Virtual Interview with Howie Lind – Candidate for US Congress, Virginia 10th District

Freedom Forge Press resides in the 10th Congressional District in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The seat for the House of Representatives is being contested this year due to the planned retirement of incumbent Frank Wolf (R-VA) who has represented the citizens of the Virginia 10th District since 1981.

We invited all candidates who have publicly announced their intention to run for the seat to a Virtual Interview.

Howie LindFreedom Forge Press (FFP):  Chris Christie remarked in July 2013, “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought.” Christie appeared to be discussing the government’s role in fighting terrorism and responding to critics of all the federal government’s widespread domestic spying programs. Do you think Christie is right, or do civil libertarians have legitimate concerns?

Howie Lind (HL): The legitimate role of the Federal government has been subverted; we all want “the bad guys” tracked and interdicted. There is absolutely no evidence that the widespread dragnet of metadata accomplishes this. As an example, our intelligence agencies knew that we had major issues with the two individuals involved in the Boston bombing, yet failed to respond. Obviously, we have a major disconnect here, and if we continue the indiscriminate gathering of individual information, someday it will be used for the worst of reasons.

FFP: What would be your top 3-5 legislative priorities if elected?

HL: Repealing and replacing Obamacare, Reforming the tax code, reforming Federal spending, Restoring defense capability.

FFP: Considering all the federal government does and all the influence and control it exerts on states via Medicare/Medicaid and other spending, do you think the federal government is successfully doing its job to “promote the general welfare” of all citizens in these United States?

HL: No.

FFP: Gallup recently released a poll with a record number of respondents (72%) saying that “Big Government” is the biggest threat to the future of the country. “Big Government” has always led the other categories (Labor, Business). Yet the president, a clear advocate for transformational large government, won re-election with 51% of the popular vote. What do you think we are missing here?

HL: Our culture and our educational institutions have not been promoting or educating the American public on the foundational constitutional precepts of liberty and individual responsibility.

FFP: A quote is attributed to John Adams: “But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” Looking over the past 10 to 15 years and the rapid pace of government expansion invites a lot of pessimism to accept that quote as true. Do you think that quote is true? And if not, what do you think it will take for the country to get back on track?

HL: Historically it is accurate. I don’t think it is too late, but time is growing short. Reagan is the model to follow; it is possible to turn the ship of state, however, it takes bold, consistent effort.

FFP: When, if ever, do you think it is acceptable for the federal government to play favorites with favorable regulatory requirements, grants, tax credits, or other policy levers?

HL: As a general rule, no, there should always be a level playing field. Of course, there may be some exceptions that are of such national importance that they demand attention; the space race, interstate highways, and some other very narrow exceptions come to mind.

FFP: Grover Cleveland is one of our favorite Democrats. Following a drought in Texas! Congress passed an appropriation for a seed bill of a modest sum of $10,000 (about $289,000 in today’s dollars). Cleveland vetoed the bill and issued this statement:

“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering… …though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. … Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

Given the various types of federal aid, the increased participation in those welfare programs—which shot up markedly during the current administration, and the record high level of people who have left the labor force, do you think Cleveland had a valid point, or does government have a duty to relieve individual suffering?

HL: Yes, Cleveland was broadly correct. Cases of calamity and individual suffering, the individual community and its private resources, and the state are the best provider of services. The Federal government has proven time after time that the least efficient manner in which services can be delivered is through the central government, regardless of constitutionality. FEMA comes to mind. Certainly the Federal government has a role in exceptional circumstances where a region or state is affected and request support, but clearly we have “federalized” every type of event that should and can be handled locally.

FFP: Is it time for term limits?

HL: Yes.

FFP: If elected, what will you do in office to promote individual freedom?

HL: Adhere to the Bill of Rights.

FFP: If elected, what will you do in office to limit the size, scope, and power of government?

HL: Tax reform and the elimination of base line budgeting. Complete reorganization of EPA and its oversight functions. Consolidation of antiquated agencies and programs spread throughout the government.

FFP: The Tax Foundation estimates that the average tax payer will work into the 2nd week of May just to pay his/her federal, state, and local tax bills for the year. Do you think this is appropriate?

HL: Of course not; anytime that the federal budget grows beyond 18%, there is clear historical evidence to suggest that there negative economic growth is stalled. The tax structure is in need of major reform.

FFP: By many objective measures, spending by the federal government has ballooned out of control in the 20th Century to unsustainable levels where we find ourselves today.

Is there a specific aspect of government (e.g., an agency, program, function) that you would agree to freeze, reduce, or cut?  (If so please name the agency/program/function?)

HL: I believe the time has come for massive re-organization; one tiny example is that there are 19 job training programs spread over the government. We need to ask a basic question: What is the legitimate constitutional role of the Federal government, what are those things that only it can do? Everything else needs to be returned to the states to pursue – and we’ll find many of them are never picked up by the states because they simply are not critical programs.

FFP: Why are you running for office? (Or if you’d like to address a question we didn’t ask, please add it here and give your response).

HL: I want to go to Washington to do something, not be someone. The Republic is in a critical place, and there may be little room left to turn our course back to economic sanity and individual liberty.

We would like to thank Howie Lind and members of his campaign staff for participating in our virtual interview. For more information about Howie, visit his campaign website.

Status of campaign participants (As of 3/29/2014):

[Republican Candidates]

Barbara Comstock – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

Stephen Hollingshead – Has accepted our invitation; responses are pending.

Howie Lind – Has accepted our invitation and submitted responses.

Bob Marshall – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

Marc Savitt – Has accepted our invitation; responses are pending.

Rob Wasinger – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

[Democratic Candidates]

Richard Bolger – Has withdrawn from the race.

John Foust – Has not responded to our invitation to participate.

Sam Kubba – Has withdrawn from the race.

Olympic Update: The Results Are In, And They’re Not Good!

800px-Olympic_Rings.svgWe recently posted that Team USA would need to sweep all 98 medal podiums at Sochi (and 122,000+ more Sochis besides) in order for the IRS to have enough taxable medal winnings to pay off the interest on the federal government’s debt in 2014 alone.

Unfortunately, Team USA did not win gold, silver, and bronze in all 98 events. Accordingly, we will have to revise our projections.

Team USA won 9 gold medals, 7 silver, and 12 bronze medals. This will give the IRS the opportunity to leech a mere $178,200 in tax revenue, a downward revision from $1,940,400.

This unfortunately means that the IRS will have to wait for more than 1.3 MILLION Sochis (which will take 5.3 million years!) in order to collect the revenue needed to pay off only one year of interest on the federal government’s debt today.

Are we being ridiculous? Of course we are! The US was never going to win all medals at all 98 events at the Winter Games.  But then again we’re no more ridiculous than the federal government’s politicians who continue to irresponsibly enact unrealistic budgets that spend far more than is collected in revenue and far more than is the constitutional mission of the federal government.

Go Team USA, Your Government Needs Your Prize Money!

800px-Olympic_Rings.svgThe 2014 Olympic Winter Games are underway in Sochi!

Team USA Olympians are engaging in their quadrennial quest for winter gold, and, if they’re successful, they’ll pay for it. Each medal comes with a cash prize of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze (per medal) paid by the US Olympic Committee to the event winner.

And the IRS is already salivating at the opportunity to stick Team USA with tax bills on their winnings.  At the highest tax bracket, Americans for Tax Reform estimates an approximate $9,900 tax bill for each gold medal, $5,940 for a silver, and $3,960 for each bronze medal.

But let’s take it a step further.

There are 98 events at the Winter Games this time around.  If Team USA were to sweep the medal podiums and win every single medal available (gold, silver, AND bronze) in every single event, the IRS would need more than 122,000 Sochi Winter Games (at 98 events each!) just to pay the interest on the federal government’s debt, for this year alone!

Despite having imposed math mandates on states, it’s clear yet again from this example that federal government elected officials utterly fail to comprehend even the most basic math.

So ski, snowboard, skate, shoot, and curl hard Team USA. Your government needs you!

US Senate Says “Presto” And Free Money Appears!

Senate Proposed Marketplace “Fairness” Act Limits Personal Freedom, Choice

Freedom Forge Press

Yesterday the US Senate approved its version of the “Marketplace Fairness Act.” The proposed law seeks to require online retailers to collect and pay sales taxes to state and local jurisdictions. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea. After all, shouldn’t individuals buying goods across state lines have to pay sales tax? It’s only fair because if they went to their local store they would have to pay sales tax. Right? People who rudely seek a deal across state lines rob schools, police, and firefighters of their state and local tax funding.

Enter Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Dick Durban (D-Illinois), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) with the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” which should be renamed the “Free Money from Thin Air Act.”

In the world before the bill, retailers did not have to collect and pay sales taxes on goods sold online to out of state customers. That is, unless, and we are over simplifying here, a) the seller had a physical location in the same state as the buyer; or b) the seller’s state had an agreement with the buyer’s state that would require sales taxes to be collected and paid to the buyer’s state.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is one group lobbying Congress in favor of the law.  According to the NCSL, states lost an estimated $23.3 billion in 2012 alone from their inability to collect taxes on online and out-of-state purchases. $11.4 billion of that figure is estimated to be lost from an inability to tax online sales. To make up for lost revenue, many states passed “sales and use” tax filing requirements. When filing state tax returns, residents would have to report on the amount of goods and services they purchased from outside their home state and pay their state’s sales tax. That attempt was about as successful as starting a fire with two wet sticks.

As a solution, states could opt to step up enforcement on their own residents who were not paying the sales and use taxes.  But we can only imagine how well the voting public would reward their politicians for dumping this increased tax bill on their laps. Plan B would be to impose the tax collection requirements on the seller of the goods and services. This is a more attractive option for politicians because the out of state sellers often have no local representation and no ability to hold politicians accountable for their actions. The only problem to date has been that if the seller resides in another state it is well outside the reach of the clutches of the home state’s taxing agency thanks a Supreme Court ruling that said such taxation was not constitutional unless authorized by Congress,

Enter the Senate with its “Free Money from Thin Air Act,” which if passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the president would provide the very authorization needed to overrule the Supreme Court and permit states to levy taxes on out of state businesses.

And it is only out of fairness (the bill’s name is the Marketplace FairnessAct didn’t you know?!) that states are requiring out of state Internet sellers collect and pay the same taxes as their in-state competitors. The politicians say it’s very unfair for the “bricks and mortar” store to have to inconvenience their customers by collecting taxes when the buyer can order the same item from an out of state online seller and avoid the sales tax. This argument completely overlooks the problem of shipping costs from the out of state seller’s point of view. Many customers have come to expect free shipping from online retailers. So adding a local sales tax on top of a shipping cost will place the online out of state store at a disadvantage. Where is the “fairness” now?

More than once, advocates of the law say, it’s not a new tax, it’s a “due” tax. But if the tax bill hasn’t been collected in the past, it seems like the Senate is expecting the $23 billion to materialize out of thin air–with no impact to consumers. If the issue is state budget pressures, one solution could be to stop dumping unfunded mandates (e.g., Obamacare) onto state budgets. This would relieve the pressure from state budgets without expecting consumers to fork over another $23 billion in “taxes due.”

Of course there’s no reasonable way to comply with the law without some complex tax accounting software. This may explain why Amazon.com made a sudden U-turn from its vigorous opposition to applying state and local taxes to its sales and now supports the law. Trying to find the answer to this reversal and new found friend for politicians doesn’t require much sleuthing. Amazon isn’t looking for tax fairness, it’s looking for customers. Amazon’s convenient new Tax Collection Services offers online merchants a convenient 3% fee for figuring out all that tax mess.  Three percent of $11.4 billion is likely a rich enough potential customer base to come out in support of the new taxing measure.

As usual, Congress, and in this case Democrats and several Republicans in the Senate show an abysmal intelligence of how commerce works outside of their DC dreamland. A few oversights that the Senate made:

1. Complexity. Suddenly, online retailers would be required to have a working knowledge of nearly 9,600 state and local tax laws and regulations affecting everything from different tax rates for different goods and whether certain items are exempted from sales taxes.

2. Enforcement. The bill authorizes state taxing authorities to target online retailers with audits to verify compliance. Businesses simply do not have the financial resources to put into defending and answering auditor’s questions from a variety of taxing authorities.  Not to mention that responding to audits takes them away from much more efficient uses of their time, like running their businesses. The Senate was generous to limit the audits to one from each state. (The Government speak looks like this: “single audit of a remote seller for all State and local taxing jurisdictions within that State”)

3. Ambiguity over what a “State” means. Most people grew up (at least those who were in school since 1959) understanding there are 50 states. This bill extends the “state” definition to include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and “and any other territory or possession of the United States.”

4. Native American Tribes recognized as state taxing authorities. “And any tribal organization (as defined in 18 section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b)).” There are 566 such tribal organizations.

5. What does an “audit” mean. State taxing authorities–to include the 550 new states the Senate found–can engage in all kinds of harassment of businesses without initiating a formal audit.

The bill introduced by Sen. Enzi was supposed to limit a small business’s risk of visits from state tax auditors to one per state. But with final bill markup, a small business is potentially at risk of more than 600 audits with the expanded definition of what a “state taxing authority” means.

The Wall Street Journal reports asking Senator Enzi’s office for clarification on the above issue. When the answer (today!) was that the Senator was still trying to figure out the answer when the bill was passed last night reminds us of the “have to pass the bill in order to find out what’s in it” stupidity started by then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when referring to ambiguity in the Affordable Care Act.

The proposed law serves as another example of Washington ignorance of the private economy. It also illustrates the politicians’ ongoing search for free money at the expense of the freedom of small business owners who operate across state lines. While the search goes ever on and on, 69 Senators waved a magic wand and expected “free money” to come flying out of a magician’s hat. Sixty-nine Senators want you the taxpayer to believe their illusion that they’ve found a cost-free way to fund state and local budgets without harming consumers–ignoring the fact that the money will come from somewhere.

These politicians think they’ve done their part to spread the pain of state and local sales tax in a way that makes the process “more fair” for brick and mortar and online retailers. But they’ve failed to consider a more reasonable alternative–that instead of simply spreading around the tax pain, they could have acted to reduce or eliminate the tax pain by eliminating wasteful spending, ending duplicate government programs, and pretending that unfunded federal mandates such as education, Obamacare, and environmental regulations magically fund themselves