Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let Obama and McCain make their cases standing alone before skeptical audiences

Sure, it would be great if Obama and McCain could break their impasse and agree on some joint campaign confrontations -- whether they're all forums (McCain's preference) or a combination of debates and forums (Obama's preference).

But why not single-candidate appearances before groups whose views are 180 degrees opposite?

Wouldn't it be interesting to see how McCain would fare before advocates of an accelerated U.S. troop pullout from Iraq, or before a group of working-class Americans who make less than the median income of $32,140?

Wouldn't it be just as interesting to see how Obama would do before opponents of an accelerated Iraq pullout, or maybe entrepreneurs who think his tax plan would punish them for being successful?

Confrontations between candidates occasionally become moments of history -- like the Kennedy and Nixon debate in 1960 -- but most of the time they end up being forgettable.

Let's see McCain and Obama make their cases alone in front of an audience of questioning, skeptical Americans. That's not likely to be forgettable.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama and the inequities of payroll taxes

Obama is under fire for his plan to raise FICA payroll taxes on high earners -- by former Bush economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey here and former Bill Clinton speech writer and current New York Post columnist Dick Morris here.

The present income cutoff for the 6.2% Social Security tax and the 1.45% Medicare tax is $102,000. Obama's plan would keep the ceiling on those who earn between $102,000 and $250,000 and re-impose it on incomes above $250,000 (about 3% of all wage earners).

The debate over Obama's plan should open up a wider discussion about the basic fairness of payroll taxes. They hurt low wage earners most. A worker who earns less than the median income of $32,140 gets $2,456 lopped off the top of his wages. That could be as much as he pays in income taxes. Add the employer's share of payrolls taxes, and the total could be double what the worker pays in income taxes.

Matthew J. Slaughter, who was on President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2005 to 2007, thinks payroll taxes should be eliminated for workers making less than the median income, with the gap closed by raising the current $102,000 ceiling. Slaughter says such a move would put an average of $3,800 in the pockets of the 67 million low wage earners -- much more than the tax breaks proposed by Obama.

Present payroll taxes also punish entrepreneurs, who have to pay both employee and employer payroll taxes -- for a total of 15.3% on income up to $102,000. Under Obama's plan, they would be punished more. They'd have to pay that 15.3% on all additional income above $250,000. And that would be on top of other tax hikes Obama proposes for the top 3% earners. Raise the cap on payroll taxes, but do it without punishing entrepreneurs more, and make it a true "cap" by setting a taxable income ceiling.

Obama has changed his mind about his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (he has condemned his views), and public financing of presidential campaigns (he has opted for no-limit private financing because the public system is "broken"). He should look hard at the inequities of payroll taxes, and modify his tax plan accordingly.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Did Obama sell out in backing the surveillance compromise?

Obama is taking heat from the Democratic left for supporting the compromise anti-terrorist surveillance bill passed by the House last Friday.

Nut graf from LA Times editorial:

Critics of the bill (HR 6304) complain that it would give the executive branch broad license to spy on U.S. residents without a warrant. Any phone call or e-mail with targets in other countries could be intercepted without prior court approval if the administration claimed it necessary in an emergency.

But the compromise bill, which 105 Democrats supported (against the 128 who opposed it), contains new safeguards against over-zealous surveillance, including that the White House must bind itself to mandatory oversight.

In language that was attacked by critics, the bill grants retroactive immunity to telcoms against suits charging invasion of privacy when the firms released phone records at the behest of the White House without a warrant. Obama addressed that issue in his statement on the compromise:

Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The editorialists vs. Obama: To the barricades!

OMG! What will these editorial board members -- most of them middle-aged white males -- do next? Picket the next Obama rally? If someone will bring them double lattes and croissants, maybe.

Public financing: a 20th century tool for running for President in 2008

This New York Times piece on Obama's 50-state strategy explains why public financing -- the way its constructed and (under)funded today -- won't work.

Nut graf:
“To have these enormous resources [without the limitations of public financing] just gives you so many strategic options,” said Tad Devine, a senior strategist for Mr. Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “If John Kerry had these resources and had stayed outside the system of public funding, I believe he’d be president today.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama's no to public financing: So?

There's been a lot of huffing and puffing about Obama's decision not to use public financing for his presidential campaign. But the law that created public financing is indeed broken, as Obama said in his video statement Thursday explaining his decision. The $85 million spending limit for each presidential candidate between the end of August (when the national conventions are held) and Election Day on Nov. 4 is a joke. In the Democratic primaries, Obama spent nearly $220 million in the Democratic primaries. The spending lid imposed by public financing does not cover "soft" money or what the national political parties can spend. The Republican National Committee has a war chest of $41 million to support McCain's presidential campaign, while the Democratic National Committee has a paltry $5 million.

Among the broken pieces of public financing is the Federal Election Commission, which is charged with regulating federal finance laws. In this hot political season, there's a stack of thorny campaign-related issues waiting on decision by the FEC. It's supposed to have six commissioners, but because of various maneuvering, involving both major political parties, there are only two sitting commissioners.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama as both winner and loser

Obama could win the popular vote by 2 or 3 percentage points, but McCain could become President by patching together an Electoral College majority, Politico theorizes. It could happen if the Democrat rolls up bigger margins in blue states and also captures Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia, but McCain wins all the Southern states that Bush claimed in 2004, except for Virginia, and also takes battleground states Michigan (won by Kerry in 2004) and New Hampshire (Bush in 2004).

Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by about half a percentage point, but, of course, Bush won the Electoral College vote, 271 to 266, when the Supreme Court kept Florida in his column.