Prophesying politics: 3 UI professors consider current issues

Prophesying politics: 3 UI professors consider current issues

With the health care debate now officially in the rearview — and the fight over DACA seemingly at least a few months away — new storylines are set to make headlines in the nation’s capital.

So we asked back three University of Illinois professors — Don Fullerton, Jason Mazzone and Brian Gaines — to break down what’s ahead in their fields of expertise: the Supreme Court (session starts Monday), rewriting the tax code (Congress’ new priority No. 1) and the 2018 primary elections (up first: Wisconsin, on Feb. 20).


TAX REFORM: 'A once-in-a-generation opportunity,' Trump says

DON FULLERTON ASKS: The president has left it to Congress. Deficit hawks have disappeared. In the end, won't this lead to a huge tax cut and add a lot to the already-oversized U.S. debt?

THE PROFESSOR SAYS: "Some news articles refer to this effort as the first major tax reform in 30 years, since the Tax Reform Act of 1986. During that time (1985-87), I was the deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury for tax analysis. That means I had about 30 Ph.D. economists working for me to analyze all proposals and to estimate revenue for the budget.

"That reform was 'revenue neutral,' by broadening the tax base while lowering rates of tax. It also attempted to be roughly distribution-neutral, not shifting tax between rich and poor. The point was to increase economic efficiency by removing tax distortions that favor some activities over others.

"What I've seen of these new proposals bear no relation to that effort. It might include elimination of a few deductions, but it is nowhere near revenue neutral. It is a reduction of tax rates, especially on the rich. And although it would increase the standard deduction (amount on which a family pays no tax), it would increase the first lowest tax rate on income above that amount from 10 percent to 12 percent.

"This tax cut effort is the worst possible politics, pandering to special interests and misleading voters to think they can get something for nothing — a tax cut that nobody has to pay for. But you don't get something for nothing. We will be paying for it, one way or the other. Adding to the national debt is not good for the economy, and especially for future generations."


SUPREME COURT: New session begins Monday with packed agenda

JASON MAZZONE ASKS: How will Justice Anthony Kennedy view the conflicting claims — equal treatment of same-sex couples on the one hand, religious conscience on the other — in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission?

THE PROFESSOR SAYS: "In 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court invalidated state law bans on same-sex marriages. In his majority opinion in that case, Kennedy wrote that the Constitution prohibits the government from barring 'same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex,' but that the First Amendment also gives people of faith the right to 'continue to advocate that same-sex marriage should not be condoned.'

"Masterpiece Cakeshop involves a shop owner who asserts that his religious faith prohibits him from creating a custom wedding cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony and that Colorado should not be able to punish him under the state's non-discrimination law for his refusal of service to gay couples. The owner pitches his argument to Kennedy, who will likely cast the deciding vote. Emphasizing the high degree of creativity involved in making his custom cakes, the owner asserts dual First Amendment rights of religious exercise and freedom of speech — both rights Kennedy has long championed.

"In Obergefell, Kennedy emphasized the dignitary harm of denying marriage to same-sex couples; the cake shop owner asks for equal respect for his own faith-based beliefs about the nature of marriage. With this case, the Court confronts the tension, seen in many domains, between religious conscience and equality.

"My guess is that in Masterpiece, the Court — with Kennedy in the majority — will reject the cake shop owner's arguments. I predict that the claims of conscience and expression will have some appeal for the justices. But at the end of the day, the majority will find it too difficult to craft an exemption from non-discrimination laws for a religiously-motivated artistic baker that does not apply to myriad other wedding suppliers and commercial entities."


ELECTION '18: Primary season kicks off in four months

BRIAN GAINES ASKS: Will the Republicans fight civil wars in their Senate primaries, helping the Democrats in what should be a hard year for them?

THE PROFESSOR SAYS: "The importance of every U.S. Senate seat is clear. With a 52-48 edge, the GOP couldn't pass the Graham-Cassidy bill to replace Obamacare, thanks to four dissenters. Twenty-five of the 34 Senate seats up in 2018 are now controlled by Democrats, many of them in red states. So it will be hard for the Democrats to gain seats. But Republicans could assist them, inadvertently.

"The just-concluded special Republican Senate primary in Alabama demonstrates one kind of risk. The winner, Roy Moore, arguably trumped Trump, knocking off the president's preferred candidate by running to his right, with more bombast and bomb throwing, pleasing to social conservatives but potentially alienating to centrists. In Alabama, he is likely to win the general election just the same, but his posturing may hurt the party's image in less red environs. And the more Moores in D.C., the harder it will be for party leaders to legislate."

Three primary races Gaines recommends watching:

— Arizona, "where Republican Sen. Floyd Flake would look safer were he not knocking Trump so loudly. In this border state, Flake could even be knocked off by yet another right-of-Trump candidate running against DACA, the most prominent — and surprising — policy on which the president has tacked left."

— Indiana, "another red state where Republicans could possibly squander an opportunity. Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly looks vulnerable, but the two U.S. Representatives vying to challenge him — Luke Messer and Todd Rokita — are already hurling mud at each other furiously, and a fractious primary would delight Donnelly."

— Nevada, where "Republican incumbent Dean Heller could face an insurgency from Danny Tarkanian, son of a famed basketball coach, who has already lost multiple statewide races, but remains ambitious. Nevada — won by Hillary Clinton — is tough territory even for an incumbent, so a Tarkanian win in the June primary could be a prelude to a flip, with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen eventually picking up the seat."