It must be that time of year again- time to pander to the tea party by attacking federal workers for not paying their taxes. WTOP in Washington today carries the familiar story about the $3.5 billion feds owe the IRS in delinquent taxes, and the campaign by right wing politicians to fire the delinquents.
As we’ve suggested before, there’s more than a whiff of demagoguery here- the politicians are interested in collecting what’s owed under the law- but they only seem to care about one select group of deadbeats. Why?
Simple logic would suggest that if feds owe $3.5 billion, the rest of the country must owe a whole lot more- after all, the vast majority of Americans don’t work for the federal government. Are feds somehow different than everybody else when it comes to paying their fair share?
As it happens, they are- but not in the way you might think. Buried in the WTOP story is this tidbit:
The delinquency rate for the general public is 2.5 times higher than federal employees, according to the IRS. As of September 2011, the delinquency rate for active and retired federal employees and military personnel is 3.17 percent. The IRS estimates the delinquency rate for the general population is 8.2 percent.
In other words, postal workers and other federal employees are actually less likely to be tax deadbeats than the average American!
So why do GOP politicians insist on scapegoating federal workers? Probably because feds are one of the few groups they can still demonize without losing too many votes. Targeting women, blacks, hispanics, gays, etc., gets to be a problem when you realize that the majority of voters belong to at least one of those categories!
A right wing blog called “American Thinker” has a rather bizarre take on the increase in USPS international postage rates. The blogger has some kind of business that involves shipping stuff overseas, and, like many similar operations, is being hit hard by the rate increase:
I have a small, no, make that tiny, business. It’s a sideline, mainly because it doesn’t earn enough to be anything else, but none the less I’d like to eventually have it be bigger. What I sell is not important, but the fact that fully a third of my sales are international is important. As of now, my international shipping rates have doubled, at the least.
OK- so far so good- it has to be tough for any business to see its shipping rates double- there was a story the other day about the impact on indie record labels that also do a lot of international shipping.
But here’s where the American “Thinker” loses me:
The assault on small business never seems to stop. This is simply one more nail in the coffin. And don’t tell me that the USPS isn’t technically a government agency. It’s a government supported monopoly that prices small business out of any other market by undercutting other shippers. No one will pay $50 to ship $20 worth of product, as you will expect to pay with shippers other than USPS.
Hunh???? He complains about the USPS “undercutting” other shippers, and then says he can’t afford to use “shippers other than the USPS”, i.e. private, free market outfits like UPS and FedEx??
Can someone explain that one to me? How can you complain about USPS prices being too high, while at the same time claiming that they use their alleged monopoly to “undercut” the competition?? Which is it?
More to the point- if USPS has a monopoly, how can there be a “competition” to undercut? Pssst… there is no monopoly in international shipping!
The “Thinker”‘s solution? The USPS needs to be “held to account”, whatever that means. Oh, and “the artificial supports that prop up the USPS need to be removed”. And somehow that will force the USPS to lower its rates…
Translation? Mr. Free Market Thinker would like to have his government subsidized below market shipping rates back. Apparently if you’re a right wing small business owner, “artificial supports” are OK if it’s your business they’re propping up!
Read more: Blog: USPS Sticker Shock.
The Republican Party’s proposed platform suggests that the US Postal Service is in need of “restructuring”. Not surprisingly, the restructuring involves privatization. The brief item starts with one of the most time-honored postal cliches: “mail delivery from the era of the Pony Express cannot long survive”. (I don’t know about you, but my mail is delivered from a mail truck. And the Pony Express didn’t “survive” the nineteenth century, never mind the twentieth!)
The plank concludes “In light of the Postal Service’s seriously underfunded pension system, Congress should explore a greater role for private enterprise in appropriate aspects of the mail-processing system.”
Most readers will know that the USPS pension system is actually better funded than most private pension systems, but then, you don’t read party platforms for reasoned analysis of the issues. When it comes to privatizing, which is a matter of faith for the GOP, any excuse will do.
The New Hampshire Labor News followed up on the claim of a right wing New Hampshire politician that his political mailings had been delayed by “unionized postal employees”. According to employees at the plant, the politician didn’t get his mail to the plant on time for processing. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul Ryan made a big splash with his draconian budget plan, but what legislation has he actually managed to get passed in his 13 years in the House?
Well, he managed to rename a post office! Oh- and he also got the excise tax lowered on the arrows he buys for his bow-hunting hobby:
WASHINGTON — He’s been in Congress for nearly 13 years, but Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has only seen two of his bills pass into law during that time.
Ryan, who Mitt Romney has tapped as his running mate, passed a bill into law in July 2000 that renames a post office in his district. Thanks to Ryan, the post office on 1818 Milton Ave. in Janesville, Wis., is now known as “Les Aspin Post Office Building.”
The other time Ryan saw one of his bills become law was in December 2008, with legislation to change the way arrows (as in bows and arrows) are hit with an excise tax. Specifically, his bill amended the Internal Revenue Code to impose a 39-cent tax per arrow shaft, instead of a 12.4 percent tax on the sales price.
Here we go again. House Republicans are set to satisfy another of their nasty obsessions- vilifying public sector workers. This time it’s another try at passing a law that would require the federal government to fire employees who don’t pay their income tax:
The House is voting on legislation that would require agencies to fire federal workers classified as “seriously delinquent” on their tax debts.
The Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act (H.R. 828), introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also would prevent the government from hiring workers who are late on their tax payments. Workers would be given a chance to demonstrate they are starting to pay off their debt.
Now there’s certainly something to be said for holding federal employees accountable. But why stop there? Why not apply the same logic to everyone? Maybe they could tie it into one of their other obsessions- immigrants! You could have a computer system that verifies an individual’s immigration and tax status at the same time! Behind on your taxes? Sorry- you’re fired!
As we pointed out the last time this bill came up, the vast majority of delinquent income taxes are owed by people who work in the private sector:
But that’s probably the reason the GOP likes to target federal workers: they are a very small minority of the population, and the perception is that they are doing better than the average American. It would be reprehensible to target an ethnic group this way, but it seems perfectly acceptable to target federal workers.
Of course, if your Presidential candidate is a serial tax dodger who stashes his cash in Swiss bank accounts while he’s bankrupting American companies and shipping their jobs overseas, it’s handy to find a minority group you can attack, and divert attention from the real delinquents.
After a short-lived presidential bid of his own last year, Mr. Pawlenty is again being considered for the Republican ticket. His fate is in the hands of Mr. Romney, a rival-turned-friend, who is on the cusp of announcing his vice-presidential selection. Mr. Romney has reached a decision, his friends believe, and he may disclose it as soon as this week.
That should raise concerns among postal workers and the mailing industry. While Republicans in Congress have pushed big cuts in the US Postal Service, Pawlenty favors eliminating it completely. Last June, when he announced his presidential bid, Pawlenty announced his “Google doctrine”:
There’s some obvious targets. We can start by applying what I call “The Google Test.” If you can find a good or service on the Internet. Then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it.
The post office — the government printing office — Amtrak — Fannie and Freddie were all built for a different time in our country. When the private sector did not adequately provide those services. That’s no longer the case.
As we suggested at the time, Pawlenty’s comments were ridiculous. Then again, four years ago the Republican Party nominated Sarah Palin for Vice President- obviously the mere fact of being ridiculous is no impediment to winning the GOP VP nomination.
The Federal Times does a great job summarizing the Congressional game-playing that has resulted in the current postal “crisis”. Here’s your “crisis” in a nutshell- note that it has nothing to do with the Internet, email, or electronic diversion:
Congress set this slow-motion train wreck in motion way back in 2006 when it passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required the Postal Service to pre-pay expected health care costs for future retirees within 10 years. Compressing the payment period to just 10 years is why the annual payments are a whopping $5.4 billion to $5.8 billion apiece.
No other organization in the country carries such a burden.
Congress insisted on a 10-year payment period in order to capture the impact of the law on the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office’s arcane “scoring” rules require that the impact only be scored over 10 years. Forcing all liabilities to be pre-paid within 10 years enabled CBO to declare the bill to be deficit-neutral. That, in turn, provided the political cover Republicans needed to support the bill.
Aside from that, however, there was no reason to make the payments so large and to collect them so fast.
The paper goes on to point out that the GOP-controlled House, and Congressman Darrell Issa in particular, have shown “contempt” for the USPS and even for Congress itself:
The House’s failure to act is disgraceful. Through their inaction, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., are demonstrating contempt for the Postal Service and a lack of respect for the law and for the obligations of their own institution.
Update: Well that was fast! Minutes after I posted the story on twitter, Congressman Dennis Ross responded:
@postalnews fed times is wrong. great reason 2accelerate payment. FACT that USPS was over $100 bil in red 4 ret & health care & decl volume
— Dennis Ross (@RepDennisRoss) July 15, 2012
From the American Postal Workers Union:
Fox News may have set a new record for inaccurate reporting this week in a story about the Postal Service.
The story, which was broadcast on May 8 and posted on Fox’s Web site, frantically warns viewers and visitors that because of a bill approved by the Senate, “taxpayers may be on the hook for Postal Service losses.” The Web posting even has a handy “taxpayer calculator” that shows visitors “how much the bailout will cost you.”
There’s just one problem: As Fox admits, taxpayers don’t pay a dime to support the Postal Service. And nothing in the Senate bill would require them to start. Read the rest of this entry »