Tax Cuts And Spending Cuts

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, there is an addition $1 Trillion projected to be added to the deficit over the next 10 years.  However, this increase in the deficit should be offset some by a projected increase in economic growth due to the tax breaks.  So, now that the revenue side of the budget has an 8 to 10-year decrease because of the bill, any financial consultant with their head on straight would tell you that there needs to be an equal reduction on the expenses side.  This, however, isn’t how the government seems to work.  Every year since 1974, the budget deficit has averaged at a level of -3.1% according to the Congressional Budget Office.

To put this into perspective, let’s bring it down to a household level.  Let’s imagine that you bring home $50,000 per year (to use an even number).  If your household were using the US Government model, you would spend about $1,550 more each year than you actually bring home.  That is money going onto a credit card, a bank loan or some other form of consumer debt.  Extrapolating this over a period of 39 years (’74-’13), your household would have spent $60,430 more than it made in salary, and that isn’t including the interest that is being accrued on the balance every month.

So, what is the answer?  Cut spending, of course.  But that is where the problem comes in.  When the US Government spends money on something 1 time, the expectation is that they would spend money on that same line item indefinitely.  If you increase a handout to the citizens, it’s almost impossible to rollback those handouts because of the political fallout that would ensue.  Don’t believe me?  Go down to the Social Security office and tell everyone in line that their unemployment checks are about to be cut off and report back on how well that goes.

While cutting spending isn’t very popular, there are many areas that the US Government could cut or reduce spending where the people wouldn’t necessarily “feel” the cut, in fact, some of these cuts don’t even affect the American people at all.  Let’s look at a few areas that the US could reduce spending while continuing to help real people with real needs.

Tomato Research.

In 2017, the US government spent $1.5 Million to fund research on how to make the tomato taste better.  Now, don’t get me wrong here… who doesn’t want a better tasting tomato?  But to the tune of 1.5 million taxpayer funded dollars?  Someone call up John Kerry and see if his wife’s family would be willing to pitch in a couple mil to help their own cause.

Foreign Aid.

This past year, the United States gave away $50.1 billion in aid to other countries.  Former presidents have tried to downplay this number as being “only 1% of our total budget”, but this argument falls short because that is more than 7.5% of the total budget deficit for 2017.  If we start dismissing the “smaller” parts of the budget, then it will never balance.  Anyone who has ever had to do a personal budget knows that when you find yourself $30 in the hole on your monthly budget, you usually chip away small amounts from several places, rather than a lump from one spot.  It hurts less that way.

Now, I know that we cannot eliminate all of that foreign aid for various reasons, but there are plenty of places we can cut back.  In the late 2000’s, we were sending $4.5 billion per year to Pakistan while they continued to mock us with their nuclear program.  We gave Iran $3.4 million this past year and look what they have been doing lately to their own people.

In the days of President Bill Clinton and a balanced budget, we were only spending around $20 Billion in foreign aid.  Those numbers grew quickly in the early 2000’s, due mostly to war, but then continued throughout the 2010’s.  Cutting back foreign aid would be a huge step to righting the sinking ship.

Big Sugar.

The US subsidizes the sugar system in the country to the tune of $1.2 billion dollars per year.  This subsidy actually costs you double because part of the subsidy is government regulations that set a minimum price for sugar in the US, which is about double the average price worldwide.

Improper spending in Medicare. 

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report in 2016 that showed 11 percent of payments made were incorrect or improper.  That comes out to $4.1 billion dollars in improper payments.

Social Security.

Hold on to your britches for just a second.  Not trying to eliminate it, but revise it.  The current system allows older adults to being drawing (reduced) social security checks at 62 under the early retirement program.  If you wait til 65, you can draw full social security (This will eventually become 67 years of age through a revamp of the system already in progress).  The problem with social security is that when it was implemented in 1935, the average life expectancy of a US adult was 59.1 years of age.  Today, it is 78.8 years of age.

Raising the age of social security eligibility to 70 would save $200 million over the first year and a whopping $7.6 billion over a 5-year period.  It’s time for American’s to work longer and be more responsible for their own retirement funds.

Afghanistan Highways.

Last year we spent $255 billion dollars on building highways in Afghanistan.  I get that they are a war tattered country, but $255 billion is more than 1/3 of the total budget deficit.

Sesame Street.

Yep, you read that right.  We spent $14.8 million to finance international versions of Sesame Street.  14.8 million isn’t that much though right?  Yes. It is way too much.

Walmart Cashiers… in Mexico.

We spent $15 million to train Walmart cashiers in Mexico.  I have 2 issues with this. First and foremost, it’s Mexico.  Second, it’s Walmart.  Isn’t everyone going to self-checkouts these days anyway?

Kenyan Farmers.

And finally, while small in decimal places, this one is a real doozie.  The US Government spent nearly $100,000 to teach Kenyan farmers how to use Facebook.  What the what?  My budget would have a great big ole’ “X” through that little program right there.

 

So, with these 9 examples from a little bit of digging, we have been able to successful eliminate about $290,531,400,000 or 290 Billion dollars in just 1 year.  Extrapolating that out to 10 years (including a greater savings in the Social Security field), we would save a total of $2.9 trillion. So, we just took a 1 trillion dollar addition to the deficit over 10 years due to the tax cuts and successfully turned it around to an extra 1.9 trillion dollar savings over the next 10 years.  And there is plenty more where that came from.

This isn’t rocket science, it’s just simple math.  But it means that some of the extra fat needs to be trimmed off.  None of the proposals above would put any American into poverty, nor would it wouldn’t keep a child in the slums of Detroit from eating dinner.  All it takes is some effort, bipartisanship discussions and hard work on the part of those we elected to run our country.  Rather than talk about who used foul language in a meeting, or who tried to mislead people with medical records, let’s put Washington to work to get rid of all this debt.  Because as you know, the borrower is slave to the lender.

Separation of Church and State

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

This is a direct quote from a letter that founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut to assure them that the federal government would not interfere with their religion.  This was a worry of the early church in America because they had left the tyrannical rule of England where the Catholic church was the state sponsored church and there were no freedoms to one’s own religion.

You will not find the words “Separation of Church and State” anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, but you hear it often in regard to any religious issue in America.  There are, however, principles relating to this separation in the Constitution, and you will also find mention of it in court cases.

Constitutional Separation of Church and State

The founders of the Constitution were well aware of the tyrannical religion they had just escaped in England and didn’t want to repeat that in their newly founded country; therefore, the very first words of the first amendment contained a very important concept:

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

This was written to keep the federal government from interfering into your right to the religion of your choosing.  It doesn’t matter if you are Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or any other religion—the government cannot make laws that prohibit your exercise of religion.

You will notice that this is where the separation stops.  There are no further clauses or comments in the Bill of Rights, nor the Constitution, that refer to any power of the Church over the State.  Any idea otherwise is a misinterpretation of the First Amendment and its original intent.

Judicial Separation of Church and State

There have been a couple landmark Supreme Court cases that have dealt with this idea of a separation between the Church and the State.  The first big case was Everson v. Board of Education in 1947.  The 5-4 vote extended the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) down to the State level of government.  Prior to this decision, states had been making laws that could benefit one religious organization over another.

In 1971, the 8-1 Lemon v. Kurtzman ruling set up the “Lemon Test” for state laws and whether they violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  The threefold test reads:

  1. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose.
  2. The principal or primary effect of the statute must not advance nor inhibit religion.
  3. The statute must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

Once again, this ruling only affected the government supporting or advancing any particular religion.

In 2017, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 ruling in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer case which seemed to apply the principles set forth by Lemon v. Kurtzman.  They ruled that the Church could not be exempted from a public benefit or grant strictly because of its religious status.  It was determined that the grant they had requested would have been used for a secular purpose (playground) and did not advance religion, nor did it result in excessive government entanglement with religion.

Role of the Church in the State

The Courts and the Constitution are clear that the State should not be involved in advancing the affairs of the Church, but what about the Church being involved in the State affairs?  It is common to hear the phrase “Separation of Church and State” used when arguing that members of the clergy cannot endorse any political candidate or party from the pulpit.  This issue, however, has no Constitutional or Court basis.

However, there is a separation that has been established for the Church between it and the State.  This separation was put in place by the IRS in its tax-exemption regulations.  Most churches fall under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) for their tax-exempt status.  This code specifies that churches “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

This means that pastors and other members of the clergy cannot speak from the pulpit and endorse a political candidate because he/she would be speaking for the church in his/her endorsement.  The IRC prohibits the Church from endorsing a candidate, but it does not prohibit the member of the clergy from endorsing as a member of the general public.  If a church officially endorses a candidate for political office, they risk losing their tax-exempt status with the IRS, which would be detrimental to their existence.  (Individual pastors are allowed to endorse any political candidate as long as they are not representing their organization.)

So What?

 

The original idea for this article spawned from a daytime TV show in which a well-known New York City pastor, Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church, discussed his approach to politics as a pastor of a church.

In the video above, Joy Behar mentions the “Separation of Church and State law.”  She later tries to walk it back a little by mentioning the tax-exempt status, but she still gets it wrong.  This is not a law; it is a code that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing a particular candidate from the pulpit.  The first amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise clause do not restrict a pastor or a church or any religious organization from endorsing anything in politics.  Congress has not passed any laws regarding this issue because that law would not stand up to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.

In summary, Congress cannot advance any religion with laws that would benefit a religious organization.  Pastors can endorse any political candidate they want from any location that they want, without breaking the law.  Those same pastors, however, could put their church’s tax-exempt status in jeopardy.  There are many, many other examples of religious symbols that the Court has allowed (Ten Commandments) and disallowed (Cross) on public property, with each having its own reason for being allowed or rejected.  Overall, many issues that aren’t cut and dry will likely be subject to judicial review from the highest court of the land.

~Jason – Three Patriots

Not So Free Speech

George Orwell and his seemingly prophetic writings have entered into the limelight of reality. With many of his writings, he touches on the thoughts of many American’s as we sit back and ask ourselves, today, “What is going on?” and “How did we get here?” . In fact, George Orwell once wrote that,

Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

with an eerie premonition to the challenges we face today. The very rights granted to us by our founding fathers in the United States Constitution are under attack. Yes, I get to write this post without repercussion or fear of reprimand by our government. But let’s face it; this post is bound to offend someone right? In today’s world, it is seemingly impossible to practice our rights of freedom of speech without offending someone. What has changed? As the nation approaches its 241st birthday, we have seemed to have traded our patriotism and love for country for the love of self.

Today, groups such as ANTIFA claim to be using freedom of speech while suppressing the speech of others. Seems ironic doesn’t it? ANTIFA, or Anti Fascist suppressing the speech of others? But I digress. The point is that we have all become soft-skinned. Unfortunately, it seems that the only ones willing to actually stand up for what they believe are those that are offended.

Who do we blame though? I don’t know. Do we blame the government for allowing such acts to take place? No, I don’t think so… This would be an infringement on the very right granted to us by our government. However, I would argue that lines should be drawn and a clear distinction should be made between freedom of speech and crime and treated accordingly. Do we blame social media? Sure social media has allowed ideas, thoughts, and feelings to spread across the globe like wildfire, but the blame still can’t be placed on social media. Again though, as stated in previous posts, social media has begun to play a role in the limiting of freedom of speech dictated by their own understanding of what freedom of speech may be and how it fits in with their ideals and target audience. Let’s face it. To be honest, I don’t know who to blame. I do know that somewhere along the line, the United States has given birth to a generation of soft-skinned individuals that are too lazy to form their own ideals and beliefs and rely on others to influence their ideals and beliefs.

What can we do? Again, this is a question that is hard to answer. I feel it, and I know you do too. I feel like the United States is riding a thin piece of string about to break. Maybe one day we will collectively stand up for a common belief and fight for what we believe for the sake of the Nation and push back on the idiotic, delusional, psychotic feelings we find ourselves being forced into.

 

-Joshua

Three Patriots

Powers Of The States

Recently, I finished a 3-part series on the powers of government.  This series covered the powers of the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the executive branch of the federal government.  However, these powers do not include the other powers granted to government by the Constitution.  The 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights grants one other form of power to a form of government: the individual states.

The 10th Amendment states:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

So, let’s break it down into powers that are not granted to the federal government that would pass along to the state governments:

– Build and maintain roads
– Collect taxes
– Educate inhabitants
– Make and enforce laws
– General welfare expenses
– Ratify Constitutional amendments
– Issue licenses
– Regulate business within the state
– And so on…

Several of the items on that list have been taken over by the federal government, along with others not listed.  Education has only become federally regulated since 1960 and, even more so, with the No Child Left Behind Act and the newer Every Student Succeeds Act.  With these two acts, the federal government has decided that they can do a better job of regulating the education system than the state governments, but the problem is that the Constitution didn’t provide that power to the federal government.

Another pie that the federal government has stuck its proverbial finger into is minimum wage.  It has never been granted the power to regulate wages.  The history of minimum wage is quite interesting, with multiple Supreme Court cases invalidating and later upholding the minimum wage laws in 1941.  Since then, the federal government has taken that power and has run with it, increasing minimum wage as often as it sees fit.  It would be possible to return to a strict Constitutional approach to minimum wage with another Supreme Court decision, but it would likely be very unpopular with a portion of the country who feel that the federal government should tell the states how they should govern.  States still continue to regulate the minimum wage as they see fit, but their minimum wage must be at least the same as the federal minimum, if not higher.

The United States of America was originally created with the idea that the federal government has a limited power and that each individual state would have as much or more power than the federal government.  This is happening in some instances, while in others like education and minimum wage, it is not.  For example, the medical and recreational marijuana laws that some states have passed are bucking the federal law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana.

James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.  The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace negotiation, and foreign commerce.  The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state.

Each year, the federal government takes more and more power from the states and gives it to itself.  The only way for this transfer and takeover of power to end is for the states to keep those powers through court action and likely a Supreme Court ruling.  Right now, however, the Supreme Court justices are not largely on the side of states’ rights over federal powers.  Until states insist on their powers remaining within their own control, you can expect the federal government to continue to grab for more and more authority.

Jason – Three Patriots

 

Sources:

http://www.basiclaw.net/Constitution/StatePowers.htm

https://www.infoplease.com/history-and-government/us-government/powers-government

http://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/amendments/10/essays/163/reserved-powers-of-the-states

http://www.pbs.org/tpt/constitution-usa-peter-sagal/federalism/state-powers/

https://votesmart.org/education/states#.WP5ucVLlQb0

http://expungementinfo.com/exclusive-powers-state-governments/

https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/tenth_amendment

Photo Credit: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=1164130

 

Powers of Congress

We have discussed several issues lately concerning government and specific roles that it plays in our lives, but all of this has left me thinking, “What is the actual role of government?” So, today I’m starting a mini-series blog on the powers of government.  In order to answer that question, we need to go back to ninth grade Civics class for a lesson.  The United States of America is a constitutional republic (not a democracy as is often misunderstood).  The powers given to the government are given and limited by the Constitution.  So, in order to know what the role of government is, we need to go back to the Constitution to determine which powers it gives and which powers it limits.

The Preamble of the Constitution sets up the powers in:


“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”


So, in that text, we see 5 points of power:

  1. Establish Justice – law
  2. Insure domestic tranquility – peace in the country’s borders
  3. Defense – protect from invasion
  4. General welfare – well-being of the citizens (notice this does not say social welfare as many want to interpret)
  5. Liberty – ensure freedoms and protect from tyranny

The Constitution then goes on to specify the powers it grants and those that it limits.  Today, I want to talk about the legislative branch of government, which means the House of Representatives and the Senate (aka Congress).  The legislative branch is commonly known to “make the laws.”  Specifically, Article I, Section 8 sets up those powers for Congress (we will discuss the other 2 branches of government in a future post).   From this, we see that Congress gives numerous provisions including collecting taxes, borrowing money, making money, declaring war, etc. (see [4] in sources for full text).  Nowhere in Article I do we find any powers to set up social security, healthcare, and many of the other welfare state functions that Congress has taken upon itself in the past century or so.  Interestingly enough, the Bill of Rights of the Constitution specifically addresses powers that are not explicitly granted to Congress in the Constitution with the Tenth Amendment.


“The powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”


Congress has taken the liberty to increase its governance to extremely broad terms.  This infinite interpretation of the congressional powers has increased spending on programs by an alarming amount.  While many of these programs sound like a great program and may even accomplish a lot of good in the country, these social programs implemented by and paid for through congressional action is beyond the powers given to it.  For example, the social programs implemented in the early and middle 20th century accounted for a little over 23 percent of the overall US budget in 1962.  Today, that number has grown well above 63 percent of the overall budget (63.3 percent when last recorded in 2011 – with the increase in the welfare system under President Obama, that number has to be significantly higher now).

What this all boils down to is that issues related to welfare, healthcare, and other social services are not powers given to Congress but, instead, are powers that they took upon themselves to make.  These assumed powers are costing the taxpayers trillions of dollars each year, and they are going largely unchecked.

I know of many noble, worthy causes and programs that have been funded by the government’s increasing focus on social programs.  While I will not go into specifics on individual programs, many of them will be completely sufficient with a reduction in budget or even the elimination of federal funding.  A majority of them are 501(c) non-profit organizations that have the ability to attract donations with tax-deductions.  I believe that the American people have a desire to fund these types organizations and, when presented with a need, would be more than willing to step up and fill that need.  Telethons across the country have reached goals of millions of dollars in a single day.  Present the American people with a just cause, and watch it obtain funding for the next year or more every time.

In the meantime, let’s get government back to what it was originally intended to do and away from becoming what our Founding Fathers never envisioned.

Jason – Three Patriots

 

SOURCES:

[1] https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/preamble/giving-meaning-to-the-preamble-by-erwin-chemerinsky/interp/37

[2] https://patriotpost.us/commentary/11449

[3] https://www.usconstitution.net/xconst_A1Sec8.html

[4] http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=2085