The payroll tax deferral by President Donald Trump puts some anti-tax advocates in a tough spot. The tax needs elimination as it hurts millions of workers across the country by taking money out of their pockets. Letting them keep it means workers either put the cash into the economy or stick it in their bank accounts as savings for the future.
For some, that’s enough to support Saturday’s executive action.
“As recently as the past week, critics of the President thought that a payroll tax cut was done for,” FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon said yesterday in a statement best summarized as the ends justify the means. “President Trump has shown them wrong. This payroll tax cut will provide hard working Americans and businesses with the financial relief they deserve. In particular, this payroll tax cut will benefit frontline workers who have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic. It is unfortunate that Congress could not take the reins and come to an agreement to deliver relief, but this executive order is a step in the right direction towards getting the American economy back on track.”
Tax cuts can be awesome, specifically when they’re followed by spending cuts meant to make up for the loss of tax revenue. The government, alas, fails to remember the spending cut part on a regular basis.
Others cringe at the notion of tax cut via executive fiat. They, rightly, see the execution problematic due to worries regarding the separation of powers and the role of Congress. The president is not a king or even the CEO of a company with unilateral authority to control the financial books. Congress is not a group of elected advisers occasionally getting their say in the law-making process. They control tax and spending policy, not the president. This same group raised plenty of hell during the Obama Administration when the now-former president uttered his famous “pen and phone” comment regarding his plans.
My fear focuses on the rise of illiberalness within both Republican and Democratic parties and their acceptance of executive overreach as long as “their guy/gal” is the one doing it. Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell blasted former President Barack Obama for his executive action saying in 2014, “this is not how democracy is supposed to work.” Yesterday, McConnell said, “Republicans will actually look out for [laid off workers].” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s action, “unconstitutional slop,” (repeating GOP Senator Ben Sasse) on Fox News Sunday. Her comments on executive action from 2009 to 2017 were quite different, praising former President Barack Obama’s orders as, “clear constitutional and legal authority of his office,” and “an important step,” in 2014. Perhaps she will repeat former House Speaker John Boehner by going to court as a way to “prove her belief” in checks and balances. Her past actions and works show otherwise.
Anne Applebaum wrote in Twilight of Democracy the founders knew people were flawed, but the form of government they put together might encourage better behavior in people. “Neither then nor later did their lofty words always reflect reality. Neither then nor later did their institutions always function as intended…When the institutions failed, as they sometimes did, the words were recited and repeated in order to persuade people to try again.”
This raises the question of whether the major party candidates up for election in November are the ones who deserve the chance to be those who “try again.” Joe Biden is already promising presidential action and Trump will likely press on with his own “pen and phone” (or maybe “pen and tweet”) to enact policy regardless of the consequences. Can both parties be reformed to move back towards respect of the Constitution or is it time to look at third parties as options? Is the allure of power too much to stave off and corrupts everyone who comes into contact with it?
Either way, Trump’s action on the payroll tax cut is unconstitutional – despite my own support of eliminating the tax entirely. There are rules government and those in power need to follow. Those who claim fealty to the Constitution cannot forget it.