Mike Kueber's Blog

March 23, 2011

The power to make war

Republicans are supposed to be sticklers about constitutional niceties – they often describe themselves as constitutional conservatives.  As a practical matter, however, they don’t let constitutional niceties get in the way of America making war at the drop of a hat.  Thus, you did not hear objection from Republicans when Barack Obama recently decided to make war against Libya without any authorization from Congress. 

A couple of nights ago on Bill O’Reilly’s show, Karl Rove noted that, although George W. Bush received Congressional authorization prior to fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration did not believe such authorization was constitutionally required.  Rove explained that, although the Constitution gives Congress the right to declare war, the Constitution also makes the President the commander in chief, and that right implies the right to make war.  If that were true, why bother giving Congress the right to declare war?

As Washington Post columnist George Will recently declared

  • “Congress’s power to declare war resembles a muscle that has atrophied from long abstention from proper exercise. This power was last exercised on June 5, 1942 (against Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary), almost 69 years, and many wars, ago. It thus may seem quaint, and certainly is quixotic, for Indiana’s Richard Lugar — ranking Republican on, and former chairman of, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to say, correctly, that Congress should debate and vote on this.”
  • “There are those who think that if the United Nations gives the United States permission to wage war, the Constitution becomes irrelevant. Let us find out who in Congress supports this proposition, which should be resoundingly refuted, particularly by Republicans currently insisting that government, and especially the executive, should be on a short constitutional leash. If all Republican presidential aspirants are supine in the face of unfettered presidential war-making and humanitarian interventionism, the Republican field is radically insufficient.”

After the disaster in Vietnam, Congress attempted to rein-in presidential war-making by passing the War Powers Resolution in 1973.  This law requires a president to obtain Congressional authorization within 60 days of initiating hostilities.  If America is still fighting Gadhafi in 60 days, it will be interesting to see if the constitutional conservatives insist on a congressional vote.

P.S., a column by Maureen Dowd in today’s NY Times included the following quote from candidate Obama on presidential war-making powers:

  • As compelling as the gender split is, it’s even more interesting to look at the parallels between Obama and W.  Candidate Obama said about a possible strike on Iran, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”  Yet both men started wars of choice with a decision-making process marked more by impulse and reaction than discipline and rigor.  Denouncing the last decade of “autopilot” for presidents ordering military operations, Senator Webb told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC: “We have not had a debate. … This isn’t the way that our system is supposed to work.”
  • 

December 30, 2010

Are Democrats on the run?

Although I am a conservative, I try to listen to what liberals are saying.  I regularly read the liberal columnists in the NY Times and occasionally change channels from FOX to MSNBC.  But regardless of where I am getting my news, the subject seems to be the same – i.e., the conservative agenda.  

It seems a paradox for conservatives to be proactive and on the offensive while liberals are reactive and on the defensive.  Traditionally, conservatives are in the posture of reacting by rejecting change and maintaining the lame status quo, whereas liberals are nobly working toward a utopia.  Surely, liberals are not happy with conservatives setting the agenda and framing the discussion.  As they say in football, it’s damn hard to score when you don’t have the ball. 

One of the liberal problems may be that they have not clearly defined their agenda.  I was recently reading a publication issued by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is self-described as a non-partisan research institute whose mission is “to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas.”  Its mission is an eloquent, succinct description of the conservative agenda that everyone can quickly recognize and no one would argue against.    

By way of contrast, what is the liberal (Democratic) agenda?  I had no idea, so I decided to look it up.  And the Democratic Party of Texas platform of 2010, seemed a good place to start.

The Democrat’s 2010 platform for Texas proclaims the party’s belief in (a) freedom, (b) equal opportunity, (c) a safety net, and (d) ensuring that capitalists operate fairly vis-à-vis workers, customers, and the environment.  Who would argue with that? 

As always, the devil is in the details, so I read the individual planks in the 42-page document, and attached the most interesting below (with my comments bolded and underlined).  But the overarching theme of the platform is attractive and powerful – i.e., individual liberty and economic justice.  (I just made that up, but I suspect it’s been said before.)

All of which confirms what I often said during my congressional campaign – liberals are not bad people; they are people who have bad judgment.  They care about the same things that conservatives care about – namely, for each person to be able to flourish.  We simply disagree over the best way to get there.

Are Democrats on the run?  Obviously, there are.  And the reason for that is that Barack Obama was able to take this country further to the left than people wanted to go.  Because we live in a democracy, the people will pull the country back, and that is what is happening now.

Planks in the 2010 Democratic Party of Texas platform

  • Education
    • Opposition to the “drill and kill” teach-to-the-test policy that Republicans have forced on students and teachers.  Does this mean they oppose Obama’s Race to the Top program?
    • Opposition to “inequitable, unaccountable voucher and privatization schemes.”  No mention of charter schools, which are a variation of public schools.
    • Rejection of efforts to destroy bilingual education; promote multi-language instruction.  Bilingual education is great, but not at the cost of assimilation.
    • Raise teacher pay to levels exceeding the national average.  This will cost more, and there is not indication where the money will come from.
    • Support innovative approaches to ensure diversity in every Texas institution of higher learning.  More social engineering.

 

  • Economy – a market system that is checked and balanced by government to prevent financial abuses and excesses
    • Raise the minimum wage.
    • Pass the Employee Free Choice Act.  How can you title an act “Free Choice” when it calls for the elimination of secret ballots in union elections?
    • Emergency action to protect those with sub-prime mortgages from losing their homes, while suing the Wall Street speculators who caused the financial meltdown on 2007-2008. 
    • State government should contract with Texas and American companies, to the extent possible.  Protectionism.
    • Trade policy – “level up” wages and working conditions by ensuring that foreign workers share in their countries’ gains and become customers for American goods.  And how are we supposed to do that?

 

  • State Fiscal Policy
    • Oppose a national sales tax.  I agree with this, but I think most Americans would prefer a sales tax to an income tax.
    • Oppose extending the Texas sales tax to food or medicine.  I agree with this, but I think most Texas would prefer anything over the implementation of an income tax.  The platform neglects to discuss an income tax or any other means to balance our budget this cycle.

 

  • Health care – is a right, not a privilege reserved for those with resources.
    • Yes on ObamaCare.
    • Yes to stem-cell research.
    • Yes on a woman’s choice to abort.

 

  • Security
    • No to privatization of social security.
    • Insurance rates should be approved or denied by commissioner.  A big step toward a government-run economy.
    • Allow mortgage victims to re-finance, except for 2nd homes, high-end homes, or speculative home investors.

 

  • Public safety
    • Moratorium on the Death Penalty pending further study

 

  • Rural Texas and agriculture
    • Yes on price supports.
    • Yes on “preserving proper use of agricultural property tax exemptions and restructuring the current land appraisal system to insure a fair property tax system for all Texans.”  But does that mean the current system is good or bad?  The current system of exemptions is totally corrupted and should be eliminated. 

 

  • Immigration – America is a nation of immigrants and we honor them, both legal and undocumented.
    • Help Mexico develop its economy so that its citizens don’t feel compelled to emigrate.  Maybe we should fix our own economy first.
    • Continue birthright citizenship.  There is no rational argument for continuing this, so the Democrats don’t bother trying to make one.
    • Create a path to citizenship for all immigrants.

 

  • Freedom and rights
    • Equal opportunity and equal protection
    • Human and civil rights
    • Freedom from government interference in our personal lives and decisions
    • Freedom of religion and individual conscience.  What about same-sex marriage?  The party ideologues rightly declined to reject the will of the people expressed in a recent election on this issue.

 

  • Foreign policy and national security – “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”  JFK

 

  • Access to Justice – Right to trial by jury can’t be waived by contract or mandatory-arbitration provisions.  I like this, having seen mandatory arbitration imposed by USAA as a condition of employment.

 

  • Religious freedom
    • Separation of church and state.
    • Entangling government with religion is dangerous to both religion and the state.
    • Never use the power of government to impose our personal religious observances on others.

 

  • Protecting the democratic process
    • Prohibiting the revolving door in lobbying.
    • Oppose voter ID because there is no proof of impersonation at the polls.
    • Continue to elect judges while working toward judicial campaign finance reform.  But the Access to Justice plank recommended the nomination and appointment of qualified, competent persons to serve as judges.  Did you guys not read each others planks?

December 3, 2010

A pox on both your houses

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:09 pm
Tags: , , , ,

There are reports that the Republicans and Democrats are moving toward a Great Compromise on taxes for the rich and benefits for the unemployed.  Unfortunately, it sounds like the same old two-step song – i.e., (a) Republicans prevent the Democrats from raising taxes on the rich, and (b) Democrats prevent Republicans from reducing benefits for the unemployed.  Sound familiar?  It’s been that way since Reagan started cutting taxes without cutting spending.  It’s fiscal insanity and has us fiscal conservatives screaming “a pox on both your houses.”

I hold us Republicans more responsible than the Democrats for this debacle because we run on a platform of fiscal responsibility, whereas everyone knows the Democrats only give lip service to balancing the budget.  The same principle applies to family values.  The Democratic Party asserts that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on family values, but everyone knows that the Republican Party is a stronger defender of them.  But with our reputation comes responsibility to “walk the walk.”  If we don’t, we will be rightfully exposed as hypocrites.

December 2, 2010

Extending unemployment benefits – “what we’ve got here is… failure to communicate”

Partisan gridlock has come to be the predominant status in Washington.  Although some, like George Will, think Washington gridlock is usually better than Washington action, I believe semi-permanent gridlock causes government to be dysfunctional, which leads to citizen cynicism.

The latest example of gridlock is the proposed extension of federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits – Democrats want to extend the benefits, while Republicans insist that the extended benefits be counter-balanced by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.  According to an article in today’s San Antonio Express-News, Congress only had until November 30 to “extend the federally funded Unemployment Insurance program,” which provided between 34 and 73 weeks of benefits (depending on a state’s unemployment rate) on top of the states’ basic coverage for 26 weeks.  If the federal program was not extended, as many as two million unemployed persons could lose their benefits in December.

I don’t know about you, but I understood the newspaper article and similar TV stories as indicating that Obama and the Democrats wanted to extend the benefits beyond combined 99 weeks of benefits.  I have heard conservatives oppose the proposed extension by arguing that almost two years of benefits is already too long.  But when I finally took the time to study the issue, I learned that the Democrats are not proposing to extend the benefits beyond 99 weeks.  Instead, they simply want to continue providing between 60 and 99 weeks of combined state/federal benefits.  If the federal UI program is not extended, uninsured Americans will be entitled to only 26 weeks of state-provided benefits.  

What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.  Instead of assuming any responsibility for this failure, I suggest that the media and the Dems need to do a better job of characterizing this issue.  The Republicans vigorously defend the Bush tax cuts by correctly insisting that it is stupid to increase anyone’s taxes during these tough economic times.  I think the Democrats can just as persuasively argue that it is stupid to cut unemployment benefits when nationwide unemployment is still near 10% and there are record numbers of long-term unemployed people – i.e., those unemployed for more than six months.  Yes, there are studies that show that unemployment benefits tend to cause unemployed people to stay unemployed longer than people who are not receiving benefits (on average, by an additional 1.6 weeks), but now is not the time to make that argument. 

Forcing the Democrats to cut spending is almost always a good thing, but if they refuse to do it, perhaps the Republicans should identify some budgetary fat and offer to approve extending the UI program in return for the Dems agreeing to cut the fat.  That sounds like a win-win.

November 28, 2010

Gerrymandering in Texas

Every ten years, the federal government spends billions of dollars conducting a census.  This activity is not caused by idle curiosity; it is a constitutional mandate.  According to the 14th Amendment, congressional seats must be apportioned every ten years “among the states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.”  This amendment was required because the original language in Article I of the U.S. Constitution provided for “adding to the whole Number of free Persons… and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” 

How do illegal immigrants factor into the decennial census?  Historically, they have been counted, and because of this counting, states that serve as magnets for illegal immigrants – like New York, Florida, California, and Texas – have been awarded more than their fair share of congressional seats.  Congress has the power to modify this practice, and many conservatives have this modification on their “to do” list.

But the act of counting of illegal immigrants is a side show compared to the nationwide redistricting that follows every census.  In about ten states, redistricting is performed dispassionately by a nonpartisan or bipartisan group, but in most states it is passionately conducted by the state legislature.  Unfortunately, Texas is one of those states where the legislature jealously guards its privilege to create districts that serve their political interests.  In such states, redistricting becomes gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is almost as old as the United States.  It started in Massachusetts in 1812 (Governor Gerry shaped a district to look like a salamander), and it has continued unabated to this day.  It is one of those practices that all good-government types can agree to hate – things like vote-trading, omnibus bills, deficit spending, and straight-party voting – but can never eradicate. 

How effective is gerrymandering?  Highly effective.  For example, because Texas congressional districts were gerrymandered to favor the Democrats, the 2002 congressional elections resulted in 17 Democratic wins and 15 Republican wins, even though Republican candidates received 59% of the total votes and Democratic candidates received only 40%.  Then the Republicans (at the behest of Tom Delay) gerrymandered the districts in 2003, and the next election resulted in 21 Republican wins and 11 Democratic wins, although the Republican candidates received 58% of the total votes against 41% for the Democratic candidates.  (Personally, the 2004 results don’t seem significantly gerrymandered in favor of the Republicans.  A presidential candidate who wins the popular vote 58%-41% would be expected to win at least two-thirds of the states or congressional districts.)

Just a few weeks ago at the fitness center, I bumped into a good-government type who started talking politics and redistricting.  Surprise – he had a simple solution, which was to program a computer to design the Texas districts to minimize the length of the district boundaries.  (He liked his idea so much that he resisted my suggestion that the computer would also have to be programmed to comply with the Voting Rights Act requirements vis-à-vis minority-majority districts.  In 2006, the VRA was extended was 25 years, so it is not going away anytime soon.) 

I like my friend’s objective of minimized boundaries, and this conforms to the legal term “compactness.”  Unfortunately, Texas law, unlike the law in many other states, does not require or even suggest compactness as a desirable result in redistricting.  Furthermore, any map of congressional-district boundaries in Texas shows that compactness was not even an afterthought.  The only time that compactness is relevant is when the federal government reviews minority-majority districts.

The Texas Republican gerrymandering in 2003 that was designed to reverse the Texas Democratic gerrymandering of 1990 was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 – League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry.  Although the Court held that the redistricting of Congressional District 23 violated the Voting Rights Act, it also held that a state can redistrict as often as it wants (presumably anytime a political party retakes control of the state legislature).  Unfortunately, it deferred deciding whether partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional. 

Although I hate gerrymandering, I would prefer that politicians resolve these matters instead of turning them over to judges to decide whether the practice violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  One of San Antonio’s politicians is attempting to do this, as reflected in the following SA Express-News article.  I wish him success.   

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/wentworth_bills_aim_to_ease_partisan_battles_110882074.html.

September 20, 2010

Extending the Bush tax cuts?

Currently, the biggest debate in Washington is whether to extend the 10% Bush tax cuts, which were enacted in the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.  Obama and most Democrats want to retain the cuts for low- and middle-income individuals (those making less than $200k or for a family $250k), but to repeal the cuts for high-income individuals.  They argue that the deficit-reduction benefit of a tax increase on the rich will outweigh any possible damage to the economy caused by higher taxes.  Republicans counter that higher taxes will do serious damage to an economy that is already in a recession, and this will result in reduced revenues, not increased revenues.

I share the conservative position that it is a bad idea to increase taxes on anybody during a recession.  In fact, the consensus among economists is that a mix of tax cuts and spending increases is the best way to get out of a recession.  Thus, our current recession is not the right time to increase the income-tax rate for the rich.  But what about increasing those taxes next year? 

Unlike most Republicans, I don’t think that you can routinely increase government revenue by cutting taxes.  That defies common sense.  As an old sage once said, “That’s so stupid that only an intellectual (ideologue) could believe it.”  There are, however, unusual situations where a tax cut could result in a long-term increase in government revenues, and those situations are described by the Laffer Curve.  This is an the economic theory from Arthur Laffer suggesting that increasing tax rates beyond a certain point will become counterproductive for raising further tax revenue because of diminishing returns.  The problem with the Laffer Curve is that it doesn’t lend itself to objective analysis and, therefore, there has been no consensus about what is the revenue-maximizing tax rate – some suggest 70%; others say 20%.  The Laffer Curve was first articulated in 1974 and became a part of Ronald Reagan’s Reaganomics – i.e., supply-side economics.

Similar to the Laffer curve is the Hauser’s Law, a theory proposed in 1993 by an investment economist – Kurt Hauser.  According to Hauser, federal tax revenues in post-War America will be equal to approximately 19.5% of GDP, regardless of what the top marginal tax rate is.  In 2009, however, tax receipts dropped to 15%, and many critics believe this theory reflects past experience, but does little to predict future results.  I agree – Hauser’s Law defies common sense and is so stupid that only an ideologue could believe it.  If it were to be believed, federal government will always be approximately one-fifth of the America’s GDP.  That makes no sense.  Americans will decide how socialistic we want our government to be.  If Obama has his way, and America becomes a welfare state like Europe, I have no doubt that government receipts will exceed 19.5%, just like they do in Europe.  Although most Americans are opposed to a Europe-style economy, there is no question that those economies are not total disasters for those democracies.  Rather, the citizens are receiving the government they want and are willing to pay for.

The situation in Europe leads to my common-sense position that taxes must be considered, not in a vacuum, but rather in connection with expenditures.  Except in times of recession (when deficit spending is beneficial), the federal government should decide what government services are sufficiently important to justify taking enough money from the people to pay for the services.  As Henry Butler famously said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  Democrats want to provide generous government services without paying for them, and Republicans want to cut taxes without cutting generous government services.  If the federal government had to balance its budget every non-recessionary year, just like state governments do, the legislators would be forced to do their job in the right way – jointly considering taxes and spending – just like Texas legislators will have to do with this session’s $18 billion revenue-expense mismatch.     

Based on my analysis of the American tax-rate for income since 1913 (when the 16th Amendment was adopted), the current rate for high-income people is relatively low.  (See my chart below.)  Thus, in my judgment, increasing the rate would not trigger the negative-Laffer Curve or significantly damage America’s economy.  Furthermore, income data indicates that high-income people have been doing better than low- and middle-income people for several years, and therefore adding some progressivity to the rates is appropriate. 

I got into some trouble during my congressional campaign for refusing to adopt the standard Republican position that permanently cutting taxes will increase long-term revenue, and I remain convinced that there is no easy route to getting America’s fiscal affairs in order.  If cutting tax rates was a surefire way to increase government revenue, I think the Democrats would be advocating tax cuts just as hard as the Republicans.  But common sense suggests that, if a government needs more money, it needs to increase its tax rates, not decrease them.  Determining how much money is needed depends on how many government services are needed.  These are two sides to the same question.

p.s., please note in the highest tax bracket during the Great Depression – 63% and 79%.  That partially explains why conservatives believe that FDR is falsely credited with leading American out of the Great Depression.  To the contrary, his policies exacerbated a bad situation.

Tax rate in America

(married filing separately) 

Year              Highest Bracket   Lowest Bracket    # of brackets                                

1913                7% over $500k            1% under $20k            7

1914                “          “                      “          “                      “

1915                “          “                      “          “                      “

1916                15% over $2M                        2% under $20k            14

1917                67% over $2M                        2% under $2k              21

1918                77% over $1M                        6% under $4k              56

1919                73% over $1M                        4% under $4k              56

1920                “          “                      “          “                      “         

1921                “          “                      “          “                      “

1922                58% over $200k          “          “                      50

1923                “          “                      “          “                      “

1924                46% over $500k          2% under $4k              43

1925                25% over $100k          1.5% under $4k           23

1926                “          “                      “          “                      “

1927                “          “                      “          “                      “

1928                “          “                      “          “                      “

1929                “          “                      “          “                      “

1930                “          “                      “          “                      “

1931                “          “                      “          “                      “

1932                63% over $1M                        4% under $4k              56

1933                “          “                      “          “                      “

1934                “          “                      “          “                      “

1935                “          “                      “          “                      “

1936                79% over $5M                        “          “                      33

1937                “          “                      “          “                      “

1938                “          “                      “          “                      “

1939                “          “                      “          “                      “

1940                “          “                      “          “                      “

1941                81% over $5M                        10% under $2k            32

1942                88% over $200k          19% under $2k            24

1943                “          “                      “          “                      24

1944                94% over $200k          23% under $2k            “

1945                “          “                      “          “                      24

1946                91% over $200k          20% under $2k            24

1947                “          “                      “          “                      “

1948                “          “                      “          “                      “

1949                “          “                      “          “                      “

1950                “          “                      “          “                      “

1951                “          “                      “          “                      “

1952                92% over $200k          22% under $2k            “

1953                “          “                      “          “                      “

1954                91% over $200k          20% under $2k            “

1955                “          “                      “          “                      “                     

1956                “          “                      “          “                      “

1957                “          “                      “          “                      “

1958                “          “                      “          “                      “

1959                “          “                      “          “                      “

1960                “          “                      “          “                      “

1961                “          “                      “          “                      “

1962                “          “                      “          “                      “

1963                “          “                      “          “                      “

1964                “          “                      “          “                      “

1965                70% over $200k          14% under $500          25

1966                70% over $100k          “          “                      “

1967                “          “                      “          “                      “

1968                “          “                      “          “                      “

1969                “          “                      “          “                      “

1970                “          “                      “          “                      “

1971                “          “                      “          “                      “

1972                “          “                      “          “                      “

1973                “          “                      “          “                      “

1974                “          “                      “          “                      “

1975                “          “                      “          “                      “

1976                “          “                      “          “                      “

1977                “          “                      0% under $1600          26

1978                “          “                      “          “                      “

1979                “          “                      “          “                      “

1980                “          “                      “          “                      “

1981                “          “                      “          “                      “

1982                50% over $43k            “          “                      13

1983                “          “                      “          “                      “

1984                50% over $81k            “          “                      15

1985                “          “                      “          “                      15

1986                “          “                      “          “                      “

1987                38.5% over $45k         11% under $1500        5

1988                28% over $113k          15% under $15k          4

1989                “          “                      “          “                      4

1990                “          “                      “          “                      4

1991                31% over $41k            15% under $17k          3

1992                “          “                      “          “                      “

1993                39.6% over $125k       “          “                      5

1994                “          “                      “          “                      “

1995                “          “                      “          “                      “

1996                “          “                      “          “                      “

1997                “          “                      “          “                      “

1998                “          “                      “          “                      “

1999                “          “                      “          “                      “

2000                “          “                      “          “                      “

2001                “          “                      “          “                      “

2002                38.6% over $153k       10% under $6k            6

2003                35% over $156k          10% under $7k            “

2004                “          “                      “          “                      “

2005                “          “                      “          “                      “

2006                “          “                      “          “                      “

2007                “          “                      “          “                      “

2008                “          “                      “          “                      “\

2009                “          “                      “          “                      “

2010                “          “                      “          “                      “

2010                                        2002

10% up to $8375                                 10% up to $6000

15% up to $34k                                   15% up to $23,350

25% up to $68,650                              27% up to $56,425

28% up to $104,625                            30% up to $85,975

33% up to $186, 825                           35% up to $153,525

35% over $186,825                             38.6% over $153,525

September 19, 2010

A three-pronged conservatism – balanced budget, national sales tax, and term limits

My friend Kevin Brown listens to more talk radio than any person I know, and he agrees with almost everything he hears.  That is why I can get the pulse of conservative America by simply having a few drinks with Kevin every Tuesday.  If I had listened to Kevin more during my congressional campaign, I would have known (a) it’s not a good idea for a Republican candidate to be in favor of separation of church & state, and (b) it’s an oxymoron to call yourself a progressive conservative.      

This past Tuesday, Kevin reminded me that America is going to hell, but all can be saved if we adopt a balanced budget amendment, a national sales tax, and a term-limit amendment.  All three of these ideas have been around for years, but it surprised me that Kevin thought they were so critical.  I agree that requiring a balanced budget would be a monumental improvement, but the sales-tax and term-limit issues don’t seem like game-changers.  Upon further reflection, however, I have to agree with Kevin.  Adoption of these ideas would change D.C. as we know it.

What are their prospects for passage?  The Balanced Budget amendment was a part of the Republican Party’s Contract with America in 1994, and although it passed the House (300-132), it barely failed in the Senate (65-35, with two-thirds required).  All Republicans in the Senate, but not enough Democrats supported the change.  The Tea Party has included the Balanced Budget amendment in its new Contract from America, so there is a chance the idea will be voted on again.  Hope springs eternal, although the Democrats will surely monolithically resist it again.

Personally, I think the adoption of a national sale tax in lieu of an income tax is too risky, and Mitt Romney has clearly described those risks in his recent book, No Apologies.  But we live in a democracy, and most people prefer a sales tax to an income tax, so I think their representatives should give them what they want.  We just enacted a law (ObamaCare) that affects one-seventh of the U.S. economy, so I think we can manage a shift from the income tax to a national sales tax.  The Contract with America in 1994 did not include a plank for tax reform, but the Tea Party’s current Contract from America contains a plank for a simplified, single-rate tax system.  I’m not sure if that is referring to a national sales tax or a flat income tax.  Because of Tea Party sponsorship, I’m sure the Democrats would steadfastly resist this concept and would argue that because it lacks progressivity, it would be unfair to lower-income people.

The final plank in Kevin’s platform is the adoption of term limits.  This issue was a part of the Republican’s Contract with America in 1994.  Although the proposed constitutional amendment received a 227-204 majority in the House, this was well short of the 290 votes needed to achieve the two-third super-majority required for constitutional amendments.  Term limits were considered for inclusion in the Tea Party’s Contract from America, but according to party leaders, the idea finished 11th in popularity and only the top ten were included in the final document. 

I have a hard time believing that Tea Party people didn’t give term limits a higher priority.  There was a recent Fox New poll revealing that 78% of Americans want Congressional term limits, and this desire cut across party lines – Republicans (84 percent), Democrats (74 percent) and independents (74 percent) favor the idea.  Furthermore, in November of 2009, a bill for a constitutional amendment in the Senate was introduced by Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).  So hope springs eternal again. 

As I previously mentioned, Democratic opposition to a national sales tax is not surprising because it would be a regressive tax.  And its opposition to term limits is consistent with its belief that a career in elective office is a high calling.  They prefer professional politicians to citizen legislators.  But I don’t understand why the Democrats oppose balancing the budget.  They are quick to note that Bill Clinton balanced the budget for several years, yet they inexplicably don’t want a balanced budget as a core value. 

It appears my friend Kevin has gravitated to three winning issues.  Maybe he’s a big picture guy like Reagan.  Maybe he should be the one who runs for office instead of me.  Reagan got a late start, too.