Everyone hated Congress in the pre-institutionalized Congress of the 19th century, when it was the House that had the filibuster; they hated Congress when it ran with ruthless efficiency under Speakers Reed and Cannon and during the early years of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency; they hated Congress during the New Deal; they hated it during the era of bipartisanship and the conservative coalition; they hated it when liberals took over and ended segregation and passed Medicare and Medicaid; they hated the reformed Congress of the 1970s; they hated it during the era of divided government; they hated it after the rise of the routine filibuster in the Senate; they hated it when the Gingrich Republicans took over; they hated it when the historic 111th passed tons of legislation. Trying to connect the American people’s deep and long-standing contempt for their Congress with any particular set or arrangements or procedures is a mug’s game.
This fact explains a lot about the practical operation of American politics. In theory, Congress is supposed to act as an important freedom-preserving “check” on executive power. In practice, everyone hates Congress so this doesn’t really work. If the President wants to challenge the prerogatives of some socially and politically powerful group of people or interests, then Congress is a highly efficacious tool for blocking reform. But if the executive branch wants to persecute the weak and the defenseless, then from Indian Removal to the Internment of the Japanese straight on through to detaining Bradley Manning without charges or trial, congress is almost invariably missing in action.
Meanwhile, as a smart member of congress about his or her ideas for tackling a tough problem and the solution almost invariably turns out to be using a commission of some sort to take congress out of the decision-making loop. And, indeed, most democracies have basically taken their national legislatures entirely out of the policymaking process—they simply appoint a cabinet and then wait for a new election.
David Brooks has an insightful column on “The Book Of Mormon” making the point that stringent, arbitrary, rigorous religious doctrines that liberals find distasteful tend to be both more socially successful and also associated with individuals doing better. What I’m less certain about is the posited causal relationship here:
Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character. Changes in behavior change the mind, so small acts of ritual reinforce networks in the brain. A Mormon denying herself coffee may seem like a silly thing, but regular acts of discipline can lay the foundation for extraordinary acts of self-control when it counts the most.
But is Mormonism giving people self-control here, or are people with a lot of self-control becoming Mormons? Harry Reid is an incredible rags-to-senate-leadership success story and also a convert to Mormonism, but I’m inclined to believe that the same qualities that have made him successful drew him to the Mormon religion rather than the religion drawing him to those qualities. And then of course most Mormons are simply the children of other Mormons who are inhering all kinds of attributes from their parents.
In a segment on Wednesday, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly praised the climate youth activists who participated in the Power Shift 2011 conference. O’Reilly’s producer Jesse Watters — best known for stalking young women on camera — attended the conference and interviewed many of the attendees, mostly students from colleges and universities across the nation. O’Reilly, who has recognized that the planet is warming but is unwilling to recognize that fossil fuel pollution is responsible, supported the mission of the 10,000 Power Shift participants to build a “cleaner country” with “alternative energy.” In his own words, here’s Bill O’Reilly’s take on the youth clean energy movement:
– Most of the younger people are well-intentioned people. They want a cleaner country and there’s nothing wrong with that.
– I like the spirit of people actually going somewhere and trying to do something positive. I want to say that.
– I hope we can get alternative energy! I’d love to have windmills everywhere. I like windmills. You go into Holland, they have windmills everywhere. They’re nice.
Reflecting Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories about Power Shift, Watters sneered at the attendees as naive, “pie in the sky” redistributionists. However, as Watters made thinly veiled pot jokes, O’Reilly recognized that the youth climate activists of Power Shift are actually hard-working, responsible young people who want to keep our nation safe by protecting the only planet we have.
At the moment, Stanton/Eastbanc’s plans call for an office building on 7th and Pennsylvania that would rise to seven floors, or 88 feet. According to the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, that’s “simply too tall and too large to blend gracefully with its Capitol Hill neighbors.” The Eastern Market Metro Community Association agreed, insisting that the developers stick to a height limit of 60 feet, as endorsed by ANC 6B two years ago.
The staff of the Historic Preservation Office, however, wasn’t so worried. “Given the breadth of the wide avenue, the relative hierarchical importance of this building in the totality of the project, and the site’s frontage on a L’Enfant square and adjacency to a Metro station, additional height in this location is not inappropriate provided that the building is otherwise designed to ‘enhance the character of the district and respect its context,’” reviewers wrote, recommending only mild setbacks on the top of the building.
Clearly what this debate needs is an anchor on the other side. An unreasonable extremist.
So here goes. As a resident of the District of Columbia, I would like to maximize the property tax revenues generated by the Hines site. Therefore, I think the building should be however tall the developer thinks it can be made profitably. As a resident of the District of Columbia, I would like to maximize the volume of employment in DC generated by the Hines site. Therefore, I think the building should be however tall the developer thinks it can be made. As a resident of the Planet Earth, I would like to maximize the quantity of economic activity located near heavy rail mass transit nodes. Therefore, I think the building should be however tall the developer thinks it can be made.
From an aesthetic point of view, I think the older historic buildings that surround the neighborhood would look really cool juxtaposed with a big-ass modern skyscraper. The idea that you maximize the beauty of a historic neighborhood by insisting on absolute uniformity is inane. Look at the Dancing House in Prague.
You can tell something’s happening in the economic policy debate when you start reading more things like AEI’s Arthur Brooks explaining that it would simply be unfair to raise taxes on the rich. Harvard economics professor and former Council of Economics Advisor chairman Greg Mankiw has said the same thing. And of course Representative Paul Ryan is both a fan of Brooks and a fan of the works of Ayn Rand. Which is just to say that we used to have a debate in which the left said redistributive taxation might be a good idea and then the right replied that it might sound good, but actually the consequences would be bad. Lower taxes on the rich would lead to more growth and faster increase in incomes.
Now that idea seems to be so unsupportable that the talking point is switched. It’s not that higher taxes on our Galtian Overlords would backfire and make us worse off. It’s just that it would be immoral of us to ask them to pay more taxes even if doing so would, in fact, improve overall human welfare.
If that sounds remotely plausible to you, you might have a lucrative career ahead of you working as an apologist for said Galtian Overlords. If not, then congratulations for possessing a modicum of common sense.
Last week, in a dramatic vote, the House of Representatives voted to effectively end Medicare by voting for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal. Under Ryan’s plan, the public health insurance system known as Medicare would be replaced with a system of inadequate subsidies seniors would use to purchase private insurance.
All but four House Republicans voted for Ryan’s plan. Since the vote, Republicans have been engaged in a major public relations effort where they are claiming they actually are “saving Medicare” by ending its status as public health insurance program and handing seniors over to insurance companies. Yet Main Street Americans don’t appear to be buying the GOP rhetoric, as they are angrily confronting Republican Members of Congress at their town hall events, demanding to know why they want to end Medicare.
But if Americans want to know why Republicans are so eager to kill Medicare, they should look to the party’s history with the popular program. Leading Republicans actually denounced the program as it was being designed, warning that it would take us down the road to totalitarianism or worse, and other leading Republicans were caught on record plotting to eliminate it after it was created:
- Ronald Reagan: Before he was president, Reagan actually lead a campaign against the creation of Medicare. He ominously warned: “[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” 
- Barry Goldwater: Goldwater, a conservative icon, said that establishing Medicare would lead us down the slippery slope of subsidizing alcohol for all: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink.” 
- George H.W. Bush: Bush, who would go on to be president after Reagan, said that Medicare shouldn’t be established because it was nothing more than “socialized medicine.” 
- Bob Dole: In 1996, during his campaign for the Presidency, Dole openly bragged that he was one of 12 House members who voted against creating Medicare in 1965. “I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare . . . because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965.” 
- Sen. Carl Curtis (NE): During the debate over the creation of Medicare, Curtis said that the “insurance industry has a remarkable record” and that Medicare “is not public welfare. It is not charity. It is not kindness. It is socialism. Socialism is not the answer to anything.” 
- Dick Armey: The House GOP leader told reporters in 1995 that “we need to wean our old people away from Medicare.” 
- Newt Gingrich: Gingrich, who is now likely running for president, told a Blue Cross Blue Shield conference how he plans to eventually get rid of Medicare: “Now, we don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that that’s politically smart, and we don’t think that’s the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it — voluntarily.” 
- Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX): During an appearance on MSNBC last week, Hensarling referred to Medicare along with Social Security as “cruel Ponzi schemes.” [4/15/2011]
In his 2008 film SiCKO, filmmaker Michael Moore featured Ronald Reagan’s campaign against Medicare. Watch it:
It should truly come as no surprise that the GOP has always set its sights on Medicare. After all, it is a single-payer health care system has little involvement from the private insurance industry that is both incredibly efficient and remarkably popular among the general public. It completely violates the conservative mantra that the market should be the arbiter of all things.
Polling shows that the public, including even most Republicans, are overwhelmingly opposed to cuts to the Medicare program. The public is, however, supportive of measures like drug reimportation from Canada and authorizing the Medicare program to use its purchasing power to negotiate for lower drug prices, something that should be uncontroversial but that has been barred thanks to the power of the drug industry. Both of these policy options could save Americans billions of dollars and help shore up the long-term sustainability of Medicare.
The Congressional Budget Office concluded in its study of Ryan’s plan that if it was enacted, seniors would have to pay the majority of their income on health care. In its 46 year-long war on Medicare, the GOP is not only fighting the public health insurance program, but the very idea that we are our brother’s keeper — that we should care what happens to our elderly in the last years of their life, and that no one should spend the last days of their lives fighting with insurance companies just to survive.
Matthew Nisbett’s Climate Shift report critiquing the failures of the “green” movement to obtain a climate change bill is all the rage in enviornmentalist circles this week. Joe Romm and Chris Mooney both offer forceful critiques on specific points and I think Kate Sheppard and Brad Plumer have persuasive responses.
But most generally, I don’t think it’s always clear what it is that explanations of the climate bill’s failure are supposed to explain. I think there are three important questions here that are largely distinct:
One: Why did the Democratic Party prioritize health care reform over energy policy reform in 2009?
Two: Why did conservative elites who favored energy policy reform in 2007-2008 change their minds in 2009-2010?
Three: Why were politicians more afraid to vote “yes” on a climate bill than to vote “no” on one?
It seems to me that most of the explanatory work has gone into answering question (3) which I think is a mistake. Messaging, organizing, etc. played a role in this. But at the same time, factors (1) and (2) played a huge rule in setting the stage for (3). In the 2008 campaign, John McCain’s team was trying to persuade Grist readers that he had the better climate change policy. Had it continued to be the case that prominent conservatives were pushing for a climate change bill and the leaders of the Democratic Party made this their top priority, then the politics facing members in marginal states would have been totally different.
Our guest blogger is Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on twitter at @MikeElk.
This past month, there was much outrage over the fact that General Electric, despite making $14.2 billion in profits, paid zero U.S. taxes in 2010. General Electric actually received tax credits of $3.2 billion from American taxpayers.
At the same time that General Electric was not paying taxes, many undocumented immigrants, who are typically accused of taking advantage of the system while not contributing to it by many on the right, paid $11.2 billion in taxes. A new study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows that undocumented immigrants paid $8.4 billion in sales taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.2 billion in personal income taxes last year. The study also estimates that nearly half of all undocumented immigrants pay income taxes.
Sales tax is automatic, so it is assumed that unauthorized residents would pay sales tax at similar rates to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants with similar income levels.
Similar to sales tax, property taxes are hard to avoid, and unauthorized immigrants are assumed to pay the same property taxes as others with the same income level. ITEP assumes that most unauthorized immigrants are renters, and only calculates the taxes paid by renters.
Income tax contributions by the unauthorized population are less comparable to other populations because many unauthorized immigrants work “off the books” and income taxes are not automatically withheld from their paychecks. ITEP conservatively estimates that 50 percent of unauthorized immigrants are paying income taxes.
While it’s impossible to estimate exactly how much in taxes undocumented immigrants paid, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are paying more taxes than General Electric, which paid absolutely nothing. This raises the question of who really is leaching off the American system: undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and are typically too afraid of being deported to receive public assistance or corporations that pay nothing while receiving billions in credits.
At a the Tax Day Tea Party on Monday in Columbia, SC, a number of politicians, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), gave rather routine speeches blasting the Obama administration and liberals. Towards the end of the event, one speaker delivered a fiery speech excoriating both Democrats and Republicans for giving away hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to well connected corporations in the state. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-SC) explained to the crowd that corporations are dominating South Carolina by hiring lobbyists, then demanding huge tax giveaways from the “ruling elite” of politicians. By giving money away to already powerful corporations, costs are pushed upon regular people in the form of service cuts or higher sales taxes.
After his speech, ThinkProgress spoke with Davis about corporate influence in politics and his fight against tax giveaways to powerful businesses. We also spoke about how receptive the current Tea Party movement is to his message. In fact, as many historians have accurately noted, the real Boston Tea Party was a revolt against a massive corporate tax cut given to the East India Trading Company. The tax cut effectively gave the British corporation a monopoly over the tea trade in colonial America:
DAVIS: You’ve got leadership in the House, Republican and Democrat, leadership in the Senate, Republican and Democrat that are presiding over this ballooning in special deals that are given away to corporations. And the numbers don’t like: $34 million dollars worth of targeted “tax credits” back in 1998 to corporations who lobbied for them has ballooned to $523 million in 2008 and this year it has ballooned to over a billion dollars. We’re not a big state. Our general fund is $5.1 billion dollars. And with a $5.1 billion dollar general fund budget, we’re giving away one billion dollars in tax credits to targeted industries that have lobbyists that are going to lobby for them? Somebody pays that bill, and there’s no free lunch. Who pays the bill are those folks out there that don’t have the power to hire lobbyists. [...]
FANG: The Tea Act that kind of sparked the revolution was actually a specialized tax cut for the East India Trading Company and it basically pushed the price of American imported tea out of the market. And it seems very similar to what you’re saying here.
DAVIS: And the Tea Party was about 1773. Here we are in the year 2011 and we’re still talking about politicians passing out special tax breaks to help--
FANG: To big corporations, like the East India Trading Company was a British corporation.
DAVIS: Oh yeah. It’s absolutely crazy. And its not the free market and its not what made our country great. Our country has been because we’ve counted on individuals taking risks, saving money, working hard. Now, it’s large corporations that have access to lawmakers that get huge tax breaks and there’s no way that the little guy can compete.
The anti-corporate streak of the Tea Party has been muffled by corporate-dominated front groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, which are both run by lobbyists. But in ThinkProgress’ conversations with ordinary Tea Party activists, many have expressed concerns that corporate lobbyists have far too much influence in politics. When asked about massive subsidies given to the oil industry, or the fact that dozens of some of the most profitable corporations in America don’t pay a dime in corporate income taxes, Tea Party activists have agreed with progressives that there is a structural imbalance in the political system towards corporate power.
Notably, many companies like Koch Industries (which funds fronts like Americans for Prosperity) have falsely claimed to represent the spirit of the Boston Tea Party. In fact, Koch Industries has used its lobbying power to demand a $50 million tax break from states like Kansas, and has lobbied to pollute tens of billions of dollars worth of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for free.