Gill wants you to parse McNerney’s TARP votes

The campaign of Lodi Republican Ricky Gill – who’s taking on Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, in the newly drawn 9th Congressional District – is up in arms about a claim made in pro-McNerney mailers sent out by the California Democratic Party.

Two CDP mailers, aiming to paint McNerney as a fiscal conservative, say he voted “NO to a $350 billion bailout because McNerney believes in responsible spending.”

But Gill’s campaign notes that the January 2009 vote to which that refers – on releasing the second half of the $700 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program – was meaningless. As FactCheck.org explained two years ago:

As the law was structured, the treasury secretary (then Henry Paulson) had access to only $350 billion, half of the total package, at first. The second half would be available only if the administration went to Congress and asked for it. Treasury would get the money unless Congress said no. The first $350 billion of the TARP money was quickly spent.

By the time the Bush administration, at the request of President-elect Barack Obama, filed a request with the Senate for the rest of the money on Jan. 12, 2009, there were widespread complaints that too much of the first tranche had been used to bail out large institutions and not enough to help homeowners. The new funds could have been blocked had both houses of Congress voted to do so, but on Jan. 15, 2009, the Senate defeated a disapproval resolution, 52-42, effectively voting to release the funds. Treasury almost immediately announced it would use some of the money to shore up a deeply crippled Bank of America.

Where was the House in all this? Pretty much irrelevant. Eventually there was a similar vote in that body. … [I]t passed, 270-155. But the vote came on Jan. 22, a week after the Senate’s vote (and two days after Obama was sworn in). Treasury already had the money.

So the House vote was purely symbolic.

“The Democrats’ claim is doubly misleading because McNerney voted for TARP in the first place,” Gill spokesman Colin Hunter said in an email.

True, too – though it might be worth noting that the law creating TARP was proposed and signed by President George W. Bush, and approved by Congress with bipartisan support (including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and 90 other House Republicans). And also that TARP both worked and cost the taxpayers less than expected, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.


Cal researchers map political info via social media

Cal Berkeley researchers have launched a new website to explore how political knowledge can be spread rapidly across big populations using social media – and their test subject is one of this election season’s hottest issues.

The project, from UC’s CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative, aims to develop a general-purpose system that can be used for a wide variety of issues, but for now it’s being tested on just one: Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike ballot measure.

Ken Goldberg, an engineering professor, said that “although the outcome of this vote has an enormous potential impact on students, alumni, teachers, parents and employers, many are not aware of Proposition 30. The California Proposition 30 Awareness Project aims to change that.”

Visitors to the website can learn about the ballot measure – a four-year, quarter-cent sales tax hike and a seven-year income tax hike for those making more than $250,000 per year – and receive a custom web link to share with whomever they please using email, Facebook or Twitter. They can return to the site later to see a unique graphic representation of their influence, and track their “influence score;” after the election, the website will list the 50 most influential people.

Influence is computed using a variant of the Kleinberg and Raghavan algorithm, where each visitor’s influence increases by one point for each person he or she recruits, by half a point for every person those people recruit, and so on. This model has been applied in many contexts with financial incentives, but researchers believe this is the first time it’s being tested with intangible rewards.

The researchers say the project and website emphasize awareness and are unbiased; the site includes links to the California Voters Guide and to campaigns on both sides of the issue. Visitors can also indicate their position for or against the proposition, and join an online discussion afterward.


Swalwell wants new CA-15 debate, but host balks

15th Congressional District candidate Eric Swalwell today urged the Eden Area League of Women Voters not to give incumbent Rep. Pete Stark “a free pass” by failing to hold another debate in this race.

Eric Swalwell“Voters deserve to hear from Congressman Stark and me on the issues that impact their lives,” Swalwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, said in a news release. “The voters expect debates. It’s time to come out of hiding. As a 40-year incumbent, Congressman Stark should be prepared to face his constituents and explain himself. The League of Women Voters should not give Congressman Stark a free pass from the time-honored tradition of debate and dialogue.”

But league president Nancy Van Huffel said it’s nothing personal – she just sees no point in it given that the league had sponsored a pre-primary debate for this race in April.

“We are sponsoring probably 12 or 14 candidate forums and we are a small league, so I did not schedule another debate for Pete Stark and his opponent because we had a debate and it is online,” she said today. “We didn’t see where it would be any kind of new thing.”

Van Huffel said she was unaware when this fall’s debates were scheduled that Stark, D-Fremont, had already publicly refused to debate Swalwell again. “He was not invited, he did not refuse, it was just a matter basically of timing.”

She acknowledged, however, that the league is holding a second debate for at least one East Bay race: the 20th Assembly District contest between Hayward councilman Bill Quirk and Hayward optometrist Jennifer Ong, which like the Stark-Swallwell race is a Democrat-on-Democrat smackdown made possible by the state’s new top-two primary system.

Three other candidates were eliminated in the 20th Assembly District primary so the dynamics have changed considerably, Van Huffel noted; only one candidate was eliminated in the 15th Congressional District primary.

“Certainly that race is important but I’m not sure there would be any further information that would come of it (a debate),” she said. “We try to do the best we can.”

With or without a new debate, the race continues to be noticed outside the Bay Area: Daily Kos’ David Nir today named CA-15 the only “tossup” among California’s six same-party House elections.

The league’s pre-primary CA-15 debate was the forum at which Stark accused Swalwell of having accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” from Dublin-area developers – an accusation he later retracted, and the first of several allegations Stark made this spring which proved to be untrue.

Follow after the jump for complete video of that April forum, broken into four parts…
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California parents value college but aren’t saving

California parents value a college education more than a good-paying job for their kids, but most have not started saving to help pay for that education, according to a new survey conducted for ScholarShare, the state’s “529” college savings plan.

“The good news is parents realize the importance of a college degree to their kids’ future and economic prosperity,” State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who chairs the ScholarShare Investment Board, said in a news release. “The bad news is higher education costs continue to rise, and most parents have not been able to start making preparations to help ensure their family can afford those costs. A ScholarShare account can help fill that critical financial need.”

Named for the section of the IRS code under which they were created, 529 plans let earnings on investments grow tax-deferred, and disbursements, when used for tuition and other qualified higher education expenses, are federal and state tax-free. ScholarShare accounts can be opened with as little as $25, or $15 when combined with regular, automatic monthly contributions of at least $15. The program has no annual account maintenance fee, no income limit and offers a high maximum contribution cap of $350,000. ScholarShare now holds more than $4.4 billion in assets in about 250,000 accounts.

The survey conducted by Hart Research Associates found 84 percent of parents considered it “very important” that their children attend college. That’s a higher percentage than those who prioritized having a good-paying job (75 percent) or owning a home (69 percent). Latino (93 percent), black (88 percent) and Asian (90 percent) parents said attending college was “very important” at significantly higher rates than white parents (72 percent). And 78 percent of parents overall said a college education was more important now than it was 10 years ago.

The survey also that when asked what they would be willing to do to improve their current financial situation, 65 percent of parents would be willing to delay their retirement and 46 percent would be willing to save less for their retirement. But only 45 percent said they would delay saving for their kids’ college education and 40 percent said they would save less for their kids’ education.

Yet most parents worry about being able to afford their kids’ tuition: 53 percent said they’re “very concerned” about their ability to pay.

Only 43 percent of parents have a college savings account. Parents who have been saving more than 10 years have set aside an average of $25,193, compared to $14,733 for those saving 6-10 years and $4,663 for those saving five years or less.

Fifty-nine percent of parents surveyed said it’s certain or very likely their children will attend a University of California or California State University school; 51 percent said it was certain or very likely their children would go to a community college; and only 26 percent said it was certain or very likely their children would attend a private university. (That adds up to more than 100 percent because the “very likelies” have some either-or.)

And 44 percent of parents said they expected scholarships or grants to cover at least half of their children’s higher education costs; 35 percent said cost coverage would come from their own savings and income, and 28 percent said it would come from student loans. (That adds up to more than 100 percent because parents expect to use more than one funding source.)


Stark targets Medicare glitch for same-sex couples

A bill introduced today by Rep. Pete Stark aims to close a loophole deep in Medicare’s rules that has been costing seniors who are in same-sex marriages.

Medicare’s secondary payer rules generally let someone maintain employer-sponsored coverage after they’ve obtained Medicare eligibility. They don’t have to join Medicare Part B (covering certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies and preventive services) and pay its monthly premium as long as they maintain that workplace insurance as their primary coverage and Medicare Part A (covering inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care and some home health care) as their secondary coverage.

The law also protects people in this situation who later transition to Medicare Part B when they lose that employer-sponsored coverage: They don’t have to pay a late enrollment penalty, as would someone who simply waited to obtain Part B coverage until they got sick.

But Stark, D-Fremont, said constituent Joseph Goleman of Newark was told he would have to pay that late-enrollment penalty because he disclosed that he was in a same-sex marriage.

“The practical effect of my legislation is to provide people over age 65 in same-sex marriages the choice to remain on their spouse’s employer health coverage as their primary insurance, without facing significant financial penalties from Medicare in the future,” he said. “Regardless of one’s position on same-sex marriage, this small change in law makes financial sense for Medicare and will ensure consistent treatment of people regardless of their age.”

Current law has different definitions for family depending on whether one becoming eligible for Medicare through disability or through age. The definition is “family member” for people with disabilities includes legally-recognized same-sex marriages, but for those turning 65, the term is “spouse” – and the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits that term from including state-recognized same-sex marriages.

“Joseph knew what happened to him when he visited the local Social Security office didn’t feel right. Thankfully, he immediately reached out to my office and we were able get him the benefits he was due,” Stark said in a news release. “The confusion in current law is likely denying eligible beneficiaries the benefits they are due today – as it would have Mr. Goleman if he’d not reached out to me.”

Stark is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee that oversees Medicare.


Where does Mitt Romney’s 47 percent live?

The nation continues to mull Mother Jones’ scoop of Mitt Romney’s unguarded comments to a private fundraising event this past May in Florida:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”
“[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

So where are those 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax?

The Atlantic has the answer, with data from the Tax Foundation. In California, 37 percent of residents pay no income tax, but that only ranks us 16th among the states:

(click to enlarge)

As the Atlantic notes:

This measures only those Americans who filed for taxes with no liability. Millions more didn’t even file; it’s those millions, added to the estimated 52 million here, who combine to make that 47 percent.

It’s important to remember that just because people aren’t paying income tax doesn’t mean they’re not paying taxes — they pay federal payroll taxes and state and local sales taxes, for example. Once those taxes are factored in, the tax regime is basically flat. And the reason that most income tax nonpayers don’t pay is they simply don’t make enough income to qualify to pay. As one might expect, the map of states with the highest poverty levels resembles this map fairly closely.