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Category: Tax

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Stanford Law Review Online: How to Reach the Constitutional Question in the Health Care Cases

Stanford Law Review

In a Note just published by the Stanford Law Review Online, Daniel J. Hemel discusses a jurisdictional issue that might delay a ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and a novel way in which the Solicitor General could bypass that hurdle. In How to Reach the Constitutional Question in the Health Care Cases, he writes:

Although the Supreme Court has agreed to hear three suits challenging the 2010 health care reform legislation, it is not at all clear that the Court will resolve the constitutional questions at stake in those cases. Rather, the Justices may decide that a Reconstruction-era statute, the Tax Anti-Injunction Act (TA-IA), requires them to defer a ruling on the merits of the constitutional challenges until 2015 at the earliest. . . . Fortunately (at least for those who favor a quick resolution to the constitutional questions at stake in the health care litigation), there is a way for the Solicitor General to bypass the TA-IA bar—even if one agrees with the interpretation of the TA-IA adopted by the Fourth Circuit and Judge Kavanaugh. Specifically, the Solicitor General can initiate an action against one or more of the fourteen states that have announced their intention to resist enforcement of the health care law, and he can bring this action directly in the Supreme Court under the Court’s original jurisdiction. Such an action would be a suit for the purpose of facilitating—not restraining—the enforcement of the health care law. Thus, it would open up an avenue to an immediate adjudication of the constitutional challenges.

Read the full Note, How to Reach the Constitutional Question in the Health Care Cases by Daniel J. Hemel, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

Pascal on Power and Justice (A Thought for the New Year)

The past few years I’ve tried to find an inspiring quote for the New Year for the blog. There’s a rich vein of insight to be mined from the Carnegie Council podcasts, which I recently discovered on iTunes. One speaker I particularly enjoyed was Krishen Mehta, a former partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers who is now the co-chairman of Global Financial Integrity’s advisory board. Asked about what motivated him to try to stop the shocking abuse of tax havens and mispriced trade by oligarchs, he said the following:

It really is a war against the poor. The inequity that has existed in the past is going to continue unless civil society is informed, asks the right questions of its government, of its business leadership, and asks for more responsibility. One of my favorite writers is Blaise Pascal, who said that “justice and power must be brought together so that whatever is just may be powerful and whatever is powerful may be just.”

A recent study concluded that, “For a salary of between £75,000 and £200,000, tax accountants destroy £47 in value, for every pound they generate.” Mehta, by contrast, is not only creating value, but doing so for the most vulnerable people. How appropriate that a thinker admired by both mathematicians and philosophers would inspire him.

Image Credit: Augustin Pajou. As described on Wikimedia Commons: “Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) studying the cycloid, engraved on the tablet he is holding in his left hand; the scattered papers at his feet are his Pensées, the open book his Lettres provinciales.”

The Poor Get One Strike; Banks Get Thousands

Most readers of this blog are already familiar with draconian treatment of the poor by various law enforcers and state bureaucracies. Here’s yet another example:

[A] one-strike clause . . . allows the public housing authority to evict [the tenant] if any member of her household or any guest engages in certain kinds of criminal activity. . . . Stories abound about the one-strike policy being wielded in seemingly egregious ways to evict “innocent tenants,” such as a disabled elderly man in California whose caretaker was caught with crack. . . .The Chicago Reporter wrote in September that 86 percent of Chicago’s one-strike evictions last year did not arise from criminal activity by the person named on the lease.

“These policies, the effect of them on children, families, women, families of color, were not thought through. And I think now a national conversation is beginning to rethink that,” said Ariela Migdal, a senior staff attorney with the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Migdal pointed to a June 2011 letter from HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to public housing directors, encouraging the directors to use their “broad discretion” to create a flexible set of standards for who will be admitted to and allowed to stay in public housing.

Certainly the Obama administration has ample experience deploying “discretion” and “mercy” in other areas.  For example, consider Barry Ritholtz’s summary of a shocking Reuters report by Scott Paltrow on foreclosure fraud:
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Pope Benedict’s Message on Peace, Justice, and Wealth Redistribution

Pope Benedict’s interpretations of Catholic Social Thought have been consistently inspiring. His recent message on the World Day of Justice and Peace focused on the material foundations of a just and well-ordered society.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:9). Peace for all is the fruit of justice for all, and no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice, according to one’s particular areas of competence and responsibility. . . .

Peace . . . is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution.

This position confirms a long line of encyclicals urging the fair distribution of global resources. As Pope Benedict earlier stated in Caritas in Veritate, “Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function.”
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Understanding Wealth Defense: Direct Action from the 0.1%

The OWS protests have provoked reflection on the morality of direct action and civil disobedience. How far should the police go to spy on, disrupt, or punish peaceful protesters? Is pepper spray a dangerous chemical agent or “a food product, essentially?” Does current American inequality merit a direct action follow-up to the Civil Rights Movement, whose mass-arrestees and water-cannoned marchers are now viewed as heroes?

It’s difficult to answer these questions without understanding the past and present tactics of the groups OWS is protesting. We can learn something about those tactics from Jeffrey A. Winters’ book Oligarchy and his recent articles. In Winters’ treatment of America’s politics of wealth defense, we can discern a transition from high-stakes defiance of government tax authority to an established position “inside the system.”

Winters recounts how Congress passed a tax on the top 0.1% in 1894, only to be slapped down by a Supreme Court “which struck it down in a 5-4 decision.” After the 16th Amendment effectively repealed that Supreme Court decision, Congress had the novel idea of actually helping pay for a war (WWI) with revenue from those best able to fund it. As Winters notes, “the highest rate [leapt] from 7 percent in 1915 to 77 percent in 1918,” and “the number of brackets went from seven to 56 over the same period.” This provoked direct action from the wealthiest “through tax avoidance and outright evasion.” At this point, Winters writes,
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Come With Me and Escape

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half-a-brain.”

Bay Area radio struggles to have decent music. I tend to cycle through the few stations that may have something of interest. A recent addition to the dial focuses on 60s. 70s, and 80s. As a competitor points out, the new comer tends to repeat the same track several times a day. Recently the song Escape (The Pina Colada Song) has been playing quite a bit. The funny thing to me is that yoga and health food seem to have been dating and compatibility differentiators for more than 30 years. The style of the song and especially the attire, however, may not be as timeless; just reminders of the end of the seventies and the start of eighties (It was the last number 1 of the seventies and first of the eighties). Oddly that decade seems a bit more sane regarding taxes.

It took more than two years to produce that tax code overhaul. During that time, Reagan went on the road to plead his case for the plan. At a high school in Atlanta, Ga., in 1985, Reagan said they were going to “close the unproductive loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share.”
Meanwhile in Congress, Democrats and Republicans worked together to merge competing proposals for tax reform. Still in office today, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was there during the passage of the bill. He says it was a different era.
“We had a lot of grownups in both parties, people who actually wanted the government to work,” Leahy says.

All of which makes me wish there was a world where I could write a personal ad seeking a new politician and find that the one who turned up was already in place. Now that is a fantasy.

Anyway, enjoy the song. Oh as moment of who knew: The song was released on September 21, 1979. The movie “10” which is a rather similar story and also a huge hit of the era was released October 5, 1979. As far I know they were not connected directly; yet they stuck together in my head because of the story lines.

Jost on a Drafting Error in the Affordable Care Act

A few days ago, Timothy Jost offered insights on the Fourth Circuit’s jurisdictional rulings on constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act. (That post was part of a terrific series he has done for the Health Affairs Blog.) Today, Jost offers a fascinating perspective on “an ACA drafting error that would seem to deprive millions of uninsured Americans of tax credits to purchase health insurance and invalidate regulations recently proposed by HHS and the Treasury Department:”

The mistake is found in section 1401 of the ACA, which creates a new section 36B of the IRC. Two subsections of 36B ((b)(2)(A) and (c)(2)(A)(i)) suggest that premium tax credit eligibility under the ACA depends on the applicant being enrolled in a qualified health plan “through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311.” This would in turn suggest that individuals enrolled in a qualified health plan through a federal exchange established under section 1321(c) would not be eligible for premium tax credits, contrary to the recent proposed regulations.

That this is a drafting error is obvious to anyone who understands the ACA. Section 1311 of the ACA requests the states to establish American Health Benefit Exchanges and sets out the duties of the exchanges. Section 1321 of the ACA, however, provides that if a state elects not to establish and exchange or fails to do so, HHS must “establish and operate” an exchange in such a state and “take such actions as are necessary to implement” the other requirements of title I of the ACA, which includes section 1401. There is no coherent policy reason why Congress would have refused premium tax credits to the citizens of states that ended up with a federal exchange. None of the CBO reports scoring the ACA suggest that premium tax credits would only be available though 1311 state exchanges and not through 1321 federal exchanges. It is, finally, highly unlikely that the House, whose bill included only a federal exchange, would have approved a bill that only provided tax credits through state exchanges but not through the federal exchange.

For the full argument, check out his post at the Health Reform Watch blog.

Do the Rich Need the Rest?

The top 10% of Americans now make about as much as the bottom 90%. But within that group, an even smaller fraction dominates. Nobel Prize winning economist Joe Stiglitz has observed that the US is ruled by the top 1%, for the top 1%. And within that top 1%, the top tenth has been triumphant. Earning on average $5.6 million in 2008 (and at least $1.7 million), the group has seen its income rise 385% from 1970 to 2008, while earnings of the bottom 90% declined.

Worldwide, the rich are pulling away from the rest as well. Given this political reality, what kind of future is likely for the bottom 99%? Will the sort of precarious existence now common for the poor and lower-middle classes climb higher up the income ladder?

Michael Lind suggests this is likely, because so many jobs can be done by “less expensive and more deferential foreign nationals,” or prisoners. WSJ reporter Robert Frank has also observed a decoupling of destinies: “the economic fate of Richistan seems increasingly separate from the fate of the U.S.” (or any particular country).

Meanwhile, progressive thinkers like Bruce Judson, Robert Reich, and David Callahan have hoped for the rise of a conscientious superclass. In their view, any nation’s wealthy should see middle class prosperity as part of its own self-interest properly understood. Most of these thinkers hold up Germany or Sweden as models of egalitarianism that helps even those at the top. A book called “The Spirit Level” has made a complementary case, arguing that, as a statistical matter, even the richest in an unequal society tend to be less healthy and secure than those at the top of a more equal social order. (Consider, for instance, that even if you were in the oil-drilling elite of Equatorial Guinea, making $250,000 per year, you might well want to move to Sweden for a similar position paying $100,000 a year.)
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YLJ Online Symposium: “Winn and the Inadvisibility of Constitutionalizing Tax Expenditure Analysis” and “A Winn for Educational Pluralism”

yljonline

The Yale Law Journal Online has published the first two installments in our new series, Summary Judgment, which will feature timely responses to recent Supreme Court decisions from academics and practitioners. The two inaugural pieces comment on the Court’s April decision in Arizona School Tuition Organization v. Winn, 131 S.Ct. 1436 (2011), in which a five-Justice majority held that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of state tax credits that support religious schools and other educational institutions.

In Winn and the Inadvisibility of Constitutionalizing Tax Expenditure Analysis, Professor Edward A. Zelinsky responds to Justice Kagan’s blistering dissent in Winn. In that dissent, the Court’s most junior Justice draws on tax law scholarship to argue that tax credits and other tax expenditures are economically indistinguishable from direct spending. Zelinsky adopts a skeptical approach toward Justice Kagan’s core claim. According to Zelinsky, although tax expenditure analysis has helped policymakers and legislators with regard to budgetary matters, its utility does not extend to Establishment Clause jurisprudence. After decades of debate, tax law scholars have still not arrived at any satisfactory definition of tax expenditures. Ultimately, Zelinsky writes, “the Court is ill-advised to invoke tax expenditure analysis” in its Establishment Clause cases because “[a]t the end of the day, we do not know what a tax expenditure is.”

In A Winn for Educational Pluralism, Professor Nicole Stelle Garnett assesses the implications of the Winn decision for students, families, and communities. She argues that scholarship tax credits can stem the tide of Catholic school closures, which are linked to increased disorder, crime, and neighborhood disintegration. Drawing on her own past research, she also suggests that “scholarship tax credits may . . . enable cities to retain the young parents who all too frequently flee to suburbs and their high-performing public schools.” She concludes that Winn, by opening constitutional space for scholarship tax credit programs, represents “a victory for civil society.”

The Summary Judgment series is available on YLJ Online. Please also visit the site to read our latest Online Essays and to view recent issues of our print edition in an electronic format.

Correlating Home Size and Seriousness

NBC anchor Brian Williams once complained about the amateurization of media in rather colorful terms:

All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.

Williams himself is careful to maintain his own credibility. According to a 2007 report, Williams “lives in a restored farmhouse in Connecticut where he parks his 477-horsepower black Porsche GT2 (that is, when he’s not decamping on the Upper East Side).” How else would you spend a $10 million annual salary?

Some have insinuated that Williams was trying to help his bosses when he failed to report on NBC’s parent company’s low tax rate. But perhaps it’s more likely that government spending just doesn’t register on Williams’s radar. Poor Vinny, cramped in his studio apartment, may worry about someday needing Medicaid, home heating assistance, or help for his mom in a nursing home. He might wonder why all these programs are under attack, while small changes in the tax system could support them for years, and larger changes could support them for decades. But those are not the serious concerns of serious people with seriously large houses. Perhaps only people like Williams should be able to vote, too.