The Tuesday

Politics & Policy

Read Bernie’s Lips: No New Taxes*

Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022 on Capitol Hill, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, and language, with some special attention paid to the mental and spiritual deficiencies of senators. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Biden’s Nickels, Bernie’s Dimes

Here is one you may have not seen coming: One of the holdups on that ridiculous $1 trillion infrastructure package currently idling in Congress is the fact that — picture me double-checking my notes here — Republicans want to include a tax increase, while Joe Biden and — really! — Bernie Sanders oppose it.

Strange days, indeed — most peculiar, mama!

Republicans have put forward the possibility of indexing the gasoline tax to inflation. Currently, the federal gasoline tax is structured as a flat fee of $0.183 per gallon, a rate that has been preserved in amber since Ye Olden Days of 1993, when gasoline went for an average of $1.11 per gallon. Put another way, in 1993 the federal gasoline tax was about 16.5 percent, whereas today it is about 6 percent. Indexing the tax to inflation is one way to go about rationalizing it, but a far simpler thing would be to calculate the tax as a percentage, which would keep it stable in relative terms even as the price of gasoline goes up and down, as it so often does. We already do that with sales taxes of other kinds.

Funding roads and bridges and such with a gasoline tax is an old idea and based on the principle that the people who use the roads are the people who should pay for them. That is fine as a principle, I suppose, but there isn’t really much reason to believe that it holds up as a matter of practical fact: We all use the roads, because we all move around, use products that are trucked from place to place, live in houses made of things that were not simply gathered up from the construction site, etc. When Amazon puts a tank of gasoline into a delivery van, it doesn’t just eat the expense, and (forgive me for repeating this point yet again, but it is important) it doesn’t necessarily just pass the cost on to consumers, either, because Amazon has to compete, just like any other business, and if it jacks up prices too much, shoppers will go elsewhere — and so it passes on its costs to everybody else as best it can: its employees and vendors, businesses that sell on Amazon, service providers, etc. In that way, we all pay taxes together. You should think about that when Senator Sanders talks about raising taxes on “the rich” — the rich are, for the most part, pretty good with money, which is why they are rich. A tax on Jeff Bezos or Exxon is, ultimately, a tax on you, Sunshine.

A higher gasoline tax will get passed on throughout the economy pretty easily, which is one reason it’s not a terrible tax.

Raising the tax might also create some incentives for individuals and companies to pursue greater fuel economy, though history suggests that gasoline prices have to get pretty high before Americans start passing over trucks and SUVs for economy cars. A high-enough gasoline tax might even create an incentive that would get people to choose electric or alternative-fuel cars — and Republicans can’t have that, so they’d prefer to include an equivalent fee on electric cars, too. If your big issue is environmental externalities, you can go chasing those all over the world and never really get it very well sorted out. Electric cars are far from carbon-free, but powering cars with electricity generated at a natural-gas (or nuclear!) generating plant produces a lot less carbon dioxide than does running dinosaur juice through a V-8. But a tax on electricity would have similar effects to those of a gasoline tax, creating incentives for energy efficiency and being spread out through the economy through the magical effect of nickel-and-diming consumers, workers, and business partners.

The problem with a higher gasoline tax — the problem for President Biden and for his congressional allies — is that people notice higher gasoline prices, and they hate them. They will look for someone to blame, and they will find someone. They’ll also notice when Amazon or GrubHub raises delivery fees — often, companies go out of their way to explain to consumers why they are raising prices. “Don’t blame us!” says the memo from the marketing department.

We mostly fund the federal government from taxes on income. We tax wages and salaries, we tax corporate profits, we tax gifts and inheritances, we tax investment payoffs and dividends, etc. There’s no particular reason we have to fund the federal government that way, and the policy world is full of just very very very enthusiastic people who will explain to you the merits of some other tax regime. They all have the same problem, which is that every man-jack ends up thinking he is paying too much while the other guy is paying too little.

For the past couple of weeks, we have been treated to a just astoundingly stupid series of breathless reports and vitriolic denunciations from people who are scandalized that there are some famous Americans who do not pay very much income tax because they do not have very much taxable income. Jeff Bezos is notionally the wealthiest man in the world, but it’s not like he’s got $200 billion in his Chase Sapphire Checking account. He owns a big piece of Amazon, and his net worth is approximately whatever his shares are worth right at this second. If he wants to convert that on-paper wealth into money he can spend, then he has to sell some shares, at which point he pays taxes on his capital gains. If he gets dividends, he pays taxes on those — and the dividends are paid out of funds that already have been taxed as corporate income. Most reasonably well-informed people understand this, but the angst and wailing and howling never stops, anyway, because it just seems wrong to people. But if you adopt some other tax system, it’s going to seem wrong to a lot of people in six months, too. That’s not a revenue problem — that’s a human-nature problem.

That being said, there’s a case for having several different sources of federal tax income — diversification is prudent — and for having an updated version of the gasoline tax as part of that mix. The case against raising or indexing the gasoline tax is purely political — President Biden doesn’t want to be blamed for it.

Something is going to get worked out, though, almost certainly — because almost everybody in Washington is itching to spend that $1 trillion or more. Senator Lindsey Graham (R., Slytherin), addressed the president directly: “President Biden: If you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it is there for the taking, you just need to get involved and lead.” It would be helpful as a political matter if the president got involved, but perhaps Senator Graham could be reminded that the Senate is its own thing, and it can pass whatever kind of bill it wants. It can even override the president if he doesn’t like it. The lawmakers ought to, from time to time, make law and act like they’re in charge of it.

But I must confess that the libertarian in me is enjoying the prospect of a $1 trillion slop-bucket being derailed by a 5-cent tax hike.

Words About Words

Mike Pompeo, one of the geniuses behind Donald Trump’s foreign policy, likes the term “pipehitter.” He has a new political-action committee, called CAVPAC, which sent out a fundraising email over his signature reading, in part:

We named the organization CAVPAC as a nod to my time in the U.S. Army Cavalry — the CAV in the PAC. [Editorial note: Thank you for your service, and cue puking sounds.] My cavalry service taught me that America needs warriors who lead and are willing to ride first into the fight without fear.  CAV also stands for Champion American Values [Editorial note: More puking sounds], the values that we know have made our country exceptional.

Pompeo subsequently sent out some tweets calling for “pipehitters” to support his PAC. His website demands: “Become a Pipehitter — someone who is unapologetically American, someone who fights for our future, someone who never gives an inch, someone who is dedicated to stand against the radical Left’s agenda.”

The usual late-career Republican-hack boilerplate, except . . .

A pipehitter is a crackhead, i.e., he who hits the pipe.

By extension, the word came to be used to describe someone with a fanatical dedication to a task or cause (if you know any crackheads, you’ll understand exactly why) even to the point of disregard for personal well-being. You’ll recall Marsellus Wallace’s stated desire to recruit a couple of pipe-hitting colleagues to work over an adversary with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. (When he promises to “get medieval” on those who have wronged him, he does not mean reading them carefully selected passages from Thomas Aquinas.) Parts of the U.S. military took up “pipehitters” as a term of respect for hard men who do bad things to bad people.

“Mike Pompeo has a plan, and he needs crackheads!”

And maybe some better PR people.

Rampant Prescriptivism

When is a cat not a cat? When it is certified as a dog!

From the Salt Lake Tribune: “Rilie Atkinson, a student at the University of Utah, said that she was turned away by multiple properties despite having a cat that is certified as an emotional support animal, as well as a dog.”

Here’s one of those situations where you’ll want to use a few extra words to avoid blurriness. (Also, that first that is unneeded, and despite is the wrong word there.) Better to write: “She was turned away for having a dog and a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal.” Or “. . . a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal and a dog that isn’t.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. There are some pipehitters in there, to be sure.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

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Not a Cult

A Missouri man pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he had threatened to lynch a Black congressman the day after the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol and a Jewish congressman in 2019, court records show.

. . . Mr. Hubert acknowledged that on May 6, 2019, he had called the Washington office of Mr. Cohen, who is Jewish, and told a staff member that he had “a noose with the congressman’s name on it” and planned to “put a noose around his neck” and drag him behind his pickup truck.

Three days later, F.B.I. agents went to Mr. Hubert’s home, where he admitted making the call and said he had done so because he was offended by a comment that Mr. Cohen had made about Donald J. Trump, who was president, the agreement states.

Believe Me, It’s Not a Cult

A Connecticut man has been arrested on charges that he threatened to kill Representative Adam Schiff of California, the Democrat who was the lead impeachment manager in the House during the proceedings against President Trump, federal prosecutors announced on Monday.

The man, Robert M. Phelps, 62, of Torrington, Conn., used a meeting request form on Mr. Schiff’s congressional website to send the expletive-laden threats, which were made on Nov. 12, the eve of the first public impeachment hearing, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Phelps was taken into custody on Friday and made a brief appearance the same day in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. He was at least the third person to be charged with threatening Mr. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who became the face of the impeachment case against Mr. Trump.

Totally and Completely Not a Cult

A Trump supporter who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 threatened on social media to assassinate Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that day and also threatened the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot a woman as she tried to enter the Speaker’s Lobby, federal prosecutors said.

The man, Garret Miller, 34, of Richardson, Texas, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with, among other things, threats, knowingly entering a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, according to a criminal complaint.

. . . Writing on Facebook on Jan. 16, Mr. Miller said the officer was “not going to survive long,” and he claimed that “millions” of people agreed with him that the officer deserved “to die,” the complaint said.

. . . “Mr. Miller regrets the acts he took in a misguided effort to show his support for former President Trump,” [his lawyer] said.

Some People Are Saying It’s a Cult

Prosecutors have added five felony weapons and assault counts against a white man already charged with attempted murder for shooting into a car carrying four Black girls during a rally for President Donald Trump in Iowa.

We Have the Best Cultists

A supporter of former President Trump has been found guilty of threatening to kill lawmakers before President Biden’s inauguration in January. . . . [Brendan] Hunt said in the video that people should take guns to Biden’s inauguration later that month and “literally just spray these motherf—ers.”

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