To Heck With It? Rep. Heck Tries To Explain The Inexplicable

As if Nevada Representative Heck (R-NV3) didn’t make sense on the Benghazi Bluff, he’s released a little video of some 2.07 minutes to offer up his explanation of his “position” on the Fiscal Cliff/Austerity Bomb/Bunny Slope GOP poutrage du jour.

Representative Heck seems to have missed the part of the election in which the President won.  He does appear to cling to the message that the electorate wants the Congress to cooperate and negotiate with the Administration on how to address deficit reduction.   Let’s go back to the beginning.

There would be NO Fiscal Cliff, Austerity Bomb, or Bunny Slope had the Congressional Republicans not decided to make the debt ceiling such a humongous BFD, as the Vice President might say, in 2011.   Here’s the core of the problem:

“* 2010. Obama signs healthcare overhaul into law. Obama creates Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction panel. Its plan for drastic fiscal reform is largely ignored. Led by Tea Party conservatives, Republicans win control of House of Representatives in midterm elections. Obama agrees to extend Bush tax cuts for two years. Deficit shrinks to $1.3 trillion. (emphasis added)

* 2011. Treasury Department request for increase in U.S. debt ceiling becomes focus of fight in Congress. Republicans, Democrats settle dispute by forming “super committee” to examine fiscal reform. Debt ceiling raised. U.S. credit rating downgraded. Super committee collapses in discord. Deep, mandatory budget cuts triggered for 2013. Stock market makes choppy advance. Deficit estimated at $1.6 trillion.” [Reuters/Yahoo]

One might think a shrinking deficit, followed by economic recovery weak enough to create a bulge in 2011, would be sufficient to take some of the wind from the Free Marketeer Frigate sails, but since “Tax and Spend Democrats” have been the target of choice for Republicans since the New Deal, the GOP/Tea Party can’t quite manage to free itself from the bonds of its traditional narrative long enough to make sense in a reality based universe.

Here’s the reality:

Slowest Spending in Decades

Yes, that’s right — St. Ronald de Reagan’s terms showed annualized federal spending growth of 8.7% and 4.9%.  George W. Bush’s administrations saw annualized federal spending growth of 7.3% and 8.1%.  Even if we attach the 2009 stimulus package to the Obama Administration, his first term only saw annualized spending growth of 1.4%.  [HuffPo] [WSJ/Marketwatch]

So, terms like “out of control spending” and similar hyperbole from the right wing of the right wing party, become a fictional narrative rather than an accurate description of our current federal fiscal issues.   Representative Heck seems to prefer the comforting fiction of campaign rhetoric to current economic realities.

But wait, there’s more!  Representative Heck is worried about our fragile economic recovery… “We should not be raising anyone’s tax rates.”  This is boilerplate.  If the economy is booming, by GOP lights we can’t raise taxes because this would impinge on our prosperity; and, if the economy is fragile we can’t raise any taxes then either.  In short, we can never ever never raise anyone’s taxes even if we have to pay for two wars and keep the basic government services afloat during a recession.

Thirty seconds into Rep. Heck’s presentation he notes the House has passed a bill that would continue the Bush Tax Cuts of 2001 and 2003 for another year so we can “work on a permanent solution.”   Yes, that would certainly make the top 1% happy little campers.  This is also known as kicking the can down the road.  Anyone notice the conflict here?  On one hand Representative Heck is telling us that the federal deficit is a horrible no good thing which MUST be addressed — while telling all who will click on his little video that it’s perfectly all right to take yet another year to deal with it.

There’s more boilerplate to come, “the tax increases,” by which he means rate increases will cost 700,000 jobs.  In this instance he’s parroting Speaker Boehner, who in turn is mashing up a study by Ernst & Young:

“Boehner repeatedly cited an Ernst & Young analysis to claim that raising taxes on upper-income earners would “destroy nearly 700,000 jobs in our country.” But that analysis assumes revenue from the taxes would be used “to finance a higher level of government spending,” even though Obama would use the added revenue to reduce the deficit. The analysis also takes an extremely long view: Only “two-third to three-quarters of the long-run effect” is expected to occur within a decade.”  [Politifact]

Thus, even if we take the Ernst & Young study at face value, the effects are far less dramatic than Representative Heck’s intonation.   Those who looked into the Chamber of Commerce sponsored study found the assumptions flawed: “It is telling that when the additional tax revenues are used for across the board tax cuts, then the negative GDP impact is largely washed out and the employment impact is positive,” Zandi says.”  (Moody’s) [TPM]  However, removing the assumptions from the study wouldn’t achieve the Chamber of Commerce’s political interests, nor the interests of the Wall Street traders who are delivering Republican marching orders.

So, no one should be surprised when Rep. Heck parrots another line, this time from the Romney Campaign that we can fix all our troubles with “pro-growth tax reform which eliminates loopholes and deductions…”

OK, which ones?  Let’s look at the deductions first.   The most common tax deduction is on home mortgage interest.  In the reality based portion of the United States of America about 70% of the tax benefit from home mortgage interest deductions goes to taxpayers earning less than $200,000 per year. [NAHB]  Further, “Households with incomes between $40,000 and $75,000 receive, on average, $523 from the mortgage interest deduction. Households with incomes above $250,000 receive $5,459, or more than 10 times as much.”  [AProg] [Original Wharton Study pdf]

The second most common tax deduction is for charitable contributions.  Needless to say, some eleemosynary institutions are loath to see caps on this kind of expenditure.  However, the deductions nearer and dearer to people’s hearts are the deductions for state, local, and real estate taxes.  “You can deduct state and local income taxes paid during the year with one important exception: You cannot deduct state and local income taxes you pay on income that is exempt from federal income tax, unless the exempt income is interest income.” [Daily Finance]  And, “You can claim a deduction for real estate taxes on any state, local or foreign taxes on real property so long as they are based on the assessed value of the real property.” [Daily Finance]

Finally, the last on the list of most commonly itemized deductions are for medical expenses.  “You can deduct expenses for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease. This generally includes the costs of physicians, surgeons, dentists and other medical practitioners as well as medical equipment, supplies and diagnostic devices prescribed by a physician. Deductible medical expenses also include the cost of health care insurance premiums and the costs of getting to and from your appointments.” [Daily Finance]

So, if we cap all itemized deductions at some contrived number like the 2% Solution, what happens?   We get a big middle class tax hike, illustrated below:

Tax Expenditure Cap

If we look specifically at what the Republicans were offering in the last presidential election another reality comes to the fore — the ARITHMETIC doesn’t add up:

“According to the Tax Policy Center, “the Romney plan would lower federal tax liability by about $900 billion in calendar year 2015 compared with current law, roughly a 24 percent cut in total projected revenue.”

So for Romney’s tax plan to be revenue neutral, as he has pledged, he would need to close tax breaks to the tune of $900 billion in 2015. That is not going to happen. Every tax break together costs about $1.1 trillion annually according to the Congressional Research Service — so Congress would need to make a nearly complete sweep to get the math right under Romney’s plan, a politically unrealistic outcome.” [HuffPo]

If we conclude that the deductions aren’t going to make the numbers, then what about those “loopholes?”

No one’s given a precise answer to this question — and we may not get one.  One insightful article may have grasp the key point, “Tax loopholes have become the modern equivalent of wasteful spending–a generic and vastly overestimated pool of money politicians can cite as offsets for their expensive policies.” [USNWR]   When some members of Congress have been pressed for details the minutiae makes its appearance — close the deduction for luxury skyboxes in athletic arenas, close the deductions for rum manufacturers and racetracks, eliminate deductions for second homes… [HuffPo]

While it might be nice to eliminate some of the special interest deductions in an overhaul of the tax code, (1) it shouldn’t take a year to find them — most of them are well known to those who make the tax code their life’s work, and (2) closing them won’t provide nearly enough revenue — unless we start talking about The Big Five Deductions, and the attendant tax hike on the middle class.

We’re only a bit over a minute into Representative Heck’s video when he observes the horrible state of affairs we must face if the Pentagon budget faces the Sequester Monster… but that’s a post for another day.

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