Thanks for visiting!

Your Subtitle text

Check out our blog at

Below you can read all the articles I posted on my web site between the time I launched it on May 18 and the Restart on June 2. Henceforth, this page will serve as our “Ideas Center,” which I think sounds a lot better than “blog” but not as pretentious as “symposium.”

Pols & Polls: Multiple Surveys Undercut Talk of Gloom & Doom for GOP in 2012

RealClearPolitics keeps a rolling average of the Generic Congressional Vote by averaging the six latest Generic Ballot poll results conducted by different pollsters. Obviously, this becomes more germane as Election Day nears, and with November 6, 2012 more than 15 months away, it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge victorious. But the recent election of Democrat Kathy Hochul to represent a Republican-leaning district in upstate New York has pundits chattering about how 2012 will be anything but a good year for the GOP. To hear them tell the story, this is the result of Republican overreach and voters’ unfavorable reaction to The Path to Prosperity, especially the Republicans’ proposed reforms to Medicare. And, yet, as salient as the Medicare issue supposedly is, recent polls suggest that the GOP isn’t sufferring for it, at least not on the Generic Ballot. As of today, the RealClearPolitics average has the two parties essentially tied, with Republicans holding a nominal advantage of less than ½ a percentage point. When you look at the individual poll results, however, two things emerge that are worth calling attention to: first, support for Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot ranged from 40% to 47%, a considerably narrower range than the levels of support for Democrats, which ranged from 37% to 50%; second, the results get better for Republicans–and worse for Democrats–as the sample size increases. At one end of the asymptote is a PPP survey of just 532 registered American voters (from April 7th to 10th) that gave the Dems a 5-point edge, 46%-41%. The Democratic advantage is almost the same (50% to 46%) in a poll of  964 Registered Voters conducted by Opinion Research for CNN.

Two surveys used a 1000 LV sample. One, a Politico/GWU/Battleground poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group, has the two parties tied at 42%, though it’s worth noting that last September, a Battleground survey, conducted and analyzed by the same pollsters using the same sample size found voters were split 43-43 on the Generic Ballot. The other, by Democracy Corps (the independent, non-profit org. run by veteran Democratic strategists Stan Greenberg and James Carville), actually showed Republicans enjoying a slight 47 to 45 percent advantage, despite the use of such loaded questions as this little gem:  

Q.46 Let me read you some more information about the House Republicans’ budget plan.

The plan cuts 6.2 trillion dollars below the president’s budget and reduces the debt as a percentage of the economy. It makes small cuts in defense spending. It cuts spending for domestic programs in the coming year by 72 billion dollars, almost 20 percent, and freezes it for five years. It repeals the new health care bill and the new Wall Street reform law, makes major cuts of almost 800 billion dollars to Medicaid and Medicare for seniors over the next ten years. Starting in 2022, new retirees will no longer get health coverage through Medicare, but instead will get a voucher that will partially pay for insurance they purchase from private health insurance companies. The proposal cuts taxes for corporations and people making over 370 thousand dollars a year.

That question followed one that found that 48% of those surveyed favored the Republicans’ budget plan, compared to only 33% who said they opposed it when simply asked, “This week, Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed a budget for the next 10 years that they say will cut 6.2 trillion dollars from the federal budget. From what you know, do you favor or oppose this budget plan?” (For the record, Democracy Corps was able to change those numbers to 36% in favor/56% opposed by asking the deceptive follow-up question.)

Whatever the polls say, Republicans find themselves in a familiar situation: they’re trying to do the right thing, but it’s not popular, at least not as the public perceives it. Their challenge is to inform the electorate; if the voters only knew the truth about The Path to Prosperity, then it would be much more popular. But, as we’ve seen, getting the American public to discern what’s true and what’s false about controversial policy proposals is a difficult task. No one is more aware of that than the Republican Party.

This article is part of a series tracking the performance and popularity of freshman governors and members of Congress.

Whither Criticism of Palin

While trying to decide what to write for my next column, I came across this installment from The Week‘s web site (via Yahoo! News) entitled “3 reasons Sarah Palin should not be president.” As I read it, two things jumped out at me: (1) this was not an editorial but rather a collection of quotes from other sources neatly packaged together in one concise, easy-to-read piece of the kind you would see in the first few pages of a news magazine; and (2) the “reasons” offered (in the form of headings, by whoever edited this thing) were not good reasons. Because they were opinions, not facts, I can’t call them false, but I can call them baseless. Let’s take them one by one:

1. She can’t be trusted with nukes.
            This statement was ostensibly based on George Will’s comment on This Week that the “threshhold question” when picking a president is “Should we give this person nuclear weapons?”. According to Will, that question “answers itself.” Personally, I would prefer it if no one had nuclear weapons, but I would trust Sarah Palin with our country’s nuclear arsenal. The editor, apparently, feels differently. (S)he writes that Palin is “not ready to handle the nuclear football.”

2. She can’t handle the 3 a.m. crisis call.

            Why is it that these hypothetical crises always occur in the wee hours of the morning? Anyway, the editor quotes David Brooks as saying that he doesn’t think Sarah Palin’s ready to “be woken up in the middle of the night and handed a crisis,” adding that “running for president is not American Idol.” I agree with the latter assessment, but I would feel much more comfortable with Sarah Palin handling that crisis than I am with our present commander-in-chief.

3. “She’s not a team player.”

            This was the editor’s interpretation of Jonathan S. Tobin’s latest article in Commentary, in which he writes that “the former Alaska governor is in business for herself,” and “not only does she feel as if she doesn’t need the cooperation or at least the neutrality of other Republicans, but that she is also anxious to prove that she has no use for them. And … her complete lack of organization will eventually come back to haunt her.” With this I tend to agree, but that’s one the things about Sarah that endears her to so many people. Her independent streak may not sit well with many in the GOP; much the same could be said about John McCain, whose maverick stances earned the scorn of many Republicans until they were forced to rally around him as the party’s nominee for president.

When it comes to Sarah Palin, I follow the Dennis Miller test of character: I don’t know the woman personally, but all of the people who don’t like her are people whose respect isn’t worth having, and all the people I do respect like her, so I respect her. Look, I’ve been saying for over a year now that I don’t think Sarah will run for president in 2012, so at this point, I don’t pay much attention to what people say about her, whether it’s positive or negative. Still, this one particular blurb got me thinking: it’s so obvious she’s not going to run, and even if she does, her chances of winning are so slim, why even bother making an argument as to why she shouldn’t be president? The only logical explanation is that Palin’s detractors need an outlet for their irrational yet intense contempt for her, and most of them will take any opportunity they see to trash her. That means that, whenever she’s in the news, she’s sure to be the subject of many a scathing editorial or snide remark.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I don’t believe Sarah Palin craves media attention. I think she has recognized the enormous amount of influence she has and is trying to make effective use of it. I’d do the same thing in her position, though I don’t think my skin is nearly as thick as hers.

The Remains of the Day: 5/30/2011

The events of the past week – both in the news and in my personal life – have given me plenty to write about, and yet I haven’t posted anything in days. What’s up with that? Indecision, mostly. Also, I’m currently visiting my family, and we’ve had a lot of catching up to do. Starting tomorrow, I’ll have plenty to say on the debate over Medicare reforms, the 2012 presidential race, and the tornadoes that have devastated parts of the Midwest and the southern Great Plains, but today, I just want to take a moment and write something more a propos.

I feel very blessed to have been born into a family with a rich military history yet remarkably few war casualties. When I was a kid, I was very interested in genealogy, and as I recall, I could not find a single member of my family on either side, in my or the past three generations, who had been killed in action. Others have not been so lucky. In addition to the customary cookout, every Memorial Day weekend, my parents take the time to visit their respective fathers’ gravesites—one in Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, the other in the section of White Chapel reserved for veterans. I can’t know whether the feeling one gets when visiting the grave/interment of a veteran who came home from battle and lived a long, full life is different from how it feels to visit the final resting place of someone whose life was ended on the battlefield (or in a military hospital); I imagine it is.

I launched this web site and my YouTube channel in the interest of promoting a passionate yet civil discourse among people with vastly different political beliefs. We are often reminded of the courageous soldiers who have sacrificed their lives in order to secure our many freedoms, including the freedom of speech and of the press, but it often seems as though some who take the most advantage of those freedoms take them for granted. Then there are those of us who constantly ask ourselves whether we’re doing enough to honor our fallen heroes. For some in the latter category, including myself, the answer is probably not, but no one should ever feel guilty because his/her limited resources prevent him/her from doing more. In this great country of ours, there is no shortage of opportunities for those with time, money, etc. to spare to help out those who are off at war, those who have returned home and the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. On this Memorial Day, please say a prayer for those individuals coping with the loss of a loved one, and to those of you who are currently deployed fighting for the rights of long-winded expositors like me, thank you. To those who have fought overseas and have since returned home, thank you. And, to everyone who sacrifices above and beyond what they are required to do to help the people I just described, thank you.

A Reply to Someone Far More Well-Versed Than Austan Goolsbee

Yesterday, I was delighted to discover that someone had posted a lengthy reply to one of my recent columns. Because the commenter, identified as “GladYouWrote”, sounded much more informed, erudite and honest than Austan Goolsbee did in last week’s interview on The Colbert Report, I felt I could do no less in the way of a response than a new article on my home page.

First of all, I did not mean to attribute the growth in tax revenues under George W. Bush “singularly to lowering the top income tax rate,” but the federal income tax is the government’s main source of revenue; in any given year, individual income taxes alone account for between 45 and 50% of the government’s haul. Also, consider that, because some other major sources of revenue–such as payroll taxes–are (supposed to be) set aside for specified purposes, when the gov’t thinks we need more revenue, it’s only logical to focus first and foremost on the income tax.

GladYouWrote also took issue with my statement that “clearly, the government took in more revenue per annum under George W. Bush than it did under Bill Clinton,” saying, “without context that claim is disingenuous. As a proportion of GDP, 1992-1999 saw 18.7% return in the form of federal revenues, contrasted with only 17.6% return during the years 2001-2008.”

As the graph I displayed in one of my posts shows, tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product did hit a historic a historic high in 2000, while the old income tax rates were still in place, but this was obviously an unsustainable level of tax revenues, no matter what the rate structure. Notice that, even before the first round of tax cuts (EGTRRA) was enacted, revenues started to decline because of the recession. Perhaps this graph from OMB, which shows revenues and spending as a percentage of GDP over the past 60 years, may shed some more light on the historical levels.

GladYouWrote also says that I should “include significantly more analysis” to validate their success of the Bush tax rate cuts “than general unemployment and GDP growth.” I think that’s fair, but this suggestion was followed by somewhat of a non-sequitur: a series of references to a report by the CBO entitled “Policies for Increasing Economic Growth and Employment in 2010 and 2011.” I checked out this report, and, I have to say, I almost ended up forgoing this blurb in favor of a much more in-depth article critiquing the CBO’s report. (I have a tendency to get sucked down rabbit holes, which is one reason I prefer this to an in-person debate where one’s opportunities to make effective arguments & counter-arguments are undermined by cumbrous time restraints.) Thankfully, I was able to control myself, and at the risk of interrupting the flow of this column, let me make 3 quick remarks before I resume my reply to what GladYouWrote actually said:

  • The report was mostly well-written, and I realize that the CBO is meant to provide objective analysis and not to author normative policy statements, but as I was reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder who, if anyone, edited it? For example, it began “After the most severe recession since the 1930s, the U.S. economy appears to be recovering.” What? Look, I’m not going to claim that an entire report is worthless just because the author made a few mistakes, but this particular report contained several highly suspect obiter dicta that could just as easily have been typos as evidence that whoever wrote the report is a very poor student of history.
  • In the report’s Introduction and Summary, the CBO states that it is measuring the cost-effectiveness of the analyzed policies “by the cumulative effects on GDP and employment per dollar of budgetary cost and in the time patterns of those effects,” so it seems odd that that GladYouWrote would suggest that I use more ”than general unemployment and GDP growth” to evaluate the success of fiscal policies and then cite to a report that does just that. 
  • I can’t remember the last time I heard/saw someone who wasn’t an economics professor, gov’t-employed bean counter or policy analyst @ a think tank refer to the tax acts of 2001 and 2003 as EGTRRA and JGTRRA, respectively. I stopped using the terms myself years ago in favor of the commonly understood, if technically inaccurate, “Bush tax cuts.” Most people don’t seem to care about the distinction(s) between “tax cuts”/”tax rate cuts”/”tax relief”/”tax reform”/etc. This is a really minor point, but I think I’m glad to see there’s someone out there who is familiar with the correct names of the legislation. 

Now then, back to the matter at hand: I could not find anything in the entire report stating that “EGTRRA and JGTRRA tax decreases produce less than 40 cents of economic output over five years for every dollar spent, as opposed to increased aid to the unemployed and low-income earners and direct government investment in short-term infrastructure and job creation, both of which produce an average of 75 cents more than straight-up tax relief.” The closest thing I could find to such a conclusion anywhere in the report was this statement: “CBO estimates that a two-year AMT patch and one-year deferral of the EGTRRA and JGTRRA tax increases would raise output cumulatively between 2010 and 2015 by $0.10 to $0.40 per dollar of total budgetary cost.” As for the part about “increased aid to the unemployed and low-income earners and direct government investment in short-term infrastructure and job creation” (which some of us prefer to refer to sardonically as “welfare & waste”), the CBO analyzed what the impact might be of, inter alia, “increasing aid to the unemployed” (from March 2010 until July 2011), “providing additional refundable tax credits for lower- and middle-income households in 2011,” and  “investing in infrastructure.” In addition to “cost-effectiveness,” the CBO identified “timing” and “consistency with long-term fiscal objectives” as the key criteria for judging policy options. Before I go any further, I should just point out that the post GladYouWrote replied to was meant to be a repudiation of what Goolsbee said on Colbert, not a pitch for any particular policy going forward. I supplemented it with historical facts to prove that many of Goolsbee’s arguments lacked merit, and in doing so I suppose I ended up defending the soundness of EGTRRA and JGTRRA. 

As I said, I don’t want this to become a deconstruction of the CBO report, so for now, let’s just remember that, like many other CBO reports, this was a policy analysis based on predictions/projections of what it thinks will happen if certain policies are implemented. My previous posts on this subject concerned the actual effects of past and current policies. To what extent the economic circumstances, as indicated by the various facts and figures I included, are/were attributable to those policies is not something I profess to know. Finally, I’ve never been one to begrudge wealthy individuals for their (legally compliant) success, which I suppose explains my political affiliation. It’s fair to say that many of these individuals don’t care to distribute the fruits of their labors to people who don’t need/deserve it, but GladYouWrote’s assertion that the rich (despite what conservatives want desperately to believe) care little about distributing their acquired wealth to the overall economy” is too dubious to simply stand by itself, unsupported by any stated premises. Before I rebut that assertion, I’d like to know what the author meant by that.

I Had a Really Bad Day, But It Was Probably A Better Day Than Jane Corwin Had.

I’m not going to use this site as an outlet to complain about bad things that happen to me, so let it suffice to say that this day just plain sucked. I’m also not one to complain in general because I’m always mindful that, no matter how bad things are for me, there are people suffering somewhere who have it much worse than I do.

In case you haven’t heard, the AP has declared Democrat Kathy Hochul the unofficial winner of the special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District. With 91% of precincts reporting, Hochul led Republican State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin with 48% of the vote to 42% for Corwin. I’d like to comment on this race, but right now my mind is fixated on the monstrous tornadoes that have devastated Oklahoma and southwestern Missouri, and I just heard that another twister has touched down in north Dallas, just miles from my parents’ home. I’ve got the weather on, and it looks like it’s about to get really nasty in Dallas, Kaufman and Rockwall counties.

Finally, I wanted to mention that, although I was unable to upload it, I made a video about the special election in NY-26, but I guess it’s a moot point now. I’ll return to talk politics later today, but for now, let us all pray for those who have been harmed by these tornadoes and those who are currently facing the wrath of Mother Nature.

Austan Goolsbee: Leading the Charge in the Obama Administration’s War on Reality

Okay, so I watched what Colbert billed as his “unedited, extended interview” with Austan Goolsbee online, and not surprisingly, he continued to make specious claims, this time focusing much of his time on deceiving the audience about Republican policies. He pitched that favorite old saw of the Left: that high-income tax cuts don’t work. Let me make this about as clear as I possibly can while still relying on specific, objectively verifiable facts: under the rate structure that was in place from 1993-2001, we never collected more than $2.03 trillion in one fiscal year. Under George W. Bush, the top income tax rate was lowered from 39.6% to 38.6% in 2001, then to 35% in 2003. In 2007, federal receipts totaled $2.6 trillion. The government actually saw an increase in revenues in 2008, but it made the ill-advised decision to give about $150 billion back as part of the first misbegotten stimulus. So, clearly, the government took in more revenue per annum under George W. Bush than it did under Bill Clinton. That is beyond dispute. So, when Austan Goolsbee says “the high-income tax cuts did not work the first time we passed them,” I wondered what he was thinking. I wish I could ask him what he meant by that. Unfortunately, it’s not as much fun refuting someone when I’m not sure what he means. If he’s talking about the Bush tax cuts, then let’s remember that there were actually 2 separate tax acts passed and signed into law by President Bush. Ostensibly the purpose of these tax cuts was to stimulate an economy that was reeling from the impact of a dot-com bust, the 9/11 attacks and a series of corporate scandals. In that regard, the tax cuts were an enormous success: the unemployment rate never went above 6½%, our GDP increased from $10.1 trillion in 2001 to $14.4 trillion in 2008, and federal revenues increased by 44% (from a low of $1.78 trillion in 2003 to nearly $2.6 trillion in 2007). Now, as for jobs, there are different ways to measure employment, and the Labor Department changes the controls with some frequency. (You can see ten years’ worth of raw data on the BLS’s web site here.) The standard measure–the figure you usually hear people refer to when they say the economy added/lost so many jobs–is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the “seasonally-adjusted” employment level. By that standard, not only did the economy add 10 million jobs after the end of the recession; it added jobs every month for 52 consecutive months, a first in recorded history. By contrast, using the same metric, our economy has lost a net of 2.5 million jobs since Obama took office. This is important because when Goolsbee boasted about the “2.1 million jobs” that he claims were created in the “last 14 months,” he’s neglecting to mention the 4.2 million jobs that were lost during Obama’s first year in office. Now, is it fair to blame Obama or his policies for the loss of all those jobs? Of course not. But nor is it fair to blame George W. Bush or his policies. Like Bush, Obama inherited a bad economy, but unlike Bush, Obama has made things worse.
I also heard Goolsbee say that, during the last decade, “middle-class incomes fell by $2,000.” I’m not sure what, if anything, he’s basing that claim on or how he defines “middle-class,” but nearly everyone I know who was gainfully employed (and is willing to discuss their salary openly) saw their incomes increase from 2001 to 2008. Also, this is another example of Goolsbee using vague, ambiguous language so that it’s difficult to prove or disprove his claims. Is he talking about household income or per capita income? Is he going by the mean or the median? Stay tuned; I have more to say on this matter.

Pols & Polls: For Some GOP Govs, the Honeymoon’s Over

So yesterday, this article by Daily Beast contributor John Avlon caught my eye. If you don’t want to read it, then I’ll give you the skinny: a rash of new poll results indicate that several newly-elected Republican governors are not off to a terrific start in the eyes of their constituents. Here’s a quick list of the GOP govs and their approval ratings as quoted in the article:

Governor (State) Approval Rating Pollster
Rick Scott (Fla.) 32% PPP
John Kasich (Ohio) 38% Quinnipiac
Paul LePage (ME) 31% Critical Insights

Avlon also mentioned Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, though he didn’t say what his approval ratings were of late. He went on to note that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, had seen a jump in his popularity despite employing a similar m.o. to that of the aforementioned hapless Republicans: balancing the budget by taking on public sector unions and cutting spending instead of raising taxes or taking en new debt., he and gained this article citing a Siena College poll that found Cuomo is viewed favorably by 73% of voters and unfavorably by 18%, up from 69-20 split last month. This raises a question that has puzzled me & others on the Right for some time: why does fiscal conservatism usually go over better with the public when a Democrat uses it to balance the budget and help the economy? According to Avlon:

This Democrat was rewarded politically by implementing some fiscally conservative ideas. But he did it by building bridges instead of burning them—and that can make all the difference.

I’m not sure what he means by that, and he offered no further explanation, but reading this article, one other thought permeated my mind: Mitch Daniels. The (currently) popular, two-term Indiana governor’s name has been bandied about quite a bit as a potential candidate for President of the United States in 2012 and, to hear some tell it, the GOP’s only hope of beating Obama. What I haven’t heard anyone mention of late is the rocky start Mitch got off to after taking office in 2005. Arguably his most controversial moves included: proposing harsh austerity measures that included an income tax increase (!), decertifying all government employee unions by executive order and privatizing the Indiana Toll Road. Although the Republican -con­trolled General Assembly spared the people of Indiana from an income tax hike, it did balance the budget through a combination of the new taxes, privatization plans and curbs on state spending, and that did not go over well with too many voters. His approval ratings sank to George W. Bush levels (37%, according to this article from the June 8, 2009 issue of National Review). Many believe the Gov’s unpopularity made things worse for GOP candidates in 2006, when Daniels wasn’t on the ballot. That year, three Republican members of Congress from the Hoosier State lost their seats to Democrats. Republicans lost control of the Indiana House of Representatives. Smelling blood, Indiana Dems recruited Jill Long Thompson, a former three-term congresswoman and Under Secretary of Agriculture, to run against Daniels in 2008; Thompson was the first woman in Indiana history to be nominated for governor by a major party.

Curiously, though, public opinion had changed considerably by the time voters got to decide Daniels’s fate. Maybe it was the sizeable budget surplus ($1.3 billion) Indiana was enjoying in 2008 while neighboring states were drowning in red ink. Maybe it was the improved conditions on the Indiana Toll Road or the $3.85 billion a European company paid the state for a 75-year lease to operate the tollway. Maybe it was the fact that Indiana led the nation in foreign investment (thanks in large part to that $4 billion lease and a $550 million factory Honda was building near Greensburg). Whatever the reasons, it appeared that a great many Hoosiers who were initially displeased with Mitch’s actions had come to realize that he was right. On Election Day, Daniels won 79 of Indiana’s 92 counties and took 58% of the vote, even though Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1964. What’s more, he got 20% of the black vote–up from 7% in his first election–and 51% of the under-30 vote. His approval rating, which one poll pegged at 64% when he won reelection, continued to climb during his second term and has reached as high as 70%. 

I could go on and on about the amazing accomplishments of Mitch Daniels, but plenty of journalists/commentators/pundits have been doing that in spades. The purpose of this post was simply to show how making hard decisions and doing the right thing can be drag on a new governor’s poll numbers, but if voters have time to see the effects of your actions before you’re up for reelection, then they’re likely to make the right decision at the polls.

This article is part of a series tracking the performance and popularity of freshman governors and members of Congress.

Austan Space (Sorry, I couldn’t think of a better pun.)

Last night, I saw Austan Goolsbee on The Colbert Report. If you don’t know who Austan Goolsbee is, then he’s the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. As far as I can tell, his job consists primarily of explaining this administration’s economic policies to the American public in a way that disguises how destructive and ideological these policies are. I’ve read some of his writings and watched several of his media appearances, and not surprisingly, he attempts to sell his policies the way most people on the Left do—by lying about them. He also misleads his audience when talking about Republican ideas and policies. Lest anyone think I’m just attacking someone with whom I disagree and not providing any evidence to back up my assertions, here is the video of the interview as it appeared on TV:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Austan Goolsbee
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Apparently, the full interview lasted sixteen minutes, according to Colbert, and had to be edited down to the video embedded above, which is just under seven minutes. I’ve included the link to it in this post because I want to call attention to three specific things he said during the interview I saw, and this way, no one can fairly accuse me of taking his words out of context.

1. “The high-income tax rates are the lowest they’ve been in some 60 years.”

            First of all, that’s not true. Second … well, there really is no need for a second point; just look at the facts. Right now, the highest federal individual income tax rate is 35%. 60 years ago, the highest federal income tax rate was 94%. That rate stayed in effect until 1954, when it was dropped to 91%. Since then, the federal tax rate on the highest individual income bracket was changed several times and ultimately dropped to 28% under the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA86). One novel feature of TRA86 was the so-called “bubble rate.” The rate structure included four individual income tax brackets, and the rates were 15%/28%/33%/28%. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, which was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by Pres. George Bush, did away with this “bubble rate” and established a new surtax on the highest-income-earners, effectively raising the top tax rate on individual income to 31%. Maybe Austan misspoke, or maybe he just flat-out lied. Either way, there’s no disputing that what he said was false.

2. “The president has said he doesn’t think we can afford to keep rates at these historically low levels, and I think he’s totally right.”

           OK, if Mr. Goolsbee had said that we can’t afford to keep taxes at these historically low levels, then I would agree, but he didn’t say “taxes;” he said “rates.” Look, I’m not prepared to admit that Austan Goolsbee is a smart guy, but I believe he’s the sort of person who chooses his words carefully. Of course, I don’t know what measure he has in mind when he says “levels,” but the rest of his statement sounds pretty clear. We already know that tax rates are not at a historical low, but what could be an objective measure of tax “levels”? How about total tax revenues as a share of the nation’s economy? According to the Congressional Budget Office, as a share of the nation’s GDP, the government’s take this year will be the lowest since 1950. Now the CBO projects that “total federal revenues will be about $2.2 trillion in 2010, a 3.3 percent increase from 2009,” when tax receipts were only 14.8% of GDP, but “total federal revenues will rebound sharply from the current historically low amounts relative to GDP starting in 2011.” (See this.) I’d just like to point out that an AP article I saw in February said that, in George W. Bush’s “last year in office, tax receipts were 17.5 percent of GDP, just below their 40-year average.” What this all boils down to is that taxes are too low, but the problem is that the people who aren’t paying their fair share are not the same people who Obama and the Democrats want to pay more taxes. The AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher explains the problem thusly:

Income tax rates remain unchanged. But many taxpayers are seeing their bills drop under Obama because of more generous tax credits for college students, working families, homebuyers and the working poor. Many of the changes were enacted as part of the big economic stimulus package passed in 2009.

So even if we can afford to maintain the current schedule of tax rates, I doubt a majority of the electorate will accept the kind of budget cutbacks that will be needed to balance the budget if we do that. Look, I’m a conservative (Actually, I prefer to call myself a classical liberal, but whatever.), but I’m also a pragmatist, and there’s no good reason why so many people pay little or nothing in federal taxes. If you’re making $50,000 a year, then I don’t care what your personal situation is: you should be feeding the kitty, even if you’re only paying $1,000 in income taxes. So, let’s keep the current rates where they are and get rid of a bunch of these costly deductions and tax credits. That would mean a higher effective tax rate for some people, but if Goolsbee is serious about deficit reduction, then he has to concede that those individuals should pay more.

3. “Let’s return to tax revenues from high-income people that are more like the historic norms.”

           That line got a big round of applause. Once again, I believe that Austan Goolsbee choose the words he used here carefully and deliberately, so when he said, “Let’s return to tax revenues from high-income people that are more like the historic norms,” I thought, Yes, let’s. I don’t know how he defines “high-income people,” but this graph shows total tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product over the last four decades:

Im always right.


Source: Congressional Budget Office.

As you can see, the CBO pegs the federal government’s average annual tax collection at just above 18% of GDP for the period shown in the graph above, so let’s call that the historic norm. So, what would a return to the historic norm mean, and what would it accomplish? According to the most recent numbers available, current-dollar GDP just topped $15  trillion in the first quarter of 2011. (You can read the “advance” estimate on the BEA’s website here.) Of course, that’s going to be revised, but for now, let’s just say that if real GDP totals $15 trillion for 2011, then based on “the historic norms” as shown, we should be collecting about $2.7 trillion in tax revenues, but Austan just said he wants to “return to tax revenues from high-income people that are more like the historic norms.” So, using Austan’s benchmark, that sounds like he’s content with the current levels of tax revenue the government is collecting from all other individuals, which would mean running the government on less than $2.7 trillion. (For the record, we haven’t done that since FY2006.) Now, if you’re the sort of person (as I am) who’s not content to deal with this in the abstract, then let’sat least agree that, for the budget to balance, total revenues must match or exceed total spending. So, assuming we can all agree on that point, it must follow that, to get our fiscal house in order, if we can somehow get tax revenues back up to a level that’s ”more like the historic norms,” then we must necessarily reduce federal spending to equal or lower levels. The problem with returning to “the historic norms” is that, historically, the U.S. government has run huge budget deficits. Thus, if we want to “return to tax revenues … that are more like the historic norms” and still balance the budget, then we should cap spending at a level below the historic norm. (Nick Gillespie & Veronique de Rugy of Reason Magazine have written extensively about this; they call it The 19 Percent Solution.) 

               As to these  ”high-income people,” look, I don’t know what Austan’s thinking; I can only listen to what he’s saying and compare it to objectively verifiable facts. So, for simplicity’s sake, let’s talk about the top 5% of wage earners (since Obama’s fond of saying he “cut taxes for 95% of Americans”). What share of federal tax revenues, historically, has the government collected from the top 5%? Well, according to the CBO, in 2001, the last year we had a budget surplus, the share of the total federal tax burden shouldered by the Top 5% of households was 38.5%. That share hit a record high of 44.7% in 2006. Perhaps even more impressively, the Top 5%’s share of individual income tax liabilities increased from 55.2% to 60.9% during the same time period, and it hit an even 61.0% for 2007, the most recent fiscal year for which the CBO provides this data. (My source on the CBO web site can be seen here.) Bottom line: returning “to tax revenues from high-income people that are more like the historic norms” would likely mean collecting less tax revenue that one would think Mr. Goolsbee wants to see the government collect. 

               Tying all this together, if Austan truly believes that we can balance the budget just by raising taxes on a small minority of income earners and accomplish the rest through spending cuts, then he should explain: (1) what incomes are “high” enough to warrant an increase in the marginal rate; (2) how will you cut the budget down to a level that does not exceed total revenues; and (3) given that individuals in the highest income tax brackets are making more money, paying more in taxes and paying a larger share of the total tax bill than they were when the higher tax rates were in place, why should  we return to the old rate schedule? I’d also like to hear him explain why he only thinks people at a certain income level should pay more taxes, but that’s more a question of fairness and not crucial to the policy goals he’s laid out.

No, She Can’t: Why Michele Bachmann Cannot Replicate the Success of Obama’s 2008 Campaign

So, while explaining why I didn’t want to see Michele Bachmann run for president in 2012, I got to thinking about all the buzz around her, and I thought: could she be the Republican Barack Obama? Think about it: a politically shrewd, media-savvy politician who has somehow managed to go from being a rank-and-file freshman member of Congress to a political superstar in just a few years despite having no significant legislative accomplishments. The similarities don’t end there. for all their political and philosophical differences, Bachmann and the prez have surprisingly comparable curricula vitae: both are lawyers educated at two of the best law schools in the country who won their first public office by knocking off an incumbent state senator in the primary. They’ve also demonstrated record-shattering fundraising prowess. As USA Today has noted, “Bachmann could give President Obama a run for his money among small donors if she becomes the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.” There’s no doubt that the congresswoman has accumulated an adoring fan base, and something tells me she hasn’t yet reached her zenith. She also has more than a few well-wishers in the media, but unlike Barack Obama, her media surrogates are in a very small minority. This is the first crucial distinction: Barack Obama had the vast majority of television and print media journalists on his side, consciously or subconsciously. Bachmann, meanwhile, can’t expect a friendly interview outside of talk radio (with the possible exceptions of Glenn Beck and Hannity). Second, Bachmann’s Tea-Party fan base is, by their nature, much different from Obama’s cult of personality, and I’m not just talking about their political beliefs. As I’ve explained before, conservatives tend to hold their elected officials to a higher standard than left-wingers do. This is critical because I doubt most of Bachmann’s supporters would cling to her and defend her against the indefensible the same way Obama’s supporters did during the ’08 campaign and continue to do. Don’t expect any of her surrogates in the media announce that they get a “thrill running up my leg” every time they hear her speak, nor will you hear Beck or Hannity call her “almost perfect” or aver that she’s “done everything right.” Of course, I can’t imagine Bachmann having the kind of sketchy past that Obama’s voters had to ignore/forgive, but a series of minor gaffes can easily snowball into a big problem. Does anyone seriously think that most of the pundits/commentators/newsmongers who shape public opinion would give Bachmann the benefit of the doubt if she declared that she had visited 57 states or wigged out while talking about health care? Finally, Bachmann is not a machine-bred politician. (Yes, I know machines don’t “breed,” but it sounded better than “machine-produced.”) Obama had been trained in the art of jujitsu politics in arguably the most cutthroat political environment in the country. Bachmann, by contrast, got her start in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul exurbs, a far cry from the city of Rahm Emanuel, Rod Blagojevich and two Richard Daleys (not to mention Al Capone).

Don’t Do It, Michele.

            I like Michele Bachmann. I say this having never met the woman, though we have some friends in common. She is an accomplished, intelligent, hardworking woman who has somehow managed to raise 28 children (5 of them her own) while earning 2 law degrees and building and running a small business with her husband. As a law student, I have immense respect for anyone who has ever run the gauntlet of law school (including President Obama), but Michele didn’t quit after earning her J.D., as most of us do; she went an extra two years and earned her L.L.M. (from William & Mary, no less)! She’s also one of the few sitting members of Congress to appear on my favorite television show, Red Eye.  

            Now it appears that Bachmann is on the verge of announcing she will seek the Republican nomination for president next year. Many on the right and the left believe she would be a formidable contender. Of course, not long ago the concept of a three-term congresswoman being taken seriously as a possible nominee of either major political party would have been laughable. But then Americans elected someone who had served in Congress for less than four years president. Thus, I’m not surprised that Bachmann’s thin résumé has thus far been a non-issue. My main concern is this: Michele Bachmann is a rare commodity in Washington: she’s smart, erudite, courageous and candid. You could probably count on one hand the number of Congressmen and women who have a better grasp of the federal tax code. If she gives up her House seat to pursue an ultimately unsuccessful presidential bid, then she’ll not only lose the powers and influence that come with that seat; she’ll see her stock fall to the point where she likely won’t be able to get elected to any office ever again. As sensational as political comebacks are, they are rare, and the odds of such a comeback after a high-profile candidacy for national office and even higher-profile loss have less to do with the candidate and more to do with circumstances beyond his/her control. So, let me say this as bluntly as I can without sounding crude: Michele Bachmann will not be the Republican candidate for president in 2012. Maybe she can make an impressive showing early on. She could even win the Iowa caucuses; ask Mike Huckabee how much that helped him.

            I’ll admit: I have an ulterior motive in not wanting Michele Bachmann to make a run for president this time around. There will be a crucial Senate race in each of the next two election cycles in her home state of Minnesota. If I had my way, then Tim Pawlenty would run in 2012 and defeat Amy Klobuchar, then Bachmann would run in 2014 and vanquish Al Franken. Since T-Paw seems dead set on running for president next year, the first part of my scheme likely will not become a reality. Bachmann could run for Senate next year—the Republican nomination would be hers—but I’d rather her run in 2014 for this reason: Franken is doomed to lose in 2014 no matter who the GOP candidate is, but I don’t just want him to lose; I want him to suffer, and I can’t imagine anything more embarrassing for this man who seems to have no shame than losing the best job he’s ever had to Michele Bachmann. We know how much the Left hates her, but I’ve noticed that their view of Bachmann seems different from their perception of most other conservative women, such as Sarah Palin. Even Chris Matthews, cable news’ #1 misogynist, acknowledges Bachmann’s strength as a candidate and legislator. Her defeat of the Senate’s quintessential left-wing hatemonger would deal a crushing blow to an entire political faction.

            Look, I can understand why Bachmann wouldn’t want to remain in the House. With her demonstrable expertise and mastery of the Internal Revenue Code, it’s almost inconceivable that the GOP leadership hasn’t put her on the Ways & Means Committee. It’s as though they’re taking her for granted. But she doesn’t have to run for president now, though it may seem like the best opportunity she’ll get. Consider this: If the 2012 Republican nominee is ultimately victorious, then barring some highly unlikely occurrences, there will not be an open race for the GOP nomination until 2020 at the earliest. If Obama is re-elected, then Bachmann will have an opportunity to run for president in 2016. In either case, she’ll be a much more enticing candidate as a U.S. Senator than she is right now.

            However, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that, over the next decade, the number of potential Republican presidential candidates who would unquestionably make a formidable nominee will continue to grow. Bobby Jindal, whom I fully expect to win re-election as Governor of Louisiana this year, will be term-limited out of office in 2016. Marco Rubio is already a national figure, and it looks as though he’ll soon have an impressive list of accomplishments as a U.S. Senator. Newly-elected governors across the country are already earning a reputation as conservative reformers: Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio are three who come to mind, and Govs. Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval (of New Mexico and Nevada, respectively) have some great opportunities ahead. I should also mention that all of these individuals should be considered potential nominees for VP next year. In short, Bachmann will almost certainly face much stiffer competition in any future campaign for the Republican presidential nomination than she will if she runs this time around. There’s something to be said for seizing your moment and taking a big risk despite the conventional wisdom; some think Bachmann could be the Republican Barack Obama in this regard. Don’t count on it. Because I don’t want this column’s longevity to undermine its message, I’ll develop this last point more fully in a later post. For now, it suffices to say that the clear advantages of running for president right now do not convince me that Bachmann stands a realistic chance of winning the nomination, much less the presidency, in 2012.

            Michele Bachmann may yet be president someday, but that day won’t come in 2013. The only realistic scenario this blogger can fathom—and it’s admittedly a dubious one—in which Bachmann loses a 2012 bid for the White House and goes on to become president hinges the slim possibility that she’s the running mate of the eventually successful Republican nominee in 2012; sitting vice presidents assume default frontrunner status in an open race for the party’s presidential nomination. Barring that, she should remain in Congress, where intellectuals like her are in short supply, and those who put forth bold, comprehensive policy proposals are even rarer. I pray that Bachmann does the pragmatic thing and follows the examples of Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and others who have passed on a 2012 run for president in order to continue building a record of achievements in their current jobs. As we’ve seen from the national renown and popularity these prolific pols have attained, taking such a path is likely to endear Michele to Republican and independent voters to an even greater extent. Let us hope she feels the same way.

Hello, World! (May 18, 2011)

Today I launched my new Web site, This has been a long time coming. Hopefully we can get this looking more like I envisioned soon, but for now, I’m going to use it as little more than a repository for my ideas & commentary. I hope you’ll visit often. Please check back later today if you want to read my inagural column. 

Website Builder