“A citizen can hardly distinguish between a tax and a fine, except that the fine is generally much lighter.” – G.K. Chesterton 5/25/31
Happy Birthday, Sir!
The Brass Tax of Politics
“The economy in the U.S. contracted for the first time in three years from January through March as companies added to inventories at a slower pace and curtailed investment.
Gross domestic product fell at a 1 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, a bigger decline than projected, after a previously reported 0.1 percent gain, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. The last time the economy shrank was in the same three months of 2011”.
Is this temporary? Is it a signal of another downward slump? Next Friday’s job report will be especially interesting to see.
The NYT reported that the IRS made yet another law clarification this past week:
“Many employers — some that now offer coverage and some that do not — had concluded that it would be cheaper to provide each employee with a lump sum of money to buy insurance on an exchange, instead of providing coverage directly.
But the Obama administration raised objections, contained in an authoritative question-and-answer document released by the Internal Revenue Service, in consultation with other agencies.
The health law, known as the Affordable Care Act, builds on the current system of employer-based health insurance. The administration, like many in Congress, wants employers to continue to provide coverage to workers and their families”.
However, it seems that the real issue is less about continuing coverage and more about getting as much tax revenue for the government as possible:
Christopher E. Condeluci, a former tax and benefits counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, said the ruling was significant because it made clear that “an employee cannot use tax-free contributions from an employer to purchase an insurance policy sold in the individual health insurance market, inside or outside an exchange.”
If an employer wants to help employees buy insurance on their own, Mr. Condeluci said, it can give them higher pay, in the form of taxable wages. But in such cases, he said, the employer and the employee would owe payroll taxes on those wages, and the change could be viewed by workers as reducing a valuable benefit”.
The ruling comes as the IRS seeks to finish establishing the plans and programs for employer coverage that starts in 2015.
A nonprofit group, called The Voters Trust, “hopes to award a $1 million bounty to anyone who can provide “smoking gun” evidence to implicate IRS leadership or members of the Obama administration who purposefully targeted conservative and tea party-affiliated groups”
The Voters Trust is a 501c4, whose purpose is “to identify and mobilize Americans” and “that this is the people’s bounty to seek the truth.”
A press release from The Voters Trust says that, in order to be able to claim the prize, the seeker must be able to offer “relevant evidence including emails, eye-witness accounts, or testimony of political targeting of Americans by the IRS or the Obama administration that has not previously been reported”.
The person reporting is assured of anonymity and the evidence provided “must lead directly to the arrest and conviction those responsible”
The Pease Amendment came into play for high income taxpayers this year once again, after a bit of a hiatus. The Pease Amendment was passed as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, and named after Congressman Donald Pease, who introduced it. This rule provided that if your adjusted gross income (AGI) passed a particular threshold, then some deductions would be reduced on your taxes — thereby curbing your ability to limit your tax liability.
This rule has the effect of increases tax rates for those individuals by 1.2% — therefore a tax rate that was 39.6% became 40.8%. The way it was done is patently criminal because it uses the tax system to incorporate a complicated formula to hide the fact you are raising tax rates. There is no rational or logical reason for a formula like that to be used unless its intent was to deceive.
Acknowledging the irrationality of the Pease Amendment, Congress slowly scaled it back and then eliminated by 2010 after the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001. During 2010 session, Congress passed the 2010 Tax Relief Act which extended the elimination of the Pease Amendment, but only through 2012.
By that time, it was understood that the tax reductions of 2001, including across-the-board rate reductions, the Pease Amendment and Personal Exemption Phaseouts (PEP) would all be gone forever. And yet, Congress declined to extend the Pease Amendment elimination further past 2012 which meant that 2013 saw a return to the previous Pease Amendment rules that existed before 2001.
Also during that time in 2012, Obama insisted as a revenue-raising measure that the rates in the Bush tax cuts be reinstated for the high income earners in 2012. This is a simple, straight-forward tax hike. But in an action that can only be considered mean spirited, and counter to any attempt to simplify the tax laws, Obama personally insisted that both the Pease Amendment and the similarly convoluted Personal Exemption Phaseouts (PEP) be reinstated for high network individuals. Their reintroduction into the tax code by Congress is unconscionable.
The tricky thing about the Pease Amendment is that it actually has very little to do with deductions, because the trigger to implement it is based on earned income thresholds. Eliminating deductions based on income — which then affects the amount of increases tax paid — is underhanded.
Coming on the heels of the actual margin rate increase in 2012 when rates for highest earners reverted to the 39.6% rate of the Clinton years, many taxpayers found themselves with even higher tax bills in 2013 without an actual tax increase due to re implementation of the Pease Amendment. The result of the rule ensured that wealthy taxpayers were squeezed just a little bit more for their “fair share” — now nearly 41% on income tax alone.
The Pease Amendment carefully obfuscates the net effect of raising taxes without having to actually do so. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the amendment is that Pease’s only claim to fame as an eight-term Congressman is that he is responsible for writing a tax rule that tricks people into paying more taxes than they believed they were paying.
Recently, the WSJ had an article drawing attention to Obama’s changes made to the student loan system for higher education. The article, while it raised good points, did not go far enough to explain the detriment to our economy that his program is causing.
President Obama is intentionally undermining people’s successes — and our nation’s success — by encouraging large amounts of graduates to go into the government and the non-profit sectors and then subsequently forgiving student loan debt. This practice is both a) incompetent as a matter of economics and b) devious as a matter of policy.
Indisputably, the driver of economic growth in our country’s history has been the free market. By having the forces of supply and demand set prices for different things and wage levels for types and quality of labor, people were able to make logical choices of what businesses to go into, and what jobs to study and train for. The higher paying jobs were those most productive to society and had the logical effect of encouraging economic growth. Individuals could match their skill set with their desire to earn money to find their best employment, and would be maximizing the country’s economic growth as a by-product.
While non-profits have in important place in our society, they do not play an important role in actually driving our economy, which is something we desperately need right now. Discouraging economic growth, and paying a high price to do so, is certainly not smart.
Likewise, the other sector in which Obama is encouraging students to find work is the government. In the past, the public sector may not have paid as much as the private sector. Today, however, the public sector is better paid with more generous benefits, making it a very lucrative career path. How then, can Obama justify student loan forgiveness for government workers who will actually earn more than their private sector peers, who are also the ones who have to fulfill their contractual obligations to pay back their student loans?
One of the provisions of student loan reform is that Obama made certain student loans “non-taxable” if the loan is forgiven, while keeping other loans taxable as income received. This inconsistency creates confusion regarding which loans have what kind of classification.
In general, if someone forgives a debt, like a credit card company, if you racked up $10,000 in debt and settled to pay off $5,000, the IRS considers that you received $5,000 of income from the loan forgiveness; you will receive a 1099 for it, and will be expected to report it as income on your taxes. On the other hand, if you work in a qualifying field in exchange for income and also student loan forgiveness, you have a scenario that is truly the very definition of income — and yet Obama has given a free pass to some loans by making their loan forgiveness also non-taxable.
Obama is essentially picking winners and losers in particular industries through the student loan programs and masking it under student loan forgiveness and “non-taxable” categories. This is underhanded policy.
This mindset is one that suggests to and encourages students to take large amounts of student loans and then go into the sectors where their loan can be forgiven — not into the sectors where they would be most productive, and therefore most likely to earn enough to pay it back. It’s like saying to the students, “Here’s a way to not pay back your loans!”. Frankly, that’s criminal. And it fundamentally subverts the basis principles of logic and economics. Also, I can tell you as an accountant, the numbers for Obama’s student loan policy simply don’t work.
For example, if someone borrows $30,000 a year for 4 years for a degree, that is $120,000 of student loan debt. The debt carries an interest rate of at least 6%. The Obama repayment plans offer an option that allows borrowers to pay 10% (it used to be 15%) of what they earn, and if not fully paid back by the end of ten years, any balance is forgiven.. So for instance, if a new graduate lands a job that pays a generous $50,000/year, he/she would pay back $5,000/year. With interest of at least $7,200 ($120,000 x 6%) which likely does not even cover the interest on the original $120,000 loan.
There is almost no way a borrower can begin to pay back anything on their loan, and by the time they actually can make a dent, the additional interest accrued would have ballooned the total loan amount to at least $150,000. This is financially crippling for a young person.
In essence, what Obama is doing to win over the young people voting bloc is simply telling them another huge lie. He is suggesting they take out loans on which they will never be able to pay back the principal. The numbers do not work. It’s a terrible gamble; no student can pay off the loan in any rational way from any jobs in the fields they are encouraged to enter to in with the incentives offered to by the Obama Administration.
The costs for “Pay As You Earn” have ballooned from $1.7 billion in 2010 to $3.5 billion in 2013 to an estimated $7.6 billion for 2014.
“This might seem like a windfall for the students, but the only clear winners are the universities that are the ultimate recipients of the taxpayer money. While the students may technically get the freebie, the impressionable youngsters, who likely have little or no wealth, are being given an enormous financial incentive to pursue careers in government or at low-paying nonprofits.
The consequences for our economy are no less tragic than for the individual borrowers. They are being driven away from the path down which their natural ambition and talent might have taken them. President Obama keeps talking about reducing income equality. So why does he keep paying young people not to pursue higher incomes?”
The real impact of this higher education reform is that the government is now encouraging people to borrow substantially for their education, while simultaneously providing an avenue for students to avoid paying back the funds — leaving the taxpayer on the hook, a deficit in freefall, and an economy in stagnation.
Many people this year are startled to find that the IRS is holding some or all of the portions of their tax return as a form of payment for old debt. Many so called debts are decades-old and often the debt is not even the debt of the taxpayer being targeted.
How did this happen? The first part of the process began in 2008, when Congress passed HR6124, The “Food, Conservation, and Energy Act 0f 2008”, commonly known as the “Farm Bill”. On page 594-594 of the 662 page document, Section 14219 reads. “Elimination of statute of limitations applicable to collection of debt by administrative offset”.
(a) ELIMINATION.—Section 3716(e) of title 31, United States
Code, is amended to read as follows: ‘‘(e)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, regulation,
or administrative limitation, no limitation on the period within which an offset may be initiated or taken pursuant to this section shall be effective. (2) This section does not apply when a statute explicitly prohibits using administrative offset of setoff to collect the claim or type of claim involved.” (b) APPLICATION OF AMENDMENT — The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply to any debt outstanding on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.
As a result of this legislation, the Department of the Treasury issued 74 FR 68537: “OFFSET OF TAX REFUND PAYMENTS TO COLLECT PAST-DUE, LEGALLY ENFORCEABLE NONTAX DEBT” on December 28, 2009. The Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service made changes to it how it dealt with non-tax debts owed by taxpayers. This rule allowed the “ offset of Federal tax refunds irrespective of the amount of time the debt has been outstanding”.
“The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, Public Law 110–234,
Section 14219, 22 Stat. 923 (2008) (‘‘the Act’’) amended the Debt Collection Act
of 1982 (as amended by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996) to
authorize the offset of Federal nontax payments (for example, contract and salary payments) to collect delinquent Federal debt without regard to the amount of time the debt has been delinquent. Prior to this change, nontax payments could be offset only to collect
debt that was delinquent for a period of less than ten years. There is no similar time limitation in the statutes authorizing offset of Federal tax refund payments to collect Federal
nontax debts (see 26 U.S.C. 6402(a) and 31 U.S.C. 3720A). However, Treasury had imposed a time limitation on collection of debts by tax refund offset in order to create uniformity in the way that it offset payments. Now that the ten-year limitation has been eliminated for the offset of nontax payments, the rationale for including a ten-year limitation for the offset of tax refund payments no longer applies.
Therefore, on June 11, 2009, Treasury issued a notice of proposed rulemaking proposing to remove the limitations period by explicitly stating that no time limitation shall apply. See 74 FR 27730. The proposed rule explained that by removing the time limitation, all Federal nontax debts, including debts that were ineligible for collection by offset prior to the removal of the limitations period, may now be collected by tax refund offset. Additionally, to avoid any undue hardship, Treasury proposed the addition of a notice requirement applicable to debts that were previously ineligible for collection by offset because they had been outstanding for more than ten years. For such debts, creditor agencies must certify to FMS that a notice of intent to offset was sent to the debtor after the debt became ten years delinquent. This notice of intent to offset is meant to alert the debtor that any debt the taxpayer owes to the United States may now be collected by offset, even if it is greater than ten years delinquent. It also allows the debtor additional opportunities to dispute the debt, enter into a repayment agreement or otherwise avoid offset. This requirement will apply even in a case where notice was sent prior to the debt becoming ten years old. This requirement applies only with respect to debts that were previously ineligible for collection by offset because of the previous time limitation. Accordingly, it does not apply with respect to debts that could be collected by offset without regard to any time limitation prior to this regulatory change—for example, Department of Education student loan debts.”
The ramifications of this rule change has been far reaching. One agency, the IRS, has used it to justify going after old debts by holding tax refunds. This is a growing problem, because the agency has begun going after relatives of the phantom debt, not the debt-holder themselves.
According to the Treasury rule, “For such debts, creditor agencies must certify to FMS
that a notice of intent to offset was sent to the debtor after the debt became ten years delinquent. This notice of intent to offset is meant to alert the debtor that any debt the taxpayer owes to the United States may now be collected by offset, even if it is greater than ten years delinquent”.
The rule does not state “relative of the debtor”. In several instances this year alone, the targeted person was a relative of the debt-holder, not the debt-holder themselves, and every one of them stated they received no notice or advance warning from the IRS before the IRS decided to withhold their refund. The IRS has no right to do so.
There exists a process called “transferee liability” where the IRS can go after the debts of a relative. It is a high burden process and is not done easily. Such a scenario might be if a person died with $100,000 in a bank account, which was bequeathed to a child. Then later, it was revealed that the original account holder owed the IRS, which really should have been discovered by the person doing the estate process, and thus the money received by bequeathment could be considered as being received under false pretenses. The IRS in this situation could make a case, under “transferee liability”, that it has a right to go after the relative for that money.
Obviously, this above scenario is much different than resurrecting decades-old debt via an obscure provision in a 662 page bill. Those affected by it should demand proof of debt as well as argue that the debt is not theirs. However, in the cases where the IRS merely held the tax refund, the “debtor” did not receive due process and is at the mercy of trying to deal with a convoluted, poorly run government agency. Most people do not have the time or means to fight back. This action taken by the IRS is legal plunder, plain and simple.
CNS News reported today that “Federal tax revenues continue to run at a record pace in fiscal 2014, as the federal government’s total receipts for the fiscal year closed April at $1,735,030,000,000, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement.
Despite this record revenue, the federal government still ran a deficit of $306.411 billion in the first seven months of the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2013 and will end on Sept. 30, 2014”.
The White House Office of Management and Budget has put out the following estimates for 2014: revenues will be $3.001721 trillion in taxes with spending estimated to be $3.650526 trillion — thereby running a deficit of $648.805 billion.
The problem isn’t lack of taxes. “The single largest source for the federal government’s record tax receipts in the first seven months of FY 2014 was the individual income tax, which brought the Treasury $823.079 billion”
The problem is egregious spending.
Oh, the hypocrisy!
In February, it was announced that retired hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, has committed $100 million of his own money to “to make climate change a priority issue in this year’s midterm elections.”
How can this possibly be? First, Steyer made his millions as a hedge-fund operator — which is typically and universally denounced as a greedy profession. But if he spends his greedy millions on items considered tolerable and suitable to the political Left, it’s becomes okay.
That same political Left decries the Koch Brothers who are accused of funding groups with their obscene amounts of money to promote policy positions. The Koch Brothers made their money as businessmen, which clearly is repugnant. It begs the question: why does Harry Reid go after the Koch Brothers and turns a blind eye to Steyer’s tactics?
In reality, what Tom Steyer is doing is much worse. Steyer is essentially telling a political candidate, “if you take this position, I will give you money”. Isn’t this line of thinking exactly what the Supreme Court was trying to stop? How is this okay? Because it works for the Left.
Steyer’s game proved effective in 2013 when his NextGen Climate Action Super Pac spend $2.5 million to target conservative-leaning coal areas of Southwest Virginia on behalf of Democrat gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. Coupled with Mayor Bloomberg’s Independence USA Super PAC which spent roughly $2 million on ads in Virginia to target Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s position on gun-rights, the two out-of-staters helped lead the Democrat to victory.
Steyer’s next plan is to influence the 2014 midterms. His money is planning on being spent on “attack ads during the election, including the Florida governor’s race and the Iowa Senate race.
Clearly, Steyer’s actions are appropriate for the 2014 elections, because political candidates with the “proper positions” are able to benefit from Steyer’s “generosity”. Yet in contrast, other organizations are called out for being “tainted” by the Koch Brothers for merely promoting various policies that the Left deems unacceptable. Either it’s okay for both, or for neither.
The double standard prevails.
Most Americans would score Obama poorly on foreign policy issues. It’s a conundrum, really, because most of the things he has done, people seem to have supported him – from pulling troops out of Afghanistan, to not going to war in Syria. And yet, people think he has done very badly with his decisions.
While at first glance it may seem inconsistent, it is not actually inconsistent at all. People don’t necessarily want their opinions of foreign policy matters carried out; instead, what they want is for the Executive Branch to lead and do the right thing for the country. So much information relating to foreign policy is not public and cannot be made privy to public. For that reason, our country has depended on the Executive Branch to use the information to do the right thing for American, first and foremost above what may be popular sentiment or easy.
FDR faced this with WWII. Almost universally no one wanted to go to war but when the United States was attacked and FDR told the American people, “we need to do this”, Americans said okay and fully supported the war effort. Similar situations with Reagan and Panama, Clinton and Kosovo. These were not particularly popular positions, but when the Presidents made their case, Americans by-and-large gave their support.
What the Presidents didn’t do, was ask first. We had leaders who would lead, even it they did something that was not exactly the most popular or easiest — because there has been a mutual understanding that a President will act first and foremost for the best of his country based on his more full knowledge.
Here’s where Obama is different. We now have a president who is trying to do what he thinks will get him the most political points with the people. This is not presidential. This is not how presidents act. This has given us terrible results.
Obama, like all other presidents, has all the information at his fingertips. Instead of doing what he should do on foreign policy questions — which is to lead — he is trying to listen to the people and gauge their temperature, if they are warm to the idea, instead of telling Americans what is right.
What Americans may by-and-large think what is the right thing to do is sometimes wrong because we do not have the full picture. We understand decisions need to be made on sound policy, not politics. But for Obama, his leadership style has been that of politics first, policy second. Because he’d rather do what he perceives is politically beneficial instead of lead with conviction, both his domestic and foreign audiences find Obama to be weak and ineffective in foreign policy matters.
Can you believe it — a bigger lie than “you can keep your doctor”?
President Obama’s comments regarding the gender pay gap and discrimination are as vicious a lie as his statements that you can keep your doctor. The idea that women earn $.77 for every $1.00 that men earn, for equal work, has never been true, never in the slightest.
That $.77 comparison is not for equal work. It strictly represents the reality that women, more often than men, work at jobs that are lower paying. The reason for such jobs might include school and family situations, flexibility of schedule, and their desires to be able to be use work secondarily for their needs for their families or a source of discretionary income.
There is actually no evidence of any discrimination for women doing the same work an being paid less. If the world of labor could indeed pay women less (23% less) for equal work, why isn’t virtually every company hiring only women as a means to curb costs and increase profit?
A more full and excellently written description was put forth in the WSJ on April 7th. It is a must read.
The most incredible thing about Obama’s statements is that Obama appears to have his own “pay gap disparity” at the White House (women earn $.88 cents per $1.00 for men). Interestingly, the White House takes great pains to discuss the
discrimination variables that cause this disparity.
“An analysis of staff salaries done last fall by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found the president’s female aides were paid 88 cents for every dollar paid to men, about $65,000 to $73,729 annually. On Monday, Carney argued the comparison is based on aggregate wages that include the lowest salaries at the White House “which may or may not be — depending on the institution — filled by more women than men.”
He said men and women in equivalent roles at the White House earn the same amount and that 10 of 16 department heads are women, earning the top White House salary of $172,200″.
Here we have the Obama administration admitting that more women are in jobs that include the lowest salaries at the White House.
So, it is not gender discrimination at the White House, which is what Obama has tried to claim in his “$.77 cents” missive and new Executive Order. He wants to apply that label when discussing the “gender pay gap” to all other businesses (as a means to appeal to his female base), but then when the spotlight is shined on the White House pay scale, Obama retreats from that rhetoric.
As he should. Because the gender pay gap is truly a myth. And Obama’s own White House data and discussion prove it.
Bernie Sanders recently chose to test the waters of a possible Presidential campaign by weighing in on the deliberations regarding the Post Office. Thankfully, we have this Op-Ed so early on, because it reveals Sanders’ complete and utter inability to comprehend basic economics and accounting.
Bernie argues two main points: 1) the Post Office is not broke and 2) those who believe it is are “anti-government”, “wealthy special interest”, profit-seeking, or all of the above. These points rest entirely on his premise that pre-funding health benefits to postal workers is a very bad thing.
Sanders actually believes that planning for future promised benefits is not a fiscally sound practice. If he feels this way about the Post Office, surely he feels the same about Social Security and Medicare (two programs who have trillions in future liabilities). Does Sanders know that his type of accounting would land any business executive in jail?
Sanders says that if we didn’t have to pre-fund future benefits, than the Post Office would make a profit. Simple, right?
What he fails to mention that if we didn’t pre-fund benefits, the Post Office would merely be sloughing off paying its promises to some future nebulous day and time for some other taxpayers else to take care of –only when its liabilities were astronomical and the finances were on the edge of a precipice.
That result is precisely what we are facing programs like Social Security, Medicare, and many defined benefits plans across the country: politicians made future monetary promises without planning for them, and now the economic pressure has ballooned into severe fiscal instability. Sanders belongs to the ‘spend first, fix (maybe) later” group of bureaucrats who refuse to follow basic accounting practices like any business would be required to practice.
With the Post Office, we actually have an quasi-government entity following good, non-gimmick accounting so taxpayers can see first-hand the true financial picture (current and future) of the post-office. Pre-funding benefits to account for future and current liabilities is a proper and healthy way to do business. And if the Post Office cannot turn a profit while protecting its current and future liabilities, than it must make changes to its business operations
By repealing the legislation to pay for future liabilities, Bernie Sanders is ostensibly demanding someone in the future — your kids and grandkids — to clean up the mess of his government and his generation’s deliberately poor financial planning.
Which bring us two his second point. Bernie Sanders does what the Left does best, which is resort to name calling, straw-man arguments to build up his weak ideas. Sanders actually thinks that those who wish to pass on a health economic future while practice basic and principled accounting practices are anti-government, bought-and-paid-for, or profit-mongers. No, Mr. Sanders, we only wish for the government and its entities to practice the same kind of accounting standards that any other business or family is required to do.
Watch out, America — Bernie Sanders is just more of the same. Another bureaucratic imbecile who refuses to face economic and financial realities when it comes to the Post Office — or any big government program which deals with current and future liabilities. Sanders would rather pass the buck to the next generation in order to save a few union jobs.