Justin Amash’s Twitter Mic Drop In Defense Of Tax Reform

Justin Amash, a Republican congressman from Maine, isn’t typically the one you’d expect to drop the mic on Twitter, but he did so over the weekend. NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt alleged that tax reform was responsible for the exploding deficit and Rep. Amash set the record straight in less than 180 characters.

On Sunday, Hunt tweeted an observation about Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s conversation with CNN’s Jake Tapper in which Mulvaney said that the $2 trillion deficit increase under President Trump required Democratic votes. Calling the comment “an outright falsehood,” Hunt added, “They used budget reconciliation to pass tax reform so they wouldn’t need Democrats.”

https://twitter.com/kasie/status/1081947628265443329

The problem for Hunt is that tax reform did not run up the deficit as Amash pointed out. “Do you believe tax reform caused a $2 trillion debt increase in one year?” he tweeted. “Tax reform is roughly $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The debt increase is almost entirely due to bipartisan discretionary spending increases and bipartisan apathy toward ever-increasing mandatory spending.”

https://twitter.com/justinamash/status/1082010264642428929

Is this an example of he said/she said or is one of the two definitively right?

To settle the dispute, we only need to look back a few months to the end of the federal fiscal year in September. At that time The Resurgent described how the deficit had risen to the highest level in six years:

“Total outlays for 2018 were $4.108 trillion compared to $3.981 trillion in 2017. The spending increases were driven by rising interest costs paid on a greater amount of federal debt as well as increased military spending, which rose by six percent, and Social Security spending which increased by four percent.”

Amash is correct that the majority of the increase in the deficit was due to increased spending. Some of these costs were mandatory spending which was originally authorized by both Democrats and Republicans. The increased cost of interest on the national debt and the rising cost of entitlements like Social Security were bipartisan commitments.

So was the increase in defense spending. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 increased military spending to $716 billion, an increase that President Trump celebrated as the “most amount ever.” As its name suggests, this spending bill was passed with broad support from both parties.

This isn’t to say that tax reform has no part in the deficit increases, however. Amash’s use of the qualifier “almost entirely” suggest that he agrees that tax reform did play a role. There are two components to the deficit, spending and revenue, and both were factors in the deficit.

As we discussed back in October, federal revenue for the year was almost flat despite the booming economy:

“According to Treasury Department statistics, flat federal revenues were part of the deficit problem. Total federal receipts were $3.329 trillion in 2018compared with $3.316 trillion in 2017. FY 2018 included three months – October, November and December 2017 – at higher tax rates. This means that the 2019 revenue picture looks even worse.”

So, the bottom line is that revenue for 2018 did not increase while spending did. Because revenue did not go down, it isn’t accurate to say that tax reform drove the increase in the deficit. It is fair to say, however, that without decreasing corporate tax rates, there would have been more revenue and the deficit would have been smaller. In fact, even as the economy boomed, tax revenues from businesses fell by more than 30 percent. Still, if spending had not increased, the deficit would not have increased.

It’s true that cutting corporate tax rates to make them more competitive with the rest of the world was the express purpose of tax reform. It’s also true that without tax reform there might have been a downturn rather than an economic boom, especially considering President Trump’s war on trade. The loss of tax revenue, which was retained by businesses and used by many for capital investments, was a driving factor in this year’s economic growth.

The big question is whether federal revenues will recover in coming years or whether the lost tax receipts will be a bigger driver of the deficit in the future. The conservative gamble is that revenue will be replaced by economic growth. If the government takes a smaller slice of a bigger pie, it will theoretically get the same total amount of pie, if not more.

The problem for conservatives in the Trump era is that the president’s trade policy is at odds with his tax policy. While tax reform let businesses keep more of their own revenues, tariffs and trade restrictions mean that many businesses will have fewer revenues to keep in the first place.

Amash is absolutely correct that spending remains the biggest problem, however. The ongoing shutdown illustrates that about three-quarters of the federal government is on autopilot and does not require appropriations from Congress. It is entitlement spending that is breaking the federal budget.

Meanwhile, neither party seems concerned with the deficit. Where the Republican Party of the Obama era held a hard line on spending, current Republicans have forced a shutdown to because they don’t think the government is spending enough.

Are Rand and Amash Right on Syria?

Yesterday, the United States launched a swift and decisive assault of 59 tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airfield in response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people, which resulted in the deaths of at least 70, among them children.

Just as swiftly and decisively, Senator Rand Paul and others, including my home state of Michigan’s representative, Justin Amash, warned that President Trump must seek congressional approval for military action in Syria and offered reminders of the mess intervention in the Middle East has historically been.

Autumn Price wrote of on Senator Paul’s warnings even before the missile retaliation was reported, and he has since continued his verbal barrage via Twitter.

These members of the Freedom Caucus, who saved us from what has affectionately become known as Swampcare, are now intent on saving us from an imperial presidency in Syria. But are they right?

Rep. Amash wrote that the airstrikes were an act of war.

I think one would be hard-pressed to find any military action that Amash does not consider an act of war. That being said, the Constitution does not define all military action as war and presidents from the beginning have used the military outside the bounds of a congressionally-declared war. Undoubtedly, Amash and Paul would consider most of the incidences illegal, but other reasonable interpretations see the powers of commander-in-chief to include extrabellum military action. Indeed, it is conceivable that such action could be necessary to avoid war, which itself carries many obligations — legally, for alliances, and in other ways.

This is the logic of the War Powers Resolution, which fills in the space with procedures and under which President Trump appears to be on solid ground. Though it is not perfect, the Resolution is an attempt to balance these powers where the Constitution is not explicit. (Ironically, it was passed in light of Vietnam and Watergate, when skepticism of executive power, especially as it regards war, was rising, and it was intended to curtail such power.)

I offer no expert opinion on the legalities, nor am I an expert of military strategy. The bombing, which draws a real red line on civilian targeting, is a limited and clear response. I see no reason why it isn’t legal. The Republican-controlled Congress, with the help of some Democrats, such as Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Pelosi, could pass authorization of force in Syria to further cement the legitimacy of this (and perhaps future) action, but the real question concerns what comes next.

Early yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that the new policy in Syria is regime change. Military action intended to oust a head of state is inarguably an act of war and will need congressional approval. Such approval will be much harder to obtain, for the simply reason that, as Steve Berman pointed out yesterday, there are no great options in Syria.

Yesterday’s strike admirably walks a tightrope, making the civilian targeting costly for Assad without tipping the balance to ISIS. Regime change could result in a Libya-like situation (and, with chemical weapons clearly in the same country as ISIS, is strategically hazardous.) Stabilizing Assad is morally untenable. No third option for a stable and relatively inoffensive government is anywhere close of attainable for the time being.

This is why I opposed action in 2013, despite being heartbroken over the circumstance for innocents. The situation has changed, among other things worsening on the ground for civilians. It appears more imperative than ever to intervene, but no clearer how. It is there that Rand and Amash have a point.

Swampcare 2.0: Let’s Do Nothing!

Vice President Mike Pence had a pow-wow with Congressional Republicans, both moderates and conservatives, Monday, prior to the administration unveiling Strike Two of “Repeal Obamacare,” which will be heretofore be known as Swampcare 2.0.

The first thing he did was change basically nothing. From Roll Call:

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., said the pitch dropped a controversial last-minute amendment proposed in March that was intended to win over House conservatives. It would have ended the health care law’s requirement that every insurance plan in the marketplaces cover 10 categories of health care benefits.

Wait, but there’s more.

Instead, the White House proposal offered to let Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price work with states who want to waive the requirements, if they have a plan in place to ensure costs drop and access remains the same or improves. The change resembles a provision in current law known as a 1332 waiver. The White House also presented to moderates changes that would more specifically target a $115 billion fund in the package aimed at stabilizing state marketplaces.

A “1332 waiver” is named after ACA Section 1332, which permits states to apply for a State Innovation Waiver. The National Conference of State Legislatures had this to say about 1332.

Beginning Jan, 1, 2017, a new state option within the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect, known as Section 1332 Waivers. For the first time since the law was signed six years earlier, this new process may allow any state to seek to modify key parts of the health law within its boundaries. While in effect, these 1332 waiver options offer states an opportunity to fashion a new coverage system customized for local context and preferences while still fulfilling the aims of the ACA. The statute requires interested states to pass authorizing legislation as an early step in order to apply for and ultimately implement waiver-based reforms.

So, basically, Swampcare 2.0 simply replaces a code section that’s already law in the current ACA with something that resembles the current law. In mathematics, when two things are equal to a third thing, the two things are also equal to each other. A = C and B = C means A = B.

Therefore, Obamacare + § 1332 = Obamacare as of Jan. 1, 2017 = Swampcare 2.0. The new proposal doesn’t repeal the core requirement of health insurers to offer standardized coverages, but does allow states to ask “Mother May I?” to HHS for a waiver. What sorcery is this?

Some states already had waivers on file, others didn’t, and now that many states (including Georgia) legislative sessions have ended, we’ll see a whole lot of confusion if this mess passes. It’s honestly better to just leave 1332 alone if you’re going to replace it with something equivalent but differently administered. I thought Trump was against paper chases and inefficiency. Apparently not.

To their credit, the House Freedom Caucus was having none of this. Despite spin indicating a “deal” was made, there is no deal–certainly not before the text of the bill has been reviewed. Unlike Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats, the HFC doesn’t “pass it so we can see what’s in it.”

Without more to offer conservatives, and giving more control back to states, it’s unlikely that Swampcare 2.0 will get further than its predecessor. So far, it’s a big, heaping plate of nothing.

Amash Misses His First House Vote – The Streak Is Broken, And The Congressman Is Heartbroken

It’s bittersweet anytime a chain of longevity is broken, whether it be something like a hitting streak in baseball or one of those little old couples who remain married for decades. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) had one of those impressive runs, not missing a single vote since he first came to Congress in 2011. Six years of unbroken, unmissed votes – 4,289 in all – is astounding.

But that streak ended Friday, as Amash missed a roll-call vote while speaking with reporters about his opposition to the GOP’s alternative to Obamacare.

Amash was speaking with reporters about the replacement bill in the speakers lobby when he suddenly asked what vote they were on. One reporter told him she believed it was the second amendment in the vote series.

Amash immediately sprinted into the chamber and tried to put his card in the voting slot to cast his yea or nay, but the vote had closed.

Amash approached floor staff and leadership to see if they could either re-open the vote or call it again. Staff said there was no precedent for doing so.

The congressman has cultivated a reputation for being present for every vote during his time in Washington, and he explains his every decision on his Facebook page. So needless to say, his voting streak was important to him. When he found out he had missed the vote and did not have a second chance, he hung his head low and broke down in tears.

So, who holds the record now? The current streak now belongs to Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), who was sworn in the same time as Amash in 2011. Womack’s response:

“I have been sent to Washington by Third District Arkansans to make sure their voices are heard; voting is fundamental to that duty,” Womack said in a statement released just moments after the episode. “I am humbled by the opportunity to serve my constituents and thank God that no personal hardships have kept me from representing them on a single vote since taking office.”

Shake it off, Justin, and keep up the good fight. It’s time to start a new streak.

Whodunit?

Conservatives need answers. Four Republicans were removed from their respective committees for voting against House Republican Leaders. As has now been well chronicled, the excuses for why the removals happened keeps changing. It is time for conservatives to start fighting back. As House Republicans continue to surrender and out negotiate themselves, we must demand answers. Go here now and start calling Steering Committee members. Ask | Read More »