Government by Executive Decree

According to press reports, by Executive Order President Trump is preparing to suspend the payroll tax through the end of the year retroactive to July 1. He also intends to extend supplemental jobless benefits, although at what level and for how long remains unclear. Add to that his intent to impose a partial moratorium on evictions and assistance with student loans and you have a perfectly tuned re-election program aimed squarely at the economic illiteracy pandemic now afflicting the voting public. 

The program would be a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, both in its particulars (Article 1, Section 8, clause 1) and in its violation of the separation of powers.  The precedent for this Constitutional vandalism was firmly established by former President (and University of Chicago Constitutional law lecturer) Barack Obama. Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. Constitution locates the taxing power in the Congress, President Obama ordered the IRS not to enforce the penalty for non-compliance with the coverage mandate required by the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.  

While on the hustings, the Obama Administration argued that the mandate did not constitute a tax. However, in front of the Supreme Court the Administration argued that the mandate was in fact a tax. The Supreme Court agreed with them and declared the mandate to be a tax. It was a tax that the Administration pointedly refused to enforce. 

It is worth noting that the mandate was a necessary element of the bill for two reasons. First, the CBO used the mandate to overestimate how many young people would comply with the bill, thus reducing the cost estimate.  Second, the CBO cost estimate served to bolster the Obama Administration’s risible claim that the bill would reduce unit costs and therefore consumer insurance rates. 

In the event, Republicans asked a prescient question: What would happen if a Republican President announced he would not enforce a different section of the tax code, for instance the capital gains tax? Progressives gave their stock answer: “That will never happen”, they said.  That by the way is answer they usually give when pressed about the potential consequences of promoting lawless activity. 

Well, here we are. The president, a Republican, has said that unless certain conditions are met, he will indeed refuse to enforce the tax code in a way that is liable to help him electorally.  And let’s not kid ourselves. This type of lawless governmental behavior has become the rule, not the exception. 

Governors, for instance, often rely on declaring tax holidays, sometimes targeted to dates, sometimes targeted toward geographies. Except that generally sales taxes are not transaction taxes—they are use taxes, and so cannot be legally declared exempt for certain situations within the meaning of the law. And not to put too fine a point on it, there has not exactly been a rush to enforce laws protecting people and property from rioters in large American cities. Nor has much mention been made of the obvious fact that the rioters are on the whole, whiter than the police departments they are accusing of systemic racism. 

 So here we have a situation where a Republican president is threatening to refuse to enforce the law because he expects it to redound to his electoral benefit. It is a stunt that progressive politicians have been pulling for years (See DACA). The depth of the cynicism is notable though. Since there is no “pay for” mechanism and since it extends through election day, it is aimed at a short term goal, namely Trump’s re-election campaign. 

It also creates creates several other political advantages for Trump and the Republicans. He will have the space to claim that he unilaterally delivered on several Democratic-populist goals, namely student loan assistance, and an eviction moratorium. But it does something else that could prove excruciatingly painful for progressives. By suspending payroll tax collections, it would bring the day of insolvency for Social Security that much closer. 

The Social security system is already being battered by the economic downturn with its mass unemployment. A six-month month suspension of payroll tax receipts would constitute a direct and massive hit at the solvency of what we laughingly call the Social Security Trust Fund, thus bringing the day of reckoning closer. 

It should also be noted that something like 75% of taxpayers fork over more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes. Progressive hysteria aside, the income tax system falls overwhelmingly on people in the upper brackets.  A suspension of the payroll tax would therefore have two important impacts, one direct, the other indirect. On the political side, if the Democrats were to resist, they would effectively be denying a substantial tax cut for a huge proportion of the voting population, particularly the blue collar workers they are trying to win back for the 2020 Presidential contest. 

There is an important indirect consideration as well. A suspension of the payroll tax, and even more so with somewhat reduced supplemental unemployment insurance, changes the back-to-work calculation. It would raise net after-tax compensation for workers who go back on the job, thereby increasing the incentive to work and reducing the incentive to stay home. That would likely increase the pace of economic recovery. 

But there is no such thing as a free lunch. The price to be paid for all this is in the disaster known as public finance. Federal, state and local governments are piling up horrendous deficits and off balance sheet obligations at an unsustainable pace. The time to address those obligations could be, and probably is, just around the corner. The problem is that a pervasive free-lunch mentality has contributed to the creation of a dependent and subservient portion of the population. 

The other price we pay is continued lawlessness by government. By continuing to operate by decree justified by bumper sticker sloganeering, government becomes progressively more authoritarian. It fails to perform its primary function of securing natural rights and protecting ordered liberty. The evidence of failure is all around us, whether it is the near universal failure of urban public schools, public distrust of basic institutions, or the collapse of traditional institutions like the family, spurred on by public policies designed for centralized command-and-control of citizens’ everyday lives. 

JFB

The Season is Upon Us

When January of 2021 comes rolling around it is virtually inevitable that a supremely ambitious, self-serving, vicious and ignorant partisan hack will take the Presidential oath of office. The only question is whether the hack will be named Donald Trump or Joe Biden. In plenty of respects it makes little difference; in others it could make a big difference. There is just no way to predict it. 

Partisans who, for some mysterious reason, consider both themselves and President Trump to be conservatives, make two arguments for supporting Trump’s re-election. First they argue, Trump has compiled a sterling record of Judicial picks. Second, the alternative to Trump is socialism or some variant of it. While there is a real possibility of this, the jury is still out. 

Donald J Trump

While it is true in this writer’s estimation that Trump has indeed done a fine job in selecting judicial appointments, it is doubtful (and I am being charitable here) that this results from some Trumpian judicial philosophy moored to originalism or textualism. Instead it reflects the work of Mitch McConnell, who does espouse a relatively conservative judicial philosophy, and has done so for many years. It also includes Senator McConnell’s ongoing vigorous defense of the First amendment, an amendment that finds no friend in either the White House or in Progressive circles. 

The issue of judicial picks as an important electoral consideration begins to lose (some) of its salience when the discussion of a second term for Trump comes up. That is not only because Trump plainly has no idea what he talking about with respect to judicial philosophy (or much else for that matter), but also because a second term would introduce us to Trump unplugged. Trump without filters so to speak. In such a case there is no good reason for Christian Evangelicals to assume that Trump would continue to nominate conservative judges. After all during the Republican primary season he did refer to the possibility of appointing his famously liberal sister, then a sitting judge and an abortion rights enthusiast, to the Supreme Court.  

The second argument Trump’s supporters make is that the alternative candidate is intolerable because he is either a socialist, a variant of one, or beholden to the Socialist wing of his party. Which of course brings up the alternative lout: former Vice President Joe Biden, who is busy rummaging around for a running mate whose chief qualification is the possession of two X  chromosomes. 

Former Vice President Biden

The search for a female VP is underway because Mr Biden promised in his last debate with Bernie Sanders (I, Rolling Stone) to name a woman to run with him. No other criteria were deemed important in the selection process, typically characterized as a potential President’s most important choice and one that gives potential voters some insight into the candidates thinking.  Assuming that is, he is capable of it.  

It is going to be difficult for Mr. Biden to find some ideological balance in his selection because he has been pretty much all over the lot in a long and supercilious political career mostly notable for its combination of vacuousness and self-aggrandizement. Consider for a moment Mr Biden’s checkered history on a whole raft of public policy issues.

After all, he did vote for the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s before he got around to advocating for same-sex marriage as Vice President. Although he pretends to have been a dove on the second Iraq war, he voted for it and defended it as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Here he is in 2002 according to The Hill:

“President Bush did not lash out precipitously at Iraq after 9/11. He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss new inspection regimes. He did not ignore Congress,” Biden said in a 2002 floor speech given during the debate over legislation authorizing action against Iraq.

“At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation, and I believe he will continue to do so. At least, that is my fervent hope,” Biden said. “I wish he would turn down the rhetorical excess in some cases because I think it undercuts the decision he ends up making. But in each case in my view he has made the right rational calm deliberate decision.”

Then there is his ever shifting position on abortion rights. Way back in 1976 he voted for a law (The Hyde Amendment) prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. In 1981 he added the “Biden Amendment” to the Foreign Assistance Act prohibiting American aid from being used for abortion related research. It is still on the books. Back in 1982 he proposed a law allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade. In 1984 he supported what came to be known as the “Mexico City policy” which banned federal funding for overseas organizations that provide or expand abortion services. Then in 1995 and in 1997 he voted for bills to ban partial birth abortions; those bills were ultimately vetoed by President Clinton. 

Now, of course, Biden is in favor of federal funding for abortion on demand. 

And that’s before the history of corruption chronicled by Peter Schweizer in “Profiles in Corruption”.  It seems that Biden was the master of the sweetheart deal when government contracts were to be handed out. And surprisingly enough, brothers Frank and James were apparent beneficiaries of the largesse. As was son Hunter Biden. 

This may be where Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) comes in handy as a V.P. pick. Consider that Biden voted for the repeal of Glass-Steagall which by 2008 had turned into a cardinal sin in left wing circles. And that Biden acted as errand boy for the credit card industry for years.  Elizabeth Warren, self-proclaimed scourge of Wall Street, would provide a perfect cover for Biden’s financial shenanigans. 

Sen Elizabeth Warren

She has already passed the first bootlicking test for the post with predictable cravenness. Warren, who called for the impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh over fantastical sexual assault claims that never had a shred of evidence attached to them, has decided to give Biden a pass in the matter of Tara Reade’s claim against him. A claim whose credibility far surpasses the various claims lodged against Kavanaugh.  

To nobody’s surprise, Warren announced that she found Biden’s denial of the allegations “credible and convincing”. This is the same woman who, during the Senate Kavanaugh hearings said: 

“What the United States Senate is about to do [vote in favor of Kavanaugh] hurts,” she said. “It hurts every survivor of sexual assault who has been ignored… every woman who has been told to sit down and shut up… every person who will be on the losing end of a Kavanaugh swing vote against them and in favor of states that keep American citizens from voting, in favor of corporations that cheat consumers, in favor of gun traffickers that put our children at risk. This hurts, but I want to be clear; I am not sorry I got in this fight.” 

I’d have to say she is a solid front runner in a race to the bottom. But wait,  there is bound to be more: the game has just begun. 

JFB

What Do Democrats Believe?

A long time ago in a faraway place—the United States circa 2016–Democrats rightly criticized Republicans for tolerating Donald Trump’s appalling behavior. Despite—or maybe because of said behavior—Trump managed to squeak past Hillary Clinton in the electoral college to win the White House. And now the Republican Party is full of sycophants who are perfectly willing to defend pretty much whatever Trump does, no matter how outrageous. 

Democrats, unable to believe that they actually lost the election, went into full denial and launched the ResistanceTM.  Since then they have waged a non-stop campaign to delegitimize the 2016 election results and Trump’s ascendency to the White House. Partly because of the personas involved, in the aftermath political struggles have (mostly) been about personalities. 

Most of the policy disputes, with a few notable exceptions like the border wall and trade with China, have been pretty standard stuff that Republicans and Democrats have traditionally fought over.  Except that Trump has essentially scuttled the Republican’s traditional defense of free trade and adopted the Democratic argument in favor of managed trade. Moreover, there is no prayer that Trump will act to restrain the exercise of governmental power, particularly in the Executive Branch. 

So, we are left with a President (1) who barely understands the powers, duties and constraints of his own office, much less the other two branches, and (2) who has no philosophical understanding of our Constitutional structure. His policy pronouncements are therefore a philosophical void, untethered to a coherent weltanschauung. But they have a common thread, which is to say they are not random. The common thread is that whatever Trump believes redounds to his benefit is the definition of good policy. This is the Trumpian version of “my truth”. 

What about the Democrats? What do they believe, if anything? 

Well, here we have a situation in which a non-Democrat named Senator Bernie Sanders (I. Rolling Stone) is the clear front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination. And the Democratic party establishment, which up until this point has tied itself up in knots pretending that Sanders is not a “real socialist” is in full panic mode trying to figure out a way to make sure that the pesky voters don’t vote to give the party’s nomination to the non-socialist democratic socialist who really is a socialist, named Bernie Sanders. 

The interesting question is: why is the establishment so concerned?

By all accounts the party grandees are fearful that Sanders will not only lose, but that he will lose big McGovern style. Further, they fear, he would take down the House and with it, dreams of a Senate majority. Note that there has been little by way of a substantive objection to the Senator’s policy pronouncements.  Pretty much all the objections are tactical and technical. 

The Democratic establishment has been selling Bernie light for years. They have no argument to use against Sanders style socialism because they have not been able to articulate a difference between progressive ideology and “democratic” socialism. We should have some sympathy for the grandees here. They haven’t been able to articulate a difference because there isn’t much of one, if there is any difference at all. 

And despite all the pointed remarks about Sanders not being a Democrat, the fact is, he is on Chuck Schumer’s leadership team in the Senate. Registration aside, it’s pretty hard to make the case that Sanders isn’t really a Democrat at heart when he is part of the leadership team. 

So, it should be no surprise that there has been no principled objection voiced to a federal take-over of the health care system; to abolishing legal private insurance; to writing off all student loans; to increasing social security benefits even though the current system is insolvent. The party is unwilling to censure the blatant anti-Semitism of the Squad. And even the Senators who signed on as co-sponsors of the fantastical Green New Deal declined to vote for it on the Senate floor. 

What Democratic Senators actually believe and where they are willing to draw a line is a bit of a mystery. Just as it is for Republicans. 

Ben Sasse

But there is one issue where the respective positions of the political parties were made crystal clear in a vote on the Senate floor the other day. Senator Ben Sasse introduced a bill aptly named “The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”. The bill would apply to health care providers present when a child is born alive during an attempted abortion. The bill would require providers to deliver the same care as they would to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

The bill needed 60 votes to break a filibuster to get the Senate floor.  It only got 56. All Republicans voted in favor of sending the bill for a vote. With the exceptions of Bob Casey (D, PA), Doug Jones (D, AL) and Joe Manchin (D, WV) all the Democratic Senators voted to block sending the bill to the Senate floor for a vote where a simple majority would suffice for passage. One of the Senators voting to block the bill was none other than Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA), who was last seen at the Democratic debate Tuesday night loudly proclaiming her intention to abolish…the filibuster. 

So now we have clear evidence what the Democratic Party establishment really stands for and where it is willing to draw the line. They are abortion rights fanatics. They voted to permit medical professionals to withhold care from an already born baby so that it dies if the birth occurred as a result of a botched abortion. Otherwise, medical professionals are required to care for the newly born baby as is medically indicated. 

Think about that the next time you hear the speech about how they are “defending our values”. 

JFB