The resistance continues, to no good end
04/22/19 Filed in: Political System | Taxes
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Much nonsense is spouted in the political conversation, with participants pushing policies that aren’t logically supported by the facts and/or turning a blind eye to festering problems. Some manifestly bad ideas (such as mainstreaming wind & solar power to combat global warming) will be at least partially implemented, with adverse economic consequences, while problems that urgently require attention (e.g., illegal immigration) continue to slide.
Who’s to blame? Liberals/progressives (Side A) slam conservatives/populists (Side B) for having a “facts don’t matter” viewpoint, while Side B makes the same claim in reverse. Last week’s entry suggested that both sides may act irrationally at times, and that all concerned should be mindful – given their effect on policy outcomes – that facts do matter. This wasn’t meant to suggest conservatives should refrain from vigorously advocating their policy positions, and we offered some tentative thoughts about how they should go about it. Resolving differences of opinion, 4/15/19.
See also a subsequently published column, which argues that unchecked illegal immigration and failure to address the fiscal problem will inevitably bring a day of reckoning. Things that can’t go on forever simply don’t, Victor David Hanson, townhall.com, 4/18/19.
In sum, the present identity-politics divisiveness is not a sustainable model for a multiracial nation, and it will soon reach its natural limits one way or another. On a number of fronts, if Americans do not address these growing crises, history will. And it won't be pretty.
Admittedly, identifying the relevant facts and applying them to a given issue may be easier said than done. Our political leaders and news media often impede this effort, moreover, instead of facilitating it. Two current controversies are illustrative – sore loser reactions to the Mueller report and perceptions of Republican tax cuts. In both cases, the content and tenor of the conversation leaves much to be desired.
A. Mueller report – Last week, nearly two years after a probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was launched (continuing an FBI investigation that had begun in July 2016), a redacted version of the special counsel’s report was published. One might have expected the interested parties would review this 400+ page document thoroughly before weighing in on it, but that’s not how things work in an era of instant communications. A flood of comments materialized within hours, with all concerned seeking to impart their spin to the work that had been done before public impressions solidified.
As had been indicated by a previously provided summary from Attorney General William Barr, the Mueller team found no Trump campaign collusion in Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. Various actions were identified that could be construed as supporting the related charge of obstruction of justice, but on balance Mueller wrote that he could neither indict nor exonerate the president on this charge. It was left to Barr to close the loop by ruling there had been no obstruction of justice either.
Legal experts of the conservative persuasion have characterized Mueller’s handling of the obstruction issue as inappropriate in that a prosecutor should either indict or be silent. Stated differently, Mueller effectively shifted the burden of proof by expecting the president to prove he was innocent of the suspected offense rather than vice versa. Mueller completely dropped the ball with obstruction punt, Andrew McCarthy, New York Post, 4/18/19.
Trump supporters viewed the Mueller report as giving the president a clean bill of health. Although the investigation had taken far too long, they thought, it was over at last, freeing the Trump administration to get back to addressing the nation’s problems on a full-time basis. Trump White House looking forward to governing now the Mueller report is behind them, Robert Crilly, Washington Examiner, 4/19/19.
Hogan Gidley, White House deputy press secretary, said a cloud had been lifted from the American people and the country, offering a chance for the president to get on with the business of governing. “And in the last two years of his first term we expect Congress to work with this administration on infrastructure, healthcare, and drug pricing, and solving the immigration crisis.”
Meanwhile, earlier demands have resurfaced that the Department of Justice turn to investigating the investigators – a topic the Mueller probe manifestly failed to address. Mueller’s report speaks volumes, Kimberly Strassel. Wall Street Journal, 4/18/19.
The report . . . mostly reads as a lengthy defense of the FBI—of its shaky claims about how its investigation began, of its far-fetched theories, of its procedures, even of its leadership. One of the more telling sections concerns Mr. Comey’s firing. Mr. Mueller’s team finds it generally beyond the realm of possibility that the FBI director was canned for incompetence or insubordination. It treats everything the FBI or Mr. Comey did as legitimate, even as it treats everything the president did as suspect.
Among the questions that have long gone unanswered: How and based on what evidence did the Mueller probe get started in the first place, why were far more lenient standards observed in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server, and what about the possibility of malfeasance on the part of high ranking DOJ, FBI and intelligence officials? Mueller probe, SAFE newsletter, Winter 2017.
For their part, congressional Democrats and their mainstream media backers professed to find the findings about the president et al. very disturbing. There have been no apologies for unquestioning support of the Mueller probe since 2017, and no acknowledgment that the results fell far short of the high expectations with which it began. See, e.g., Old Nassau, SAFE newsletter, Summer 2018.
Even if the president hadn’t technically obstructed justice, he had repeatedly expressed concerns about the Mueller probe and proposed actions to end it. Mueller’s “road map” for impeachment, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 4/18/19.
[In his report,] Mr. Mueller concluded that Mr. Trump did not conspire with Russia to try to subvert the 2016 election — but the special counsel said the steps the president took to try to undermine the subsequent investigation into that baseless claim could seem fishy, depending on one’s perspective. Those moves, including dangling pardons and trying to fire Mr. Mueller, never came to fruition — but Mr. Mueller says that was more because of the stoic efforts of the president’s aides to thwart him than restraint on Mr. Trump’s part.
Moreover, one of Mueller’s reasons for leaving the obstruction issue unresolved was reportedly that “he didn’t want to prevent Congress from being able to impeach the president should lawmakers [wish to] pursue that option.” Hmm, talk about a veiled hint! Ibid.
AG Barr is currently scheduled to testify before both the Senate Judiciary Committee (which will probably be interested in his plans for investigating DOJ/FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign) and the House Judiciary Committee (which will be taking the opposite tack). The HJC is also seeking an unredacted version of the Mueller report and access to the Mueller team’s underlying files. Although House Democrats may think better of impeachment proceedings, look for nonstop investigations from now until the 2020 elections. House Judiciary Committee issues subpoena for full Mueller report, foxnews.com, 4/19/19.
In sum, it almost seems as though the two sides are reading different reports. Republicans, Democrats split on what Mueller report means, Rich Calder & Aaron Fels, New York Post, 4/18/19.
They read the same report, but Democrats and Republicans came away with wildly different reactions. Democrats held up the redacted report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a damning indictment of President Trump and his administration. GOP lawmakers interpreted it as a 448-page vindication of the Trump White House.
And one observer went further, finding no change in the thinking of either side since Donald Trump was elected president. After Mueller, nobody has changed their views on Trump, Salena Zito, Washington Examiner, 4/18/19.
Just about no one has moved away from where they stood on Nov. 9, 2016, when they woke up trying to comprehend that Donald J. Trump had overcome the odds, the press, and his own shortcomings to win that presidential election.
Perhaps some folks might benefit from reading the SAFE blog. Trump won, get over it, 2/20/17.
B. Where’s my tax cut? – Is it realistic to hope the American public will consider the pros and cons of government policy proposals and provide guidance to our political leaders on how they should proceed? Arguably not when it comes to complicated issues, such as making sense of the Mueller probe or deciding how much credence to place in the manmade global warming theory. But surely Americans should be able to consider the pros and cons of the Republican tax cuts that took effect last year, at least to the extent of ascertaining whether they paid more or less taxes for 2018 as a result.
The applicable legislation (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Dec. 2017) was subjected to a withering assault from Democrats, on grounds that it represented a bonanza for wealthy individuals and big corporations while many working class people would wind up paying more taxes rather than less. Republicans argued to the contrary, of course, but on balance Democrats won the messaging war. Why the 2017 tax cuts are an election-year bust, Howard Gleckman, forbes.com, 8/29/18.
[Public] support for the TCJA has slipped back to roughly 30%. While the partisan gap remains wide (about 70% of Republicans support the new law compared to one-in-ten Democrats), even GOP backing seems to have plateaued.
At that point in time, many people were understandably unclear how their 2018 tax bill would be affected as there were a mix of pluses and minuses in the new tax provisions. There was also some confusion because withholding rates were adjusted in early 2018, thereby reducing tax refunds or increasing tax payments when tax returns were filed. But with the tax filing season now over, reliable information is available on the overall TCJA effects for individual taxpayers. The first filing season under the TCJA, Erica York, taxfoundation.org, 4/15/19.
While many headlines have focused on the isolated impact of certain changes made by the new law, the net impact of the TCJA is that 80 percent of filers saw a lower tax liability in 2018, with another 15 percent having no material change. Only 5 percent of taxpayers paid more in taxes in 2018 than they did in 2017. On average, taxpayers in every income group in every congressional district in America saw a net tax cut.
For those not convinced by these aggregate statistics, it’s comparatively simple for individual taxpayers to determine whether they did or didn’t get a tax cut. On tax returns prepared by TurboTax, for example, check the “tax history report” showing total income (generally not much affected by the TCJA provisions) at the top and your effective tax rate (after all deductions and credits) at the bottom. If your ETR was lower in 2018 than in 2017, with about the same total income and no change in filing status, you got a tax cut.
Nevertheless, many Americans who got a tax cut still don’t believe it. Most people don’t realize they got a tax cut, Becket Adams, Washington Examiner, 4/16/19.
. . . only 40% of Americans believe they got a tax cut, while a much smaller 20% say they are certain they got one, according to new data compiled for the [New York] Times by SurveyMonkey. A separate NBC News/ Wall Street Journal survey shows only 17% of Americans believe their taxes will be lower following the successful passage of the GOP tax reform bill, while a much larger 28% say they believe they will “pay more.” Twenty-seven percent in the same poll say they believe they will “pay about the same” in taxes in 2018, while 28% say they “don’t know enough.”
So, who misled the public? The Times points an accusing finger at Democratic lawmakers and liberal activist groups, but perhaps the newspaper should “also take a look at the mirror, as the media was more than happy to amplify, or participate in, partisan opposition to the tax law.” Ibid.
The opinion sections of the Times and the Washington Post, for example, have pumped out articles with headlines like, “A Tax Plan to Turbocharge Inequality in 3 Charts,” “Apparently Republicans want to kick the middle class in the face,” and “Yes, the Senate GOP tax plan would cause ‘thousands’ to die.”
It’s also worth noting that the prime benefit of the TCJA isn’t the individual tax cuts, welcome as they may be to recipients, it’s the slashing of business taxes, which will hopefully contribute to boosting the US economy to a faster growth track. That’s why SAFE supported the TCJA, and why we continue to oppose proposals to reverse it (spending restraint is the basic solution for the fiscal problem, not higher taxes). Year-end frenzy in DC, Section I, 12/11/17.
The administration has made periodic efforts to point out this connection, as in an tax day interview of White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, although it’s unclear whether the message is getting through. Video (4:53), 4/15/19.
Does this mean Republicans hit a home run with the TCJA. Not at all, there’s lots of room for further improvement. Election issues: Taxes, Section D, 9/3/18. As time and other priorities permit, let’s get to work!
#Democrats aren’t about to sit back and watch Trump win reelection with the economy, so they will try to keep investigations of the administration and related matters going no matter what. To this end, they will claim that the Mueller report did establish collusion and/or obstruction citing various incidents documented in the report. – SAFE director