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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Obama vs. McCain: Taxing and Spending

They've parried over gas taxes (BusinessWeek.com, 4/15/08) and fixes for the housing crisis. Now, as the general election campaign kicks off, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have begun to hammer away at each other's tax and spending programs.

Obama, who has begun a two-week tour around the country to highlight his views on the economy, derides McCain's plans to extend the Bush Administration's tax cuts, eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, and slash corporate taxes. Campaigning in St. Louis on June 10, Obama called the current Administration "the most fiscally irresponsible in our history" and argued that McCain would be even worse. "I've said John McCain is running to serve out a third term, but when it comes to taxes, that's not being fair to George Bush. Senator McCain wants to add $300 billion more in tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans," Obama said.

As McCain revs up his campaign, he has wasted no time in trying to paint Obama as a typical tax-and-spend liberal. He argues that if the Senator from Illinois is elected, America is in store for the biggest tax increase since World War II. "Under Senator Obama's tax plan, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise—seniors, parents, small business owners, and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market," McCain said in a speech to the National Small Business Summit in Washington, also on June 10.

First Round to Obama

So where does the reality lie? According to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint venture between the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, two Washington think tanks, this round goes to Obama. The TPC took a look at the various tax proposals put forth by the two candidates and estimated that Obama's plan would lead to a boost in aftertax income for all but the highest earners, while taking a smaller bite out of government tax revenues than would McCain's plans.

Len Burman, a former Treasury tax official who is now a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, says if Obama's proposals—which include plans to rescind the Bush tax cuts on couples making more than $250,000, close corporate tax loopholes, and tax private equity earnings known as "carried interest" as ordinary income—were adopted in 2009, for example, married couples with earnings in the lowest quintile of the population would see their aftertax income rise 5.8%. Those in the next quintile would see an increase of 4%. Those breaks would be paid for by those with high incomes: the top 1% of taxpayers would see aftertax income fall 8.4%.

Under McCain's proposals, by contrast—including an extension of the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers, a corporate tax cut, and a larger reduction in estate taxes than Obama would support—far more of the benefits would go to the top. If his plans went into effect in 2009, married couples in the bottom fifth of the population would see aftertax income go up just 0.2%, while those in the next quintile would see a 0.7% hike. But those in the top quintile would see a bump up in aftertax income of 2.7%.

"It's just flat wrong" to say people would do worse under Obama, says Burman. "Most lower- and middle-class people would pay less taxes under Obama than they would under the proposals being put forth by McCain."

Doug Holtz-Eakin, McCain's top economics advisor, argues that the study doesn't take into account which policies might prove better for jobs and the economy, or how companies or individuals might behave in reaction to changing tax rates. Cutting the corporate tax rate, for example, is intended to keep jobs in America, he says.

"It says a great deal about the state of affairs in Washington when the analysis of proposed economic policy rejects the real outcomes that can be achieved by reshaping federal bureaucracies, and protecting taxpayers' money," Holtz-Eakin says.

But Jason Furman, the newly named economic policy director for the Obama campaign, disputes that view. He argues that the study demonstrates that McCain's tax plans would drive the tax code in a far more regressive direction. "Some 23% of the tax cuts they are proposing would go to households making more than $2.8 million under the McCain plan," he says. "That's a phenomenally large benefit for the super rich, beyond anything George Bush has proposed."

All Depends How You Figure It

The two candidates' tax plans would change overall government tax revenues in vastly different ways. But by how much? That depends on how the impact is measured. Under current tax law, the Bush tax cuts are supposed to expire for all taxpayers at the end of 2010, so the current estimates by the Congressional Budget Office for tax revenues beyond those years assume that rates go back to the levels in effect before the tax cuts took effect. The top income tax rate, for example, is assumed to rise from today's 35% to the old top rate of 39.6%.

Using that assumption as a baseline, the Tax Policy Center looked at the impact of all the changes in tax law that each of the candidates has proposed. If McCain's proposed tax changes were put into effect, the Treasury would lose $3.7 trillion in revenue for the 10-year period between 2009 and 2018, compared with what it would take in under current law. If all of Barack Obama's tax plans were put into effect, the loss to the Treasury would be $2.7 trillion in revenues.

However, no one in Washington believes all the Bush tax cuts will be rescinded. Even under a Democratic Congress and Administration, the Bush tax cuts are likely to be kept in place for most taxpayers. So economic advisers to both campaigns argue it is more realistic to judge the impact of their campaign proposals against the tax policies and rates currently in effect.

Under that scenario, the numbers for both candidates look far better, although Obama still comes out well ahead. Indeed, when compared with current tax policy, his proposals would actually increase revenues coming into government coffers. Although he has promised tax cuts to many middle- and working-class families, along with the elderly, the TPC concludes that those cuts would be offset by his plans to increase taxes on high-income families and to close corporate tax loopholes. Together, those moves would bring an estimated additional $734 billion to the Treasury over 10 years, according to the Tax Policy Center study.

Leaving the Treasury Short

By contrast, even using the more favorable comparison, McCain's proposed tax changes would still leave the Treasury coming up short. According to the study, McCain's combined proposals would slash tax revenues by an estimated $253 billion over the 10-year period compared with what would come in under current tax policy.

Burman points out that the estimates assume the plans put forth by either candidate would be adopted exactly as proposed, which is unlikely. Both the McCain and Obama plans will probably evolve and become more specific as the campaign progresses; Congress, too, will want to have its say, no matter who is elected.

There's another highly questionable factor built into these calculations: Each campaign assumes it will get hundreds of millions in new revenues by closing tax loopholes, eliminating excessive spending on earmarks, and other maneuvers. To come up with its estimates, the Tax Policy Center takes those figures at face value, though many can't be verified or are unlikely to materialize. Spending, after all, is rarely cut—or loopholes as easily closed—as much as pledged during a campaign. Instead, says Burman, the analysis provides a snapshot of what would be feasible "if they could become President without a Congress, and without the need to run for reelection."

Nevertheless, he says, the estimates provide the closest idea possible of what the candidates intend. "It gives us some sense of their view," says Burman.

"Reformer" Palin Accepted Donations From Indicted Alaska Oil Man

In 2001, Sarah Palin drove from her Wasilla home, through the downtown streets of Anchorage, to a large home near the bluffs of muddy Cook Inlet. The home belonged to Bill Allen, one of the most influential businessmen and Republican donors in Alaska history. Allen ran the state's largest oil-contracting firm, the ominously named VECO Corp., which contracted with some of the biggest oil producers in the world.

Palin was wrapping up her last term as mayor of Wasilla. She had higher political aspirations. She wanted the second-most powerful job in Alaska: lieutenant governor. In those days, there was virtually only one road to the state capital, and it passed through Allen. A foul-mouthed oilman, a high-school drop out, the son of fruit pickers, Allen was one of those "good ol' boys" Palin touted taking on in Alaska when she gave her vice-presidential speech Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention.

Allen, then in his mid-60s, shaped Alaska politics through campaign contributions and sometimes flat-out bribes. He and his VECO executives and employees gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to both Republicans and Democrats -- lawmakers Allen believed would support the oil industry. He was so steeped in politics that he co-chaired the Alaska finance committee during the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign.

A year later, a young small-town mayor was standing at his door.

Palin sat with Allen in his den and sipped wine, according to a former VECO employee who says he personally fetched the bottle of wine for the two. Why did Palin visit Allen that day? Palin spokesman Bill McAllister refuses to ask her. "This is a silly story and I'm not going to take any more time with this. Goodbye," he says on the phone.

FLASHBACK: In July, McCain Promised His VP Pick Would Appear On Larry King Live

Earlier today, ThinkProgress noted that since becoming Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin has rarely taken questions from the press. The McCain campaign is increasingly shielding her from formal interviews with the media, saying that it will “do what we think is in our best interest.” Today, the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder notes:

A senior McCain campaign official advises that, despite the gaggle of requests and pressure from the media, Gov. Sarah Palin won’t submit to a formal interview anytime soon. She may take some questions from local news entities in Alaska, but until she’s ready — and until she’s comfortable — which might not be for a long while — the media will have to wait.

McCain is breaking a promise he made on national television. In July, during an interview with CNN’s Larry King, McCain assured King that his running mate would appear on King’s show shorty after his announcement:

KING: We have a history on this program that whenever the vice presidential nominee is announced, he or she appears on this show the next night. It’s been going on for quite a while. We hope that Senator McCain follows that tradition since I have a hunch he will not announce tonight who that candidate is.

But how close are we?

MCCAIN: I want to say that that vice presidential candidate will be on your show. I will not risk the wrath of Larry King. I want to assure you.

Watch it:


In fact, instead of honoring his word and granting King exclusive access, McCain recently canceled an interview with the newsman as punishment for a tough CNN interview with a campaign spokesperson.

Sarah Palin ‘affair’: big media stays quiet as ‘lover’ named

While America's respectable media focus on John McCain's acceptance speech to the Republican faithful, blogs and gossip sites continue to lead the feeding frenzy surrounding the National Enquirer's allegation, reported here yesterday, that McCain's running mate Sarah Palin had an affair with her husband's business partner.

Alaskan Abroad, the blog of an Alaskan journalist, reports that the allegation refers to the time when Palin became mayor of Wasilla in the mid-1990s. Palin's husband Todd owned a snowmobile dealership with his business partner Brad Hanson. Apparently Hanson, who was also married, and Sarah got on famously; Alaskan Abroad's sources say the two were "flirtatious but never consummated the relationship".

"When Todd found out, he reportedly dissolved the partnership and sold the dealership. Hanson is now a member of the Palmer City Council."

The Enquirer's own anonymous source claims there was an affair. The paper reports: "Todd discovered the affair and quickly dissolved his friendship and business associations with the guy. Many people in Alaska are talking about the rumour and say Todd swept it under the rug."

Further allegations continue to emerge from the original Enquirer story, including the suggestion that Palin had attempted to force her pregnant teenage daughter Bristol to marry the father of her child before the story of the pregnancy broke. Bristol refused, leaving her mother with a messy situation to deal with in the run up to her speech to the Republican convention.

Even before the 'Palin affair' story broke on Wednesday night, John McCain's former rival for the Republican presidential candidacy Mike Huckabee was continuing the party's attack on the media's portrayal of Palin. "I'd like to thank the elite media for doing something that quite frankly I wasn't sure could be done: and that's unifying the Republican Party and all of America in support of McCain and Palin," he said. "The reporting of the past few days has proved tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert."

If a hand-wringing news piece entitled "Media on the defensive over Sarah Palin coverage" in today's LA Times - which doesn't even mention the Enquirer's allegations - is anything to go by, the media big fish will leave this potential scandal to the supermarket tabloids.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is showing the way for mainstream media nervous of Palin's lawyers. Reporters there are pursuing slightly less tawdry scandals in the ongoing evaluation of her suitability for the post of Vice President. The paper has printed emails sent by Palin which criticise the official inquiry into her ex-brother-in-law, State Trooper Mike Wooten. The 'Troopergate' scandal concerns allegations that Palin got rid of her public safety commissioner Walt Monegan for failing to heed her demands to fire Wooten.

Hockey Moms vs. Soccer Moms

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin proudly described herself as a "hockey mom" in her speech to the Republican National Convention Wednesday night, and the label has been a favorite of both headline writers and her sign-waving fans in St. Paul. (The description is such a part of her identity that a biography published a few months ago was called Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment on Its Ear.) How many other hockey moms are out there?

Probably a few hundred thousand. According to USA Hockey—which has jurisdiction over the vast majority of youth leagues nationwide—there are 347,061 players under the age of 20 registered with the organization across the country. Presumably, most of these players have moms, although since there are some households with multiple hockey players, we can assume that 347,061 is a rather high estimate.

Most hockey moms are located in colder parts of the country: In total, about two-thirds of youth hockey players come from either the Great Lakes states or the Northeast. More detailed demographics on youth hockey players are a little harder to come by, but they're almost certain to be largely Caucasian. Just 2 percent of National Hockey League players are black, despite the work of a "diversity task force" for both the professional and youth leagues. (The task force has held special camps in Wasilla, Alaska.) USA Hockey claims hockey-playing households earn nearly twice the U.S. average, with a median income of $99,200. According to polling by the Pew Research Center, a slice of registered voters that might be roughly equivalent to hockey moms—comprising white married women with kids under 18, incomes over $75,000 and living in the prime hockey-playing regions—tilts Republican by about nine percentage points, albeit in a pretty small sample. That group is somewhat less GOP-friendly today than it was in 2004, but it's still far more Republican than an overall electorate that favors Democrats by 13 percentage points.

How do hockey moms compare with soccer moms? They probably have to pay a good deal more to get their kids on the ice; for example, this Anchorage-based team charges preteen players $1,850 a year in fees. (The cost of equipment can easily add a few hundred dollars more.) They may also have to wake up earlier, too; because ice time is limited, many teams are forced to have practice hours before school starts. Hockey partisans on the Internet—see here, here, and here—also claim that hockey moms are a bit more intense than their soccer counterparts, both in terms of the commitments they make to the sport and the intensity with which they cheer their kids. Partially as a result, USA Hockey has spearheaded a "Relax, It's Just a Game" campaign to try to get parents to calm down. We might assume that soccer moms are a little more diverse than their hockey counterparts; it's hard to identify obvious political differences between the two groups. (As Slate's Jacob Weisberg pointed out in 1996, part of the problem is that the term "soccer mom" has never been defined very clearly—referring variously to struggling middle-class women as well as wealthy McMansion moms.)

In any case, the soccer moms have the hockey moms outnumbered by a wide margin nationwide. U.S. Youth Soccer—which covers a smaller percentage of youth teams than USA Hockey—claims a total membership of more than 3.1 million players. In swing states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, the figures aren't even close, with anywhere between seven and 20 times as many soccer players as hockey players.

But there are two competitive states where hockey moms may rival soccer moms for political importance: Minnesota and Michigan. Palin should expect a favorable reception to her hockey bona fides in the North Star state, home to 44,500 youth hockey players and one of the nation's largest concentrations of hockey-playing girls. (Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor who was reportedly McCain's second choice, has himself been known to take to the ice.) But Palin's hockey-mom ties run deepest in Michigan: Not only does the state boast 37,004 youth hockey players, but Track Palin spent six months of his senior year living in Portage, Mich., while playing for a midget major hockey team.

19 days before HHS rule changes everything

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has proposed a new rule that will limit the rights of women to receive medically accurate information and treatment. The alleged goal of the rule is to protect the rights of health care workers, volunteers, and trainees. The result would be limited access to birth control and abortion for women all over the country - regardless of state law.

From CNN:

The rule, which applies to institutions receiving government money, would require as many as 584,000 employers ranging from major hospitals to doctors' offices and nursing homes to certify in writing that they are complying with several federal laws that protect the conscience rights of health care workers. Violations could lead to a loss of government funding and legal action to recoup federal money already paid.

The comment period ends on September 25th. We have 19 days until this rule takes effect.

This rule does not provide a clear definition of birth control or abortion - allowing the health care worker to utilize their own personal definition each time, so if you go to your doctor attempting to get birth control pills, you may find yourself denied that prescription because the doctor defines birth control pills as an abortifacient.

Leavitt says you shouldn't concern yourself too much though:

But Leavitt said the regulation was intended to protect practitioners who have moral objections to abortion and sterilization, and would not interfere with patients' ability to get birth control or any legal medical procedure.

"Nothing in the new regulation in any way changes a patient's right to any legal procedure," he said, noting that a patient could go to another provider.

It's that simple - your doctor, nurse, receptionist, volunteer, pharmacist, pharm tech, etc. won't help you get your birth control? Just go somewhere else!! And I'm SURE you won't have any trouble finding another provider...or maybe you will - based on the rule.

From WaPo (bold is mine):

The regulation drops the most controversial language in a draft version that would have explicitly defined abortion for the first time in a federal law or regulation as anything that interfered with a fertilized egg after conception. But both supporters and critics said the regulation remains broad enough to protect pharmacists, doctors, nurses and others from providing birth control pills, Plan B emergency contraception and other forms of contraception, and explicitly allows workers to withhold information about such services and refuse to refer patients elsewhere.

Just how far does this regulation go? The same WaPo article gives us a clue:

But critics said they remained alarmed at the scope of the regulation, which could apply to a wide range of health-care workers. For example, the regulation would cover "participating in any activity with a reasonable connection to the objectionable procedure, including referrals, training, and other arrangements for offending procedures.

In other words - if your job is to clean the tools used in an operating room after a patient has had a vasectomy or a tubal ligation, you would be protected from any punishment if you flat out refused (on grounds of conscience) to clean those tools because you disagreed with that patient's right to get that procedure.

Here's the language from the actual rule:

Assist in the Performance means to participate in any activity with a reasonable connection to a procedure, health service or health service program, or research activity, so long as the individual involved is a part of the workforce of a Department-funded entity. This includes counseling, referral, training, and other arrangements for the procedure, health service, or research activity.

Which facilities would be affected by this new rule?

Hospitals, nursing homes, physicians offices, Offices of Other Health Care Practitioners, Outpatient care centers, Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories, Home Health Care Services, Pharmacies, Dental schools, Medical schools, Nursing schools, Occupational Therapy Schools, Optometry Schools, Podiatry Schools, Pharmacy Schools, Public Health Schools, Residency Programs, Health Insurance Carriers and 3rd-Party Administrators, Grant awards, Contractors, and State and Territorial governments.

Daily Kos diarist, Malacandra gave us an idea as to exactly how this kind of law could be interpreted in a widely missed diary last week, Bush Administration to protect Vegetarians of Conscience. Can you imagine going to the butcher to get some sirloin for dinner and being told that you'll have to go elsewhere because the butcher is a vegetarian? And that their job is protected - even though they refuse to perform that job - because of a law that protects their "freedom of conscience"??

How many women will be put at risk due to this new regulation because they will be unable to get access to birth control - which isn't solely used for preventing pregnancy. According to the Center for Young Women's Health, birth control is prescribed for a wide variety of medical problems:

Adolescent girls and young women are frequently prescribed oral contraceptive pills for irregular or absent menstrual periods, menstrual cramps, acne, PMS, endometriosis, and hormone replacement therapy. For example, girls diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) (a hormone imbalance which causes irregular menstrual periods, acne, and excess hair growth) are prescribed oral contraceptives to lower their hormone levels back to normal and regulate menstrual periods. Girls with acne that is not responding to simple measures are often prescribed hormone pills. Girls whose ovaries are not producing enough estrogen (because of anorexia nervosa, excessive exercise, or damage to the ovaries from radiation or chemotherapy) often take oral contraceptive pills to replace estrogen. Girls with endometriosis are also often prescribed oral contraceptives, in cycles or continuously, to suppress the condition.

The CDC gives us a sense as to how many people would be affected by this rule:

In 2002, 98% of women who had ever had sexual intercourse had used at least one method of birth control only 7.4 percent of women who were currently at risk of unintended pregnancy were not using a contraceptive method.2 The most popular method of birth control was the oral contraceptive pill, used by 11.6 million women in the United States, followed by female sterilization, condoms, male sterilization, and other methods of birth control.2

98% of women have used a method of birth control - and this regulation could result in refusal of access to health care for every single one of those women depending on how they access that birth control.

I urge you to sign and send every one of them - and pass every one of them along to every single family member and friend you know.

We have 19 days. After 19 days this regulation goes into effect and every single health care worker in the United States will be able to refuse any woman health care based on their own personal moral views.

NARAL provides us with a few specific results this regulation could have:

-- This regulation could undermine good state laws that require hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors and ensure that pharmacies fill women’s prescriptions for birth control.

-- The proposal could allow health-care corporations (hospitals, HMOs, and health plans) to refuse to provide services or make referrals for birth control.

-- The proposed regulation could affect Medicaid and the Title X family-planning program. For instance, staff at clinics or health-care plans that contract for Medicaid services could refuse to provide contraception.

The ACLU provides us with a link to the PDF of the rule here if you'd like to read it yourself.

If this rule takes effect, I wonder what other health care procedures and medications providers could begin to deny patients because of their own personal conscience...the list could extend well beyond birth control or abortion. Just think of all the different religions out there and the wide variety of procedures people object to based on those religious beliefs.

Please take action today and please ask everyone you know to join you. This rule has the potential to eliminate access to healthcare for women all over the country - and will very likely hit women in less populated areas the hardest. Some women simply don't have the option to "find another provider" in their area. Some women don't have the option to "find another pharmacy" in their area. We must do everything in our power to stop this rule before it takes affect.

If you aren't concerned, you damn well should be.

Update: Junkyard Dem has added a link to Digg. Please Digg this story up. The more who learn about this rule and take action, the better.