Ryan Ellis

7-11 Demands That Congress<br> Raise Slurpee Prices

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Thursday, October 8th, 2009, 9:37 AM PERMALINK

Well, not quite—but it got your attention.  Recently, 7-11 delivered 1.6 million petitions to Congress demanding that 7-11 be allowed to charge extra to customers who use credit and debit cards.  Never mind that this is asking Congress to rip up a contract 7-11 has signed agreeing not to do this to us.  

What’s the issue?

Whenever we go to the store or online to make a purchase, we often choose to use a credit or debit card.  These aren’t free.  Some company has to process these transactions, make sure everyone gets paid, etc.  In order to pay for this convenience, merchant card companies charge the businesses that accept cards—usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.75% of the cost of whatever you and I buy (known as an “interchange fee”).

Naturally, the businesses selling things to us would like to be able to pay less for this service.  Paying less for the same service is certainly attractive.  I would like to pay less for my NFL Sunday Ticket package on DirecTV, but that's what it costs.

7-11 is trying to get around this little problem of reality by getting Congress to do their negotiating for them.  House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is marking up a bill this week, H.R. 2382, the “Credit Card Interchange Fees Act of 2009.”  It would for the first time use the force of law to nullify valid contracts negotiated in good faith between the merchant card industry and retailers.  The most pernicious action would be to allow businesses to charge us more for the privilege of using a merchant card (a practice we’re protected against by the current merchant card contract).  The hope is that this Congressionally-obtained bargaining chip can be used to negotiate a lower interchange fee.

The retailers and Congressman Frank will tell you they want to be able to charge less to those who pay with cash.  But unless Congress is going to get into the business of setting the price of everything from lattes to licorice, the reality is this will leave the base price the same and become a surcharge for card-swiping customers.  The practical effect of this legislation is that everything we buy could cost more if we use a credit or debit card rather than cash.  

You might remember that when preening Congressmen bash merchant card companies this week.

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Obama Allies Float a VAT...Again

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Monday, September 28th, 2009, 1:41 PM PERMALINK

On Sunday, John Podesta (former Clinton COS and late head of the Obama transition team) floated a VAT:

“There’s going to have to be revenue in this budget,” said Podesta, Clinton’s former chief of staff and co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s transition team, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing today.

A so-called consumption tax would “create a balance” with European and Japanese economies and “could potentially have a substantial effect on competitiveness,” said Podesta. Value- added taxes in Europe and Japan encourage savings by taxing consumption.

Podesta said such a tax may be regressive, but can be balanced by exempting some products and using “the money to support low-wage workers.”

If this sounds familiar, it should.  During the Memorial Day recess, Obama Administration officials refused to rule out a VAT.  House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) suggested that a VAT might be a good way to pay for Obamacare.

It goes without saying that a value-added tax is applied to most everything consumed by everybody.  Not only does that make it highly regressive, it also is a clear violation of President Obama's repeated promise not to raise "any form" of taxes on families making less than $250,000 per year.

ATR has run an Anti-VAT Congressional caucus since the early 1990s.  It currently has 54 Congressmen and 4 Senators.  We sent a letter (House, Senate) to the Hill today trying to punch up that number.

It's coming.  The Left does not have enough money to pay for everything.  A VAT is too tempting for them.

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Interesting Tax Amendments<br> Offered on Baucus Health Bill

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009, 3:25 PM PERMALINK

This week, the Senate Finance Committee will be considering amendments to the Baucus-Obama government healthcare plan.  The full list of amendments on the tax side can be found here.  Below are some I thought were noteworthy:

  • 466 (Rockefeller): eliminate HSAs (kind of makes it obvious what the endgame is)
  • 497 (Hatch): give "Cadillac plan" tax transition relief to any state which begins with the letter "U"
  • 501 (Hatch)/532 (Bunning): reverses the "medicine cabinet tax" by allowing over-the-counter medicines to be deductible as an itemized deduction
  • 511 (Hatch): prevents ACORN from distributing any funds in Baucus-Obama
  • 534 (Crapo/Roberts): prevents any tax hikes in the bill from hitting joint filers with AGI of less than $250,000 and all other taxpayers with AGI less than $200,000 (also see #541 by Ensign)
  • 543 (Ensign): strike the word "fee" everywhere it's found in the bill and replace with "tax"
  • 546 (Ensign): ensure that federal employees' (including elected officials') health insurance plans that exceed the "Cadillac" level must pay the excise tax, notwithstanding any transition relief in the bill

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New Tax Hikes in Chairman's Mark of<br> Baucus-Obama Health Plan

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009, 1:41 PM PERMALINK

Very quickly, here are the tax increase changes from Baucus' original plan to the Chairman's mark:

  • excise tax on uninsured families making more than 300 percent of the federal poverty line reduced from $3800 to $1900.  Unclear on other levels (single/family, 300 percent FPL/<300 percent FPL)
  • excise tax on "Cadillac health plans" raised from 35 percent to 40 percent
  • threshold for "Cadillac plans" unchanged ($21,000 family/$8000 single), but index is now inflation-plus-1 percent
  • exceptions on "Cadillac plans" made for high-risk professions and over-55 retirees
  • new cap on health FSAs now $2500, not $2000
  • new tax on clinical labs dropped
  • new income exclusion for Indian tribe health benefits
  • raises "haircut" on medical itemized deductions from 7.5 percent to 10 percent of adjusted gross income, which conforms the regular tax deduction to the AMT deduction
  • the small business tax credit would be extended on a refundable basis to 501(c)(3) non-profits which owe no income taxes
  • no adjustments to income can be taken into consideration for eligibility for the individual health tax credit.  This includes IRA deductions, small business retirement plans, self-employed health insurance premiums, HSA contributions, the student loan interest deduction, the teacher classroom expenses deduction, alimony payments, the tuition and fees deduction, and the savings early withdrawal penalty


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Official Score of Tax Hikes<br>In Baucus-Obama Health Bill

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009, 1:27 PM PERMALINK

The Joint Tax Committee has come out with an official revenue score of all the tax increases contained in the Baucus-Obama plan considered by the Senate Finance Committee this week.

The overall score is a net tax hike of $357.7 billion over ten years.

Note: This does NOT include the revenue effects from the excise tax on the uninsured.  This is most likely because the last-minute "chairman's mark" reduced the tax on families making more than 300 percent of the federal poverty line from $3800 to $1900, and Joint Tax just didn't have time to re-do the numbers.

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White House Spin Continues:<br> When Is an Excise Tax NOT an Excise Tax?

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009, 1:21 PM PERMALINK

In a truly brazen and out-of-touch move, the Obama White House continued to dig in its heels yesterday in the face of President Obama’s ridiculous assertion that an excise tax is not a tax.  Below we break down how the White House staff fumbles and bumbles a defense of their boss’ willful ignorance of the English language.  First, here is what the plan written by Senator Max Baucus’ staff says about the matter:

“Excise Tax.  The consequence for not maintaining insurance would be an excise tax...the excise tax would be assessed through the tax code and applied as an additional amount of federal tax owed.”

Now, here’s what White House spokesman Linda Douglass had to say, with our analysis:


The White House on Monday reiterated that it doesn't view the fee as a tax. Officials said Americans are already paying as much as $1,000 a year in higher medical costs to subsidize caring for the uninsured, and would save money if lawmakers pass the health overhaul. They noted that lower-income people would get federal help to buy insurance and avoid the penalty.

ATR: The fact that people might be paying for uncompensated care has nothing to do with the fact that the additional cost in the Baucus plan is a TAX, as the President has denied and his staff has reiterated, even in the face of plain language.  Also, the fact that poorer Americans are getting subsidized doesn’t change the fact that the Baucus-Obama excise tax will fall squarely on families making less than $250,000 per year (in violation of Obama’s repeated campaign promise).

"People would be required to get health insurance, just as they are required to have auto insurance or to send their children to school," said White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass. "A fee would only be imposed on those few who could afford to purchase insurance, but refuse to do so."

ATR: An auto insurance mandate doesn’t translate into people having auto insurance, as mandate-state California demonstrates with its 18 percent uninsured motorist rate.  As for the school mandate, the White House just managed to threaten the vote-moving issue of millions of home-schooling parents who don’t want the government forcing their child to go to government school.

Getting back to the excise tax, would this only apply to “a few who could afford to purchase insurance, but refuse to do so?”  The excise tax would apply to any uninsured household earning income at least at the federal poverty line, which is $21,834 for a family of four with two children.  The great majority of the uninsured are above the federal poverty line, and would have to pay this new excise tax.

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Don't Forget About the "Other" Mandate<br> Tax: H.R. 3200 Taxes the Uninsured

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Monday, September 21st, 2009, 2:55 PM PERMALINK

There's a lot in the news today about President Obama's seeming ignorance of the $3800 excise tax contained in the Baucus-Obama healthcare plan.

You might have forgotten that there is another.

In H.R. 3200 (the Pelosi-Rangel-Obama version of reform), there is an income surtax on the uninsured of up to 2.5% of adjusted gross income, or the average premium cost, whichever is less.  So, a family making $70,000 and choosing not to insure would face a tax hike of $1750.

What makes the Baucus-Obama tax of $3800 on this same family so odd is that Democrats in Washington seemed to have learned NOTHING from the August recess town halls or the 9/12 rally on Washington.  Instead of scrapping this unpopular tax, they've doubled it!

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There's More Than One Tax Hike<br> In the Baucus-Obama Health Plan

Posted by Ryan Ellis on Monday, September 21st, 2009, 11:19 AM PERMALINK

Yesterday, President Obama obstinately refused to acknowledge what is obvious to anyone who reads the Baucus-Obama government healthcare bill: it has a massive tax increase ($750 to $3800) on families who choose not to enroll in Obamacare.  From Page 29:

“Excise Tax.  The consequence for not maintaining insurance would be an excise tax... the excise tax would be assessed through the tax code and applied as an additional amount of federal tax owed.”

But those are not the only new taxes in the Baucus-Obama plan:

  • Employer Mandate Tax.  $400 per employee if health coverage is not offered.  Note: this is a huge incentive to drop coverage, as $400 is much less than the average plan cost of $11,000 for families or $5000 for singles (Source: AHIP)
  • Backdoor Death of HSAs.  By requiring that all plans (besides the few that are grandfathered) provided first-dollar coverage for most services, there would be no HSA-qualifying plans available from the Massachusetts-like exchanges
  • Excise Tax on High-Cost Health Plans.  New 35% excise tax on health insurance plans to the extent they exceed $21000 in cost ($8000 single)
  • Report Employer Health Spending on W-2. 
  • Cap Flex-Spending Account (FSA) Contributions at $2000. Currently unlimited.
  • Eliminate tax deduction for employer-provided retirement Rx drug coverage in coordination with Medicare Part D
  • Medicine Cabinet Tax.  Americans would no longer be able to purchase over-the-counter medicines with their FSA, HSA, or HRA
  • Increase Non-Qualified HSA Distribution Penalty from 10% to 20%. 
  • Corporate 1099-MISC Information Reporting.  Currently, only non-corporations providing property or services for a business must be issued at 1099-MISC.  This would expand the requirement to corporations doing business with other businesses.  The amount of reporting needed for an average business would be huge. 
  • Various industry tax grabs based on market share. $2.3 billion PhRMA; $6 billion health insurance providers; $750 million clinical labs; $4 billion medical device manufacturers

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