Archive

August 20th, 2016

We're still arguing about trickle-down tax policy

    For all his anti-establishment posturing, Donald Trump's tax plans are standard Republican fare: big tax cuts that favor the wealthy by lowering top marginal rates (on individual, corporate, and pass-through income) and eliminating the estate tax.

    While it hardly seems newsworthy to point out that a Republican presidential candidate introduced yet another supply-side, trickle-down tax plan, in this unique election-cycle, it raises a few questions. First, why are we still arguing about the viability of this failed approach to tax policy, and second, why is Trump, a candidate who's trying to appeal to working-class voters hurt by a "rigged" system and surely not helped by eliminating the estate tax, going there, too? (Note: the estate tax hits 0.2 percent of estates; for couples, estates worth less than $11 million are exempt; the average beneficiary from this cut gets $3 million.) Finally, is there an alternative conservative vision on taxes that's less untethered from reality?

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Thought the U.S. was divided already? Just watch as elections go digital.

    2016 will be noted as the year in which the Internet came into its own in U.S. political campaigns. While it has long been the technology for the back-end operations of political campaigns, this year online media have broken through as one of the primary sources for information about the election.

    Throughout the primaries, social media often eclipsed paid media and coverage by traditional news organizations. Donald Trump's tweets often became the story, drawing all media coverage to his message and disarming his opponents without relying on significant fundraising. As the general election begins, some analysts project that Internet political advertising will exceed $1 billion.

    That projection seems optimistic to me. One billion dollars would represent a shift from about 1 percent or 2 percent of all political advertising spending in 2012 to more than one-fourth in 2016. Campaign techniques rarely change so quickly. That said, online advertising will continue to grow. But how does it fit with political campaigns?

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The tea party has gone to meet its maker

    The Tea Party was always tragically miscast. The angry oldsters who formed its white-hot core fancied themselves tax protesters. Their self-image was informed, inflamed and more than occasionally exploited by conservative operations ranging from Fox News to FreedomWorks and a phalanx of right-wing grifters who dealt themselves into the action.

    There is a long tradition of supporting state spending on yourself (hands off my Medicare) while opposing the allocation of tax dollars to someone else (Obamacare is tyranny). The Tea Party covered this mundane transaction in a powdered wig.

    Until Donald Trump came along.

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The final insult: Trump is a bore

    If he doesn't ultimately win the election and shred our Constitution, the most annoying thing about Donald Trump may end up being this: He forced us to devote so much of our lives to a man who is, fundamentally, a bore.

    Don't get me wrong: I'm as addicted to coverage of his train-wreck, oh-no-he-didn't campaign as everyone else. Even if we wanted to avert our eyes, as citizens we would have a duty not to, to learn as much about the man and his potential presidency as we can. As Trump pinballed last week from "rigged election" to "Second Amendment people" to "founder of ISIS," I crashed from one bumper to the next along with the rest of America.

    But one reason this feels like such an imposition is that Trump is, in the end, so uninteresting.

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Is Trump destroying the GOP?

    Not long after Donald Trump delivered his acceptance speech at the festival of rage, hate, and megalomania otherwise known as the GOP convention, leading Never Trump conservatives despaired that the GOP's nomination of Trump could cost the party a generation of young voters. As former Jeb Bush adviser Tim Miller pointed out, the two conventions did not give the average 18-year-old any reason to be a Republican. Miller added: "We're giving away a generation."

    A new USA Today/Rock the Vote poll released Monday will not do much to assuage those fears.

    The new poll's toplines are alarming enough for Republicans: They show that Hillary Clinton is beating Trump by 56-20 among voters under 35. By contrast, according to exit polls, John McCain won 32 percent of voters aged 18-30 in 2008 and Mitt Romney won 36 percent of them in 2012, though this is an imperfect comparison of age groups.

    Here's what this all means, per the USA Today article accompanying the poll:

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How the Internet could democratize campaign spending

    The prospect of billions of dollars moving opaquely through the Internet and aimed at influencing our votes can sound ominous, especially as the Web is increasingly a tool that Americans use to communicate both personally and politically. In the broadest sense, allowing this flood of ad money feels contrary to our usual efforts to ensure that we know who is spending large sums to try to influence the makeup and actions of our government.

    But the world of campaign finance regulation has always been fuzzy and complex, especially as we try to balance the values of fairness and transparency with the equally fundamental principle of freedom of expression. These new advertising tools, from email and websites to Facebook and YouTube and more, clearly offer both opportunities and challenges in an already fraught landscape.

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Free speech has been very good to Donald Trump

    If only those First Amendment people could do something about Donald Trump. His latest attack on their sacred cow is the assertion that "It is not 'freedom of the press' when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!"

    That's wrong as a matter of constitutional law. But it's not crazy. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently accorded a high degree of protection to falsehoods. And the kinds of justices that the Republican presidential nominee might appoint could well reverse it.

    The landmark case for the constitutional protection of lies and the lying liars who tell them was decided in 2012. It involved a prosecution under the Stolen Valor Act, a federal statute that made it a crime to say you have military medals you never earned -- and bigger crime to claim falsely to have received the Medal of Honor.

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Facebook may soon have more power over elections than the FEC. Are we ready?

    For political advertising, like so much else, the digital revolution inspires both utopian and apocalyptic predictions. And as in many other arenas where Internet-based "disruption" looms, the optimists and pessimists both have a point.

    For those of us who study campaign and election regulation, however, new technology poses a serious challenge to the existing ways of thinking about and addressing the campaign finance problem. Government regulation becomes increasingly difficult once communication moves online, thus, large Internet platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter will become the primary regulators of political campaigns. They need to recognize their new role and use their power responsibly.

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Democrats seem tepid about the public option

    Hillary Clinton supports adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act -- that is, a government-run insurance program to compete with private health insurance. She announced her support in July, and the public option was the only specific change to Obamacare that she mentioned in her economics speech last week.

    This position makes a lot of practical sense, as the New Republic's Brian Beutler has been pointing out. The Congressional Budget Office has scored a public option as deficit-reducing, which means Democrats wouldn't have to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for it. A public option has also polled well. For example, back in December 2009 a CBS News/New York Times survey found 59 percent favored including a public option in Obamacare, with only 29 percent opposed.

    It was a big disappointment to liberals during the 2009-2010 legislative fight over the ACA when the public option disappeared from the bill. So it would seem to be a logical next step for liberal politicians seeking to improve Obamacare.

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Clinton is getting away with policy malpractice

    Hillary Clinton has given another fine speech about the economy. It was supposed to lay out her plans to create jobs, boost growth and restore income equality, in response to Donald Trump's economic address a few days earlier. Clinton's only new idea, however, was an expansion to an existing child tax credit. Beyond that, there wasn't anything in her latest speech that couldn't be gleaned from her website.

    It was a missed opportunity. Maybe she feels she doesn't have to do more -- that all she has to do is stay on-message and remind voters she's not Donald Trump.

    But with only 12 weeks before Election Day, voters still don't know which of Clinton's hundreds of proposals are her top priorities, or how she'd get Congress' support for ideas both parties have rejected before.

    Clinton's strategy is to mock Trump's proposals with clever ripostes. His 15 percent tax on pass-through business income is now the "Trump Loophole." But rarely is she forced to defend her own ideas on a level playing field.

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