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Executive Orders Under Cover of Fire

With all the media attention being paid to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress today, now is a perfect time for an American president to launch some pet policy that would not fare scrutiny well. Thus, White House spokesman Josh Earnest seized the opportunity Monday to announce that President Barack Obama is “very interested” in the idea of raising taxes through executive action.
Whether he was joshing or in earnest was hard to say, as always, but the White House spokesman was quick to add “Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there is some imminent announcement, there is not, at least that I know.” This was unsettling enough, even before he further added that “the president has asked his team to examine the array of executive authorities that are available to him to try to make progress on his goals.” All this came in response to a question about a proposal from self-proclaimed Socialist and Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders to raise up to $100 billion dollars by closing various corporate tax loopholes through executive action, which we expect the president would find very interesting, and as Earnest himself admitted, “The president has certainly not indicated any reticence in using his executive authority to try and advance an agenda that benefits middle class Americans,” so we take it as more or less a policy statement.
Nit-picky conservative types will note that the Constitution is rather explicit about the legislative branch having the sole authority to levy taxes, but it says the same sort of old-fashioned blather about immigration law and carbon regulations and any number of other things that no one seems to care much about these days, and lately all that Constitution stuff doesn’t seem to matter much. Some insufficiently-lobbied corporation or another will surely find it cost efficient to challenge any executive ordered tax increases in court, and the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress might yet find some means of resistance, but the past many decades of congressional delegation to the executive bureaucracy provide enough legal precedent to stretch the case out over many years, and it will likely take even longer than that for the Republican leadership to stiffen its spine. If corporate tax increases are so written by the all-powerful president, so it likely will be done.
How a hefty $100 billion corporate tax hike would “advance an agenda that benefits middle class Americans” will of course go unexplained. Many middle class Americans work for corporations, and are unlikely to benefit from new taxes that hinder their employers’ international competitiveness at a time when the American economy is already suffering from the world’s highest corporate tax rates, and every last one of us buys something or another from a corporation, so we’ll be paying the taxes that corporations will merely be charged with collecting. Some additional revenues will be raised, we suppose, and assurances will surely be offered that the money will be spent wisely, but the most likely argument we can surmise is that not only those darned corporations but all the people who work for them and anyone who occasionally buys something from them must be punished.
Somehow or another this should advance the agenda of the president’s party, which every leap year always seems to find a majority of Americans who will fall for this sort of thing. When the corporate employees get their pink slips, and the corporate customers notice increased prices, they’ll be all the more eager to punish those hated corporations. If that pesky Netanyahu is still grousing about such minor matters as Iran getting nuclear weapons, it will be all the easier.

— Bud Norman

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