Amtrak

Amtrak: Constantly Running Deficits but Considering Giving Free Rides to Writers

So fun, so free!  Amtrak is currently considering offering a writers’ residency program for writers seeking inspiration-inducing-solitude by traveling through the countryside on an Amtrak train.   Providing a “unique environment for creative thought,” the program will be free to boot.  Exciting, right?  The folks at the Huffington Post think so:

Thanks to novelist Alexander Chee — who recently expressed his wish to see Amtrak begin a writer’s residency — the railroad service is about to offer exactly that, thus exciting writers everywhere.

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Money

The Political Selectivity of Obamacare’s Tax Health Insurance Premiums

The new year is usually reason for optimism, but that sentiment is going to be curbed by a new Obamacare tax starting January 1.  Starting in 2014, Obamacare imposes a new tax on health insurance premiums by an additional 2 to 3 percent.

But don’t worry!  Some will be spared (sub. req’d):

 IRS regulations published in November excluded “any entity that is a self-insured employer to the extent that such employer self-insures its employees’ health risks.” Since about four of five employers with more than 500 workers and most union-negotiated health plans are self-insured, they are spared from the tax. So is insurance on behalf of “government entities,” such as original Medicare (but not privately run Medicare Advantage).

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BudgetHeader

The Ryan-Murray Spending Increase

Status: On December 10, 2013, House Budget Chair Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)Heritage ActionScorecardRep. Paul Ryan63%House Republican AverageSee Full Scorecard63% and Senate Budget Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)Heritage ActionScorecardSen. Patty Murray0%Senate Democrat AverageSee Full Scorecard0% unveiled a budget agreement to replace part of the sequester and increase spending for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The top line budget number will increase from $967 billion to $1.012 trillion in FY 2014 and from $995 billion to $1.014, a total increase of $63 billion. These increases will be paid for by a blend of future spending cuts and revenue increases.

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UntanglingTheSpin

Do You Support Tax Hikes?

The Washington Post has a provocative headline this morning: “Poll: Majority of Republicans OK with revenue increases.”

After asking a series of questions about the debt, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation poll conducted by Global Strategy Group asked respondents: “If both parties were to agree on a long-term solution on the national debt, I would support it, even if it includes revenue increases that I don’t agree with.”  54-percent of self-identified Republicans agreed.

Word choice matters here, and the decision to use “revenue increases” as opposed to “tax increases” was intentional (every word in a poll is carefully chosen).  Peterson’s spin on the poll was that everyone wants “a majority of voters in both parties are willing to give ground on key issues in order to achieve a much desired, long-term fiscal solution.”  To arrive at those polling results, the questions whitewashed the policy prescriptions being discussed, i.e., tax increases.

Pollsters understand “tax increases” are unlikely to poll as well as “revenue increases.”  This is not controversial.

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sen chris coons

Delaware’s Chris Coons Doesn’t Want You to Pay Taxes…Sometimes

Last night, the Senate moved to end debate on so-called Marketplace Fairness Act, more commonly known as the Internet Sales Tax.  The bill would turn small, online businesses into tax collectors for states in which they have no real connection.  Despite representing a state without a sales tax, Delaware Senator Chris Coons favors the legislation.

According to the Associated Press, Coons “supports the bill in part because tax-free Internet sales are eating into sales by Delaware retailers.”  The article continues:

“In our region, we’ve long benefited from significant commercial sales from residents of Maryland, of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, who come to Delaware to shop because we’re a tax-free state,” Coons said. “Over time, the benefit of that has eroded as folks discovered that they could buy the same things online without paying sales tax from home.”

This is earmark-style parochialism at its worst.  Coons wants to end tax-free shopping online so people will bring their tax-free shopping habits back to his home state.

So insular is Coons’ focus, he is urging “residents of Maryland, of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere” to break their respective states’ tax laws.  As the same AP article explains, “In many states, shoppers are required to pay unpaid sales taxes when they file state tax returns.”

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