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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s Forked Tongue on Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s Forked Tongue on Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

Shortly before the inauguration, Steve Mnuchin discussed the incoming administration’s tax plans and announced the Mnuchin Rule–that “[a]ny reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”   EXCLUSIVE: Steve Mnuchin says there will be ‘no absolute tax cut for the upper class’, CNBC Squawk Box (Nov. 30, 2016).  At the same time, he argued that those who foresaw a tax cut for the rich accompanied by a tax increase for many in the middle class were wrong:  “When we work with Congress and go through this, it will be very clear.  This is a middle-income tax cut.” Id.

Contrast that with the so-called “tax reform” “framework” that the Trump administration has put out with the GOP establishment in Congress and for which both the House and Senate have made provisions in their budget document by including a (likely significantly underestimated) tax-cut-caused federal deficit of 1.5 trillion dollars.

As this blog and many tax and economic experts have noted (see, e.g., Nunns et al, An Analysis of Donald Trump’s Revised Tax Plan, Tax Policy Center (Oct. 18, 2016), Trump’s tax plan has always favored the wealthy.  In fact, the recently released “tax reform” “framework” is heavily tilted in favor of the wealthy, because the corporate statutory rate cut from 35% to 20%, the elimination of the AMT, the elimination of the estate tax, and the 25% pass-through rate for taxpayers all represent huge tax cuts for wealthy taxpayers who are the ones most likely to have been impacted by those tax provisions.  Meanwhile, there is actually an increase in rate for the lowest-income taxpayers from 10% to 12%, and the elimination of personal exemptions (and possibly other provisions) which may or may not be entirely offset by the proposed doubling of the standard deduction and possibly some increase in the child tax credit.  Thus, some poor families who can afford it least may pay more in taxes, middle income families may get a small tax cut, and wealthy families who don’t need the money at all will get a huge tax cut.  See, e.g.,  earlier A Taxing Matter posts on this issue here and here.

And these “massive” tax cuts for the wealthy, combined with massive increases in the deficit (and borrowing) to fund the tax cuts, likely won’t even trickle down as more jobs for working Americans.  There’s very little support from past tax cuts for businesses and for the wealthy for any kind of economic stimulus, either in terms of more jobs or higher wages.  See, e.g., White House math on corporate tax cuts is ‘absolutely crazy’, Mother Jones (Oct. 17, 2017).   In fact, there is much more support for tax increases on the wealthy resulting in more jobs than vice versa.

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Cost Sharing Reductions and the Constitution

Republican Representatives who sued the Obama administration, Judge Rosemarry Collyer who decided they were right, Donald Trump and lawyers representing the Trump administration argue that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can not compensate insurance companies for the expence of cost sharing reductions (CSRs) for people with income under 250% of the poverty line who purchase silver plans on ACA exchanges. The argument is that compensation for CSRs might be good policy, but the Constitution makes it clear that only Congress can choose such good policy.

I’m not an lawyer but I do not understand how anyone can make such an argument. Following Mark Joseph Stern, I quote from the ACA

(3) Methods for reducing cost-sharing
(A) In general
An issuer of a qualified health plan making reductions under this subsection shall notify the Secretary of such reductions and the Secretary shall make periodic and timely payments to the issuer equal to the value of the reductions.

(3) Payment
The Secretary shall pay to the issuer of a qualified health plan the amount necessary to reflect the increase in actuarial value of the plan required by reason of this subsection.

Tnat seems very clear to me. The whole case seems to rest on the fact that the ACA never says funds are appropriated for this purpose. My (non lawyer’s) understanding of precedent is that the Constitutional requirement that funds be disbursed only as appropriated by law by Congress has not been interpreted as requiring the approriate use of the appropriate “appropriated”.

Just to cut and paste a bit from Stern

When Congress passed the ACA, after all, it instructed HHS to make these payments. And in doing so, it effectively appropriated the necessary funds. As Georgetown University law professor David Super explained to my colleague Jordan Weissmann in 2015: “The Supreme Court has been very clear that you do not have to have a law that says ‘appropriations’ across the top. You just need a law directing that the money be spent.”

I don’t see an arguable case against paying the money.

Certainly, I don’t see how anyone can argue that the payments are not allowed and required without addressing the bits of the law which I cut and pasted.

It seems to me that to pretend they don’t exist is to lie by omission, and that lying to a judge is contempt of court, even if one isn’t under oath.

Lawyers help me. I sure wouldn’t want Trump administration lawyers to be disbarred.

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New Bill to Restore the ACA CSR

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) “Unless they are replaced with something else temporarily, there will be chaos in this country and millions of Americans will be hurt.”

Twelve Republicans and 12 Democrats signed on to the bill, which would continue ObamaCare’s insurer subsidies for two years and give states more flexibility to waive ObamaCare rules.

Senator Alexander is talking about the impact of Trump canceling the CSR which pays for deducible and co-pays directly to insurance companies for the insured between 138% and 250% FPL. And no, neither the CSR or the Risk Corridor Program bailouts for insurance companies. All of these are lies and misconceptions coming from the mouths of Republicans and the President.

Here is what will happen:

– Premiums for benchmark plans sold on the Affordable Care Act exchanges will rise about 20 percent next year and about 25 percent by 2020. The cost to consumers, however, would stay the same or even decline.
– People with lower incomes who buy insurance on the exchanges get a tax credit (subsidy directly to the insurance company), so their costs remain stable as a share of their income. When premiums rise, those government subsidies rise as well.
– For people with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the out-of-pocket cost of insurance would remain about the same because of the bigger tax credits (subsidies offsetting premium increases to the insurance company).
– For those with incomes between 200 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, the cost to buy insurance could actually get cheaper. Some Gold plans may be cheaper than the Silver plans. 85 percent of people who bought Obamacare insurance got a tax credit.

Kaiser Family Foundation Vice president Larry Levitt: “The CBO analysis makes it clear. The ending cost-sharing subsidies would be a perfect example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Premiums would rise and the government would end up spending more in the end through tax credits that help people pay their premiums.”

The CBO report confirms earlier analyses, including this one by Kaiser and this one from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman suggested eliminating the cost-sharing payments could make policies cheaper for some individuals.

In the end, the elimination of the CSR may cause a cumulative deficit of $194 billion from 2017 through 2026, CBO and JCT estimate. While it may be chaotic in the beginning as people will not know what to do, premium subsidies paid directly to the insurance companies will pickup the difference, and the CBO assumes the chaotic conditions will level out over a period of 2-3 years.

Giving states more control over the ACA in areas such as the 10 essential benefits or cheaper than Bronze plans would spell the end for the ACA and we would be back to garbage healthcare polices.

If you are prone to do so, it would be helpful to write your sponsoring Senator and tell them you are opposed to this bill by Senator Alexander. The  Democratic co-sponsors include Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Al Franken (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WVA.), Tom Carper (D-DE.), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI.), Claire McCaskill (D-MS), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

There will be issues; but, the greater issue is with Republicans and states tampering with the ACA offerings.

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Silicon Valley is not your friend

Vis New York Times

Growth becomes the overriding motivation — something treasured for its own sake, not for anything it brings to the world. Facebook and Google can point to a greater utility that comes from being the central repository of all people, all information, but such market dominance has obvious drawbacks, and not just the lack of competition. As we’ve seen, the extreme concentration of wealth and power is a threat to our democracy by making some people and companies unaccountable.

In addition to their power, tech companies have a tool that other powerful industries don’t: the generally benign feelings of the public. To oppose Silicon Valley can appear to be opposing progress, even if progress has been defined as online monopolies; propaganda that distorts elections; driverless cars and trucks that threaten to erase the jobs of millions of people; the Uberization of work life, where each of us must fend for ourselves in a pitiless market.

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Senate to Vote on Budget Resolution

A couple of weeks ago, the House passed a Tax Reform Budget Resolution. Today, the Senate will take a vote on its Tax Reform Budget Resolution. Once passed, the differences will need to be resolved by both legislative bodies. President Trump met with the Senate Committee which included 6 Democratic Senators of which 5 are up for re-election in 2018. Trump impressed upon Senator Wyden the need for support of the Republican Tax Reform measure.

Except the call by President Trump did not get a favorable response. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called the President and the Republican’s bill a “con job” stating; there is a Grand Canyon-sized gap between the rhetoric surrounding this plan and reality.”

All the happy talk about helping the middle class and avoiding a giveaway to the wealthy sounds great, but it is not what the White House and Republicans have on offer.”

Going forward, the content of both Resolutions will have to be reconciled and the differences between the House and the Senate’s Tax Reform Budget Resolution assumptions resolved. The House Resolution assumes the tax plan will generate economic growth and calls for $203 billion in miscellaneous spending cuts over a decade, while the Senate Resolution assumes no economic growth and creates a deficit of ~$1.5 trillion over a 10 year period. Most likely, greater importance will be placed on the Senate’s Resolution by Republicans due to their slim majority. Passing Tax Reform before 2018 elections has taken a priority for Republicans after doing so poorly with revising, repealing, and/or replacing the ACA. Little concern is given to its long term impact. In the end and the same as the 2001/2003 tax breaks, any deficits created after 10 years result in a sunset of the bill.

After the House and the Senate agree on a Budget Resolution, the House Ways and Means Committee will release a detailed tax bill and schedule a committee vote. The Tax Reform bill will go to the House and the Senate to be passed under Reconciliation rules (a majority) vote disallowing a filibuster effort by the Dems in the Senate. This will be the same as what occurred with the ACA although the Republican Senators who opposed the ACA legislation such as Collins and McCain will support Tax Reform.

More to come.

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Precursor to Ecological Armageddon.

(Dan here…Stormy sends a reminder that the world has a real side as well…lifted from an e-mail))

Calling out the precursor to an Ecological Armageddon.

Thought you might like to see this study—also written up in Guardian.  Economists are totally irrelevant.   Profit and money are their game….and that game is ending within our children’s lifetime.

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas

See also:

Warning of ‘Ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

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WA Senator Murray Thinks She has a Deal to Save the CSR

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate health committee, said he hopes to release a bill this week, in collaboration with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the senior Democrat on the committee, to fund the cost-sharing reduction payments and give states more leeway on insurance rules.”

Not sure why Senator Murray feels the need to go down this avenue when the preceding Executive Order already wandered into greater flexibility for states, states rights, and who decides what. As has been explained by the CBO, Drum, other pundits, and myself; the loss in out-of-pocket subsidies will result in increased premiums which are “still” paid for by the ACA between 138% and 250% FPL. In some cases, Bronze plans can be had for free, Silver plans become cheaper, and Gold plans offering better care and lower deductibles attainable.

Senator Murray is giving away the store if what Senator Alexander says is true. “Alexander said Murray agreed to a deal giving states ‘meaningful’ flexibility on coverage rules. Asked what the stumbling blocks to the deal are, Alexander replied: ‘The definition of meaningful.'”

We have already seen what the word meaningful means with regard to the expansion of Medicaid in some states . . . it never happened. I am hoping Senator Murray has second thoughts and decides not to go farther with her thoughts on negotiating with the Republicans as she is off base and we will be better off by not altering what is law already and it is the ACA.

Premiums will go up in 2018 as no one is going to trust Trump regardless of any deal reached with the Republicans.

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A thought for Sunday: the Rule of Gerontocracy

A thought for Sunday: the Rule of Gerontocracy

The US looks like government of, by, and for senior citizens.
President Donald Trump just had his 72nd birthday. He assumed office at age 71, the oldest person ever to do so.
In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 75 years old.  His Democratic counterpart, Charles Schumer, is a relatively spry 66. The median age of US Senators is 63. A full 30 Senators are age 70 or older. Sixteen of them are over 75. Nine are over 80!
The oldest, Diane Feinstein of California, is 84 years old and just announced that she intends to run for re-election. Should she win, by the end of her term, she will be 91 years old — if she survives. The average life expectancy for an 85 year old woman is 6.9 years. In other words, she will have nearly a 50% chance of dying in office before she completes her term.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Ryan is the baby of the group at age 47.  Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. The average House member is 57 years old, the oldest average ever. Over 30% of the Members are age 65 or older. Over 15% are over 70. Twelve Members are over 80!
The median age of Justices of the Supreme Court is 67. Two Justices are over 80.  One is 79. In the 19th Century, the average Justice served about 10 years. Now they sit on average close to 25 years.
In short, the majority of the leadership of all three branches of the US government are old enough to collect Social Security and Medicare.
Forget Boomers, most of the US leadership belongs to the Silent Generation, and formed their basic political opinions in the 1950s during the days of Ike and Senator Joseph McCarthy, and when court-ordered racial integration was just beginning.  And it shows.

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Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics

Via The Intercept

Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics

ICE confirmed to The Intercept that the handbook reflects the agency’s most up-to-date guidance on asset forfeiture. Agents under its instruction are asked to weigh the competing priorities of law enforcement versus financial profit and to “not waste instigative time and resources” on assets it calls “liabilities” — which include properties that are not profitable enough for the federal government to justify seizing. “As a general rule, if total liabilities and costs incurred in seizing a real property or business exceed the value of the property, the property should not be seized,” the document states.

The handbook also instructs ICE agents on the various ways laws can be used to justify the seizure of a property, and devotes a significant portion of its pages to the seizure of real estate. The manual instructs agents seeking to seize a property to work with confidential informants, scour tax records, and even obtain an interception warrant to determine whether “a telephone located on the property was used to plan or discuss criminal activity” in order to justify seizing the property.

The handbook acknowledges that civil forfeiture can be used to take property from a person even when there’s not enough evidence for a criminal indictment. There “may be third party interest that would prevail in a criminal case, but would not survive in a civil proceeding, making the civil proceeding essential to forfeiture,” the handbook states, referencing a property owner not officially implicated in a crime. “Those situations generally occur when a property owner is not convicted of a crime but is also not an innocent owner. Under criminal forfeiture, that property owner would be entitled to the return of the property. Under civil forfeiture, however, the owner would lose his or her interest to the Government.”

Noting that ICE is not alone among federal agencies in relying on asset forfeiture,

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The Incidence of the Obamacare Subsidies

The Incidence of the Obamacare Subsidies

Justin Fishel and Mary Bruce covers Trump’s dismantling of Obamacare:

The White House announced Thursday night that the administration will slash Obamacare subsidy payments to insurers. The “cost-sharing reduction payments,” worth an estimated $7 billion this year, are intended to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans on Obamacare … House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint calling the action “pointless sabotage.” “Sadly, instead of working to lower health costs for Americans, it seems President Trump will singlehandedly hike Americans’ health premiums,” they said in a joint statement. “It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America.”

Trump’s counter is that the health insurance companies are very profitable because they are reaping the benefits of these subsidies. I would argue that health insurance company profit margins are high in large part because we have not enforced the anti-trust laws and allowed a lot of market power. Brad and Michael Delong made this point last fall:

The United States’ Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care reform, has significantly increased the need for effective antitrust enforcement in health-insurance markets. Despite recent good news on this front, the odds remain stacked against consumers … It is not surprising, then, that in 2015 some of the largest private American health-insurance companies – Anthem, Cigna, Aetna, and Humana – began exploring the possibility of merging. If they could reduce the number of national insurers from five to three, they could then increase their market power and squeeze more profits from consumers.

Even five health insurance companies are two few. But suppose we did have real competition in the health insurance market – what would be the effect of subsidies. Let’s consider this primer on the incidence of taxes:

The tax incidence depends on the relative price elasticity of supply and demand. When supply is more elastic than demand, buyers bear most of the tax burden. When demand is more elastic than supply, producers bear most of the cost of the tax.

Most economists know this and we know how to translate this into the implications for the incidence of a subsidy. We have to admit, however, that Trump is really awful at economics. But he does have economic advisors. Trump is implicitly assuming a very elastic demand for health care or a very inelastic supply of health care. But where is his evidence for these claims? I guess when Kevin Hassett produces his “analysis, we might see a link from Greg Mankiw.

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