The Brass Tax of Politics

Government Outpaces Private Sector in Wages and Benefits

Government wage increases vastly outpaced the public sector, and the number of government jobs have soared. For the federal government alone, there are 2.1 million workers, “costing over $260 billion in wages and benefits this year.” according to recent data analysed by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

There is no justification for government workers to earn more than the private sector. What was once a noble profession — the idea of ‘public service’ — has been replaced by as system that allows for and encourages the economic imbalance because the government is not market-driven. Structures such as arbitration and non-firing allow public service employees to continue to receive their benefits and artificial pay raises regardless of the outside economic conditions.

Because of this, public sector wages eventually exceed the normal market-based wages. Negotiations in the public sector should never be “how much of an increase will I receive from before”, but rather, “can we justify these wages and benefits at all?” We should not be paying more than the private sector, which responds and adjusts to the mitigating economic factors; the government does not, and the result is what we see today: sprawling wages, busted pensions, and bloated budgets.

In essence, government workers have stronger job security because they are not dependent on the economy to keep them going. What’s even more sobering is the fact that the private sector marketplace is beginning to lose the best and brightest people, because the government is paying more, and providing employment with better benefits. This will have long-lasting detrimental effects. It was never intended for the government to compete with the private sector. This phenomenon has turned the entire system on its head.

An Updated Obamacare Analysis

Today, Forbes did an updated analysis of the current state of Obamacare, as the enrollment numbers are trickling in. The news is rather poor:

“To briefly recap this year’s enrollment figures, late sign ups and automatic renewals pushed the number of people signing up for Obamacare through to 8.6 million through the end of 2015, before any attrition. Extrapolating from the current numbers implies that total Obamacare sign-ups will reach about 14 million (once the figures from state-run exchanges are baked in). The White House had previously lowered its 2016 goals, hoping to have 10 million people still enrolled and fully paid at the end of 2016 across the federally run as well as state-run exchanges. The Obama Administration should hit, or slightly top these estimates, once totals from the state exchanges are factored into the final figures.

For comparison, last year, enrollment topped out at 11.5 million. Around 10 million followed through to purchase plans and 9 million ended up with coverage at year-end, after attrition. Applying the same proportions for this year, Wall Street analysts estimate that about 11 million to 12 million consumers will confirm enrollment by paying for their coverage. About 10 million to 11 million will remain enrolled by year-end 2016. This compares to the government’s revised goal of 10 million, (and an older projection from the Congressional Budget Office for 21 million).

Yet the federal numbers show that the rate of growth in the exchanges has declined year over year, and is mostly comprised of people who were previously covered by some kind of Obamacare plan (71% in 2016). Remember that at the end of the 2015 open enrollment period, the total enrollment across both state-based and the federal marketplace was up 46% from the 2014 open-enrollment period. That was before any attrition. This year, it looks like the year-over-year growth in the exchanges will come in at about half of that figure.

The age mix of those who are signing up also looks to be tracking, at best, on par with prior years and perhaps a little worse. Remember, Obamacare was always dependent upon more young and presumably healthier consumers signing up for the inefficient plans to help subsidize older and costlier beneficiaries. But many young consumers are choosing to forgo the exchange’s high premiums, even as the government’s penalties for remaining uncovered by a “qualified” plan start to rise. For many of the young, and healthy, Obamacare’s overpriced plans are a bad deal.

Data that HHS released yesterday on the federal and state-based exchanges shows that 35% of total federal and state-based selections were by people younger than 35 thus far for 2016. This compares to 33% during the similar time frame during the 2015 open enrollment period and 29% during the 2014 open enrollment period. For health insurers, the slight improvement in the age mix isn’t expected to be material.

Obamacare’s acolytes are casting the tepid growth as success. Under their calculus, any expansion is a measure of progress. This math largely draws from how one charts achievement–whether it’s drawn from considerations of economics, or derived mostly from politics. If the goal is merely expanding Obamacare’s footprint, then each enrollee adds to the political enterprise. But Obamacare was supposed to be affordable, and self-sustaining. It was supposed to replace the individual and small group markets and the health plans people liked, and couldn’t keep.”

The government is willing to do anything to cast Obamacare in a positive light. But nothing can save it from the fact that the enrollment at this point in 2016 will only be half of what was projected when the legislation was voted on in 2010. If anyone thought that Obamacare would only have covered 10 million persons at this point — instead of the 21 million — there is little doubt that it would not have been passed.

Even today, the Obama voted to veto the bill that would have repealed Obamacare (the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015). Unfortunately for millions of Americans, Obamacare has proven to be yet another bungled, failed, government pipe-dream.

Taxpayer Advocate 2015 Annual Report to Congress

My friend, Nina Olson, has been the long-time Taxpayer Advocate (TA) for the IRS, an independent office within the IRS. The job of the TA is to ensure that every taxpayer is treated fairly and that every taxpayer knows and understand his or her rights. Each year, the TA issues two different reports to Congress. Today, the TA released her 2015 Annual Report to Congress, with a list of the twenty most serious problems facing the IRS today.

Think reaching a human at the Internal Revenue Service last tax filing season was tough? Olson anticipates even less telephone and face-to-face customer service in future years. A planned expansion of IRS online offerings will leave taxpayers who seek help the old-fashioned way “up a creek,” listing it as the No. 1 problem in a report to Congress released Wednesday.”

An overview from Bloomberg noted another serious problem: transparency. “Since 2014 the IRS has spent “several million dollars” working with management consultants to develop a plan for how it will operate over the next five years. The details in the report haven’t been made public or shared with Congress, and the IRS hasn’t solicited comments from a broad pool of constituents, the advocate’s report notes.
Additionally, the IRS has never asserted so many times that data and documents the Taxpayer Advocate planned to include were for “official use only” and couldn’t be made public. That made this year’s report difficult to write, Olson says, “because while the intent to reduce telephone and face-to-face service has been a central assumption in the five-year ‘Future State’ planning process, little about service reductions has been committed to writing.”

Olson is calling for congressional hearings on the IRS plan over the next few months, and will solicit comments at public hearings held across the country. Among groups she plans to invite are those with the greatest need for free help, including the elderly, the disabled, small businesses, low-income taxpayers, and people with limited English proficiency.

The impression the Taxpayer Advocate’s office has, based on discussions with IRS officials, is that the agency’s ultimate goal is “to get out of the business of talking with taxpayers.” It would do that in part by creating online accounts for filers, which Olson sees as a good way to supplement, not replace, existing service—as long as data security concerns are addressed.

While far more people file electronically now, and the IRS has taken many steps to limit the need for taxpayers to phone the IRS, the demand for personal service hasn’t decreased. In fact, over the past decade the number of calls the IRS received on its Accounts Management lines rose from about 64 million for fiscal year 2006 to about 102 million for fiscal year 2015. That’s almost a 60 percent jump. Automating customer service even more, the report says, “will mean only those with the means to pay for it can receive help with their taxes.”

Here are Nina’s Top Twenty Problems:

TAXPAYER SERVICE: The IRS Has Developed a Comprehensive “Future State” Plan That Aims to Transform the Way It Interacts With Taxpayers, But Its Plan May Leave Critical Taxpayer Needs and Preferences Unmet

IRS USER FEES: The IRS May Adopt User Fees to Fill Funding Gaps Without Fully Considering Taxpayer Burden and the Impact on Voluntary Compliance

FORM 1023-EZ: Recognition As a Tax-Exempt Organization Is Now Virtually Automatic for Most Applicants, Which Invites Noncompliance, Diverts Tax Dollars and Taxpayer Donations, and Harms Organizations Later Determined to be Taxable

REVENUE PROTECTION: Hundreds of Thousands of Taxpayers File Legitimate Tax Returns That Are Incorrectly Flagged and Experience Substantial Delays in Receiving Their Refunds Because of an Increasing Rate of “False Positives” Within the IRS’s Pre-Refund Wage Verification Program

TAXPAYER ACCESS TO ONLINE ACCOUNT SYSTEM: As the IRS Develops an Online Account System, It May Do Less to Address the Service Needs of Taxpayers Who Wish to Speak with an IRS Employee Due to Preference or Lack of Internet Access or Who Have Issues That Are Not Conducive to Resolution Online

PREPARER ACCESS TO ONLINE ACCOUNTS: Granting Uncredentialed Preparers Access to an Online Taxpayer Account System Could Create Security Risks and Harm Taxpayers

The IRS’s Strategy for Service on Demand Fails to Compensate for the Closure of International Tax Attaché Offices and Does Not Sufficiently Address the Unique Needs of International Taxpayers

APPEALS: The Appeals Judicial Approach and Culture Project Is Reducing the Quality and Extent of Substantive Administrative Appeals Available to Taxpayers

COLLECTION APPEALS PROGRAM (CAP): The CAP Provides Inadequate Review and Insufficient Protections for Taxpayers Facing Collection Actions

LEVIES ON ASSETS IN RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS: Current IRS Guidance Regarding the Levy of Retirement Accounts Does Not Adequately Protect Taxpayer Rights and Conflicts with Retirement Security Public Policy

NOTICES OF FEDERAL TAX LIEN (NFTL): The IRS Files Most NFTLs Based on Arbitrary Dollar Thresholds Rather Than on a Thorough Analysis of a Taxpayer’s Financial Circumstances and the Impact on Future Compliance and Overall Revenue Collection

THIRD PARTY CONTACTS: IRS Third Party Contact Procedures Do Not Follow the Law and May Unnecessarily Damage Taxpayers’ Businesses and Reputations

WHISTLEBLOWER PROGRAM: The IRS Whistleblower Program Does Not Meet Whistleblowers’ Need for Information During Lengthy Processing Times and Does Not Sufficiently Protect Taxpayers’ Confidential Information From Re-Disclosure by Whistleblowers

The IRS Faces Challenges in Implementing the Employer Provisions of the ACA While Protecting Taxpayer Rights and Minimizing Burden

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (ACA) – INDIVIDUALS: The IRS Is Compromising Taxpayer Rights As It Continues to Administer the Premium Tax Credit and Individual Shared Responsibility Payment Provisions

IDENTITY THEFT (IDT): The IRS’s Procedures for Assisting Victims of IDT, While Improved, Still Impose Excessive Burden and Delay Refunds for Too Long

Current Selection Criteria for Cases in the ASFR Program Create Rework and Impose Undue Taxpayer Burden

INDIVIDUAL TAXPAYER IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS (ITINs): IRS Processes Create Barriers to Filing and Paying for Taxpayers Who Cannot Obtain Social Security Numbers

PRACTITIONER SERVICES: Reductions in the Practitioner Priority Service Phone Line Staffing and Other Services Burden Practitioners and the IRS

IRS COLLECTION EFFECTIVENESS: The IRS’s Failure to Accurately Input Designated Payment Codes for All Payments Compromises Its Ability to Evaluate Which Actions Are Most Effective in Generating Payments

EXEMPT ORGANIZATIONS (EOs): The IRS’s Delay in Updating Publicly Available Lists of EOs Harms Reinstated Organizations and Misleads Taxpayers

EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT (EITC): The IRS Does Not Do Enough Taxpayer Education in the Pre-Filing Environment to Improve EITC Compliance and Should Establish a Telephone Helpline Dedicated to Answering Pre-Filing Questions From Low Income Taxpayers About Their EITC Eligibility

EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT (EITC): The IRS Is Not Adequately Using the EITC Examination Process As an Educational Tool and Is Not Auditing Returns With the Greatest Indirect Potential for Improving EITC Compliance

EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT (EITC): The IRS’s EITC Return Preparer Strategy Does Not Adequately Address the Role of Preparers in EITC Noncompliance.

You can read the report in full by going here.

CEI: 2015 Was A Record Year for Regulations

In 2015, the federal government’s published 82,036 pages of rules, proposed rules and notices. It surpassed last year’s 77,687 pages broke the previous record of 81,405 pages in 2010. Competitive Enterprise Institute issued their yearly survey of the federal regulatory state. Among them are some of their findings:

*3,378 final rules and regulations were created
*2,334 proposed rules were issued in 2015 and are at various stages of consideration.
*29 executive orders and 31 executive memorandums were issued

Regulation functions as a hidden tax. Last year’s report calculated that, “based on the best available federal government data, past reports, and contemporary studies, regulatory compliance costs $1.88 trillion annually.”

Recommendations for reigning in regulation include repealing “certain statutes, require congressional approval for big rules and enforce maximum requirements set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act.” 2015 saw major final rules from the EPA — the Clean Power Plan and its Waters of the Unites States rule — as well as the FCC’s net neutrality order.

You can follow updates on federal regulation on CEI’s “Ten Thousand Commandments” page here

Clinton’s Abominable Corporate Exit Tax

Last month, Hillary Clinton revealed an idiotic idea in her tax plax that would yet again target American businesses. Clinton proposed creating an “exit tax” for companies that might try to merge with another foreign company. While that concept is ridiculous enough in and of itself, the writers at the Wall Street Journal, Richard Rubin and Lauren Meckler, were just as ridiculous.

Where in the article do they discuss the fact that we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world at 35%? And where do they discuss the fact that we are the only major country in the world that taxes companies both on their domestic and foreign earnings? Nowhere.

In the present environment, U.S. companies face enormous tax obstacles compared to foreign companies. The United States government lays claim to foreign-earned income and also forces them to pay higher tax rates than other foreign companies on the income they make in foreign countries — putting American companies at a severe disadvantage in the global economy.

We’ve created a system that tempts companies to move their HQ abroad or merge with other foreign companies in order to stay solvent and competitive, and now we want to threaten companies or erect more impediments to stop more American businesses from leaving our country? We should be incentivizing them to remain in the United States by lowering the corporate tax rate or remove the tax on foreign earnings! Our tax code and tax rates are simply not competitive anymore.

But Hillary Clinton doesn’t think that. And clearly, neither do the journalists at the WSJ. This article is just dripping with the suggestion that somehow, these companies OWE the government even more of their hard-earned money and/or are not legally or ethically paying their fair share. For instance: “The U.S. taxes companies on their world-wide earnings but allows them to claim foreign tax credits for profits earned abroad and defer U.S. taxes until they bring the money home. That system and the 35% marginal corporate tax rate encourage companies to earn money abroad in low-tax countries and leave it there. U.S. companies now have more than $2 trillion in stockpiled offshore profits that haven’t been fully taxed.” See the word choices? They set up the idea that companies are somehow acting underhandedly.

If that isn’t enough, look how the authors label the Tax Policy Center: “non-partisan.” Now, anyone even remotely interested in economics knows that the Tax Policy Center is decidedly left-leaning. To state otherwise and label it “non-partisan” is at best, naive, and at worst, duplicitous.

Let’s look at some more: “Clinton’s tax would apply to some transactions structured as foreign takeovers of U.S. companies aimed at getting around the rules.” No businesses are “getting around the rules!” Both foreign mergers and inversion are perfectly legal; there’s no loophole or deceptiveness in such business transactions. The only “rules” that businesses are “getting around” are the actual corporate tax laws that make doing business in America on a global scale so insufferable and unjust.
And finally: “The big attraction for companies has been accumulating future profits outside the U.S. tax net.” The US tax net is already enormous! The tax code is so discriminatory against our own American businesses, it makes it harder for our companies to compete and survive and thrive on an international basis. Yet Clinton wants to widen the net further with new taxes and put an even greater stranglehold on companies.

Businesses seek to sell a product and be competitive, not to comply with a draconian, exorbitant tax code. Businesses and investment capital are fleeing the United States in droves and the solution by Hillary Clinton is to tax them further. The fact that this obtuse proposal was backed and perpetuated by these writers at the Wall Street Journal is shameful.

Epstein: Will the Real Paul Krugman Show Up?

Recently, Gene Epstein of Barron’s made a fascinating observation about Paul Krugman, the New York Times’ darling of economics. On December 18th in the NYTimes, Krugman wrote about the film, “The Big Short”, which was about the “housing bubbles and retold lies.” In his article, Krugman stated that the housing bubble “was largely inflated via opaque financial schemes that in many cases amounted to outfight fraud.”

Unfortunately for Krugman, some folks like Gene Epstein have long memories and short tolerance. Epstein noted that, “This causal analysis is directly contradicted by an alternative view previously expressed in the New York Times: that the housing bubble was largely inflated by policies of the Federal Reserve.

First, Epstein went back to August 2, 2002, when a columnist in the pages of the New York Times, wrote that, “To fight this recession, the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.”

Nearly seven years later on June 17, 2009, a few months after the crisis of 2008, the same columnist wrote for the New York Times that “What I said was that the only way the Fed could get traction would be if it could inflate a housing bubble. And that’s just what happened.”

Can anyone guess who this columnist is? Gene Epstein knew: Paul Krugman.

Of course, Krugman is counting on his readers to be either a) financial morons like he is; b) short on memory; or c) both. This kind of incompetency from Mr. Krugman is a consummate example of why he should not be the time of day on economic matters.