This weekend, I posted about the absurdity of naming Rep. Don Young a "Taxpayer Hero". To their credit, Americans For Tax Reform showed up in the comment section to argue their case. I disagree with them, but it's admirable that they are willing to engage in the discussion publicly.
We had one exchange - his comment, my response - but instead of carrying on the debate in a days-old comment section, why don't we open it up to the Next Right community to evaluate, discuss, defend or debate. Here is the latest response of the ATR Tax Policy Director.
Since you took the time to respond to my argument, I thought I'd take the time to respond to your points.
--is a metric that judges Young to be a "Hero of the Taxpayer" a useful metric?
Is your issue here just with the title of the award, or the fact that he got one? The fact is that Young was perfect on tax votes last year. He was even pretty good on spending votes (farm bill, budget resolution), but this is a tax-based award. We're not saying 435 Don Youngs would be good for the House. We're saying Don Young voted right on tax votes.
In fact, Don Young has gone south on taxes in 2008. He voted for a $54 billion income tax increase to pay for the Veterans' Education bill. You can see the specific roll call below:
As a result of his Pledge violation, Don Young is ineligible to receive the "Hero of the Taxpayer Award" for 2008 (the award in discussion is for 2007). Like I said, we call em like we see em. We've made it pretty clear to the people of Alaska that he's broken his Pledge. But that doesn't change how he voted in 2007
--You can't be a taxpayer hero if you're also corrupt.
Sure you can. If you vote for tax cuts and against tax increases, you're pro-taxpayer. If you line your pockets, you're a crook. Not mutually exclusive.
--You can't be a taxpayer hero if you're intentionally screwing taxpayers
True enough. But the direct way that's measured is through tax votes. In 2007, he voted against tax increases and for tax cuts. In 2008, he didn't. He qualifies in 2007, but not in 2008.
--You can't be a taxpayer hero when you're stuffing a bill full of pork.
Sure you can. See the "corrupt" answer above. It's hard to argue that wanting to have a puny earmark in a bill is an automatic disqualifier. Even hundreds still add up to almost nothing. Don't get me wrong--I'm for an earmark ban. But do you really want support for earmarks to be a disqualifier for a tax award? We'd be giving out the award to 50 Members each year, and no one would care about our tax keyvotes.
This is a tax scorecard. We score, by and large, on tax votes. There are spending scorecards out there. I'd never say that someone great on spending but iffy on taxes or guns should be disqualified from a spending scorecard. It's insane.
--How much credibility should the ATR awards have?
Plenty. First off, we had about 170 House winners out of 200 or so GOP Congressmen. We had 50 fewer winners than last year. We announce most of our keyvotes before they happen. Transparency, hands on the table, etc. It's clean.
Second, ask your average GOP Member of Congress what handful of scorecards they pay attention to. I guarantee you he will say the ATR scorecard. He won't rank any other fiscal group nearly as high.
So, we have a selective and transparent award which moves votes in Congress. I'd call that credible.
--Does ATR want to be in the business of providing cover to guys like Don Young?
We're in the business (in this context) of scoring Members of Congress on (mostly) tax votes. Sometimes our friends get screwed. Sometimes bad actors on non-tax issues (like Young) get an award. That's the numbers. Would you rather that we set up the award, saw that Young won, and then manipulated it? That's what it sounds like to me.
My final comment is a plea to everyone. What would you have us do? Would you have us spend a year sending keyvotes to the Hill (which causes Members to vote a certain way), compile the awards, and then throw the whole thing out the window when a Don Young slips in? How do you think that would go over when we tell an office the next time that a keyvote really matters? They'd laugh in our face because they'd know the system was rigged.
I understand that ATR's focus is on tax issues, but I simply don't see how you can distinguish between taxation and spending. As Milton Friedman has pointed out, the burden on the public is not really the level of taxes, but the level of spending, and a tax cut is not a tax cut unless it is accompanied by spending reductions.
A "Taxpayer Hero" award that ignores non-tax vote behavior just gives the villains a chance to look like a hero while they're robbing the bank.
But let's open this up to the NXR Community. Debate, defend, disagree and suggest alternatives for Americans For Tax Reform. They are willing to have the conversation publicly, so let's have it.