MONEY Taxes

As Gas Prices Go Down, Likelihood of Higher Gas Taxes Goes Up

It's no wonder that many are calling for higher gas taxes lately: Gas prices are the cheapest they've been in years, so a hike in gas taxes is less likely to drive drivers nuts.

Raising taxes is never popular. But if there was ever a way to make a tax increase more palatable to Americans, it would be with a tax hike that didn’t seem like much of a tax hike. Like, say, one that was optimally planned so that even after the tax increase was instituted, the average household wouldn’t feel like it was paying much more out of pocket than it was in the recent past.

Just such a rare opportunity is now upon us. Gas prices have plummeted—dipping under $2 per gallon in some markets, with further decreases likely—and some want to take advantage of the situation by jacking up the gas tax at both the state and federal levels. Depending on how high taxes are raised, drivers might very well still be paying less to fill up than they were a few months or a year ago. So in a way, at least theoretically, this is a tax hike that wouldn’t feel like a typical tax hike.

A recent Washington Post column pointed out that the federal gas tax has been stuck at a flat 18.4¢ since 1993. At the time, the price of a gallon of regular was about $1. “It’s been a generation since gas taxes were increased at all,” Paul Bledsoe, a senior fellow on energy at the German Marshall Fund, told the Post. “So they are incredibly low by historic levels.”

Over the years, many have called for increases to the federal gas tax, which has not kept up with inflation. “Inflation has effectively reduced the [gas] tax rate by about one third” over the last two decades, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation noted earlier this year. Most states have flat gas taxes as well, and critics say the revenues collected are falling well short of what’s needed to address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. “At the state and local levels, gas taxes cover less than half of state and local transportation spending,” said Tax Foundation economist Joseph Henchman.

Again, there’s nothing really new about calls to raise more funds to fix roads and other infrastructure needs at the national and state levels. What is new, however, is that gas is the cheapest it’s been in years, and that projections indicate per-gallon prices will remain well under $3 indefinitely. Predictions call for a national average of $2.94 per gallon next year, which would be roughly 45¢ less than 2014 and 70¢ less what drivers typically paid in 2012.

Hence the fresh push to raise gas taxes while prices at the pump are inexpensive. As Elaine S. Povich of the Pew Charitable Trusts observed recently:

“Cheap gasoline makes such levies more politically palatable, since consumers are less likely to notice the extra burden when they are filling up.”

It must be noted that while the federal gas tax hasn’t budged in two decades, state gas taxes (and other local taxes that help support roads and infrastructure) have been increased fairly regularly. Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and West Virginia are among the states where gas taxes were hiked this year or last, and discussions are in the works to raise state gas taxes in Iowa, Utah, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, and beyond. Data from the American Petroleum Institute shows that nationally, drivers pay an average of 49.28¢ per gallon when state and federal levies are added up.

While it’s unsurprising that environmental supporters and academics such as Mississippi State’s Sid Salter are renewing cries for gas tax hikes while gas prices are cheap, it’s particularly noteworthy that some Republicans seem in favor of tax increases at this opportune moment in time as well.

Last month, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) actually criticized President Obama for refusing to consider a gas tax increase over the years. “I always thought that was ironic, that he’s willing to raise every other tax,” Thune said to the Rapid City Journal. “And then the one that actually pays for something you can see a direct benefit from, he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

More recently, Congressman Tom Petri (R-WI), who is retiring soon, it must be noted, announced he is sponsoring a bill to raise the federal gas tax by 15¢ to 33¢ by 2013. “No one likes taxes,” Petri said in a Huffington Post interview in early December:

“But the issue is whether we should pay for transportation, or cut back on spending and transportation and have less roads and poorer infrastructure, or borrow it from our kids — debt financing it and hoping someone pays the debt off at a future date. And of those choices, it seems to me that the most responsible long-term approach is to do the thing that is unpopular but necessary.”

It helps that the move won’t be quite as unpopular as it would be had the gas tax hike been introduced back when the average driver was paying $3.50 or $3.75 per gallon.

TIME Media

What Happened to the ‘Future Leaders’ of the 1990s?

Dec. 5, 1994, cover
The Dec. 5, 1994, cover of TIME Cover Credit: CRAIG FRAZIER

In 1994, TIME picked 50 people to keep an eye on

Exactly 20 years ago, the the Dec. 5, 1994, issue of TIME made a gamble, predicting the 50 people who were the most promising leaders for the future.

The magazine’s editors selected “50 for the Future”: 50 people under the age of 40, from the worlds of politics, science, activism, business, media and the arts, who seemed poised to take charge of America’s next steps. They had, David Van Biema wrote, “the requisite ambition, vision and community spirit to help guide us in the new millennium.” We decided to see just how well that group has turned out. Whatever happened to that Bill Gates guy, anyway?

 

Tundi Agardy, then 37 and a marine biologist

The World Wildlife Fund scientist made it to the original list for the way she used her hard-science chops to advocate for conservation. During the past two decades, she has continued that work, founding the marine conservation organization Sound Seas; leading the Marine Ecosystem Services Program at Forest Trends, a nonprofit that uses business ideas to protect the environment; and participating in the United Nations-led Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Helen Alvaré, then 34 and an antiabortion leader

The self-described “pro-life feminist” lawyer was the U.S. spokesperson on the subject of abortion, on behalf of Catholic bishops. She left her job with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000, after which she began teaching at the George Mason University School of Law. She has received several awards for her service to the Church, and continues to consult for the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Marc Andreessen, then 23 and co-creator of Mosaic

Andreessen’s Mosaic browser and the company he founded, Netscape, landed him on the cover of TIME in February 1996. In recent years Andreessen, 43, has become one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalists through his firm Andreessen Horowitz with payoffs from Twitter, Facebook and Skype. He is now one of the tech industry’s most visible leaders. He is on Twitter at @pmarca.

Evan Bayh, then 38 and Governor of Indiana

After two terms as Governor of Indiana, Bayh, 58, served in the Senate for twelve years until 2011. The Democratic lawmaker flirted with running for president in 2007, but ultimately endorsed then-Senator Hillary Clinton. He is now a partner at DC lobbying firm McGuireWoods.

Dr. Regina Benjamin, then 38 and a rural health-care provider

With an M.D. and an MBA, Benjamin took advantage of a federal program to fund her practice in coastal Alabama. After continuing to work in healthcare in the region during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, she was named Surgeon General of the United States by President Barack Obama in 2009. She resigned in 2013 and was appointed to an endowed chair in public health sciences at Xavier University.

Henry Bonilla, then 40 and a Texas Congressman

The Texan was a frequent surrogate for President George W. Bush, but redistricting made his seat more favorable for Democrats, and he lost re-election in 2006 after serving seven terms in the House. He is now a partner at the Washington government relations firm The Normandy Group.

John Bryant, then 28 and founder of Operation HOPE Inc.

Bryant continues to serve as the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE Inc. In 2008 he was appointed by President George W. Bush to be vice-chair of the President’s Council on Financial Literacy. President Barack Obama appointed him Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Underserved and Community Empowerment for the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, where he focused on forming local financial literacy councils in cities across the country.

William Burns, then 38 and a foreign-service officer

After 33 years at the State Department, Burns retired in November 2014 as Deputy Secretary of State, the department’s number two, under Secretary of State John Kerry. One of the most decorated diplomats of his time, Burns continues to play a role in the P5+1 Iran nuclear negotiations. In February of 2015 he will become the next president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Stephen Carter, then 40 and a law professor at Yale University

The William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School, Carter is a renowned fiction and nonfiction author of titles like The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama and The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. He has taught and written extensively about the law and ethics of war and is also a columnist for Bloomberg View.

Sean Carroll, then 33 and a molecular biologist and inventor

A co-founder of Ophidian Pharmaceuticals, Carroll (not to be confused with the CalTech theoretical physicist of the same name) also used his non-commercial side to study butterfly wings in order to investigate the relationship between genes and evolution. In addition to contributing to the Science section of the New York Times, Carroll has written several books about evolution for popular audiences. One of them was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award for non-fiction. His latest, Brave Genius, was released last year.

Christopher Chyba, then 35 and a planetary scientist

His research on comets and asteroids concluded that Earth was unlikely to be majorly damaged by a collision with one, and he worked with the White House to make sure that planetary damage wouldn’t come from unsecured nukes either. He received a MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant in 2001, and is now director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

James Dimon, then 38 and president of Travelers Group

Back in 1994, about a decade after founding the New York Academy of Finance — a program that prepped underprivileged kids for Wall Street jobs — he was considered one of the stock world’s top 10 figures. Now, as CEO of JPMorgan Chase, “Jamie” Dimon has since become even more recognizable in the Wall Street world. Though the bank has not had a completely smooth run in recent years — the “London Whale” mess cost it billions — he is credited with helping JPMorgan Chase get through the financial crisis with minimal damage. He has been a frequent honoree on TIME’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and currently ranks at #18 on the Forbes list of the most powerful people in the world.

Chaka Fattah, then 38 and a Pennsylvania Congressman-elect

About to enter his 11th term representing parts of Philadelphia in the House of Representatives, Fattah is the ranking member of the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies and the Vice Chair on the House Gun and Violence Task Force.

Bill Gates, then 39 and co-founder of Microsoft Corp.

Gates was already America’s richest man in 1994 (TIME estimated his net worth at $9.35 billion) — but Forbes now estimates his net worth at a whopping $82.1 billion. And while Microsoft continues to chug along, he now dedicates much of his energy to the major philanthropic organization that is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he and his wife launched in 2000.

Dr. Pedro Jose Greer Jr., then 38 and an advocate for the homeless

Not content to provide healthcare for the homeless by visiting them on the streets and in public parks, Greer had founded four free clinics to make sure they got the best care possible. Since 1994, he has continued to provide healthcare for underserved populations in Florida and teach at the Florida International University School of Medicine. His autobiography, Waking Up in America, was released in 1999, and in 2009 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

John Kaliski, then 38 and an urban architect

Kaliski used a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to research L.A.’s urban sprawl, to help avoid mistakes as the cities of the future were built. In 2000, he founded the architecture firm that carries his name, and he is a co-author of the book Everyday Urbanism. He continues to design award-winning projects throughout California.

John F. Kennedy Jr., then 34 and a health-care entrepreneur

In 1995, JFK, Jr. founded the short-lived political/fashion magazine George. He died in 1999 after losing control of his Piper Saratoga airplane in a crash that also killed his wife and sister-in-law.

Randall Kennedy, then 40 and a Harvard law professor

A nationally recognized expert on race issues, Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School where he continues to write about race, discrimination, and the law.

Alan Khazei, then 33 and co-director of City Year

By co-founding the “public-service entrepreneurship” that had, by 1994, helped hundreds of people find yearlong jobs, Khazei recruited corporations to help pick up the tab. City Year also inspired President Clinton to start AmeriCorps. Since then, Khazei also founded Be the Change, a nonprofit of which he’s now CEO, which promotes service among an even wider swath of the population. His runs for Senate in Massachusetts, however, have proved unsuccessful.

Ronald A. Klain, then 33 and chief of staff to Janet Reno

Klain was chief of staff to two vice presidents, Al Gore and Joe Biden. His role in the 2000 Florida recount was immortalized by Kevin Spacey in the HBO movie Recount. He is now serving as the White House’s Ebola Response Coordinator and is rumored to be next in line to be President Barack Obama’s chief of staff or senior advisor.

Wendy Kopp, then 27, Founder of Teach for America

In 1994, Teach for America was active in 17 districts and received a few thousand applications for 500 positions. Kopp’s organization has since become one the biggest movers in the education. In the 2013-14 school year, according to TFA’s numbers, 750,000 students nationwide were taught by 11,000 TFA teachers. The organization has also expanded to include Teach for All, a global education network, and Kopp has written two books.

Samuel LaBudde, then 38 and a biologist

A video LaBudde shot while undercover on a Panamanian tuna boat helped make dolphin-safe tuna a national issue. He has continued to work for environmental causes in the years since.

Winona LaDuke, then 35 and a Native American rights activist

A two-time vice presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket, LaDuke is the executive director of environmental non-profits the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Honor the Earth. She has worked extensively to raise the political awareness and clout of Native American tribes.

Maya Lin, then 35, a sculptor and architect

In the last two decades, Lin’s art and architecture projects have continued to make news. About five years ago, Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., announced that a new project called What Is Missing? would be her “last memorial”: the project memorializes environmental loss with a web site, art installations and a foundation. She will be working on it, she has said, for the rest of her life.

Roderick von Lipsey, then 35 and a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps

After 20 years as a Marine Corps Aviator, during which he served as director of the National Security Council and as a senior aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, von Lipsey is now a Managing Director at UBS Financial Services, Inc. in Washington in the firm’s private wealth practice.

Jonathan Lunine, then 35 and a planetary astronomer

Then head of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Committee, he was studying whether it would one day be possible to send a manned mission to Mars. (By 2030, maybe, he guessed.) He has continued to advise NASA — he worked on the 2011 Juno mission to Saturn — and he teaches at Cornell. (Manned missions to Mars remain an idea of the future — but Lunine may yet be proved right.)

Frank Luntz, then 32 and a Republican pollster and analyst

The GOP messaging guru who popularized terms like the “death tax” and “climate change” and the man behind Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America has worked extensively in American and international politics on behalf of conservative candidates. In 2010 he branded the Affordable Care Act a “government takeover” of healthcare, a talking-point used extensively by Republicans as they retook the House of Representatives. He is also a prominent commentator on Fox News.

Wynton Marsalis, then 33 and a Jazz musician

Not content to be a virtuoso trumpeter, Marsalis was also an ambassador of jazz, dedicating his time to visiting schools and introducing the music to a new generation. Since 1994, he has received the National Medal of the Arts and a Pulitzer Prize, and has been appointed a U.N. Messenger of Peace. Jazz at Lincoln Center, the program he helped found, is now one of New York City’s leading jazz venues, and Marsalis remains one of the genre’s most famous players.

Fred McClure, then 40 and a corporate consultant

Now the Chief Executive Officer of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, McClure was an aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Then-Governor George W. Bush appointed him to the Board of Regents of the Texas A&M University. He was previously a managing partner of the international law firm, SNR Denton.

Cynthia McKinney, then 39 and a Congresswoman from Georgia

McKinney served six terms in the House of Representatives, become a vocal critic of the Bush administration and the Iraq War. She gained notoriety for accusing the Bush administration of having advance warning of the 9/11 attacks and allowing them to take place, and has since become a vocal critic of American interventions overseas. She was twice defeated by Democratic primary challengers before abandoning the party. She was the Green Party’s presidential nominee in 2008.

Wayne Meisel, then 35 and founder of COOL

After leaving the foundation he helped found, Meisel, who is a Presbyterian minister, served as Director of Faith and Service at the Cousins Foundation in Atlanta. Earlier this year, he became the founding director of a new center at the McCormick Theological Seminary, focusing on the intersection of religion and public service.

Nancy-Ann Min, then 37 and a White House budget official

Nancy-Ann Min DeParle served as President Barack Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy from January 2011 to January 2013 after a stint as director of the White House Office of Health Reform. She coordinated the administration’s efforts to pass and implement the landmark Affordable Care Act in 2010. She is currently a Partner & Co-Founder at Consonance Capital Partners, a healthcare-focused private equity firm.

Albert Mohler, 35, and president of the Southern Baptist Seminary

Only about two years after becoming president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he returned the school to older traditions, by forcing out the school’s first female theological professor—and he promised to spread his values throughout the Baptist community. He remains president of the Seminary to this day.

Susan Molinari, then 36 and a Congresswoman from New York

After three terms in the House, Molinari quit Congress to take a job at CBS News. She later became a Washington lobbyist and now runs Google’s Washington, D.C. office, where she is Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations.

Charles Munn, then 39 and a conservationist-zoologist

Munn turned a love of birds into a career in conserving their tropical habits, particularly by encouraging ecotourism and promoting land-management by tribal communities from the areas in question. One of his more recent ecotourism ventures was a jaguar-focused photo-safari center in Brazil.

Jim Nussle, then 34 and a Congressman from Iowa

Now the president of the Credit Union National Association, Nussle served in the House from 1991-2007, where he was chairman of the House budget Committee. In 2007, President George W. Bush selected him to run the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Ralph Reed, then 33 and Executive director of the Christian Coalition

The conservative political activist became one of the leading evangelical powerbrokers in Republican politics, despite a brief fall from grace in the late 1990s and ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Reed now runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit organization whose conferences are regularly attended by Republican presidential hopefuls.

Condoleezza Rice, then 40 and Provost of Stanford University

During the 2000 Bush campaign, Rice took a leave of absence from Stanford to serve as the then-Texas governor’s top foreign policy advisor. When he won the White House, she was selected as his first National Security Advisor, a position she held until 2005 when she was nominated to be the first black woman to serve as Secretary of State. After Bush left office, Rice returned to Stanford, where she is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. One of the first two women invited to join the Augusta National Golf Club, she also serves as a member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee and is frequently mentioned as a possible successor as commissioner of the National Football League.

John Rogers, then 36 and a mutual-fund manager

Notable for his relatively frugal lifestyle, the stock savant was the first African American president of the Chicago Park District and helped put dozens of inner-city students through school. He remains Chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments, the company he founded, while serving as the chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, which councils the President on how to work toward future economic stability by educating young people about how money works.

Jeffrey Sachs, then 40 and an economist

The director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Sachs has put his economics background to use as an advisor on developing countries across the globe. The author of books like The End of Poverty, Sachs is one of the leading thinkers on sustainable economic development and has twice been named to the TIME 100.

Bret Schundler, then 35 and Mayor of Jersey City

As the Republican lawmaker of a Democratic city, Schundler drew acclaim as a reformer until he left office in 2001. He twice unsuccessfully ran for governor of New Jersey and briefly served as Commissioner of Education under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010.

Tavis Smiley, then 30 and a radio talk-show host

These days, Smiley does television too: his eponymous PBS talk show is in its tenth year. He’s written more than a dozen books and, in 1999, started a foundation focused on mentorship and leadership.

Lawrence Summers, then 40 and Treasury Under Secretary

The outspoken economist quickly rose to be President Bill Clinton’s final Treasury Secretary, where he led efforts to deregulate the financial sector. After leaving office, he became the 27th President of Harvard University, where he had a tumultuous tenure. After President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he selected Summers to be Director of the National Economic Council, a post from which he helped lead the administration’s response to the global financial crisis. He left the White House in 2010.

Terri Swearingen, then 37 and an environmental activist

Concerned with a hazardous-waste processing incinerator too near her local elementary school, she devoted herself to the environment, went on a hunger strike and ended up influencing national environmental policy. In 1997, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize. She has stayed out of the news in recent years.

Urvashi Vaid, then 36 and a gay-rights advocate

She was the first woman of color to head up the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Her first book came out in 1996; she has written or edited two more since. In 2012, she helped launch the first lesbian political action committee, and since 2011 she has been the director of a Columbia University project that examines the role of tradition in the success or failure of gender justice advocacy.

Fidel Vargas, then 26 and Mayor of Baldwin Park, California

After a successful career in private equity, Vargas is now the President and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for Latino students to succeed in college.

Kevin Vigilante, then 40 and Founder of Community Outreach Clinic

After a failed run for Congress, Vigilante returned to treating female HIV patients in Rhode Island. He now works at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he consults with government clients about public health topics.

Rebecca Walker, then 25 and co-founder of Third Wave

The Third Wave Foundation continues to be dedicated to encouraging female leaders of the future, registering female voters and making feminism work for women of color. In the last two decades, Walker has also written or edited more than a half-dozen books. She teaches memoir writing, and in 2009, she co-founded Write to Wellbeing, a business that helps writers improve their lives.

Oprah Winfrey, then 40 and a talk-show host

Her talk-show business was making her more than $50 million a year, and her openness about her own past had helped get the National Child Protection Act through Congress. Twenty years later, her earnings, her power and her media empire are even bigger. She remains, in short, Oprah.

Naomi Wolf, then 32 and a feminist author

The author of The Beauty Myth was credited with bringing feminism “back to life” when she accused the cosmetics industry of hobbling advancement for women. Wolf — who has also worked as a political consultant and in the nonprofit space — continues to inspire conversation with her writing, as with her 2013 book Vagina: A New Biography.

Read the full 1994 list of 50 future leaders here, in the TIME Vault: A New Generation of Leaders

Correction: Luntz coined the phrase “climate change” instead of “global warming.”

TIME Opinion

Determined to Cut Taxes Once Again, Republicans Use New Math to Reshape Reality

CBO Director Elmendorf Releases Budget And Economic Outlook For 2014-2024
CBO Director Elmendorf on Aug. 27, 2014, in Washington, DC. Alex Won—Getty Images

"Republicans and Democrats inhabit different factual universes"

In 2004, an unnamed senior White House staffer, widely thought to be political adviser Karl Rove, gave a famous interview to Ron Suskind, “The aide,” Suskind wrote, “said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’”

But, the anonymous man told Suskind, that wasn’t the way the world worked. “We’re an empire now,” he’s quoted as saying, “and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

The staffer may not have known it, but he was identifying one feature of the kind of crisis era into which the United States had just entered. Great political crises like those of the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Depression and the Second World War, and the one that began in 2001 and continues today are also struggles over the meaning of words—words like democracy and dictatorship, freedom, free enterprise and socialism, and so on. They also become struggles over the most basic facts. Writing during the great worldwide crisis of the Second World War, George Orwell identified a number of competing world views whose adherents could not accept various obviously true statements about the world around them. Within ten years more—that is, by the mid-1950s—that was no longer the case. Victory in war and postwar economic growth had created a new consensus in the western world.

But today, divisions over reality are as deep as they have been for a very long time, and Republicans and Democrats inhabit different factual universes. One obvious area of disagreement is climate change. While President Obama seeks agreements with foreign nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Republicans almost unanimously reject the consensus of scientific opinion and argue that those emissions have not been proven to heat up the planet. Another very important area of disagreement concerns fiscal and economic policy — and this week it became clear that some Republicans are struggling to make their version of economic reality prevail in Washington, too.

The New York Times reported on a campaign by prominent Republican conservatives and some Tea Party Congressmen to replace the director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas W. Elmendorf, with someone who would calculate the effects of tax cuts in a different way. Led by the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and the Heritage Foundation, these Republicans specifically want a new director who would use what they call “dynamic scoring” to predict the impact of tax cuts. “Dynamic scoring” is based upon the theory of supply-side economics. That theory, first popularized under Ronald Reagan, held that tax cuts, particularly on the highest income brackets, would unleash extraordinary economic growth, and therefore bring in more, rather than less, revenue within a few years. Dynamic scoring is a theoretically more sophisticated application of this idea. Rather than simply deduct the projected cost of tax cuts from federal revenues to estimate their future impact, dynamic scoring actually predicts how much new tax cuts will increase GDP by unleashing economic growth, and how much they will tax revenues and mitigate the effect of the cuts upon the deficit. Since the new Republican majorities in Congress are determined to cut taxes yet again while claiming to move closer to a balanced budget, this is an idea they need to validate in order to justify their plans.

The history of dynamic scoring is closely tied to the history of Republican economic policy since Ronald Reagan. When Reagan took office in 1981, the federal deficit was $79 billion. His Administration immediately adopted policies based on supply-side economics. It didn’t work. When he left office eight years later after several rounds of tax cuts on the higher brackets, the annual deficit was $152 billion, down from a peak of $221 billion in 1986. Despite George H. W. Bush’s tax increases, which split the Republican Party, a severe recession had raised the deficit back up to $255 billion when he left office in 1993.

Bill Clinton began his Administration with an income tax increase on nearly all Americans. It helped cost the Democrats the House of Representatives in 1994. It was at that point that Newt Gingrich, then the new Speaker of the House, and his fellow Republicans began to advocate dynamic scoring as a means of calculating the impact of further tax cuts. Once again, they claimed they could accurately estimate the beneficial impact of leaving more money in the hands of the wealthy and ease fear of deficits. But Clinton refused to go along, and eventually, the Clinton Administration ran a budget surplus in fiscal 2000.

George W. Bush inherited a deficit of only $32 billion in 2001, and came into office determined to cut taxes again. By 2003, the Bush Administration was basing calls for a second round of cuts on dynamic scoring estimates that once again claimed that the cuts would generate increased revenue. The cuts passed, but their impact, combined with the Iraq war and the Great Recession, was to balloon the deficit up to $641 billion in fiscal 2008, and $1.55 trillion in fiscal 2009. Together, President Obama and the Republican Congress have now reduced the deficit to $483 billion in the fiscal year that was just completed. This pattern actually dates from the 1950s. Beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower, every Republican President has substantially increased the federal deficit, while every Democratic President except Jimmy Carter has reduced it during his term of office.

Few theories of public policy have been tested so repeatedly and failed tests so spectacularly, as the idea that tax cuts in the high brackets will ultimately increase revenue and lower deficits. But led by Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican majority, by pushing for personnel changes that will lead the non-partisan Congressional budget office to adopt dynamic scoring, is eager to try it again. It is hard for me to believe that any Republican activists seriously believe that a new round of top-bracket and corporate tax cuts will increase revenues. Their real agenda, I suspect, is the one that Grover Norquist—a prime mover in the campaign to replace Elmendorf—has repeatedly spoken of: to force further reductions in government spending by reducing government revenues still further. Meanwhile, wealthy Republican donors will get even wealthier, and, presumably, even more generous in their contributions. Once again the Republicans are trying to create their own reality: a world in which making the rich richer will bring down deficits, while only a few poor benighted members of the “reality-based community” take the trouble to notice that this is not so.

David Kaiser, a historian, has taught at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Williams College, and the Naval War College. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War. He lives in Watertown, Mass.

This post has been updated to include additional economic data.

TIME Money

Warren Buffett’s Latest Investment: Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton listens before delivering remarks at an event in New York City on Nov. 21, 2014. Bebeto Matthews—AP

The Berkshire Hathaway CEO donated $25,000 in the third quarter to a pro-Hillary Super PAC

Warren Buffett is putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to Hillary Clinton.

In October, at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit, Buffett predicted that Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the United States. “Hillary Clinton is going to run, and she’s going to win,” Buffett said on stage.

Apparently, the prediction was more than just talk. According to Bloomberg, Buffett donated $25,000 in the third quarter to Ready for Hillary, a political organization that says it is laying the groundwork for a Clinton presidential run in 2016. That is the maximum the organization allows from a single donor. Overall, the group has raised $11 million.

Bloomberg says the donation was somewhat surprising because Buffett has criticized political action committees, like Ready for Hillary, in the past, and that he is known as a “political tightwad.” But Buffett has long been a supporter of Hillary Clinton. The Berkshire Hathaway CEO also backed Clinton’s 2008 election campaign and held fundraisers in her honor.

At Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s conference, he added that he was willing to bet on a Hillary presidency. And now he has.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME politics

Watch Obama Break Out His Best Dad Dance Moves With Santa

Clearly the President is being a good sport to make sure he gets on Santa's "nice" list

During the National Christmas Tree Lighting at the White House Thursday night, President Barack Obama attempted to keep things light by breaking it down with Santa Claus. He gave ‘ol Saint Nick an enthusiastic high-five, and then the President started grooving, basically moving his hands, which were in a thumbs-up position, from side to side, before dancing his way off the stage.

At one point, you can even see Santa saying something to the President. Maybe it was in response to Obama’s Christmas list, which we imagine is made up of requests like more bipartisan cooperation in Congress, or coal in the stockings of those who have challenged his authority.

MORE: So You Think You Can Dance? Washington Edition:

 

 

TIME politics

A Toast to the End of Prohibition

Sloppy Joe's Bar
Bartenders at Sloppy Joe's in Chicago bar pour a round of drinks on the house for a large group of smiling customers as it was announced that the 18th Amendment had been repealed American Stock Archive / Getty Images

Dec. 5, 1933: Prohibition comes to an end in the United States

The 18th Amendment, which prohibited the production, distribution and sale of alcohol, easily ranks as the least popular amendment in U.S. history — and the only constitutional amendment ever to be repealed.

When the 21st Amendment was ratified on this day, Dec. 5, in 1933, it ended Prohibition 13 years, 10 months, and 19 days after it began. The time had not passed quickly, according to journalist H.L. Mencken, who noted, “It seems almost a geologic epoch while it was going on, and the human suffering that it entailed must have been a fair match for that of the Black Death or the Thirty Years War.”

The national experiment was a resounding failure, even according to some of its early supporters. Lifelong teetotaler John D. Rockefeller, Jr, had recanted his support the year before Prohibition’s repeal, in a letter published in the New York Times. He wrote:

When the Eighteenth Amendment was passed I earnestly hoped… that it would be generally supported by public opinion and thus the day be hastened when the value to society of men with minds and bodies free from the undermining effects of alcohol would be generally realized. That this has not been the result, but rather that drinking generally has increased; that the speakeasy has replaced the saloon, not only unit for unit, but probably two-fold if not three-fold; that a vast army of lawbreakers has been recruited and financed on a colossal scale… I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe.

While a Dallas newspaper editorial warned that Rockefeller’s change of heart “may in later years cause him deep regret,” William Randolph Hearst countered that Rockefeller’s opinion would help “bring the nation to calm conviction on the ineffectiveness of prohibition as a temperance measure.”

Early temperance advocates had warned that drunks were in danger — because of their high blood-alcohol levels — of spontaneous combustion (a claim that has since been proven impossible), but instead Prohibition sparked its own public health crisis. Drinking tainted bootleg liquor caused blindness, paralysis, and an estimated national average of 1,000 deaths a year.

Economically, the measure also failed to generate increased sales of clothing and household goods, which supporters claimed would skyrocket once breadwinners stopped throwing away their income in saloons. Sales of soda and juice were similarly expected to rise, along with entertainment industry revenue, as people sought ways to amuse themselves while sober. But those hopes were never realized; instead, the ban on alcohol cost the federal government $11 billion in lost tax revenue, according to Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was among those relieved to witness the end of the era. “What America needs now is a drink,” he’s reported to have said.

Read a 1930 report on the 10th anniversary of Prohibition, here in the TIME Vault: Prohibition: Birthday

Photos: Prohibition and the Speakeasies of New York in 1933

TIME politics

Crime and Punishment in America: What We Are Doing Wrong

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

10.2 million people sit in prison cells today around the world– and almost half of them are right here, in the United States. While in the US we like to boast about being “#1″ we forget that we’re actually #1 at a lot of things that we probably shouldn’t be proud of – and having the highest incarceration rate in the world is one of them.

And, it’s not just our incarceration numbers that should be a shock to our system, but the recidivism rate that we should find most concerning. In a study from 2005-2010, researchers found that 3 out of 4 former prisoners are re-arrested within 5 years after being released from prison.

Simply put, the way we approach crime and punishment doesn’t work.

I remember back to my days listening to talk radio and the initial chatter of prison overcrowding once we started to realize that our prisons were beginning to bulge at the seams. I distinctly remember the solution one commentator had: build more prisons.

Unfortunately, the approach of building more prisons and punishing more harshly (aka, mandatory sentencing, three strikes laws, the war on drugs) hasn’t worked and has only led to more of the same. In fact, some of our harsh approach to crime and punishment has actually led to more crime as nonviolent offenders (such as folks going to jail for marijuana offenses), come out on the other side of prison more “hardened” than they were to begin with. Throw into the mix the huge vocational barriers someone with a criminal record faces, and our situation is ripe for failure– one that actively produces more crime and brokenness, not less.

Actually, it’s beyond ripe for failure – it has failed. Past tense.

The traditional American approach to crime and punishment doesn’t work.

This past week I’ve been reading a great new book by Derek Flood called Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and really connected with his thoughts in a section called A Practical Guide To Enemy-Love. In regards to our failed approach to crime and punishment he writes:

We commonly think of justice in terms of retribution. When we speak of a person “getting justice ” we mean getting punishment. Love of enemies challenges this understanding of justice and asks: what if justice was not about punishing and hurting, but about mending and making things right again? What if justice was not about deterring through negative consequences, but about doing something good in order to reverse those hurtful dynamics? What if real justice was about repairing broken lives?”

I’ve certainly spoken of this difference between restorative justice and punitive justice both here on the blog and in my book, Undiluted, but Flood brings up some really good additional thoughts on the matter. He goes on to say:

“The sad fact is that our current prison system has become a factory for hardening criminals rather than healing them. Instead of learning empathy and how to manage their impulses and emotions, the brutal culture of prison life teaches inmates that one must be brutally violent in order to survive. Because of these patterns learned in prison, the alarming repeat offense rate is sadly not all that surprising. Locking someone up in the hell of prison life naturally breeds violence, not reform repentance. People do not learn empathy by being shamed and dehumanized. Retribution gains popular support by appealing to our most primitive impulses, but in the end results in a broken system that perpetuates hurt instead and cycles of violence.”

In the book, Flood cites a successful program that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of a restorative justice approach over a punitive approach: the RSVP program run by the San Francisco’s Sheriff’s Department. In this alternative program, they took some of their most violent offenders and tried a restorative approach instead of just locking them up and throwing away the key. This program that taught them communal living, personal dignity, development of empathy for others, and how to manage their own emotions, had some results many might find surprising: an 80% reduction in violent recidivism, and the total elimination of assault on prison officials (pg. 185).

The effectiveness of restorative justice compared to punitive justice is simply amazing. But, that really shouldn’t be a shock to us. Why wouldn’t restoring a life work better than simply subjecting it to punishment?

The American approach to crime and punishment needs some re-framing because the old way simply doesn’t work. A punitive focused approach results in over populated prisons filled to the brim– both with some folks who justly should be there, and some who probably should not. All however, are forced to acclimate to a violent prison life that simply turns them into “hardened criminals” even if they didn’t arrive as one. When they are released, they face so many barriers to reintegration into society that the violent survival mechanisms the prison system taught them quickly become one of their only tools to move forward in life.

We cannot continue a system with this philosophical approach and think that we’re actually doing justice– we’re not. Justice, as I write in Undiluted, is about “making the world a little less broken and a little more right,” and as Flood points out in Disarming Scripture, our current system does anything but that.

The solution?

We must become people who long to see a life restored instead of a life destroyed, and we must become willing to do whatever it takes to make the former happen, while resisting the easier path of doing the latter. Together, we can begin to influence culture in such a way that we reform our penal system to become something that sees justice as a life restored instead of punishment given.

Benjamin L. Corey, is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

What Makes a Democrat a Democrat and a Republican a Republican? It’s More Complicated Than You Think

It remains the case that a large majority of the public has liberal views on some issues and conservative views on others

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This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Political scientists will often say that people’s political party affiliations are major causes of their voting behavior and of their opinions on various policy issues. Yet this line often neglects evidence that, to understand political party affiliations, one needs to focus on voters’ opinions on various policy issues.

Fifty years ago, Democrat Lyndon Johnson battled Republican Barry Goldwater for the presidency. At that time, no Republican presidential candidate had carried the Deep South since Reconstruction. Nonetheless, Goldwater carried the line of states from Louisiana to South Carolina (as well as his home state of Arizona) but no other states. The reason for his victory in these southern states had to do with Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act, which Johnson, in contrast, had championed. In the election, many southern whites voted on the basis of this issue, at the expense of their traditional party.

Further, as the pace of social change accelerated in the early 1960s, the Supreme Court issued a line of controversial decisions on school prayer, birth control, and abortion. These previously sleepy issues took on greater public prominence. As the political parties adopted their contrasting positions in the 1970s, key voting groups began shifting. White churchgoers (including many southerners and Catholics who had previously been solid supporters of Democrats) increasingly voted Republican, while the growing group of non-religious whites leaned more towards Democrats.

More recently, the Reagan years saw the opening of a new gender gap in party voting, driven not by abortion (an issue on which men and women have never, it turns out, differed much on average), but by the gender gap in support for government safety-net programs. In addition, more recently, Republicans have become increasingly associated with anti-immigrant views (a major milestone occurring in 1994, when Republican Governor Pete Wilson supported California’s Proposition 187), and, as a result, Latinos have become increasingly solid Democratic supporters.

To make sense of contemporary politics, it’s more crucial than ever to understand what drives the public’s contrasting views on a wide range of hot-button issues – taxes, healthcare, affirmative action, immigration, school prayer, same-sex marriage, abortion, marijuana legalization, and others. One needs to be able to see how these issues relate to the demographic splits that increasingly guide political analysis.

In The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind (Princeton, 2014), we offer a fresh perspective on these topics. We combine the data-driven analyses typical of political professionals with growing psychological insights into human motives.

We sift through large surveys for connections between people’s lives and their politics, focusing attention on the biggest links. A key point is that different kinds of issues involve different major demographic predictors.

For views on economic issues, for instance, the big splits are driven by income, race, gender, and other factors relating to economic security. So, if we look at the core demographic of those most likely to benefit from government poverty programs – people in the bottom 40% of family income who have had children but who aren’t yet old enough for Social Security and Medicare – support for government redistribution wealth from rich to poor is strong. Among whites, 57% favor the idea while 26% oppose it; among non-whites, it’s 59% versus 19%. The key opponents include whites with family incomes in the top 10%; of these individuals, 27% favor the idea and 57% oppose it.

In terms of discrimination, the big splits involve whether people are in the group being discriminated against or the group doing the discriminating, and, secondarily, whether people are well-positioned to succeed under the current species of education-based meritocracy that seeks to replace the old discriminatory rules. For example, 70% of non-Christians approve of the Supreme Court’s ban on school prayer, but only 30% of Christians without bachelor’s degrees agree. Similarly, only 23% of immigrants want to reduce immigration levels, but 65% of native-born whites without bachelor’s degree want to. More generally, we find that those with less education and poorer test performance – those who often have worse outcomes under modern meritocratic regimes – are especially likely to favor group-based policies providing advantages to people with their own group features.

For views on sexual and reproductive issues, the big splits involve church attendance along with the various lifestyle features that weigh heavily in driving some towards and others away from houses of worship – marriage, cohabitation, sexual histories, children, and so on. For instance, on questions about whether abortion should be legally available in circumstance of rape and in circumstances in which a woman is single and doesn’t want to marry, 43% of weekly churchgoers say “no” to both cases while only 21% say “yes” to both; among those who do not attend services as often as once a month, in contrast, only 12% say “no” to both while 53% say “yes” to both.

Yet, crucially, church attendance hardly relates, statistically, to views on immigration or income redistribution. Similarly, being an immigrant hardly relates, statistically, to views on school prayer or abortion. Greater income predicts more conservative views on income redistribution, but also predicts somewhat more liberal views on immigration, school prayer, and abortion.

In fact, by the later chapters in our book, we look at a large number of combinations of demographic features to get a better look at the complex contrasts in public opinion. For example, we look at white, heterosexual, Christian men with lots of education who attend church infrequently. Such people often have solid economic security as well as relatively freewheeling personal lives. While they typically favor Republicans and have conservative economic views, their opinion on issues impacting sexual lifestyles are more often liberal. Contrast this group with white, heterosexual Christians with lower incomes and frequent church attendance – also typically Republican voters, but with very conservative views on lifestyle issues and left-leaning economic views. Move to non-white, heterosexual Christians with lower incomes and frequent church attendance, and now we see typically Democratic voters with liberal views on economic and racial issues, yet with strongly conservative views on average on issues such as school prayer, same-sex marriage, and abortion.

In the recent 2014 election, as in other recent elections, Democrats did particularly well among African Americans, lesbians/gays/bisexuals, non-Christians (those with no religious affiliation, Jews, and others), those who never attend religious services, Latinos, and the poor. Our book provides a guide to the issue-specific connections these various features imply.

One of the major themes we stress is that, even with the recent uptick in people with fulsomely liberal or fulsomely conservative views, it remains the case that a large majority of the public has liberal views on some issues and conservative views on others. In fact, if one investigates groups other than college-educated whites, knowing someone’s position on abortion or same-sex marriage yields almost no prediction of their views on income redistribution – despite the fact that both religious and economic issues are important to the current coalitional alignments of the parties.

These insights bring recent shifts in the political parties into much greater focus. They also shed light on current struggles within the parties – why some Republicans favor more tolerant stances on immigration while most prefer harsher positions, why some Democrats are reluctant to increase taxes on the wealthy or to place stronger regulations on big banks while most favor these ideas, and so on.

If history tells us anything about party politics, it’s that the coalitions at a given time aren’t permanent. These things change. Understanding these changes – past, present, and future – requires a closer look at voters’ issue-driven minds.

Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, are the authors of “The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind” (Princeton, 2014).

TIME politics

Can My Clinic Fix Childhood Obesity?

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To determine if a child’s weight is a problem, a key measure is body mass index

Of the 10 children in my family, I was the only one who was obese. I didn’t know it at the time, but my family mirrored obesity trends in Holtville, the small town in California where I grew up. In Imperial County, which borders Arizona and Mexico, 1 in 10 people were considered obese in the 1970s and ’80s. I hated being obese and fantasized about a magical solution that could transform me overnight.

Fast forward to the present: My weight is under control and I’m the director of programs at Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, a non-profit community clinic in Imperial County.

Unfortunately, obesity is more common here than when I was a kid. Today, 4 in 10 children in Imperial County are considered obese or overweight. Couple this with a poverty rate of 22 percent, and you have a recipe for an unhealthy community.

To determine if a child’s weight is a problem, a key measure is body mass index—measuring the child’s weight against a national standard for their height, age, and gender. A child in the 85th percentile or more is considered overweight; at the 95th percentile and above, a child is obese.

One major problem is that many parents see obesity as something their children will outgrow—not a major health concern that requires treatment. The clinic used to tell families to eat healthy and exercise, and to come back next year for a physical exam. This method didn’t work. Most kids don’t grow out of being overweight or obese and many parents don’t know how to help them make healthy choices around food and exercise.

In 2011, my clinic saw an opportunity to join forces with other agencies—including San Diego State University’s Institute for Behavioral and Community Health and the Imperial County Public Health Department—to come up with a new strategy for controlling obesity. One focus is identifying problems much earlier, and monitoring them more closely over time.

In order to get real money, we applied for a 4-year research grant from the Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration (or CORD) study of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grant program is part of the Affordable Care Act and aims to tackle childhood obesity in impoverished communities. We were fortunate to be one of three sites funded—the others are in Massachusetts and Texas.

Last year, we invited 600 children to participate—and we allow any family to access the services. Three to four times a year, the child sees a clinician for a weight management and wellness exam. A patient care coordinator also works with the family. Finally, community health workers (or promotoras) lead a series of workshops on parenting skills, setting goals, and incorporating fun games into physical activities.

One of the first families to participate in Clinicas’ family wellness program was the Padillas, whose 11-year-old daughter had been struggling with her weight. It was difficult for them at first. The family doesn’t have a car and needed to find a ride or take the bus, which can be tricky. And, like many families, they felt reluctant to visit the clinic when they lapsed.

The Padillas eventually figured out how to manage the plan. They went on walks, watched less TV, gave up drinking sweet tea, and ate less fattening foods. Today, they eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water, go to sleep earlier, and include more physical activities in their daily routine.

But it’s not just families that need to commit to change. As part of Our Choice/Nuestra Opción, experts conducted training with the staff of clinics, childcare facilities, schools, recreation agencies, and restaurants. There’s work to do in improving our own health.

The magical solution to childhood obesity that I wished as a kid doesn’t exist. Tackling this problem means making a long-term commitment—and understanding that change won’t happen overnight.

Leticia Ibarra is director of programs at Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, Inc. She has 16 years of professional experience in research, project management, working with clinics, and consulting in community-based, collaborative health communication and promotora interventions to improve the health and well-being of Latino and immigrant communities. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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