Let’s speak plainly

After watching a few newscasts with politicians using words that sound nice, but lack substance, I am in the need of some plain spoken comments. Here are a few to start the conversation. Please let me hear some of yours.

The US President and Congress are speaking of Tax Reform, but what I am hearing are tax cuts. We have a debt of $20 Trillion and an annual budget deficit. There is no way in hell to reduce either with lower tax revenue. We need spending cuts and tax increases, but no politician has the stomach to do what is needed.

Steve Bannon is the latest White House departure to say the President likes for his direct reports to compete for his attention and favor. People say this is how he likes to run his businesses. Two comments. First, I have witnessed this model as an employee, manager and consultant and it is a highly unproductive model. Second, biographers and financial reporters have all said Trump’s business record is spotty. He is a great salesman, but the word great is rarely used to describe his management style. It shows in the level of chaos and incompetence in the White House. General Kelly has helped, but it is a tall hill to climb.

While I understand the reasons for Brexit, I have been very concerned by the consideration and vote to exit the EU. From the outset, financial experts forewarned of the British leaving the EU. They spoke of EU headquarter movement, less investment, and less collaboration. This is already occurring in plans of the exit. I understand Former PM Tony Blair has an idea to govern immigration better without leaving – my strong suggestion is to hear him out.

Along these lines, those who want to retrench from global markets need to know a truism – it is very hard to shrink to greatness. I understand middle income workers in flourishing economies feel the brunt of globalization, but a large part of that is due to and will continue to result from technology gains. Retraining is a must. Shoring up wages is a must. But, we need to be careful about retrenching from global markets, that also add jobs here.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with these comments? If you do not, let me know why?

 

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Expansion of the Chris Rock Solution

One of the funniest, yet provocative routines performed by the comedian Chris Rock is his proposal to solve gun violence. Price the bullets at $5,000 per bullet. He goes on to describe, as only he can, that shooters will become very judicious with how they use ammunition at that price point.

I was thinking of his idea today and thought it might be a good strategy on other things that are causing problems in America. Civil protest need only require a permit, yet if you bring a weapon that will cost extra. Bring a bat, baton or stick and that will be $5,000 per weapon per person. Bring a knife, sword, dagger, etc., that will be $10,000. Bring a hand gun or rifle that will be $25,000. Someone has to pay for the police cost.

If Congress wants to fund raise on our tax dollars, that will be $5,000 for two hours worth of calling payable by the political party. In person fund raising will be $10,000. If a lobbyist wants to talk with you, they must pay Treasury $25,000.

As for making people tell the truth, if a news agency tells a falsehood and doesn’t visibly retract a story, $100,000 fine. If a President or member of Congress tells a falsehood without a visible retraction, $25,000. If a story is repeated, the fine is tripled. If the politician hits ten lies, the fine is tripled, as well.

The job to collect national fines will be imposed on the Secretary of the Treasury. Local fines can be collected by the City Tax Collectors. Failure to pay, will double the fine and require public disclosure by name and party. This may cause folks to think about how they use their time. It would also help with our deficit and debt.

While we are asking questions

There will be a great deal written about Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony under oath. I emphasize the last two words of the preceding sentence. The President and his advocates’ rebuttals will not be under oath, at least at this time, so we should remember this fact.

Yet, it got me to thinking about asking various people a question under oath to see how they would fare. In no particular order:

Senator Marco Rubio, you have bragged on playing a heavy role in the federal government stiffing insurance companies for taking on adverse risk under the ACA. Can you explain to Americans why they must suffer with higher insurance premiums for you to score political points?

Senator Mitch McConnell, The New York Times reported that just before the 2012 election, you had a report by the Congressional Research Service buried that concluded trickle down economics does not work. In light of the recent failures of that approach in Kansas, where tax rates have just been increased to pay for services, does that seem dishonest to hide such information from Americans, especially since the President’s tax plan had some of Kansas’ ideas?

Former President Barack Obama, do you feel remorse about not pushing the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan back when it might have gotten some footing and we could have done more with our debt?

Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while you may have reason to raise issues about the election, would you say that you ran a poor campaign, not focusing on states that you took for granted such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania while you tried to win states like Arizona? Do you feel you let your opponent speak to the disenfranchised voter more than you did?

Senator Ted Cruz, you single handedly shut down the government in October 2013, almost causing us to default on our debts until ten female senators broke the impasse. Do you feel that showed you as part of the problem with Washington? Why should we trust your judgment?

President Donald Trump, since you have been shown to lie about 70% of the time as a candidate and incumbent and your five biographers all note you have a problem with the truth, why should we believe what you say just about anything?

There are more folks I would like to ask questions of. Let me know some of yours.

 

A mean spirited, dishonest budget

On PBS Newshour last night, Mark Shields and David Brooks defined the President’s budget succinctly. They said it was a “mean-spirited, dishonest budget.” I had been searching for the right words to define a proposed budget that kicks people in poverty in the teeth. Fortunately, Senator John McCain said the budget was “dead on arrival.”

The budget is bothersome in so many levels as it severely cuts Medicaid and food stamps, as well as other programs. The latter has grown because of the greater number of people in need. Yet, while these cuts are occurring, tax breaks for the wealthy would be provided.

But, it does not end there. It has been reported about the extra rosy and very hard to achieve projections on revenue growth. While this is not too uncommon, it is still sleight of hand. When people say tax cuts pay for themselves, that is as believable as the check is in the mail. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget will say there often are some revenue improvements, but nothing near paying for the entire cut.

Yet, there is more dishonesty. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that there is some double counting of revenue sources, an obvious error. Per Summers, “You can’t use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue. At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.” Summers noted he has not seen something like this in a budget proposal in 40 years and a business person should know better than to double count like this.

To be brutally frank, this is not what the President advertised in the campaign. He touted his business leadership as something the country sorely needs. Yet, former Speaker John Boehner said with the exception of foreign policy, Trump’s presidency has been a “complete disaster.” I would argue his point on the foreign policy omission. But, it should be noted is how this budget, the AHCA bill, and other measures harm the very constituents that rose up to vote for this newcomer. He is screwing them and they still lack awareness that is what he is doing.

Getting back to Brooks, I have cited his earlier observation after the horribly planned and executed travel ban. “This White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Summers used the latter word in his piece, as well. We can now add “mean spirited and dishonest.” These are not words that he had hoped to elicit when elected.

 

 

Celebration for passing a bill may have been premature

With a White House eager to claim legislative victory, there was a celebratory bash after the Republican led House passed the AHCA by a squeaker of margins 217 to 213. The bill has been vilified by several advocacy groups like the AMA, American Cancer Society and AARP and it has still not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. The bill is also dead in the water in the Senate “once it gets sent there.”

Wait a minute, the last sentence said “once it gets sent there.” To the surprise of some Republican House members, the AHCA bill has not yet been sent to the Senate. Why, you might ask? Since the House did not wait for the CBO to score the cost and impact of the bill on the numbers of uninsured, it cannot be included in the budgeting process, and would thus require 60 votes, not 51 to pass in the Senate. The whole idea was to sneak the bill through this process, so it did not need the super-majority of 60 votes, which it cannot achieve.

Unless the CBO scores this where it saves a threshold amount of the budget, it may not qualify. So, the House leadership has not yet sent the AHCA to the Senate. If they did and the CBO results were not favorable, the House would have to start over. Again, I should reiterate that this bill cannot get even the 51 votes needed due to the impact on Medicaid. As we speak, about two dozen state governors are beseeching the Senate about not harming Medicaid. Unlike the House, the Senate is actually listening.

So, the victory lap on mile 250 of the Indy 500, may have been premature. Voting on something without knowing its impact is not the wisest course of action and is unbecoming of a legislator we trust to do our homework.

 

Budget, budget, budget

Now, that agreement has been reached on setting a budget for the current fiscal year which is seven months old, I have three comments. First, bipartisan collaboration is the reason this budget passed. Thus far, the House has been trying to pass legislation arguing amongst Republicans. Bipartisan legislation is how John Boehner got bills passed.

Second, it is interesting how we are celebrating Congress for doing its job. This is one of the easier, substantive things they do, yet it should not take seven months into the fiscal year. Keeping the lights on is the most important thing they do, yet they can’t do even this well.

Third, I have witnessed yet again a Congressional candidate to replace now budget director Mick Mulvaney tout he is in favor of a balanced budget amendment. Folks, we have $20 trillion in debt. We need more revenue than expenses. And, we cannot cut our way there. We need to increase revenue. It should be noted the President’s tax plan is estimated to increase the debt from $2 to $6 trillion.

We need more serious discussions than this President and Congress are prepared to do. We must roll up our sleeves and add wisely to revenue and cut wisely our expenses, as both efforts are required. If someone tells you otherwise, mention the $20 trillion debt figure.

More Friday Freakiness

Most bloggers recognize these compilations of thoughts for what they are – not enough subject for a post, but something to touch on. In this spirit, a few thoughts for the week.

I want to commend the White House for having a briefing for all 100 Senators over the troubling issue of North Korea. This is a sobering topic and it deserves sober review. I would encourage more of the same on topics of national security.

With that said, I am hopeful that cooler and more knowledgeable heads will be advising the President and he will heed their advice. We do not need the President doing what he is prone to do which is running off at the mouth and letting his ego make decisions.

One of several examples of this is the White House staff being careful not to endorse the recent Turkey election results which gave more power to President Erdogan. The election results have been called into question and are being reviewed by a third party, who Erdogan is making fun of. Of course, our President did not get the memo and fired off congratulations to Erdogan for gaining even more power.

The devil is in the details, but the President has outlined his Tax Reform plan. Several things need to be highlighted therein, especially after hearing Mnuchin and Mulvaney talk about it. Several nonpartisan tax measurement groups have noted the tax cuts will raise the debt from $2 to $6 trillion over the next ten years, a 10% to 30% increase. The M boys – Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Budget Director Mulvaney – have said the common refrain that the “tax cuts will pay for themselves through growth.” While tax cuts have some economic effect, the data from these nonpartisan tax measurement groups said they have historically fallen well short of paying for themselves.

Then, we must look at who benefits. While everyone seems to benefit, the folks who make the most benefit the most. In addition to the individual tax rate cut proposed, the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax rate are eliminated, both which help the wealthy. Adding to this the reduction in corporate tax rate, which has a few interesting twists, plus repealing the ACA additional tax on higher paid people, the folks who “have” will have more which will increase the income disparity.

On top of this, Mnuchin said the President has no intention of releasing his tax returns. Mulvaney said people do not care. So, I guess the more than 2/3 of Americans who said they want to see the tax returns do not matter. For those keeping score, this becomes an official broken campaign promise and to me is firm indication our President has something to hide.

I wish I could talk about other things, but this man dominates the news which is the way he wants it.