Posts tagged ‘IRS’

Things I Did Not Know About Compelled Testimony

Ken White at Popehat offers some useful insight to non-lawyers among us about compelled testimony (in the context of the Louis Lerner/IRS saga)

Some people have argued that Lois Lerner should be compelled to testify, either by court order or by grant of immunity. Lerner and her lawyers would love that, as it would make prosecuting her for any suspected wrongdoing incredibly difficult.

Compelled testimony is radioactive. If a witness is compelled to testify, in any subsequent proceeding against them the government has a heavy burden to prove that no part of the prosecution is derived from the compelled testimony, which is treated as immunized. This is called theKastigar doctrine:

"Once a defendant demonstrates that he has testified, under a state grant of immunity, to matters related to the federal prosecution, the federal authorities have the burden of showing that their evidence is not tainted by establishing that they had an independent, legitimate source for the disputed evidence." 378 U.S. at 378 U. S. 79 n. 18. This burden of proof, which we reaffirm as appropriate, is not limited to a negation of taint; rather, it imposes on the prosecution the affirmative duty to prove that the evidence it proposes to use is derived from a legitimate source wholly independent of the compelled testimony.

If I read this right, if the House were to compel her to testify, they might as well grant her immunity and be done with it.

Further on in the post, Ken points out an issue that I have been wondering about myself -- Those who want Lerner to testify are concerned with government arbitrary abuse of power for political purposes.  Given that, how can these same folks have any doubt as to why Lerner might plead the Fifth in front of a hostile and partisan House committee

I've been seeing a lot of comments to the effect of "why should Lois Lerner take the Fifth if she has nothing to hide?" Ironically these comments often come from people who profess to oppose expansive government power, and from people who accept the proposition that Lerner was part of wrongdoing in the first place — in other words, that there was a government conspiracy to target people with the machinery of the IRS for holding unpopular political views. Such people do not seem to grasp how their predicate assumptions answer their own question.

You take the Fifth because the government can't be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn't do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks indishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.

Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like "why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide", then you're either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.

If you want to get bent out of shape about something, you are welcome to wonder why Lerner is being investigated, apparently, by the hyper-partisan civil rights division of Justice rather than the public integrity section.  That, combined with President Obama's pre-judging of the DOJ's conclusions, is more of a red flag than Lerner's taking the Fifth.

Remember, Martha Stewart did not go to jail for securities fraud of any sort.  She went to jail for statements she made during the government investigation.

Yet Another Absurd Obamacare-Related Requirement: Business Oaths

This is just sick, via Fox News and Bryan Preston

Consider what administration officials announcing the new exemption for medium-sized employers had to say about firms that might fire workers to get under the threshold and avoid hugely expensive new requirements of the law. Obama officials made clear in a press briefing that firms would not be allowed to lay off workers to get into the preferred class of those businesses with 50 to 99 employees. How will the feds know what employers were thinking when hiring and firing? Simple. Firms will be required to certify to the IRS – under penalty of perjury – that ObamaCare was not a motivating factor in their staffing decisions. To avoid ObamaCare costs you must swear that you are not trying to avoid ObamaCare costs. You can duck the law, but only if you promise not to say so.

As I have written about before, our company closed some California operations in December and laid off all the employees.  As with most business closures, we had multiple reasons for the closure.  The biggest problems were the local regulatory issues in Ventura County that made it impossible to make even simple improvements to the facilities.  But certainly looking ahead at costs soon to be imposed due to looming California minimum wage increases and the employer mandate contributed to the decision.

So, did I fire the workers over Obamacare?  If Obamacare were, say, 10% of the cause, would I be lying if I said I did not fire workers over Obamacare?  Or does it need to be 51% of the cause?  Or 1%?    Or 90%.  Business decisions are seldom based on single variables.  I am just exhausted with having my life run by people whose only experience with the real world was sitting in policy seminars at college.

Update:  The actual effect of this will not likely be to change business behavior, but change how they talk about it.  Worried that there will be too many stories next election about job losses due to Obamacare, the Administration is obviously cooking up ways not to limit the job losses, but to limit discussion of them.

A Small Bit of Good News -- DC Circuits Slaps Down the IRS

The creeping regulatory / corporate state gets a setback

Faulting the IRS for attempting to “unilaterally expand its authority,” the D.C. Circuit today affirmed a district court decision tossing out the agency’s tax-preparer licensing program. Under the program, all paid tax-return preparers, hitherto unregulated, were required to pass a certification exam, pay annual fees to the agency, and complete 15 hours of continuing education each year.

The program, of course, had been backed by the major national tax-return preparers, chiefly as a way of driving up compliance costs for smaller rivals and pushing home-based “kitchen table” preparers out of business. Dan Alban of the Institute for Justice, lead counsel to the tax preparers challenging the program,called the decision “a major victory for tax preparers—and taxpayers—nationwide.”

The licensing program was not only a classic example of corporate cronyism, but also of agency overreach. IRS relied on an 1884 statute empowering it to “regulate the practice of representatives or persons before [it].” Prior to 2011, IRS had never claimed that the statute gave it authority to regulate preparers. Indeed, in 2005, an IRS official testified that preparers fell outside of the law’s reach.

Perhaps a first indication that the Obama Administration strategy to pack the DC Circuit with Obama appointees may not necessarily protect his executive overreach.

PS - you gotta love the IJ.

PPS - The IRS justified its actions under "an obscure 1884 statute governing the representatives of Civil War soldiers seeking compensation for dead horses"

Obamacare and Jobs in One Chart

This is a pretty amazing chart from Jed Graham and IBD which I have annotated a bit

click to enlarge

 

Note first that the diversion between high and low-wage** industries did not occur during the recession, and in fact through the recession the two groups tracked each other pretty closely until early 2010.  Then, in early 2010, something made the two lines start to diverge and in 2012-2013 they really went in opposite directions.

Well, my suggestion for the "something" is Obamacare.  In March 2010, the PPACA was passed.  Looking at the jobs data, one can date the stall in the economic recovery almost precisely from the date the PPACA was passed (e.g. here).

The more important date, though, is January 1, 2013.  This is a date that every business owner was paying attention to at the time but which seems entirely lost on the media.   All the media was focused on the start-date of the employer mandate on January 1, 2014.  Why was the earlier date important?  Let's go back in time.

At that time, the employer mandate had yet to be delayed.  The PPACA and IRS rules in place at the time called for a look-back period in 2013 where actual hours worked for each employee would be tracked to determine whether the employee would classified as full or part-time on the Jan 1, 2014 start date.  So, if a company wanted to classify an employee as part-time at the start of the employer mandate (and thus avoid penalties for that employee), that employee needed to be converted to part-time as early as possible, preferably before 2013 even started and at worst by mid-year 2013 [sorry, I typo-ed these dates originally].

Unlike the government, which apparently waits until after the start-up date to begin building large pieces of major computer systems, businesses often tackle problems head on and well in advance.   Faced with the need to have employees be working 29 hours or less a week in the 2013 look-back period, many likely started making changes back in 2012.  Our company, for example, shifted everyone we could to part time in the fourth quarter of 2012.  I know from talking to the owners of several restaurant chains that they were making their changes even earlier in 2012.  One employee of mine went to Hawaii in October of 2012 and said that all the talk among the resort employees was how they were getting cut to part-time over Obamacare.

Yes, the employer mandate was eventually delayed, but by the time the delay was announced, every reasonably forward-looking company that was going to make changes had already done so.   Having made the changes, there is no way they were going to switch back, and then back yet again when the Administration finally stumbles onto an actual implementation date.

If this chart gets any traction over the next few days, expect to see a lot of ignorance as PPACA defenders claim that the fall in low-wage work hours can't possibly have anything to do with the PPACA because the employer mandate has not even started.  Now you know why this argument is wrong.  The PPACA, and associated IRS implementation rules, drove companies to convert full-time to part-time jobs as early as 2012.

Usual warning:  Correlation is not causation.  However, I will submit that I was predicting exactly this sort of result years before it occurred.  This is not a spurious correlation that is ex post facto blamed on whatever particular bete noir I might have.  I and many other predicted that Obamacare would drive down work hours per week in lower-wage industries, and now having seen exactly that correlated with key Obamacare dates, it is not going to far to hypothesize a connection.

** Why could low-wage industries be impacted more than high-wage?  Two reasons.  One, low-wage industries are far less likely to offer a full Obamacare-compatible health plan to employees than high wage industries.  Second, the fixed penalties ($2000 and $3000 per employee) for lack of insurance plans are obviously a far higher percentage of the total pay in low-wage vs. high-wage industries.   A penalty that is 15% of annual pay is much more likely to cause employers to shift or reduce work than a 3% penalty.

IRS and the Filibuster

Glen Reynolds brings us this bit from a letter to the WSJ about the IRS and 501c4's:

For example, if an IRS official subjects citizens to incredibly burdensome demands for irrelevant information just to harass them for their political or religious beliefs, no 501(c)(4) group could later criticize that official’s nomination to be IRS commissioner, without engaging in restricted activity. That’s because the IRS’s proposed regulation defines even unelected government officials, like agency heads and judges, as “candidates” if they have been nominated for a position requiring Senate confirmation. The IRS’s proposed rules are an attack on the First Amendment that will make it easier for the government to get away with harassing political dissenters and whistleblowers in the future.

The part about classifying Senate-confirmed officials as "candidates" seems to be part of the same initiative as the changes to the filibuster to make it easier for the President to confirm controversial judges and administrators.  I wonder if this is a general effort or battlespace preparation for a specific confirmation battle.

And the Insurance-Loss Spin Will Be....

I try to read a couple of team-politics blogs from both the red and blue side, to stay in touch with what they are saying and stay out of an echo chamber.  Also, of course, libertarians make common cause with both parties on various issues.  But the mindless team politics angle can really be a bore.

One of the reasons I like to read Kevin Drum on the left is that his initial reactions to things often seems pretty honest.  When his side really screws up, like the IRS scandal or failing Obamacare exchanges, his initial reaction will generally be to honestly critique a bad situation.  And then about 3-5 days into the scandal or crisis or discussion of an issue, he will catch on to and adopt the party line on an issue and then become incredibly tedious (for example, on the IRS scandal, he was honestly critical for a while and then adopted the silly "leftish groups were equally targeted meme" and has stuck to it by rote since).  But at least there are those few days of honesty, which separates him from a lot of the left and right team politics blogs.

So the timing is just about right for the Left to pick a meme to explain away the millions of people who are getting their policies cancelled despite being told that they could keep their health insurance.  Mainstream outlets like CBS and NBC are pushing the story, not just right-wing and libertarian blogs, so the Ezra Klein's of the world must be working diligently to pick a meme and then enforce it.  It will be interesting to see what they choose.

Update:  Well, here is an early entrant from Valerie Jarrett:

FACT: Nothing in forces people out of their health plans. No change is required unless insurance companies change existing plans.

This is hilarious.  Technically true, since my cancellation came from Blue Cross and not the government, but obviously the Blue Cross decision to cancel me was forced by the terms of the law.  This is obviously absurd, but is it too absurd for the media?  I don't know, and of course it gets extra lefty bonus points for blaming government-caused problems on private businesses.  Next up, Exxon to blame for gasoline taxes!

IRS Argues Your Tax Return is Just Like a Dead Horse

Normally this would be a good Friday story, but you can't always control when Washington is going to bring the crazy.

The Obama administration on Tuesday defended its effort to regulate the tax return preparation business for the first time in U.S. history, basing its case largely on a 19th century law dealing with horses lost or killed in the Civil War....

[the Obama Administration attorney] explained that the administration sees the "Horse Act of 1884" as providing ample authority for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to regulate the tens of thousands of preparers who fill out millions of Americans' federal tax returns.

Here is the logic, such that it is

A post-war industry emerged of agents who would press war loss claims for a fee, usually a percentage of the claim collected. Soon, claim values were being fraudulently inflated.

In response, the government started regulating these intermediaries, barring unscrupulous ones and certifying honest ones as "enrolled agents," a title that is still used today by people who represent clients in matters before the IRS.

The IRS is arguing that tax return preparers represent their customers in much the same way that enrolled agents do, so the agency should be able to expand regulation to include preparers.

Note that tax preparers are not actually IRS enrolled agents, they just argue they are kind of sort of like them (in that they both deal with tax returns, I suppose).  But enrolled agents explicitly act as an intermediary between citizens and the government in disputes and claims.  This is not the role of tax preparers.  They merely charge a fee to fill out time-consuming and confusion paperwork.  My tax accountant has never once had any conversations with the IRS on my behalf, nor should he.  I would engage an attorney for that.

Obama Administration Saving Money by Eliminating Paragraph Breaks

I checked out the government web site today that supposedly offers advice to small businesses on Obamacare compliance.  Of course, I found nothing on my main question, in part because the IRS cannot figure out what it wants to do (my question is on requirements and penalties vis a vis seasonal workers).

I was presented with a number of other government blog posts and articles, including "8 Ways Your Business Can Get Ready for the 2013 Tourist Season."  Curious what the government would counsel on this topic, I clicked through.  Obviously, there is a paragraph break and carriage return sequester.  I cannot get the energy to read this kind of unformatted text.  The advice is actually OK, and ironically one of the eight is that one should consider getting into the business I am in.

Obamacare Mandates Delayed -- And That Other Shoe

Well, it certainly comes as happy news to this correspondent that the Administration announced this week it will delay health insurance mandates on businesses.  Our company has spent a ton of time since last November trying to minimize the expected cost of the mandates -- the initial cost estimates of which for our business came in at three times our annual net income.  Our preparation has been hampered by the fact that the IRS still has not finalized rules for how these mandates will be applied to a seasonal work force.  Like many retail service businesses, we have studied a number of models for converting most of our work force to part time, thus making the mandates irrelevant for us.

I know this last statement has earned me a fair share of crap in the comments section as a heartless capitalist swine, but the vitriol is just absurd.   Many of the folks criticizing me can't or don't want to imagine themselves running a business, so let's say you have an annual salary of $40,000.  Now, on top of all your other expenses, the government just mandated that you have to pay an extra $120,000 a year for something.  That is the situation my business is in.  Are you just going to sit there and allow your savings to become a smoking hole in the ground, or are you going to do something to avoid it?  Unlike the government, I cannot run a permanent deficit and I cannot create new revenues by fiat.  Congress allowed business owners a legal way to avoid the health insurance mandate, and I am going to grab that option rather than be bankrupted.  So are every other service business I know of, which is why I have predicted that full-time jobs are on the verge of disappearing in the retail service sector.

Anyway, it appears that the IRS and the Administration could not get their act together fast enough to make this happen.  Not a surprise, I suppose.  You and I have both been in committee meetings, and have seen groups devolve into arguments aver useless minutia.  This is not a monopoly of the government, it happens in the private sector as well.  But in the private sector, in good companies, a leader steps in and says "I have heard enough, it is going to be done X way, now go do it."  In government, the incentives work against leaders cutting through the Gordian knot in this way, so the muddle can carry on forever.

There are at least two more shoes that are going to drop, one bad, one good:

  1. On the bad side, while companies like mine complain about the cost of the PPACA, they are going to freak when they see the paperwork.  My sense is that we are going to be required to know in great detail what kind of health insurance policy every one of our employees have, even if it was not obtained through our company, and will have to report that regularly to the government.  In addition, there are gong to be new reporting requirements to new agencies for wages and hours.  It is going to be a big mess, and my uneducated guess is that someone in the last week or so looked at that mess and decided to hold off announcing it.

    But readers can expect a Coyote freak out whenever it is announced, because it is going to be bad.  Wal-mart will be fine, it has the money to build systems to do that stuff, but companies like mine with 500 employees but only 2 staff people are going to get slammed.  There is a reason government agencies, even government schools, have more staff than line personnel -- they live and breath and think in terms of complex reporting and paperwork.  They love it because for many it is their job security.  Swimming every day in that water, it is no surprise they impose it without thought on the private sector.  This makes it hard for companies like ours that try to have 99% of our employees actually serving customers rather than pushing paper.

  2. The individual mandate is toast for next year.  No way it happens.  If the Administration cannot get the corporate piece done on time, there is no way in hell it is going to get the exchanges up and running.  And even if they do, some prominent states with political influence with this President, like Illinois and California, likely will not get their exchanges done in time and will beg for a delay.

Cost and Benefit and the Fourth Ammendment

From Reuters via Zero Hedge:

The Obama administration on Thursday acknowledged that it is collecting a massive amount of telephone records from at least one carrier, reopening the debate over privacy even as it defended the practice as necessary to protect Americans against attack.

The admission comes after the Guardian newspaper published a secret court order related to the records of millions of Verizon Communications customers on its website on Wednesday.

A senior administration official said the court order pertains only to data such as a telephone number or the length of a call, and not the subscribers' identities or the content of the telephone calls.

Such information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the official said, speaking on the condition of not being named.

"It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States," the official added.

The revelation raises fresh concerns about President Barack Obama's handling of privacy and free speech issues. His administration is already under fire for searching Associated Press journalists' calling records and the emails of a Fox television reporter as part of its inquiries into leaked government information.

A few thoughts:

  1. I have no doubt that this makes the job of tracking terrorists easier.  So would the ability to break down any door anywhere and do random house searches without a warrant.  The issue is not effectiveness, but the cost in terms of lost liberty and the potential for abuse.  The IRS scandal should remind us how easy it is to use government power to harass political enemies and out-groups
  2. The FISA court is a bad joke, as it seems willing to issue "all information on all people" warrants.  I think there is little doubt that similar data gathering is going on at all the other carriers.
  3. Luckily, Susan Rice is now the National Security Adviser.  I am sure with her proven history of not just being a political puppet but really digging in to challenge White House talking points that she will quickly get to the bottom of this.

Screwed Up Speech Law

I am not sure the WSJ has the law right (I don't really trust the media any more to get basic facts correct), but assuming for a moment they know what they are talking about, this caught my attention vis a vis the IRS scandal:

Officials explained that the unit had made the change [to their targeting criteria] because it was receiving many applications for groups that focused on lobbying, which is a permitted activity, and that weren't involved in political activity, which is restricted.

So its OK to kiss a Senator's ass but not OK to advocate for his defeat in the next election?  They may screw everything else up, but Congress is really good at making sure it takes care of itself.

"Incivility" Defined: It Means Criticizing Obama

I have had hard time parsing exactly what the intelligentsia means by "incivility."  On the one hand, they often call for more civil discourse and lament the lack of incivility in government nowadays.  But on the other hand, people like Obama very frequently argue by ad hominem attack, preferring to question the motives of the NRA or climate skeptics rather than engage their criticisms of gun control or CO2 limitations.

This has confused me, because I have always defined civility in discourse as the willingness to accept your opponent as a person of good will who merely disagrees or is misguided.  But if this is civility, why the frequent "othering" of political opponents by the same folks calling for civility?

Well, it turns out I have been using the wrong definition of civility.  As Donna Brazille makes clear, "incivility" means criticizing the President or attempting to hold him accountable for missteps of those who report to him.  She actually beings by defining civility in a way with which I mostly agree:

A government of, by, and for the people requires that people talk to people, that we can agree to disagree but do so in civility. If we let the politicians and those who report dictate our discourse, then our course will be dictated.

But then she goes on to say

We, the people, need to stay focused on facts, causes and solutions. Let's begin with the findings of the Treasury's inspector general who uncovered it: That it was bureaucratic mismanagement, but that there was no evidence of any political motivation or influence from outside the IRS.

And that, according to acting Commissioner Steven Miller, who just resigned, the problem started because the Supreme Court's Citizens' United decision created a surge of requests by political groups for tax-exempt status.

LOL - don't let politicians dictate our course - but everyone needs to shut up and take the word for two IRS officials that there is no scandal here (noting that we know from the IRS's own data that the last statement she urges us to accept in the name of civility is definitely false).    Further, she says

Why am I alarmed? Because two "scandals" -- the IRS tax-exempt inquiries and the Department of Justice's tapping of reporters' phones -- have become lynch parties. And the congressional investigation of Benghazi may become a scandal in itself.

So let's of course all be civil, and civility means calling folks criticizing a black President "lynch mobs."

By the way, a bit off-topic, but this paragraph is a textbook example of tricks editorial writers use

The IRS scandal has sparked bipartisan outrage that should require a bipartisan solution. The director who oversaw this was a Bush appointee who was confirmed by a Democratic Congress. Even Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says he doubts very much that Obama was involved

Each sentence here as a master-stroke of the spinmeister's pen trying to defend her guy in the White House.

  1. Note the effort in the first sentence to shift this to a bipartisan issue.  Both sides are upset.  It is a good government issue.    The implication we are supposed to draw is that this no longer can be a critique of this particular administration.  It has transcended.  This is how red-blue team political invective works.  If the outrage is coming from just one party, it should not stick to the President because because it is petty partisanship.  If it comes from both sides, it should not stick because it is a larger issue for all of us that transcends this particular Administration.  In fact, through the article, she actually makes both arguments simultaneously.  Brilliant!
  2. It's Bush's fault.  This is just so well-worn that Obama officials simply cannot help themselves.   How can a man the Left thought to be so stupid and incompetent still be directing affairs four and half years after he left the building?
  3. This one is really funny.  Is, as implied by the structure of this sentence and the world "even", Carl Bernstein the least likely imaginable person to excuse Obama of such a charge?    I think I am going to start writing this way.  Even Warren Meyer thinks climate change has been exaggerated.  Even Kim Kardashian thinks its important to get a lot of PR.  Even Tia Carrere says its OK to make a bad movie once in a while.  Hey, this is fun.

By the way, as I wrote before, it is unlikely Obama gave a specific order to harass the tea party.  However, he has created a strong culture of "othering" his political enemies and impugning their motives as evil, sending a strong signal to his supporters such that actual orders were unnecessary.  No one ordered from the top that Princeton students harass Yale at every opportunity (or even better, Penn).  The culture takes care of it.

She Had Just the Resume They Were Looking For

Via ABC

The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.

Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.

What Obama most needed in the IRS ACA office was someone willing to ignore the clear language of the PPACA legislation and ram through IRS tax subsidies for insurance policies in the Federal (vs. state) exchanges -- subsidies that were purposefully and explicitly denied in the plain language of the law.

Obama Didn't Need to Order IRS Crackdown on the Tea Party

There won't be any direct order found telling the IRS to go hassle Conservative groups.  That's not the way it works.  Obama's style is to "other" groups he does not like, to impugn their motives, and to cast them as pariahs beyond the bounds of civil society.  Such and such group, he will say, opposes me not because they have reasonable differences of opinion but because they have nefarious motives.  Once a group is labelled and accepted (at least by your political followers) as such, you don't have to order people to harass them. They just do it, because they see it as the right thing to do to harass evil people.  When Joe Nocera writes this in support of Obama in no less a platform as the NY Times, orders are superfluous

You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them.

These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took...

He concludes by saying

For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.

There are probably some deeply confused people in the IRS right now -- after all they were denying tax exempt status to terrorists, to enemies of America.  They should be treated like heroes, and now they are getting all this criticism.  So unfair.

Postscript:  And they are racists.  Racist terrorists.

But Obama, in his most candid moments, acknowledged that race was still a problem. In May 2010, he told guests at a private White House dinner that race was probably a key component in the rising opposition to his presidency from conservatives, especially right-wing activists in the anti-incumbent "Tea Party" movement that was then surging across the country.

This is totally the Obama way of fighting a political battle.  He is saying, "forget their stated reasons for opposing me, such as opposition to the health care law, to Wall Street bailouts, and to rising government debt.  They really oppose me because they are racists and I am black."  Obama's opposition are absolutely never, ever people of good will who simply disagree.

PS#2:  It's pretty hilarious the NY Times published Nocera's "Tea Partiers are Terrorists" editorial just 6 months after they editorialized against incivility in the context of the Giffords shooting, which by the way had as much to do with civility in public discourse as the Benghazi attacks had to do with a YouTube video.  In fact, it sure seems like this administration has a history of falsely blaming tragedies on their political opposition's speech.

Wherein I Tell The Census Bureau to Take a Leap

Every year I am required by law to fill out what is called the "Accommodation Report" by the Census Bureau.  As a lodging company (we run campgrounds) I must reveal my revenues and some of my expenses.  They ask for numbers aggregated differently from how we collect them for GAAP, so it is not a simple exercise.  But I do it under protest, even though several of my competitors do not seem to be similarly punished with this requirement.

Well, I don't actually fully comply.  We run over 150 small locations, and technically I am supposed to fill out an 8-page accommodation survey for every one of them.  This would take a week of my time.  So I pretend I have only one campground and report my summary revenue numbers for all our campgrounds as if they were for one location.   Also, a year ago the Census folks began demanding the data quarterly, and I told them to pound sand, that I was on the verge of not doing the annual report and so I definitely was not going to do all that work quarterly.

Well, this year it got worse.  For some reason, the survey this year had 3 extra pages asking me to break down my expenses in detail, in many categories that do not match those that I use in my bookkeeping.  Here is an example page:

 

First, not only do I not have time to figure this out (who tracks software purchases as its own item in the accounting system?), but it is not the government's business, particularly given that I am a private company.  Even the IRS is not this intrusive.

Further, at best the data I report will be used for nothing.  More likely, it will be used to justify new taxes on me, new regulations on me, or new subsidies for my competitors.  I have no desire to aid any of these activities.

Postscript:  And you know what I have zero patience with? -- otherwise free market academic economists who support this kind of data gathering because it is critical.  Yes, I am sure they much prefer to get free statistics for their work gathered via government coercion  rather than have to pay for it, as one would have to do if we relied on private companies to gather this data rather than the government.  There is absolutely no difference between an economist supporting government statistics gathering and any other company or individual asking that the government subsidize their inputs.  But, but, we are critical to the country!  Yeah, the sugar industry says the same thing.

Obamacare Lowest Cost Health Plan at $20,000 per Year?

CNS News reported, and no one in the Obama Administration seems to be denying, that the IRS is assuming the cheapest conforming health insurance policy for a family of four under Obamacare will cost $20,000 per year

The IRS's assumption that the cheapest plan for a family will cost $20,000 per year is found in examples the IRS gives to help people understand how to calculate the penalty they will need to pay the government if they do not buy a mandated health plan.

The examples point to families of four and families of five, both of which the IRS expects in its assumptions to pay a minimum of $20,000 per year for a bronze plan.

“The annual national average bronze plan premium for a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 children) is $20,000,” the regulation says.

Bronze will be the lowest tier health-insurance plan available under Obamacare--after Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

Kevin Drum shot back, saying that Conservatives were essentially out of touch for thinking that health insurance currently, or could ever conceivably, cost much less

So is this unusual? Not really. The average cost of healthcare coverage for a family is currently about $16,000,and by 2015 (the base year for the IRS examples) that will probably be around $18,000 or so. And that's for employer-sponsored plans. Individual plans are generally steeper, so $20,000 isn't a bad guess. It might be a little high, but not by much. And the family in question will, of course, be eligible for generous subsidies that bring this cost down substantially, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. They won't actually pay $20,000 per year.

(We'll ignore that last part as typical Progressive double think -- as long as the government is paying, the costs don't count.  It's like being free!)

I can't believe that Drum has actually shopped for health insurance of late.  The link he relies on for his data is for employer plans only, and Drum makes the unproven assumption that these are somehow less costly than individual plans people have to actually shop for. This is false.  Employer plan averages include a lot of gold-plated policies in the mix driven by noncompetitive union contracts and executives wanting gold-plated plans for themselves at the expense of shareholders.   I would argue that Drum is comparing "platinum" plans today to "bronze" plans under Obamacare, and it should be disturbing that even with this bit of judo, bronze Obamacare plans come out 20%+ more expensive than gold-plated current corporate plans.

But there is an even easier way to solve this, one Drum (who is nominally a "journalist") could solve with a few phone calls or clicks on Internet sites:  we can get some quotes.  Being a blogger with a real job, I do not have time to do this, but fortunately I don't have to because I just did this a few months ago for my family.  Here are a few quotes for a family of four with two 50+ old adults in pretty good health and two teenage kids from Blue Cross - Blue Shield of Arizona:

BlueOptimum- Plus $5000 deductible - $615.45 per mo., 7,385.40 per year>

BluePortfolio-Plus $3000 deductible - $703.80 per mo., 8,445.60 per year  (HSA eligeable)

BluePorfolio-Plus $5500 deductible - $499.75 per mo., 5,997.00 per year  (HSA eligeable)

Note first that these high deductible and HSA policies are ILLEGAL under Obamacare, in large part because they are actual insurance and Progressives don't mean "insurance" when they say "health insurance", they mean fully pre-paid all-encompassing medical care.  I consider the purpose of insurance to be to protect from catastrophes that you can't afford (e.g. your house burns down).  In the case of medical care, I thought about from my financial position, and determined what the largest financial setback I could bear in a year if someone really had a medical problem.  So I set my deductible at that number, and made sure I bought a policy that paid everything else above that reliably, without any low lifetime or maximum payment numbers.

The Blue Optimum above is a fairly standard co-pay plan that covers most doctor visits and drugs with only a copay.  The Blue Portfolio are HSA plans that are pure insurance.  I pay everything (except certain preventative care costs) up to the deductible, and they pay everything else above that.  In this case, note that the deductible is per person but there is a total family/policy deductible of twice that.  In other words, with the second policy, even if everyone in my family gets cancer in the same year, we aren't out of pocket more than $6,000.  So, for this middle policy, in typical years we spend $8,445.60 plus, say, another $1000 on miscellaneous stuff for a total health cost of $9,445.60.  Or half the Obamacare "bronze" or cheapest possible plan.  In the worst possible year, if two family members get very sick in the same year (not a hugely likely event) we are out $14,445.60 per year.  This is the worst case.  Still 28% lower than the cheapest Obamacare option.

In this plan, I am allowed under the HSA provision to bank about $5,000 a year in a pre-tax account.  I can use this money to pay medical bills up to the deductible, or save it.  If money is left over some day, it becomes a retirement account and I can use the money for retirement.  So I have the financial incentive to shop around for best prices, because the residual in the HSA is mine to spend on .... whatever.   I have told the stories a number of times here about my medical shopping experience.  X-rays that were charged to insurance companies for $250 suddenly cost $45 when I said I was paying cash.  My wife got a 70% cost reduction the other day on orthodic shoes when she offered to pay cash rather than put her insurance in play.  So, not only will Obamacare raise the prices of my insurance substantially, it will also raise medical costs in general by stripping away the last incentives for anyone to price-shop for health care.

When I read my Bastiat, I am always reminded how humans tend to insist on adopting the same myths and fallacies about the economy.  The myths he busts in the 19th century can be seen on the pages of our newspapers every day of the 21st century.   But one unique idea we have spawned since Bastiat is this bizarre notion that somehow it is wrong to pay for ones own medical expenses out of pocket.  It took forever to convince even my very smart HBS-educated wife that it was a much better deal to go to a high-deductible health plan.  Since we did so, we have saved a ton of money, and by the way done our small bit to keep prices down for the rest of you by actually shopping for things like x-rays (you can thank me later).  I don't know why this fallacy is so entrenched and hard to change, but we have built the entire edifice of Obamacare on top of it.

And You Thought The Solyndra Handouts Were Over

Via the WSJ, the Solyndra scam continues

Having sold off its manufacturing plant, fired nearly 1,000 workers and proven the non-viability of its business model, Solyndra's only real assets are what the IRS calls "tax attributes." These are between $875 million and $975 million in net operating losses that can reduce future taxable income, which the IRS values as high as $350 million. Before it went toes up, Solyndra also accumulated $12 million in solar tax credits that can reduce tax liabilities dollar for dollar.

Tax-loss carry-forwards are routine but worthless if a company can't turn profits to pay taxes on. So Solyndra's owners are asking the court to liquidate the rest of the business and contribute a net $6.7 million to pay off creditors for pennies on the dollar. A holding corporation will then emerge from Chapter 11 that won't make products or employ workers, but it will get the Solyndra tax offsets.

The dummy company is owned by Argonaut Ventures I LLC, Solyndra's largest shareholder and the primary investment arm of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Mr. Kaiser is a Tulsa oil billionaire who bundled campaign checks for Mr. Obama in 2008.

Wow, who could have predicted this?   Well, lots of folks, including me just over a year ago.   I actually underestimated the value, assuming the losses would be worth about $150 million in avoided taxes, not the $350 million the IRS now pegs them at.  If I can figure out this game, the Obama Administration had to know what was going on.

If the Administration allows this to happen (and remember that in the GM boondoggle,  Obama waived the traditional rules that have bankrupt companies losing their tax loss carryforwards, giving GM a multi-billion dollar tax subsidy almost no one counts in the bailout costs), this will make Kaiser's last cash investment in Solyndra one of the great crony deals of all time.

If you remember, Kaiser (via Argonaut) invested $75 million as Solyndra was going down the tubes.  No rational person could have thought that amount would have saved the company, and it didn't.  What it bought, we now know, is three things:

  • Kaiser got the US Government to give up their lead creditor position to Kaiser, basically putting the US Government behind the Obama donor to get repaid and reducing the taxpayers' influence in the bankruptcy
  • It gave Kaiser a few precious months to loot the company.  Between that $75 million investment and the bankruptcy, Solyndra sold off most of its liquid assets at a discount to .... Argonaut, the group controlled by Kaiser
  • It looks like Kaiser will get nearly a billion dollars in tax losses that can be used to reduce its future taxes by $350 million.

Challenge Tax Code as Ex Post Facto Law?

It is becoming increasingly clear that it is impossible to calculate exactly what you owe to the IRS (even the IRS will not take responsibility for what their customer support people tell you that you owe).  Given that, one can't really know his or her tax burden for sure until and unless one is audited and the case is adjudicated.  Doesn't this put the tax code in violation of the Constitution's prohibition of ex post facto law?

IRS Harassing the Tea Party?

Sure seems like it.   Here is the list of questions the Ohio Tea Party has asked as part of their application, which should be routine, for 501(c)4 status.  The Virginia Tea Party had similar requests, including apparently a demand for donor lists and confidential materials which the IRS says will be made public.  The latter seems part and parcel of recent initiative on the Left (seen also in the whole Heartland fiasco) to out confidential donors of Conservative and libertarian organizations while demanding no similar transparency of organizations on the Left.

By the way, I am President of a 501(c)4 organization  (basically a trade group) and I can say with some authority that we never have received any sort of parallel set of questions from the IRS vis a vis our status, so this is either a very new requirement or one especially crafted to apply only to the Tea Party.  I can say from all too much experience that having a Federal agency sit on a request for 9 months and then suddenly demand incredible amounts of work in just a few days from the private party is absolutely typical.

This is Unbelievably Aggravating

From today's WSJ:

A House subcommittee will hold an "oversight" hearing today on the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the über-regulator that will soon have jurisdiction over most of the country's credit-making institutions. We put "oversight" in quotes because Congress has little say over either the new bureau or its unofficial czar, Elizabeth Warren.

This unprecedented lack of accountability is by Ms. Warren's design. The bureau was the Harvard professor's idea, and she lobbied the Obama Administration and Congress to make it part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform. That law calls it an "independent bureau," akin to an independent agency like the Securities and Exchange Commission. But that's deceptive. Unlike other agencies, it isn't subject to annual Congressional appropriations.

Incredibly, the law says the bureau's director gets to set her own annual budget by requesting a share of the "combined earnings of the Federal Reserve System." The total she can request is capped this year at 10% of the Fed's total operating expenses (which in 2009 were $5.4 billion). That cap rises to 11% next year and 12% in 2013, and the Fed Chairman has no authority to deny her request. The director can also request an additional $200 million more per year for the next five years from Congress.

This arrangement may be unconstitutional under the separation of powers, and we hope it is soon tested in court. It was a deliberate political gambit to make the bureau less accountable to either Congress or the rest of the executive branch. In July, when its powers fully vest, the bureau will have supervisory authority over banks with more than $10 billion of assets and independent rule-making authority.

Both are cause for worry, given that the bureau will not have to incorporate the views of other banking regulators into its rules when it comes, for instance, to issues of safety and soundness. While the IRS Commissioner and Comptroller of the Currency report to the Treasury Secretary, Ms. Warren and her successors can tell him to crush rocks.

The affront is compounded by President Obama's decision to evade the spirit of the law by letting Ms. Warren set up the bureau without Senate confirmation. Republicans objected to her potential appointment, and even Democrat Chris Dodd said she would be hard to confirm. So Mr. Obama created a special position for her at both the White House and Treasury, letting her essentially create the bureau and hire its staff without facing the Senate. She has proceeded to sign up a raft of liberal antibank populists, such as former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, former AFL-CIO deputy counsel David Silbermann and University of Connecticut law professor Patricia McCoy

Imposing accountability on public officials is hard enough without laws being structured to purposely evade it.

Dealing with Tax Agencies

Radley Balko tells his frustrating stories about dealing with the IRS.  These stories seemed totally familiar to me because in my business life, I deal with very similar problems nearly every day.  Doing business in 12 states, I don't just deal with the IRS but 12 sales tax agencies, 12 employment tax agencies, 12 unemployment insurance agencies... you get the idea.   Multiply this story times 100 and that is what I spend most of my time on running my business.

Just as one example, 8 years ago Florida switched our company from quarterly to monthly reporting  for sales taxes.  They did this in the middle of a quarter, so the reporting for that quarter was a funny mix of a partial quarter plus one monthly report.  The next year a letter was triggered automatically from their system saying I hadn't submitted two months of reports.  It took me several hours and multiple phone calls and two faxed letters to get them to understand the situation and promise to update their system.  Frustrating but case closed.  Or not.  Their system again triggered a threatening letter to me over the same issue in December 2004.  And then 2005.  And 2006.  2007.  2008.  2009.  This comes up again every dang year.  Every year after hours of work someone swears I have finally found the right person and I would never hear about it again.  But the next year it pops up yet again.  In 2009 they actually sent a sheriff to our Florida location to start attaching assets over the non-issue.

The 1099 Landmine

The Senate will take a vote today to repeal the hugely onerous 1099 provision from the Obamacare legislation.   Good news, though Obama is opposed to the repeal as he feels (probably correctly) that it will open the floodgates to further repeals and amendments.  Which is pretty disingenuous, as one of the soothing memes he handed out when the legislation was being rushed through Congress was that there was plenty of time to amend and fix its rough edges.  How he needs to decide if he was lying about that, as Congress addresses a rough edge that had nothing to do with health care but created a huge and largely useless burden on businesses.  I know that this provision would really kneecap my business.

Meanwhile, small businesses are staring in horror toward 2013, when the 1099 mandate will hit more than 30 million of them. Currently businesses only have to tell the IRS the value of services they purchase from vendors and the like. Under the new rules, they'll have to report the value of goods and merchandise they purchase as well, adding vast accounting and paperwork costs.

Think about a midsized trucking company. The back office would have to collect hundreds of thousands of receipts from every gas station where its drivers filled up and figure out where it spent more than $600 that year. Then it would also need to match those payments to the stations' corporate parents.

Most Democrats now claim they were blindsided and didn't understand the implications of the 1099 provision"”which is typical of the slapdash, destructive way the bill was written and passed. As the critics claimed, most Members had no idea what they were voting on.

Democrats are trying to water down this repeal:

Yesterday the White House endorsed a competing proposal from Florida Democrat Bill Nelson that would increase the 1099 threshold to $5,000 and exempt businesses with fewer than 25 workers. Yet this is little more than a rearguard action in favor of the status quo; the Nelson amendment leaves the basic architecture unchanged while making the problem more complex.

Businesses would still have to track all purchases, not knowing in advance which contractors will exceed $5,000 at the end of the year. It also creates a marginal barrier to job creation"”for a smaller firm, hiring a 26th employee would be extremely costly. The Nelson amendment also includes new taxes on domestic oil production, as every Democratic bill now seems to do.

This analysis is dead on -- our company generally cannot predict exactly how much we will purchase from a specific vendor in a year, so we would still have to collect tax ID's from every single vendor, not knowing which would cross the hurdle.

Horrible New Paperwork Requirement Slipped into Health Care Bill

This is lifted from an email I got from America Outdoors

A little noticed provision in the recently passed health care reform bill will require every payment to corporations over $600 to be reported on a Form 1099 to the IRS, including payments for the purchase of merchandise and services. This provision takes effect in 2012.

The current law requires a Form 1099 to be submitted to the IRS when your business pays more than $600 for rent, interest, dividends, and non-employee services if the payments are made to entities other than corporations. Currently, payments made to a corporation and payments for merchandise are not required to be reported.

To file the required 1099, a business will have to obtain and keep track of a Taxpayer Information Number (TIN) from every vendor before submitting the 1099 to that business and the IRS. Under current tax law, one copy of the form is sent to the IRS, and another copy is sent to the person to whom the business made the payments.

Rep. Dan Lungren (CA-3) introduced "The Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act" (H.R. 5141). The legislation would repeal the expanded 1099 reporting requirement.  Lungren correctly asserts that the burdens placed on small businesses by this reporting requirement would be overwhelming.

Call your U.S. Representative today and ask them to cosponsor H.R. 5141. The House switchboard number is 202-225-3121.  Ask to be connected to your Representative's office.

My small business has over a thousand vendors.  I would have to hire someone full time for a month to do this.  And it would be to zero purpose.  The IRS would be so flooded with forms that there would be no way they could pull any useful information from the blizzard.  This is yet another example of legislators operating with absolutely no idea how commerce actually works.  We have coined a name for it within our firm -- we call it arrogant ignorance.

Chris Edwards at Cato had more on this a while back.

I'm stunned that there wasn't a broader debate before such a costly mandate was enacted. If it goes into effect, it will waste vast quantities of human effort in filling out forms, reworking computer systems, collecting and organizing data, and fighting the IRS. The struggling American economy can't afford anymore suffocating tax regulations. This mandate is a giant deadweight loss. It should be repealed.

Beyond Satire

From the TaxProf:

President Obama today issued a presidential memorandum directing the Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department, and other federal agencies to block contractors who are delinquent on their taxes from receiving new government contracts. The memorandum also directs the IRS to review the accuracy of companies' tax delinquency claims and asks Congress to enact enforecement tools.

This administration continues to follow the consistent principle that taxes should be applied ruthlessly to out-of-favor and unsympathetic groups, and forgiven or exempted for friends of the Administration.  Does anyone else find it odd that our first black President is doing so much to undermine the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment?

Licensing Protects Competitors, Not Consumers

This is a long-running series on this blog, and the most recent example comes from John Stossel.

[T]he IRS plans to require paid preparers to register with the agency. Subsequently -- the timeline is not yet firm -- they will be required to pass competency tests and receive continuing professional education"¦

In a report issued Monday, the agency also raised concerns about the quality of tax-preparation software"¦

As is usual in such cases, the IRS uses some ridiculously mundane task (in this case, hair cutting) as an example of something which is licensed but its super-critical target industry is not.  This is typically supposed to be read as a justification of the extension of licensing to the new industry, though I always read it as a comment on how over-licensed we already are.

In field tests, the IRS noted Monday, tax-return preparers often gave bad advice"¦

Of course, in numerous field tests, the IRS itself often gives bad advice as well.  From MSN Money a while back:

Two decades ago, Ralph Nader's Tax Reform Research Group prepared 22 identical tax reports based on the fictional economic plight of a married couple with one child. Identical copies were submitted to 22 different IRS offices around the country.

Each office came up with an entirely different tax figure. Results varied from a refund of $811.96 recommended in Flushing, N.Y., to a tax-due figure of $52.13 demanded by the IRS office in Portland, Ore....

Physician, heal thyself.  Maybe the problem is in the tax code, not the preparers.  From the same MSN Money article:

Since 1988, Money magazine has conducted an annual study where 50 tax professionals, including attorneys and certified public accountants, have been asked to complete a tax return for a hypothetical family.

The results have been unnerving. The professional preparers come up with different results each year -- with spreads of as much as $1,000.

So let's see where we are. The IRS can't get the answers right. Neither can the professionals. That may explain why there have been U.S. Supreme Court tax cases where as many as four of the justices got the answer "wrong."

Maybe the justification has nothing to do with the quality of tax preparation.  Let's see who was happy about the IRS announcement:

H&R Block's enthusiastic response to the IRS's regulation plans suggests that the same thing will happen once the IRS licenses tax preparers:

Under the new rules, H&R Block "won't be competing against people who aren't regulated and don't have the same standards as we do," said Kathryn Fulton, senior vice president for government relations.

I will end, as I always do on this topic, with a quote from Milton Friedman:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.