Posted by 28 January 2019
Some call it the estate tax. Others label it the death tax. Whatever name it goes by, the federal tax levied on the transfer of someone’s estate after death a popular topic of discussion in Congress. There has long been a move to repeal it, and legislation will continue that effort during the new session of Congress.
Senator John Thune (R-SD) has introduced S. 215, a bill to repeal the estate tax. Twenty-eight senators, all Republicans, have cosponsored it. The current estate tax rate is 40%. The 2017 tax cut legislation raised the amount of an estate that is exempt from this tax to $11.4 million for individuals.
When Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 election, repeal of the estate tax (which they labeled as the “death tax”) was a top priority. The tax cut legislation signed into law by George W. Bush phased out the estate tax, and eliminated it entirely for one year. When those tax cuts expired, however, the federal estate tax came back, too. Farmers have pushed hard for a repeal, saying that the estate tax forces them to break up their farms or go through costly planning to structure their farms to avoid the tax.
Supporters of repealing the estate tax point to studies showing that it harms economic growth. They note that it taxes income twice – once when it’s earned and again when it is passed to heirs. They also contend that the tax is easily avoided if people structure their estates in the right way, but that this avoidance is costly and harmful to the economy. Opponents of a repeal say that it helps stop the accumulation of wealth from being passed from generation to generation, something that entrenches income inequality.
Do you think that the estate tax should be repealed?
Posted by 28 January 2019
The minimum age for buying tobacco products in Illinois may soon go up to 21. After failing with a similar proposal last year, legislators are back with a bill that would increase the tobacco purchase age in that state.
Currently someone who wants to buy tobacco in Illinois must be 18. That is the same minimum purchase age for tobacco that exists in most states. However, public health advocates and some lawmakers think that 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds should be prohibited from purchasing or possessing tobacco.
These advocates argue that allowing young adults to purchase tobacco sets them up for an addiction that lasts a lifetime. They say that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 will help protect these young adults’ health and contribute to a reduction in the smoking rate. Opponents counter that adults should be free to buy tobacco products if they want. They say that politicians should not be making this choice for adults who know the risks that come from using tobacco.
A handful of other states already restrict tobacco purchases to individuals 21-years-old or older. These include California, Oregon, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine. A few states, such as Alabama and Utah, set the minimum age for tobacco purchases at 19.
Do you think that the legal age for tobacco purchases should be raised to 21?
Posted by 25 January 2019
Senators considered dueling plans to end the partial government shutdown on Thursday. Republicans offered President Trump’s path to re-open the government while Democrats presented their proposal. Neither side received enough votes to pass the legislation, leaving negotiations between Senate leaders ongoing.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered an amendment that would have provided $5.7 billion for a border wall and extended protections for illegal immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Senate voted 50-47 to invoke cloture, or end debate, on this proposal. The measure needed 60 votes to move to a final vote, so it failed. Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Mike Lee of Utah joined the Democrats in voting “no.”
After the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the Republican measure, it considered a Democratic plan to re-open the government through February 8th. This proposal did not have funding for a border wall. The Senate vote of 52-44 also failed to reach the 60-vote threshold to close debate. Republicans Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah joined the Democrats in voting for this proposal.
Senator McConnell continues to meet with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the minority leader, to negotiate a deal that would re-open the federal government and gain enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate.
Do you think that members of Congress should re-open the government temporarily while Congress and the president negotiate over a border wall? Or should the government remain shut down until the border wall is funded?
Posted by 24 January 2019
Grappling with economic crises and protests, the socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro now faces a new problem – a rival claim to power by National Assembly Leader Juan Guaido. After announcing that he was the legitimate head of state, Guaido received swift recognition by the United States, Canada, and other governments. With Maduro refusing to step down, it is unclear what is in store for the future of this oil-rich nation.
Venezuela’s economy has been deteriorating for years, with hyperinflation, extremely high poverty rates, and a crisis in the health care sector. Millions of Venezuelans have fled. Many observers point to the socialist policies begun by Hugo Chavez two decades ago and continued under Maduro as the reason why the economy has collapsed. Maduro says that these socialist policies are not the problem, but instead the collapse in the price of oil is to blame.
There have been popular protests against the Maduro regime, but he won a presidential election vote last year. However, observers from 60 countries have said that this vote was plagued by corruption. Many consider it illegitimate. There are also widespread reports of the Maduro government violating civil liberties.
After Guaido’s announcement, Venezuelans took to the streets to protest Maduro’s continued hold on power. These protests were the largest in two years. Maduro says that he will stay, and the Supreme Court is remaining loyal to him. One of the criticisms of the Chavez and Maduro regimes is that they have packed courts and many other government institutions with loyalists.
Guaido is calling for a new election that will be free from corruption.
Do you think that the U.S. is right to recognize the opposition government of Juan Guaido in Venezuela?
Posted by 23 January 2019
An effort to ban abortions in Iowa if there was a detectable fetal heartbeat has been stopped by the courts. Backers are vowing to appeal this ruling with an eye towards overturning Roe v. Wade.
In 2018, Iowa legislators passed a strict ban on abortions in cases where a fetal heartbeat could be detected. District Court Judge Michael Huppert ruled yesterday that this was unconstitutional since heartbeats could be detected prior to the viability of the fetus.
Backers of this legislation knew that it would face judicial challenges. In fact, one of the senators supporting the law at the time of its passage said, “We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade - 100 percent.” Under this strategy, the legislation would make its way through the court system until taken up by the Supreme Court. Presumably the high court would then use that opportunity to rule on whether the 1973 case legalizing abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, should be overturned.
Those opposed to this law hailed the court’s decision as consistent with constitutional protections for abortion. They also said that the decision was a victory for women’s freedom and health care.
Do you think that states should ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected? Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?
Posted by 22 January 2019
Senator Kamala Harris is the latest entrant into the 2020 presidential field. The California senator is running on a platform aimed at appealing to the liberal wing of the party, with a platform that calls for bail reform, single-payer health care, and lower-income tax cuts. But she is also championing an issue that may make her stand out in what will surely be a crowded field – rental assistance.
Under Sen. Harris’s plan, renters whose income is less than $100,000 and spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities would receive a tax credit. This tax credit would vary based on income, with lower-income individuals receiving a larger credit than those with higher incomes. The credit would also be refundable, meaning that someone who owed no income tax would still receive money from the government. Estimates put the price tag on this program at $76 billion.
According to Sen. Harris and those who support this idea, this is a way to help millions of Americans who struggle with high rent. They say that this will allow people to be more mobile, moving to areas that have jobs but also high rent.
Critics point out that the problem of high rent is often due to the lack of housing in an area. They say that increasing the housing supply by relaxing government restrictions is the best way to help both renters and home buyers. They argue that by subsidizing rent, Harris’s plan will actually increase the cost of rent, with landlords receiving the ultimate benefit.
Do you think the government should subsidize rent in areas with high-cost housing?
Posted by 18 January 2019
Forty-six years after the Supreme Court established a woman’s right to an abortion, an expected 100,000 people will gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual “March for Life.”
This march draws pro-life individuals from across the nation to protest abortion and call for policies that would restrict the practice. The event begins by gathering on the National Mall, then a march to the Supreme Court where speakers address the crowd. This year, conservative activist Ben Shapiro will be the keynote speaker for the march. Last year, President Trump addressed the crowd via satellite, which was a first for a U.S. president. In previous years some presidents had taped a message or spoke to the crowd over the phone.
The first “March for Life” occurred on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. That decision legalized abortion across the nation, and has been controversial from its announcement. Through court cases and legislation at the state and federal level, there have been a variety of restrictions placed on access to abortion. However, the ultimate goal of the “March for Life” is the end of legalized abortion in the U.S.
Do you think that abortion should be legal? What types of laws, if any, should be enacted to regulate abortion?
Posted by 17 January 2019
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey thinks she knows who is to blame for America’s opioid crisis: the pharmaceutical companies that make OxyContin and other opioids.
In a filing this week, Healey argued that the Sackler family, who owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, pushed doctors to prescribe heavy doses of the drug even after it knew the dangers it posed. Her efforts are part of a wider legal strategy by state and local governments to sue opioid manufacturers. These suite are seeking money from these companies for these governments’ expenses in dealing with the opioid crisis.
According to the legal theory being put forward by Healey and other plaintiffs, opioid manufacturers made and marketed these drugs knowing that they were addictive and dangerous. They encouraged doctors to prescribe the drugs regardless of the harm it would cause to users. They say that the high rates of opioid addition and overdoses we are seeing today is a direct result of these companies’ actions.
This legal argument is being resisted by the companies and others. They note that opioids are tightly controlled by the federal government. They said that the companies complied with federal laws and regulations regarding opioids, and should not be blamed for people who misuse their products. They point out that the vast majority of overdoses are due to heroin or fentanyl, not prescription opioids.
A federal judge in Ohio is overseeing most of the legal cases against opioid manufacturers. It is unclear when he will make a final judgment in the case.
Do you think that opioid manufacturers are responsible for creating the opioid crisis? Should state and local governments sue these companies to recoup costs they incur due to heroin or fentanyl addiction and overdoses?
Posted by 16 January 2019
Kristen Gillibrand, New York’s junior senator, is running for president. She is betting that paid federal family leave is her key to gaining the White House.
Getting ready to announce her candidacy on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert,” Sen. Gillibrand previewed her campaign platform. One of her highest priorities is a federal policy of mandatory paid family leave, something that she has championed while in the Senate.
Under Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal, a new federal program would pay workers who take up to 12 weeks of family leave in a year. This leave could be used to deal with health conditions, pregnancy or childbirth, and caring for family members. The federal government would pay 66% of the parent’s monthly wages, financed by a tax on both individuals and businesses. A new federal agency, the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, would be created to administer the program.
Supporters of this idea argue that this would promote people entering the workforce who are of child-bearing age, since they would be guaranteed income if they have children. They also note that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without such a leave guarantee, so it is time that we join the rest of the world in helping working parents. Opponents point out that this would involve a large tax hike on both workers and businesses. They also say that it would hurt smaller businesses who would lose employees when they are needed for work.
Sen. Gillibrand’s family leave legislation never received a hearing in the Senate when she introduced it in the previous session of Congress.
Do you think the federal government should impose a tax on employees and employers to pay for a federal paid family leave program?
Posted by 15 January 2019
Therapists who attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors are being targeted by New York lawmakers. Both the state Assembly and Senate passed legislation that would ban the practice of gay conversion therapy. The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said he would sign it.
Attempts by counselors and therapists to “convert” children from homosexuality to heterosexuality have become increasingly controversial. Most experts say that it relies upon flawed science. Others liken it to child abuse. The New York legislation would deem such therapy as “unprofessional conduct” and open practitioners to discipline.
Both houses of the legislature passed the bill by overwhelming margins. Gov. Cuomo has also expressed support for it, which makes the bill certain to become law soon. Previous attempts to pass legislation had run into roadblocks in the Senate, but with Democrats taking control this year the bill had little opposition.
When Gov. Cuomo signs this bill, it will become the sixteenth state to enact a ban on conversion therapy. Washington, D.C., also bans this practice.
Do you support states banning therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexual orientation?
Posted by 14 January 2019
Health centers at state universities may be required to offer medication that induces abortions under a bill filed in the California State Senate.
Sen. Connie Leyva’s legislation would mandate that health centers at all of the state’s universities must offer such a drug. She says that this bill is necessary to ensure that college students have access to abortion and are not deterred by distance or cost. Supporters of the legislation argue that in order for women to have the ability to exercise their reproductive rights, they should have easy access to this medication.
The legislature passed a similar bill last year, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it. In his veto message, he argued that abortion services in the state are prevalent, especially around universities. He said there was no need to mandate that schools offer abortion-inducing medication.
With a new governor in the state, it remains to be seen what the fate of such legislation will be this year.
Do you think that California should mandate that all public universities offer abortion-inducing drugs?
Posted by 11 January 2019
Virginia is just three states permanently bar felons from voting. Thanks to a recent vote in a legislative committee, it won’t be restoring felons’ voting rights any time soon.
On Wednesday, a Senate committee voted down a proposed change to the state constitution that would have removed the ban on felon voting. Currently, the Virginia constitution bars felons from being able to vote unless their rights have been restored by the governor.
This issue has been an area of contention for Virginia in recent years. The state’s former governor, Terry McAuliffe, attempted to use an executive order to restore the rights of felons who had completed their sentences. That effort was stymied by the legislature and the state’s Supreme Court. He then undertook efforts to restore these voting rights on an expedited case-by-case basis.
Critics of the ban on felons voting note that nearly every other state allows some form of voting rights for felons. Some states even allow those in jail to vote. They say that this van is an impediment to rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. Supporters of the ban note that it is proper to punish those who commit serious crimes by imposing serious penalties.
In the 2018 election, Florida voters overturned their state’s ban on felon voting. Beginning this month, felons in that state have begun to register to vote.
Do you think that felons who have completed their sentences should see their voting rights restored?
Posted by 10 January 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio wants every New York City resident to have health care coverage. He recently pledged $100 million to provide that coverage to uninsured New Yorkers – including any undocumented immigrants who want to sign up.
The program as envisioned by the mayor will be called NYC Care. Uninsured city residents can apply for the program and be assigned a doctor and access to a variety of health care services. It will be offered at no cost to those with lower incomes, but city residents with higher incomes will have to pay on a sliding scale.
In presenting the plan, Mayor de Blasio argued that it is both morally and fiscally responsible to offer this program. He said that everyone, regardless of their immigration status, deserves health care. He also said that providing this coverage would be more cost-effective than when the uninsured use emergency rooms or let serious conditions go untreated.
Critics counter that that taxpayer dollars should not be used to provide services to people in the country illegally. They also say that this program will likely be more expensive than predicted, leading to higher taxes for the city’s residents.
Do you think that New York City should offer health care coverage to all uninsured residents, even those who are in the country illegally?
Posted by 09 January 2019
Saying there was “a growing humanitarian and security crisis,” President Donald Trump used a televised speech from the Oval Office to call for Democrats in Congress to support funding for a border wall. Democratic leaders, however, said that the president was pushing “misinformation” and “malice.”
President Trump and Democrats in Congress are at odds over $5 billion in funding for portions of a wall that the president wants built on the U.S.-Mexico border. He has refused to sign legislation that would fund parts of the federal government because it did not contain this funding. This has led to a partial government shutdown that is going into its third week.
Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi appeared on television after President Trump to dismiss his call for a wall and instead urge him to sign legislation to re-open the government. They say that the president is manufacturing a crisis for political gain.
According to President Trump, the lack of a wall has led to undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. and committing a range of crimes. He focused on some of these crimes during his address. He said that the U.S. will be safer with a wall to stop criminals and drug smugglers from entering the nation. Critics dispute the president’s characterization of the situation, noting that illegal immigration is down from historic highs and that undocumented immigrants do not disproportionately commit violent crimes.
The president has been considering using his powers to declare a national emergency in order to use military construction funding to build a wall. He did not take this step during his address, instead he urged people to contact Congress in support of a border wall. It remains unclear what steps he will take if Congress refuses to consider such funding.
Do you support a border wall? Should the president sign legislation to re-open parts of the federal government even if he doesn’t receive his wall funds?
Posted by 08 January 2019
President Trump wants a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. Congress does not want to appropriate money for it. So the president is considering doing an end-run around the legislative branch by declaring an emergency, enabling the military to use its funds to build the wall. If he does that, say some observers, it could prompt a constitutional crisis.
The issue of the border wall is one that then-candidate Trump campaigned on from the day he announced his candidacy for president. Once elected, he has pushed Congress to provide money for it. While spending bills have contained money for border security, there has been no decision to allocate money to build the wall as envisioned by the president.
The government is currently undergoing a partial shutdown because President Trump has refused to sign a spending bill to keep it open unless that bill has $5 billion in it to construct roughly 200 miles of a border wall. Democrats in Congress have refused to go along with this demand, and neither side seems willing to shift from its positions.
Since he cannot get the money from Congress, President Trump is now considering another route. Under this scenario, he would use provisions of a 1978 law to declare a national emergency. That would give him leeway to use some military funding to build the wall. Under this law, however, Congress could pass a resolution that would disapprove of his action. There are also legal scholars who dispute that the president would be able to declare an emergency over the situation at the border. They say that this action would not survive legal challenge and would be unconstitutional.
President Trump will discuss this issue during a televised address tonight.
Do you think that President Trump should declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build a border wall?
Posted by 07 January 2019
She’s only a freshman member of Congress, but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already spurring a national debate over tax rates and environmental spending. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez recently proposed increasing the top marginal tax rate to 70% in order to pay for a variety of environmental programs known as the “Green New Deal.”
While there is no formal proposal, this Green New Deal is a concept that has been discussed over the past few years in liberal and progressive circles. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is supporting a plan that would transition the U.S. to an economy that stops using carbon-based energy (such as oil, natural gas, and coal), spend trillions of dollars, guarantees federal jobs, and addresses inequality. These are goals, not policy proposals. She has called for House leadership to form a select committee to study the issue and develop legislation.
In order to pay for this plan, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has said that the tax rates on wealthy individuals should be increased to 70%. She has floated the idea that on income of $10 million or above, that this rate should apply. She argues that marginal tax rates in the past were much higher, so this idea has already been tried. In her view, the wealthy should pay their “fair share,” which means taxing $10 million in income at a much higher rate than it is taxed today.
This idea was immediately attacked by critics who said that it would be a massive tax hike, putting the U.S. rates far above other nations’ tax rates. This would discourage work and encourage tax avoidance. These critics pointed out that while high marginal tax rates existed in the past, there were also many more loopholes for high-income taxpayers.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has also said that taxes may not need to be raised to pay for environmental programs. She argues that other measures, such as tax cuts and military spending increases, are paid for by deficit spending, so the Green New Deal could be funded in that way, too.
Do you support increasing the tax rate to 70% on incomes over $10 million? Should the federal government spend trillions of dollars on new environmental programs?
Posted by 02 January 2019
In 2040, there will be no more gasoline-powered cars or light trucks in Massachusetts. At least, that is what a state commission is recommending as a goal for state transportation policy.
Governor Charlie Baker assembled the group to examine the future of transportation in the Bay State. This panel recently released a host of recommendations to reshape the state’s transportation policy with an eye on reducing carbon emissions.
One of the proposals is to phase out the use of cars and light trucks that are powered by gasoline and instead phase in the use of electric vehicles. The state could do this by offering financial incentives for people to purchase these vehicles. They group also recommended more electric charging stations around the state as well as converting the state government fleet into electric vehicles.
Supporters of the increased use of electric vehicles argue that only by moving away from burning fossil fuels can the U.S. combat climate change. They say that with cars and trucks emitting large amounts of carbon, it only makes sense to use electric vehicles if the state is going to get serious about lowering carbon emissions. Skeptics of the plan say that it will be very expensive to make this type of change. They also note that the electricity that powers electric vehicles may be produced by burning coal, which also emits carbon.
The goal of the commission is to consider ways to reduce congestion as well as to lower the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Among the group’s recommendations to deal with congestion is to impose congestion pricing for drivers into Boston, which would mean drivers entering at more popular times would pay higher tolls.
Governor Baker has not endorsed any of the report’s recommendations.
Do you think that states should set a goal to phase out the use of gasoline-powered cars? Should the government offer subsidies for people who purchase electric cars?
Posted by 02 January 2019
On their first day in control of the House of Representatives, Democrats plan on tackling two issues that they think will be winners for them: campaign finance reform and stricter ethics rules. They know that their legislation has no chance of becoming law, but they think its passage will send a message that they plan on doing things differently.
In the weeks after the 2018 elections when voters elected a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi announced that the first legislation the House would vote on in January would be a sweeping set of campaign and ethics reforms. This has been introduced as HR 1. Among other things, this bill would:
- Establish a voluntary system of campaign matching funds at a rate of 6-1 for small donations to qualifying candidates
- Mandate that certain nonprofits engaged in public policy debate report their donors to the government
- Mandate that social media companies disclose to the government the source of money being spent on political advocacy ads
- Require that the president disclose his or her tax returns
- End the practice where members of Congress can use office funds to pay for sexual harassment suits
- Prohibit office funds from being used to purchase first-class plane tickets
- Impose a new ethics code on the Supreme Court
- Enact a national system of automatic voter registration
- Prohibit states from removing certain names from their voting rolls
The Democrats pushing this legislation argue that it is needed to restore trust in government and end practices that have allowed politicians to game the system. They say that it will open the door for more people to vote and to curb the influence of big money in politics. Opponents counter that it would enlarge the power of the federal government over elections, something that the Constitution largely gives to states. They also say that this will lead to more government control over what people can say during elections and is an infringement upon the First Amendment.
The House of Representatives plans to vote on this after new members are sworn in on January 3. The Senate is unlikely to consider the legislation if it passes the House.
Do you think that the federal government should enact automatic voter registration in every state? Should nonprofits that engage in political advocacy have to report their donors’ names to the government? Do you support a program that gives federal matching funds to candidates for small political donations?
Posted by 28 December 2018
Virginians who do not – or are unable to – pay their court or administrative debts will no longer face the suspension of their driver’s license. Governor Ralph Northam announced the change to state policy this month, although legislators will have to approve it when they convene next year.
Under current practice, Virginia drivers who incur court or administrative debt can have their driver’s license suspended. Currently over 600,000 state residents have their licenses suspended for debt. The state faced a 2016 lawsuit to end this practice.
Those who support ending license suspension note that if someone cannot drive, then he or she will have a more difficult time going to work. They say that license suspensions result in a cycle of debt that is hard to break. There have been some who sound caution on this plan, however, noting that it will result in a loss of state funds.
Governor Northam, a Democrat, announced this change in policy following the introduction of a bill to accomplish this by a Republican senator. There appears to be bipartisan support in both houses of the Virginia legislature to ratify this policy change.
Do you think that someone’s driver’s license should be suspended if that person has court debt?
Posted by 27 December 2018