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The new twist in

The new twist in the campaign finance reform battle is Senator Chuck Hagel's decision to introduce a watered-down "compromise" bill, which the president has signaled his willingness to sign.

What's interesting here is that Chuck Hagel is a good friend of John McCain's. He's at least been a supporter of campaign finance reform. He supported McCain's presidential bid last year. And he's one of only two or possibly three others in the Senate who might be considered a McCain bloc. So why is he -- or why does he at least seem to be -- cutting McCain off at the knees?

Now thats rich. As

Now that's rich. As you know, the closest thing Talking Points has to a recurring feature is when he takes some particularly boneheadian post on Andrewsullivan.com and makes fun of it on TPM.

(Does that mean TPM is a weblog parasite? Sort of, I guess. On the other hand, I gave Sullivan one of the ideas that appeared in this article. So, hey, I do my part! -- Lunch with Talking Points for the first person who can identify which part of the piece it is -- Got the email to prove it? You bet.)

Anyway, today on his site Sullivan picks up on a piece in the Post about how the top 400 taxpayers pay as much income tax as the bottom 40 million taxpayers.

"Interesting piece today in the Washington Post, pointing out that the richest 400 tax payers pay as much to the feds as the poorest 40 million in taxes," he says.

The first point here is that Sullivan either misstates or misunderstands the actual case. What the Post is talking about is income tax, not all taxes. And as every good Talking Point reader knows, the poorest Americans often pay no income tax but a relatively high rate of payroll taxes. Only the top quarter of tax payers pay more income taxes than payroll taxes.

So apparently Sullivan is with George W. Bush in not considering payroll taxes to be "real" taxes. Just thinking over the statistics I wouldn't be surprised if the bottom 40 million pay much more in payroll taxes than the top 400 do in income taxes - since every one of those 40 million pays 15 percent of earnings in payroll taxes. But that may be wrong since a few of the very top payers pay insanely high amounts. Anyway, I'll leave that to someone who knows how to add.

But here's the real kicker. For Sullivan, the tragedy of this statistic is how rough it is for the insanely wealthy in today's "lopsided" economy. For most Americans the increasing level of wealth inequality (as opposed to income inequality) is a fairness issue for working Americans who hold a declining relative share of the nation's wealth. For Sullivan, it's a fairness issue for plutocrats.

The more the "dependent" classes can squeeze the lords and high gentry for social services, the more irresponsible they'll become!

"If we have one-person-one-vote and you can always vote for higher taxes and spending, knowing you won't ever have to pay for it," says Sullivan, "why not do so?"

And you wonder why they call them Tories.

Heres another instance of

Here's another instance of Dick Armey's egregious lying -- straight from the Talking Points oppo research department.

As described on this web page (and more exhaustively in a February 21st, 1995 article in the Washington Post) Armey used to pepper his speeches with a cloying tale a mildly retarded university janitor who lost his job and got tossed onto food stamps because those heartless congressional Democrats went and raised the minimum wage.

Turns out there never was a Charlie. Armey made the whole thing up. As James Carville said a couple years later, "if a man is willing to lie about a retarded janitor, what would he tell the truth about?"

P.S. Special thanks to the member of the TPM oppo research department that clued me in to this gem.

-- Josh Marshall

(March 15th, 2001 -- 12:09 AM // link)

Shouldn't President Bush be held to account for spreading uncertainty and even panic about the economy?

I'm not saying he's responsible for what's happening. There have been numerous concrete factors leading to this downturn -- energy prices, trillions pulled out of the economy by the burst stock market bubble, ill-considered interest rate hikes last year.

But there's almost no way to figure that the president's promiscuous pessimism hasn't further depressed the quickly dropping rate of consumer confidence. (This column by Paul Krugman gives a good run-down of the delicate competition of forces now operating in the economy -- and, implicitly, how susceptible the economy may be to small influences, even to the president's jaw-boning.) Bush's influence may be a major cause of the problem or a minor one -- we can't really know. What's significant, though, is that he's making the situation worse in order to fulfill the short-term political goal of generating support for his tax cut.

Presidents' soothing words in times of economic difficulty may not have much effect. But when a president throws gas on the fire he takes on a certain responsibility for everything that happens afterward because he was part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. And we can't really know how far his malign influence has spread.

The fact that we can't know how much damage his recklessness has caused doesn't obsolve him, it implicates him.

Doesn't this self-serving recklessness suggest a character flaw, a lack of seriousness, some failure of judgement?

Hmmmmm Doesnt seem like

Hmmmmm … Doesn't seem like there've been too many posts recently on Talking Points, have there? Some big changes are coming to TPM. Stayed tuned.

Hmmmmm Doesnt seem like

Hmmmmm … Doesn't seem like there've been too many posts recently on Talking Points, have there? Some big changes are coming to TPM. Stayed tuned.

A number of readers

A number of readers have written in to ask whether I knew of another place on the web where they could find Paul Krugman's article on Dick Armey's book about wealth inequality which I linked in this earlier post.

(Phew! sort of an ungainly sentence, wasn't it?)

Regrettably the answer is 'no'. But apparently it's contained in his book The Accidental Theorist. So if you're really interested, pick it up in a book store. Or if you're only kinda interested, keep trying the link and it'll probably come up eventually.

Democrats are making a

Democrats are making a lot of the 1981 Reagan tax cut as a cautionary tale -- leading as it did to a generation of budgetary red ink.

But isn't there an even better example more close at hand? A few years back Governor George W. Bush passed a hefty tax cut in Texas.

(No doubt Bush was into the bill on its own merits. But passing the bill was a key part of proving his tax-cutting, conservative bona-fides going into the 2000 Republican presidential primaries. So we can call it the Rove-Bush bill.)

In order to push through this whopper cut they low-balled estimates for future spending requirements, relied on fanciful budgeting projections, and assumed continued swollen tax receipts from a roaring economy.

And now, you guessed it, the chicken has come home to roost. According to this helpful article in Time the state faces a potential budget shortfall of some $700 million dollars. The Texas state constitution bars deficit spending. So state budgeteers are going to have to cut spending on all sorts of programs for road construction, health care, education. Or even conceivably raise taxes. (But don't bet on that.)

Any of this sound familiar? Doesn't the comparison seem really on point? And, if so, why aren't DC Dems talking about it more?

So I guess the

So I guess the Bush strategy is to do the best they can getting a bill out of the Senate - whatever compromises Bush needs to make to get 51 votes. Then the repubs will take the bill into conference and rewrite it like they want. And then they'll bring it back and figure that pretty few of those Republican Senate moderates have the guts to vote against Bush's bill when it comes to an up or down vote. This is what I hear from a very astute conservative in DC. It could work.

Wow the Talking Points

Wow, the Talking Points oppo research department is just churning out examples of Dick Armey's public policy dishonesty.

Here's a great column by Paul Krugman in which he neatly unpacks and explains numerous instances of intentional distortion and simple, out-right lying in a book Armey published a few years back. And as Krugman points out, Armey has a Ph.D. in economics. So Armey isn't just the average congressional rube who may not even know that what he's saying isn't true.

Democrats certainly must realize

Democrats certainly must realize that they need to be careful how far they get into this debate over 'triggers.' The substance of the Democratic argument is that even if the rosy budget predictions prove true, the Bush plan still doesn't leave sufficient funds for important domestic priorities like a prescription drug benefit; and too much of the cuts go to the very wealthy. The fact that the plan will throw us back into deficits if the predictions don't pan out is just icing on the politico-economic cake.

But as long as 'triggers' are the subject du' jour, let's look at some of the lamer ideas being tossed around.

Senator Bob Torricelli is hawking a trigger that the president can waive. As this article by Bob Novack explains, Torricelli would have a trigger kick in if the surplus numbers don't pan out. But the president could waive the trigger (sort of uncock it, I guess) if he made a 'finding of fact' that holding off on the tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the economic health of the country.

Now let's just start with the most obvious reasons this is boneheaded idea.

If you're a Dem you've got to wonder why Torricelli feels the need to cover Bush's rear when even Republican moderates aren't wild about the size of Bush's tax bill.

More importantly, can anyone really imagine any situation in which George W. would not make 'a finding of fact' that postponing tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the country.

But forget about George W. Bush. Given the loaded phrasing of the waiver language and the vagueness of the standard, this wouldn't be a 'finding of fact.' More like a finding of ideology. What it really means is that in the latter years of this decade the president would make fiscal policy by executive order.

It's really hard to think of a stupider idea. If you can think of one, send it here.

(And as far as Torch is concerned, doesn't he worry that if he keeps sticking his finger in his party's eye, they may decide to stop carrying water for him on all those indictments hanging over his head ... Just a thought.)

Now let's go to the second anti-trigger argument making the rounds. Republicans have responded to calls for a tax-cut trigger with their own calls for a spending-cut trigger. If the surpluses don't come in, cut spending, not taxes, they say. This of course is because spending is out of control, government's the problem not the solution ... yada, yada, yada.

But wait a second. George W. is president now! Legitimate or not, he is president. We're having this whole debate on the basis of his numbers. His budget projections, his tax cut, his projected spending -- the whole kit-and-caboodle, as my Dad would say.

So Bush can't pretend that we're talking about some hypothetical, future Barney Frank-Maxine Waters budget bill. You can barely make the numbers to work with Bush's pinched budget. And this raises the obvious question: which spending that Bush has called for does he think should be cut if the surpluses don't pan out. The new education spending, the promised new spending on the military, NIH funding? What?

Bush's opponents say he puts his tax cut before domestic priorities his budget doesn't fund - a prescription drug benefit, new education spending. But that's only the half of it. It turns out that Bush even puts his tax cut before domestic priorities he does fund.

In any case, the tax cuts are spelled out, so none of this everything-in-general 'cut spending' line. Let's get it on the table, which of Bush's own spending priorities don't matter enough to get in the way of his tax cut.