Washington is aflutter with talk of what comes next, and as a consequence, it’s a most interesting time to be back up this way.
The heavy lifting on policy change and proposals won’t come until the next Congress and administration in the new year, and accordingly, the votes last night were mundane…but — for each of us as taxpayers — still meaningful.
For instance, we voted on the Concrete Masonry Products, Research, Education and Promotion Act of 2016. Using the force of the federal government, it would essentially create a tax on cinder blocks and similar products to fund research and education on these products. The bill added to the deficit — $24 million, which is not a huge amount in Washington terms…but think about how many neighbors it would take to send that amount in taxes to Washington.
I voted no not just because of cost but because it is not the federal government’s job to create advantage for some companies over others. Nor is it the government’s role to take on the functions that private enterprise can do for itself. Many businesses would love to have the federal government take on the role of tax collector for a function they earnestly believe to be important to the business…though it falls outside the role of what a limited government should do.
This was the case with this bill.
It was further complicated by two things:
One, government too often has two sets of rules…one set for itself, and one for everyone else. If this bill goes into law, the industry would get together and devote part of the cost of its products for research, development, and advertising, and the federal government would collect and distribute this fee. Most would consider this collusion, yet it would be fine. On the other hand, the federal government is working on criminal charges for three drug companies suspected of similar behavior with regard to prices. It doesn’t make sense for the federal government to prosecute one set of companies for cartel behavior while helping another set of companies set up a de facto cartel.
Two, another element of the bill that struck me was the fact that this was the first non-farm product checkoff program. (A check-off is an assessment collected on a product to fund research, development, education, or advertising.) All others have to do with agriculture in some sense or another, from processed raspberries to eggs or popcorn. So, this bill was opening up a completely new front for checkoff programs. If we allow concrete masonry to receive a checkoff, then what’s to stop the cement folks from wanting one? Or clay brickmakers? Or copper miners? I suspect there are many industries that would like the federal government to collect a tax on their behalf and use it to advertise their products.
With these aspects of the bill taken together, I thought that a “no” vote was reasonable. I was one of 37 Republicans to vote no. We were joined by one Democrat, and the vote prevailed with 355 yes votes.