Politics: August 2010 Archives

When Sharron Angle won the GOP Senate nomination to run against Harry Reid, the tea party movement rejoiced. Then the post-primary polls came in. Instead of the pre-primary sense that Reid would no longer be a senator as of January, it looked as if he'd hold his own against that particular candidate. I think the polls are still bearing that out, although that sort of thing can change in a few months. The tea party movement endorsed someone who may well be incapable of beating Harry Reid, whose popularity is very low right now, even in a very Republican year.

The Arizona primary produced several similar situations. Consider Scott Elliott's preview of four House GOP primary races on Monday (the primaries were held on Tuesday).

AZ-1: "Ann Kilpatrick is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country" but "If Dr. Gosar wins, however, there will be some from the "McCain/Establishment" side that vote against him in November out of anger. In that case, we'll have to see whether their votes will be enough to cost him the victory." Gosar won.

AZ-3: "Ben Quayle has never had any major support from any Arizona politicians. He has sold himself as the Tea Party candidate. A strong front-runner at one point, Qualye has fallen sharply after several major debacles (i.e. borrowing kids for paid media photos, admitting to writing posts for a female-bashing website) .... should Quayle win this race, his baggage will make it hard for him to keep conservative Democrat and father-of-five, John Hulburd from taking this one for the Democrats." Quayle won.

AZ-5: "David Schweikert has ran for office twice before and lost, and Susan Bitters Smith was the 2008 nominee that Mitchell easily defeated.... If either of these candidates wins the primary, it's not likely they can unseat Mitchell." Schweikert won.

AZ-8: "Kelly was an early favorite, and attempted to define Paton as the "establishment" Republican. However, Paton's record as a legislator proved him to be a strong conservative, who continually takes on the governor and the leadership of both parties. The race between Kelly and Paton is very close, and either could win the primary. However, while Paton almost certainly will defeat embattled Democrat incumbent Gabrielle Giffords in November, Kelly may have a tougher time. He'll have to prove he's about more than just border security." Kelly won.

Now not all of these are tea party victories over establishment or moderate opponents (and the Florida primaries the same day had several GOP winners who would be easier winners in November than their opponents). But all of them were the choice Scott predicted would make it harder for Republicans to win the seat, and I think the tea party movement played a big role in the win of at least three of the four. It's clear that the tea party movement, while helping Republicans regain some ground against Democrats, may also prevent them from gaining as much as they otherwise might.

Matt Skene has a very thoughtful post on the intersection of issues related to rights and obligations and recent health care debates. I disagree with a number of Matt's assumptions. I think we do have positive obligations, and I do think they simply are there without our taking them on. I don't think rights determine obligations but the other way around. Perhaps most salient, I don't think we can distinguish between obligations and moral goodness. I think we simply have an obligation to do what's morally best (and yes, I know that that means that pretty much everyone on this planet is thoroughly immoral, but that's not exactly a new view; it's historic Christian doctrine).

But I think there's a lot worth thinking about in Matt's post. His general approach is libertarian. He starts with natural negative rights and argues for no positive rights. In other words, certain things are wrong to do to me, because I have a right for you not to do them, but I have no rights for you to do positively good things on my behalf, just for you not to do bad things to me. But such a view doesn't imply that there aren't moral reasons to do positive things on behalf of other people.

In particular, there are reasons why it might be the morally best thing to do to help those who are less fortunate to obtain good medical care. Matt doesn't think I have an obligation to alleviate the suffering of people I have no other connection with, but he does think it's morally good to do so. It's also self-interestedly good for me to develop the character traits that such acts help develop in me. He's open to, but not convinced by, the argument that it would be in our best interests to contract with one another to institute such obligations by common consent, as we do with building highways. It depends on whether we'd all be better off with it.

Matt suggests an interesting possibility, though. You can donate money to your utility company to offset the costs of low-income utility customers. Presumably this goes to heating assistance aid, which is given to recipients of food stamps once a year and paid directly to the utility company. I'm not sure how else the utility companies would know who counts as low-income. But if we did a similar thing with insurance companies, there might be enough money from those who, like progressives on this issue, think they have an obligation to pay for others' insurance and from some of those who, like Matt, think it's a morally good thing to do. Could that cover everything Medicaid and other public health insurance does? It's worth seeing how much it covers.

I tend to doubt it, since most people who think the government should tax us more to pay for benefits to low-income people are not inclined to give money when it's voluntary (consider our current president as a prime example), but maybe enough people who don't share such views will give the money voluntarily while resisting it when it's government-controlled (as, apparently, Dick Cheney does with a huge percentage of his income). But it's being done with utilities. Why not try it with health insurance and see where it goes? There might even be enough votes in Congress after the 2010 election.

I received a forwarded email about the various ways Obama is increasing taxes on all the people he said he wouldn't raise taxes on, and I'm curious if someone who actually knows something about the details of this stuff could confirm or refute any of it. Some of this is from not getting the Bush tax cuts renewed, but some of it is just plain new taxes, even on some things never taxed before.

According to the email, the inheritance tax, called by its opponents the death tax (which I think is an apt name, because you're basically being taxed for dying and ceding your money to your heirs) is returning in full force. I pretty much knew that already. I didn't know any of the other things (assuming they're true).

I'm not surprised to see the top tax rate increasing from 35% to almost 40%. But increasing the lowest rate from 10% to 15%? Surely there are people who make less than $200,000 a year who are in the lowest tax bracket. In fact, many people in the lowest tax bracket struggle to make ends meet and now are being expected to carry even more of the load, something that goes against the tax philosophy of both the Republican and Democratic parties. If the current president and congressional leadership are behind tax increases for the poor, then it's almost fair to say that Obama and company are inviting the tea party to unseat the Democratic congressional leadership, even aside from his campaign promises not to raise taxes for anyone earning under $200,000 and their repeated insistence that the stimulus package could be paid for without increasing taxes.

Another item is that the so-called marriage penalty is returning. You basically pay higher taxes for being married, in effect, at least if certain conditions are also true, since there are a couple things that in some cases counterbalance the marriage penalty (e.g. if only one spouse receive income, the spouse with no income significantly lowers the taxes of the working spouse, but the conditions where the marriage penalty increases the taxes of a couple are common enough, as I understand it).

The child tax credit is being halved.

Dependent care and adoption tax credits are being removed.

Tax-free accounts for medical care or special needs children will be removed or significantly diminished. The special needs trusts we're planning to get for the boys will be capped off at $2500. According to the email I received, this will be especially cruel and onerous for parents of special needs children. We're in fact pursuing getting accounts for the boys so we can earmark tax-free money that won't count against them for qualifying for SSI.

The alternative minimum tax is expected to kick in for 28 million families next year instead of the 4 million who had to pay it last year. These are people who didn't make enough money to pay any taxes last year. In other words, it's a tax on the poor. I've seen bi-partisan complaints about this tax, insisting that it simply be removed, and yet somehow they've snuck in provisions to expand it sevenfold?

There are lots of tax hikes and removal of tax breaks on small businesses, not the big business Obama keeps saying he wants to "get" (all the while secretly giving them a lot of what they want).

Education deductions from tuition and fees will be removed, and student loan interest deductions are being cut.

You will no longer be able to pay money from and IRA to a charity and have it be a tax deduction.

Health insurance benefits paid by an employer are going to count as income and be taxable. This will be enough to bring many people up a tax bracket, but it will increase the gross income significantly even if it doesn't.

Now this is a forwarded email, so it's almost certain that not everything in it is correct, but I'm curious exactly which things are and which aren't and if I'm interpreting them correctly. I didn't expect he would even have a remote chance of keeping his campaign promises on taxes, and I never thought he intended to anyway, but this goes significantly beyond what I expected. If this is all correct, then President Obama is just asking for people who voted for him to complain that he betrayed them. His chances at another term would be nearly zero if the 2012 election were going to be in April instead of November. This may not turn out to affect the 2010 elections as much, since they conveniently delayed the effect until 2011 for most of these changes.


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