the attrition, at least at NSA.”

Business Community Complicates GOP Tax Reform Plans

“It’s fair to say the business community isn’t thrilled by the latest GOP efforts to spur progress on tax reform,” according to The Hill.

“Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reached out to business groups this week, saying they were searching for ways to help all businesses in tax reform even though President Obama is opposed to reducing tax rates for many companies. On Wednesday, the business groups responded that there’s no way tax reform works without reducing tax rates across-the-board, and that Ryan and Hatch should already be fully aware of how they feel.”

“The back-and-forth underscores the challenges facing would-be tax reformers, and suggests the debate could be causing splits between even traditional allies like Republicans and the business community. Obama and the GOP have said they believe that they can find common ground on business tax reform.”

Conservatives Backpedal on Obamacare

Jonathan Chait responds to Cliff Asness’ op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he tries “to retrench on behalf of the doomsayers.”

“Asness is absolutely right that it was completely obvious that Obamacare would substantially increase insurance coverage. We know this because the same system — regulated insurance plus subsidies plus mandate — was tried in Massachusetts, and lots of people signed up. But Asness is wrong about whether it was in dispute. Despite the blithering obviousness of the fact that Obamacare would bring about a major decline in people lacking insurance, lots of conservatives denied that it would happen. I rounded up a handful of examples the other day, though plenty more can be found.”

“People deny obvious cause-and-effect relationships all the time. People even deny that the massive release of heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere will trap more heat — people like Cliff Asness.”

Will Obamacare Ever Match Medicare’s Bipartisan Popularity?

National Journal: “Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted Medicare and Medicaid amidst passionate opposition to the program that has since become widely ingrained in the fabric of society.”

“The hope for liberals: that the shift in perspective on Medicare foreshadows a shift to eventual popularity for Obamacare.”

“Both the Social Security Amendments—creating Medicare and Medicaid—and the Affordable Care Act created political controversy, and both were passed by large majorities of Democrats in Congress after landslide elections … And both took a long time to fully implement.”

“Both were even debated along party lines, although many Republicans ended up voting in favor of the final Medicare bill, viewing it as a lost cause.”

“On the other hand, perhaps because they were vastly outnumbered, Republicans never seriously talked about repealing Medicare. The program also had a very identifiable group of beneficiaries, while Obamacare targets diffuse populations … And there were no significant court cases brought against Medicare, whereas five years after Obamacare’s passage it awaits yet another Supreme Court decision on the legality of key aspects of the law.”

“Medicare and Medicaid were adopted, to some extent, in a bipartisan way, because the parties were much less aligned along the ideological spectrum the way they are now.”

“That meant the programs’ flaws could be fixed legislatively. Today, there’s little chance of that happening, and solutions instead must come administratively or from the courts.”

What Are the Greenest Cities in America?

Eco Watch: NerdWallet “explored the data for the nation’s 150 largest cities to shed light on the best places for those seeking a green lifestyle and a healthy environment.”

What they learned:

  • Bigger is better: We might associate larger cities with polluting industries, but bigger cities tend to be denser, which reduces urban sprawl and energy needs for transportation per capita.
  • Air quality is fairly uniform: Many of the cities we examined fall within a narrow range of the EPA’s Air Quality Index, sitting between the classification of ‘good,’ an index number under 51, and ‘moderate,’ a number under 101.
  • Traditional fuels remain: Nationwide, out of 116 million homes, only 72,707 houses use solar heating, up from 2005 when the number was 36,682 … While the use of traditional heating methods—including coal and wood burning—have remained stable.

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EPA’s Proposed Carbon Rule Heads to Court

“The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s effort to tackle climate change is facing a high-profile legal test as a federal appeals court considers a plan that has triggered furious opposition from Republicans, industry figures and coal-reliant states,” according to ABC News.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears arguments Thursday in two cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s ambitious proposal to slash carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants that is blamed for global warming.”

“The rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency last year requires states to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030… At issue before the court is whether the EPA has legal authority for its plan under the Clean Air Act. The agency and environmental advocacy groups have urged the court to throw the cases out as premature, since the agency won’t issue a final rule until this summer.”

Federal Gas Tax Increase Unlikely, Despite Final Push

“Democrats, contractors and unions are pressing Congress to raise the gas tax to fund the Highway Trust Fund despite opposition from key Republicans that makes any increase unlikely,” according to USA Today.

“The Highway Trust Fund is the primary source for federal highway and transit programs funding for local, state and national projects. It is funded by the federal gas tax — currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon — which hasn’t been raised since 1993. In the past six years, there have been 32 short-term measures taken to maintain the fund.”

“Already, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming have had to postpone transportation projects because of funding delays.”

An All-Time High on Tax Day

Philip Bump: “So how much money do Americans actually turn over to the government? We pulled data from the Office of Management and Budget to find out. We’ve included OMB’s 2015 estimates on the charts below.”

“Americans paid $1.4 trillion in income tax in 2014. That’s expected to climb this year. It is, as you’d expect, an all-time high.”

“The year 2014 was a high, of course, because the value of the dollar shifts over time and the workforce increases with population growth. (And so too grows the government.)”

“If you compare how much is paid in taxes to national income totals from the Department of Commerce, it’s actually fairly consistent over time, usually in the 8 to 10 percent range. (This is only income taxes, mind you.)”

Senators vs. Their Constituents on Climate Change

Washington Post: The Yale Project on Climate Change has released a new analysis “(based on this Nature Climate Change paper) that examined the climate views of people in all 50 states, and provides a state by state breakdown of how many think global warming is either mostly human caused or caused by ‘both human activities and natural changes,’ versus how many say it is either ‘not happening’ or ’caused mostly by natural changes.’ Then, the analysis further compared those views with votes on the Schatz climate change amendment for all 100 U.S. senators.”

“The analysis show that Rubio is one of several GOP senators who seem notably distant from their constituents on climate. Even farther out, according to the Yale research, is Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner. Gardner voted nay, but in his state, 58 percent of citizens say global warming is at least partly human caused and only 41 percent say ‘not happening/natural.’”

“Yale finds 10 more Republican senators who voted ‘nay’ but whose states show at least a 10-point preference for human-caused global warming over ‘not happening/natural': Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Texas’s John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley.”

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Highest Obamacare Enrollment in Rubio’s Backyard

CNN: “During his presidential campaign announcement, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio came out swinging with a punch list that included the popular Republican mantra to ‘repeal and replace Obamacare.’ But the Department of Health and Human Services had already thrown a punch of its own earlier in April.”

“HHS released its updated list of enrollments by zip code and it turns out the top 15 are in Rubio’s backyard – Miami-Dade and Broward counties. In fact, the second highest zip code in the country is 33126, which lies just blocks from the City of West Miami, where Rubio got his political start. That area saw 11,222 people sign-up for the healthcare benefits, in the enrollment period ending in February.”

“That’s roughly 4,000 less than the top Obamacare zip code in the United States, 33012, which is in the heart of Hialeah, a Republican stronghold.”