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Columnists
Rich Lowry: Trump shouldn't fall for Schumer's allure
 09.14.17

President Donald Trump is looking for a congressional leader he likes. Mitch McConnell has been found wanting, so now the president is flirting with Chuck Schumer.

Trump sided with Schumer and Nancy Pelosi last week on an agreement to extend the debt ceiling for three months. The Republican leadership in Congress wanted a longer extension, worried that a short-term measure would give Democrats more leverage when it expires at the end of the year.

The agreement — plus Trump’s warm words about “Chuck and Nancy” and his reported delight over the positive press coverage of the deal — has driven speculation that Trump will turn to the Democrats in a bipartisan “pivot.”

If a partnership with Schumer is indeed Trump’s plan for a new phase in his presidency, he should think again.

It makes sense that Trump is tempted. His frustration with congressional leadership is, from his perspective, understandable. These are the pros who told him when he showed up in Washington that they had a plan and that he needn’t worry. So far, there’s nothing to show for it.

Trump feels some freedom to maneuver. He has a firmer grasp on Republican voters than anyone in Congress. If Republicans didn’t hate their own leaders, Trump never would have won the nomination or become president in the first place.

Personal affinity surely plays a role. Trump speaks the language of his fellow outer-borough New Yorker Schumer more than Paul Ryan, the earnest policy wonk, or Mitch McConnell, the masterly tactician.

Finally, Trump might believe that he can boost his sagging poll numbers by reminding people he’s a nonideological deal-maker and by getting things — anything — done.

A Schumer alliance is, nonetheless, a siren song. The debt deal wasn’t really a deal. It was a case where Trump could see some advantages — securing Hurricane Harvey funding, gaining some breathing space for tax reform — by simply giving in to Schumer and Pelosi. How often is that going to happen?

Maybe there could be a deal over a codification of DACA, with Trump again largely deferring to Schumer and Pelosi, or some creative infrastructure package. But there are limits to what Ryan and McConnell, who have considerable legislative power, would be willing to bring to the floor; they aren’t going to shift to the left just because Trump does.

And Schumer has his own priorities. He isn’t going to bless a “tax cut for the rich.” He’s not going to repeal Obamacare. He’s not going to fund the border wall. He’s not going to support the RAISE act, cutting levels of legal immigration. He’s not going to roll over on another conservative Supreme Court nominee.

The idea that Trump, who has been too inept to help his own party in Congress, will team up with perhaps the most deviously shrewd Democrat in the country and come out on top is difficult to credit. Schumer will milk Trump for whatever he can get — every tactical advantage, every bit of new spending — so long as he doesn’t give away anything important and doesn’t materially boost Trump’s political standing.

The dalliance with Schumer comes in the midst of the Republican push for tax reform. It can only add another layer of distrust and dysfunction atop an already-fraught relationship with the GOP leadership at a time when it is grappling with an enormously complex legislative task.

Indeed, the ultimate appeal to Trump of an alliance with Schumer must be the hope of escape from the chaos of his own governing style, which has been a drag on his own party. But there is no escape, whether Trump’s wingman is McConnell or Schumer, or, for that matter, Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders.

The Senate minority leader may look alluring now. Soon enough, he will be just as unsatisfactory in Trump’s eyes as nearly everyone else in Washington.


Letters
Dick Swantz: Change our attitude on addiction
 09.14.17

The La Crosse Common Council will vote tonight to determine the future of the Coulee Council on Addictions.

In Sunday's editorial, the Tribune presented sound evidence in support of this effort.

Each time we hesitate to move forward with positive attempts to deal with addiction problems, we send the message that they are criminal rather than health related.

We need to get past that line of thinking to find lasting solutions to these terrible situations.

Let's hope our Common Council has the courage to move this positive effort forward. It holds the potential to significantly improve services and results in a very critical community need.

Dick Swantz, La Crosse


Columnists
Don Davis: Fear of chronic-wasting disease is overblown
 09.14.17

Davis

With the return of football and the passage of Labor Day, many hunters are sharpening their skills in anticipation of a trip to the woods for deer season. However, if the past few years are any indication, the news will likely carry plenty of scary stories about chronic wasting disease, a a deer ailment that has been detected in 24 states.

As a wildlife disease specialist with more than 40 years of experience, fall hunting season is a good opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions and unfounded rumors about CWD that I see nearly every day in the news and on the Internet.

Much of the concern about CWD is rooted in fear. One fear is how it might affect deer and hunting opportunities.

From a scientific point of view, the evidence so far is that the effect is biologically insignificant. CWD has a long incubation period. It could be years before it has an effect on a deer. Deer will often die of something else first, such as predation, starvation or hunting. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found “no evidence that CWD was substantially increasing mortality rates” when they studied the issue.

Another fear is that people will become scared of hunting. For several reasons, this fear is overblown.

CWD does not affect people. It affects deer, elk and moose, but there are no documented cases in people. This isn’t unusual; there are lots of things that affect cats, dogs, horses, and wildlife that don’t affect us, and vice versa. The World Health Organization notes that humans have lived alongside sheep for years, and yet scrapie — CWD for sheep — has never crossed the species barrier to infect humans. The same is true of similar prion diseases in mink and cats.

CWD has been around for decades. It was first detected in the wild 30 years ago in Colorado. Not only is the deer population still strong in the Centennial State, but so is the hunting culture.

Can anything be done about CWD?

Some states like Missouri and Minnesota have seen calls for state authorities to put draconian restrictions on deer farming or private hunting ranches in light of CWD being detected on a handful of these facilities. However, this isn’t logical.

Farms are closely regulated by state and federal authorities to monitor for CWD. If CWD is detected on a private deer farm or hunting preserve, it’s possibly a “canary in the coal mine” situation where the disease spread to the local, free-roaming wildlife and then onto the farm or vice versa.

CWD is already in the wild and is being spread by free-ranging deer that don’t have many limitations on where they can go. Even if you banned all private deer farms tomorrow, CWD would continue spreading.

Researchers are investigating some partial solutions. Some are working on a vaccine. Others are working on an accurate live-animal test (right now, the only official USDA CWD test is post-mortem).

If these efforts are successful, they may help in controlled areas, such as hunting ranches or research facilities. But it’s unrealistic to expect states to try to vaccinate millions of deer in the wild.

Like any other wildlife diseases in animals we hunt for food, CWD is something that will exist. But there’s no evidence that humans are susceptible to CWD.

In other words, we’d be better off worrying about deer-car collisions.


Columnists
Catherine Rampell: Tax-credit audit is lose-lose
 09.14.17

WASHINGTON — Never accuse Republicans of being uncreative. Once again, they’ve found an innovative way to punish the poor and simultaneously increase budget deficits — all with one nifty trick!

To pull off this impressive twofer, they would put every American applying for the earned-income tax credit through a sort of mini-audit before getting their refund. This would both place huge new burdens on the working poor and divert scarce Internal Revenue Service resources away from other audit targets, such as big corporations, that offer a much higher return on investment.

For those not familiar, the EITC is basically a way to top up low- and moderate-income people’s pay through a tax refund, to give them a bigger payoff from working.

The EITC has an excellent track record both economically and politically. Lots of studies have found that it increases workforce participation, for example. Since its introduction in 1975, it has also received bipartisan support, given its dual purpose as both an anti-poverty and a pro-work program. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have overseen major EITC expansions.

Thanks to a combination of innocent mistakes and outright fraud, though, some EITC money is disbursed erroneously. And so in 2015 Congress passed a bipartisan law to improve the program’s integrity. The changes that went into effect this year include a several-week delay in issuing EITC refunds so the IRS can match basic documents such as W-2s and 1099s to tax filers’ reported income.

The IRS hasn’t yet analyzed the full effect of these changes, though early numbers look promising.

Before the full results are in, however, House Republicans have decided to do something far more drastic.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the House is expected to vote on the fiscal 2018 budget resolution, a procedural step that’s designed to pave the way for tax cuts. That’s gotten a fair amount of coverage, of course. Less publicized is troubling language in the budget resolution committee report, which proposes decreasing “improper” EITC payments by requiring verification of all income before benefits go out.

The language is vague but appears to refer to a Heritage Foundation proposal that would require the IRS to “fully verify income through a review of Form W-2, Form 1099, business licensing or registration, and relevant invoices” before dispensing any refunds. So, a mini-audit.

As noted in a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, conducting mini-audits of all 28 million EITC claimants would be an astonishingly laborious task, both for tax filers and for the IRS.

It would impose huge administrative burdens on low-income workers, many of whom cobble together a living through multiple jobs and part-time “gig economy” positions, from which they may not earn enough money to require a 1099.

At a time when Republicans are flogging tax simplification, this would make tax preparation infinitely more complicated. Unless, of course, the goal is to discourage poor people from applying for the EITC in the first place.

Even for those who persisted in applying for the refund, EITC payments might be delayed for many months, causing great hardship. The vast majority of recipients use their refund checks for rent, utilities, mortgage payments and other necessities, as well as to pay down debt.

But the proposal is more than just cruel. It’s also likely to cost the government a lot of money.

Recall that Republicans have been steadily cutting the IRS’s budget, which is a silly thing to do if you’re truly a fiscal conservative who believes in “law and order.” The IRS brings in far more money than it’s appropriated, particularly in its work going after tax cheats.

And cutting the IRS budget is an especially silly thing to do if you’re also giving the agency an enormous new mandate likely to crowd out other enforcement activities — including those that bring in much bigger paydays.

The amounts at stake in EITC audits are relatively small. Overclaim errors are often just a few hundred dollars, compared with the hundreds of thousands or even millions that can be recovered from deep-pocketed corporations and individuals.

Arguably the IRS already devotes too many resources to these small-potatoes cases; EITC audits represent about 39 percent of all individual income-tax audits, despite accounting for just 7 percent of additional taxes that audits find to be owed.

If Republicans actually cared about reducing EITC tax cheating, there are more effective and compassionate things they could pursue.