Fox News's ugly little brother, Fox Business, reports that the Trump administration might just include a progressive idea as part of the next stimulus package, by framing what would amount to a huge government spending program as some kind of "tax relief." Yr Wonkette is frankly astonished at the sheer evil brilliance of the idea, which takes the linguistic magic of Frank "Death tax" Luntz to bold new heights.

In a piece published Monday, Fox Business says the administration may push for Sen. Josh Hawley's proposal to subsidize employers who keep workers on payroll to be included in a prospective "Phase Four" coronavirus stimulus package. Only Fox is careful not to make it sound like a bailout program at all. Nope, the article calls it a "negative payroll tax" proposal, which doesn't connote any kind of government spending, but rather a simple adjustment to familiar ways of doing things. Just that instead of money coming into federal coffers, it's money going to employers for a little while, and that's surely only fair.


As far as we can tell from a very perfunctory search, the phrase "negative payroll tax" might have been coined in a 1999 Yale Law Journal article that also advocated for a "negative income tax," which would serve as a universal basic income. More recently, the term was used in a National Review piece co-authored by Republican economic consultant Jon Hartley and supply-side guru Art Laffer, just in case your irony meter hadn't already overloaded.

So here's the creator of Voodoo Economics calling for a lot of government spending, framing it as a more fast-acting stimulus than Trump's suggested Jolly Payroll Tax Holiday. Really, it's just good old GOP tax cutting by another name, and not at all a New Deal-type infusion of government spending into the economy, say Laffer and Hartley:

Why not deliver a faster and less administratively challenging stimulus through the payroll system that will incentivize employers to keep their workers on payroll and encourage workers not to leave?

That is exactly the idea behind introducing a negative payroll tax to subsidize wages on top of the payroll-tax waiver. By bringing the payroll tax below zero, we could create a direct wage subsidy, assuaging critics who have argued that a payroll-tax cut alone provides too little relief. The beauty of using the payroll-tax mechanism for this is that it bypasses the need to go through inefficient and expensive government and banking procedures [...]

A recurring payroll-tax cut and biweekly payroll subsidy, rather than a one-time tax credit, would be faster and likely help boost spending because of what behavioral economists call "mental accounting," the notion that people are more likely to spend money that they see as a permanent boost to their income. According to Gallup polling, only 20 percent of Americans plan to devote one-time stimulus checks under the CARES Act to consumption, while the rest intend to save the money or use it to pay down bills.

That's ART FUCKING LAFFER endorsing a temporary form of ongoing payments to American workers, which your socialists call Universal Basic Income. Mind you, it's perfectly cromulent since it would be funneled through company payrolls, and maybe it wouldn't necessarily help the poorest Americans, who only get lazy if you give them money when they're out of work.

Funny, though: When another president we know of called for "growing the economy from the middle" by revising the tax code to help working and middle-class taxpayers, that was socialism and the end of all incentive for anyone to work. But this would be fine, because it would (maybe) be signed by Trump, and therefore is neither Keynesian nor Kenyan.

Fox Business reports that "Hawley's staffers have been in talks with officials from both the White House and the Treasury Department about the negative payroll tax in the last week," but who knows whether this will get any farther.

We would far rather see the temporary "emergency income" plan that was introduced by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Ro Khanna (D-California), and/or the more generous payroll subsidy plan offered by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), which would cover 100 percent of wages, not the 80 percent of wages, capped at a still-undefined "median" wage, that Hawley is calling for. But a stimulus is a stimulus is a stimulus, and a broad subsidy for wages would do far more good than the current plan of throwing money at rich people.

Still, we're equal parts impressed and appalled by the Luntzian chutzpah of rightwing outlets coopting a fine Lefty idea and dressing it up in a very serious Brooks Brothers suit so Josh Hawley can insist he's a Free Market Conservative who wants to help with taxes. Heck, he even has Art Laffer on his side! It's all pretty funny until you consider Hawley may try to ride borrowed progressive ideas all the way to the White House in 2024. Hey, you know WHO ELSE paid lip service to socialist ideas before imposing fascism?

Now, we're not certain whether that any amount of Luntzed up framing will actually win any adherents among diehards like the House Freedom Caucus. The Fox Business subhed does little to disguise that this is indeed a spending proposal: "Negative payroll tax is wage subsidy government would give to employers who would pass it on to employees."

We suspect that any serious proposal for letting workers get help through this crisis would still crash into opposition from the Usual Suspects, who would tell Donald Trump the idea would make us Denmark, and Denmark wouldn't even sell him Greenland. Besides, nobody's going to need any money at all to ride out this crisis, since Trump will just clap his hands and declare America "Open" again.

[Fox Business / National Review / Yale Law Journal]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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