Carol Shea-Porter: Here Are Ideas, Which I May Or May Not Like

Reps. Carol Shea-Porter & Paul
Hodes It's time once again to look at one of "Carol's Columns", the latest in a series of pieces from my own CongressCritter and perpetual toothache, Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH01).

I sometimes wonder: does Carol write these columns herself, or does she have some flunky on her staff do it? I am leaning toward the former opinion. For evidence, here is the column's headline:

Common cents for raising revenue

"Sense, cents, get it?" Moan.

She couldn't be paying an actual salary for someone to write a headline that lame, could she? Well, maybe. But I have a feeling we're getting direct insight into the Mind of Carol here.

[Update: since I posted, the column's title has been truncated to "Common cents". Concentrating the inanity into two words instead of spreading it out over five.]

Carol's column appears at her government-provided website and residents of NH01 may see it at some point as an op-ed in their local papers. I am reproducing the entire column here, lest I be accused of quoting out of context. Carol's words are (appropriately) on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my comments are on the right.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats want to lower the debt, but they have very different approaches. The Republicans' idea, the Ryan Budget, would repeal the health care law, turn Medicare into a voucher program and reduce benefits, slash Medicaid -- the program that more than 60 percent of nursing home residents need to pay for their beds -- cut other domestic programs, and would be revenue-neutral. In other words, it would not raise a penny of revenue to help pay down the debt; it would rely just on deep cuts. Democrats offered a budget, the Van Hollen Budget, which had a mixture of cuts and revenue. For Americans who want to lower the debt but still invest in good government, the question has to be, "Can we raise revenue to pay the bills without increasing taxes on the middle class and small businesses?" Interesting word choice: Carol talks about "debt" and never "deficit". Does she know the difference? We will never "lower the debt" until we eliminate the deficit altogether, and start running a surplus. Nothing Carol suggests will even come close to that.

Clearly, though, her constant use of "revenue" throughout this column is a dishonest euphemism for "taxes".

It was only a few weeks ago, by the way, that Carol trashed the Ryan Budget: "[S]ince there is no effort to even acknowledge the other party or compromise on any issues what-so-ever, it has zero chance of success."

But that was then, this is now, and Carol now cheers for the "Van Hollen Budget" which is, if anything, more partisan, less compromising, and has even less chance for success. And that's fine with Carol.

The answer is, "Of course." There is plenty of revenue to be found, but guards, otherwise known as lobbyists, are standing watch over the revenue and our incredibly unfair tax code. America desperately needs revenue to rebuild transportation and communication infrastructure and create jobs, to provide health care to seniors and poor children, to invest in medical and business research and technology, to educate our young people, keep our country safe, and to pay down our debt, but we should not borrow for all of this. We should raise revenue. So, looking past both budgets, where can we find money? In CarolLand, taxes are not raised; instead, "revenue" is "found". That is, if you can get around the "guards" who are "standing watch" over it.

What is that money doing in private hands anyway? Nothing that Carol deems worthwhile. That money is what "America desperately needs". The $5.4 Trillion in cash that government currently extracts? Sorry, just ain't enough. For Carol, it's never enough.

What's clear from her rhetoric: There is not a single dollar in private hands that Carol does not imagine she could spend more wisely and humanely. Oh, sure: she'll probably let you keep some of yours. But that's not due to any lofty principle. The only rule is: if she thinks government "needs" it, and she can politically get away with it, she'll take it.

Carol deems the current tax system "incredibly unfair"; she never spells out what she means by that, except that it doesn't generate enough cash flow to satisfy her unlimited spending desires.

Even though most people don't hear about them, there are many suggestions being made by many different groups. I am going to include some here, whether I agree or disagree with the suggestions. Translation: "I don't have enough political courage to advocate specific positions and take responsibility for them."
Some want to raise taxes on the wealthiest. The Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget "asks the extraordinarily wealthy to pay a sensible share by creating five additional tax brackets, the highest of which is still lower than the top bracket in place during most of the Reagan Administration." Their brackets would be 45 percent for $1-10 million, 46 percent for $10-20 million, 48 percent for $100 million-1 billion, and 49 percent for $1 billion and more. I know Carol's just quoting someone else here, but note the "asks" euphemism. The government does not "ask" for more taxes. It takes them, under threat of force. Anyone who says government should "ask" for more taxes is a dishonest and cowardly charlatan, and is demonstrating contempt for your intelligence.

Also note the "sensible share" bit. That's an interesting way to frame an arbitrary grab for more cash.

Many are taking aim at those corporations that have managed to escape paying any federal income taxes. David Kocieniewski's article in the New York Times, March 24, 2011, titled "G.E.'s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether," certainly caught the public's attention. He wrote that General Electric had worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, $5.1 from U.S. operations, and "Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion." And G.E. is not alone. Kocieniewski points out that while we have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, "companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less." A debunking of the "GE pays no taxes" meme is here.

Carol, of course, has no idea what to do about the corporate income tax, other than vaguely "taking aim" at the corporations. (Gun-based metaphors are OK to use when you're a Democrat.)

It's notable that even a lefty like Matthew Yglesias thinks we should just get rid of the corporate income tax. Whether the GE factoid is true or not, the corporate income tax has become a dirty joke, an inefficient snakepit of favors for the politically well-connected.

(Of course, being a lefty, Yglesias thinks we should more than make up for it by increasing taxes—on, of course, "the rich"—elsewhere. But unlike Carol, he's honest about it.)

He reports that the corporate contribution to our nation's revenue was 30 percent of the total 60 years ago, but only 6.6 percent in 2009. Reform the tax code now. Some think we need to do a better job collecting taxes that are already owed under the current code. James Thompson wrote in an article, published on April 13 in USA Today, that, "The government's failure to collect the $385 billion that is owed but not paid the government each year -- called the "tax gap" -- translates to a $3,300 surtax on each taxpaying household, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service." He argues that instead of cutting the IRS and its 98,000 employees, 10,000 employees smaller than in 2010, we should invest in catching cheaters to bring in revenue and make it fairer for the rest of us. If the government manages to snatch more money away from corporations, fine. Of course, they'll have less to fritter away on jobs, etc. But that's OK with Carol: the increased government revenue can be spent on unemployment benefits! And as Nancy Pelosi knows, unemployment benefits create jobs!

Carol also has a naive faith that throwing money at an organization—the IRS in this case—is an effective way to improve its operations. Daniel J. Mitchell debunks.

There are many other ideas to raise revenue without hitting the middle class and small businesses. Stop allowing hedge-fund managers and private equity fund managers to report their income differently, paying a capital gains rate instead of an ordinary income rate. No more deductions on yachts, gambling debts and private jets. A small financial speculation tax on huge institutional (not individual) transactions on Wall Street would raise billions over 10 years. A mix of mostly dreadful ideas. Mostly chosen for their value as demagogic political theatre, not for any rational fiscal purpose. Also, since they conveniently target "someone else", Carol can pretend that there would be no negative effects of sucking more money out of the private financial sector, or punishing people who choose to invest their money instead of spending it.

I have to admit that I have no idea what Carol is referring to about taking a tax deduction for gambling debts. Is that a thing? I can't find anything about it, for example, in this Forbes article describing the tax implications of Carol's fellow Democrat Maureen O'Connor's $1 billion gambling losses.

The financial "speculation" tax (usually referred to as a "financial transaction tax") is a spectacularly bad idea. Here's an article discussing a European proposal, but the argument applies to the US.

The point here is that we have a choice. Put options on the table and have a vote on them, one by one. I listen to government officials, service providers, educational institutions and small businesses each day. They talk about the need for some revenue to invest in our people and build our country. We can raise revenue to pay down the debt and adequately run the country, and we don't need to ask the middle class to pay more than their fair share. We just need to ask others who have been holding back to pay theirs. Note (once again) the "ask" euphemism, demonstrating Carol's lack of respect for her readers and constituents.

Bottom line: Carol doesn't worry overmuch about the details as she gets more money to play with, to spend on her worthy schemes.

But, perhaps surprisingly, I agree with her on one thing: If I were advising Speaker Boehner, I would put every silly tax-raising scheme up to a vote in the House, so that Carol would go on the record. No more hiding behind the "I'm not going to tell you whether I agree or disagree" tergiversations.

Last Modified 2013-06-19 10:11 AM EDT