Editorial September 29, 2017

Historical Highlights

from the Clerk of the US House

The ratification of the 16th Amendment

(Federal Income Tax)

February 03, 1913

On this date, the states of Delaware, Wyoming, and New Mexico approved the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratifying it into law. The amendment empowered Congress to impose an income tax on individuals and corporations.

During the House debates of S.J. Res. 40, Members had debated the merits of collecting income taxes.

Representatives Sereno Payne of New York and Samuel McCall of Massachusetts argued that income taxes should only be levied to raise revenue during times of war. Congressman Ebenezer Hill of Connecticut also worried that the tax could be unfairly levied on constituents in poorer states: “We are ready to vote for an income tax to meet any emergencies which may arise…and to stand by the Government in time of war; but do not ask us…without consultation with our people at home, to put this burden on them in addition to one already severe because of local expenditures… ”

Representative William Sulzer of New York, a supporter of the tax, said, “I have been the constant advocate of an income tax along constitutional lines… I reiterate that through it only…will it ever be possible for the Government to be able to make idle wealth pay its just share of the ever-increasing burdens of taxation.”

After a brisk debate on July 12, 1909, lasting for five hours, the bill passed 314–14, with 1 voting “present,” and 55 not voting. The 16th Amendment was the first change to the Constitution since the passage of the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed African-American male suffrage, 43 years earlier, in 1870.

From the Left-


“The Republican tax outline released today is a textbook example of how not to do tax reform.  It speaks volumes about their intentions that Democratic Members were not even invited to participate in discussions about how to reform our tax code.  That House Republicans took the day off for a retreat in Washington to discuss how to pass tax cuts for the wealthy, while millions of Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are looking to Congress for immediate help and with the Children’s Health Insurance Program set to expire in just three days, is deeply irresponsible.

“Across the board, Americans agree that our tax system ought to be simpler, fairer, and encourage economic growth and competitiveness.  There is also broad consensus that, to be successful, any serious tax reform effort must be permanent, enacted through a bipartisan process not limited by the rules of budget reconciliation.  Middle-class families sitting around the kitchen table need a predictable tax code to plan for higher education, homeownership, and retirement; businesses need it so they can make long-term investments in facilities, hiring, and research and development.  Today’s outline makes those decisions harder, not easier.

“The Republican tax outline cannot legitimately be called a plan.  Neither is it anything new: it is the same irresponsible tax cuts they have pushed for years, repackaged and rebranded.  What had been one page of bullet points is now a nine-page brochure that leaves out any pretense of promoting fiscal sustainability by subscribing to the oft-repeated fantasy that tax cuts somehow pay for themselves.  Furthermore, it benefits those who are already advantaged the most by our country’s economic strength while shortchanging middle-class families who have dutifully played by the rules and are working hard to get by.

“Sustainable tax reform requires that Democrats and Republicans work together.  Making our tax code simpler is no simple task; indeed, it remains one of the most complicated challenges we face – and it is one that we must tackle together.  If done right it will yield benefits to our economy for generations.”


“Good evening. Thank you for being here. When President Trump announced the end of the DACA program, he put hundreds of thousands of young people and their families in danger, and undermined our country and all its citizens as well.

“Now, it’s up to Congress to take action to prevent families from being split apart and to prevent young Americans in mind and spirit from being sent back to countries of their birth, but not their homes. This is their home.

“That’s why we are now collecting signatures, starting this evening, on a discharge petition to force a vote on the DREAM Act.

“Some of you will recall that we forced a vote on the Export-Import Bank. I made the representation to Leader McCarthy that that bill had a majority of votes on the Floor. In fact, it had a majority of Republicans and all but one Democrat. And it passed with over three-hundred votes. When we are successful on the discharge petition, this bill will pass.

“This bill will enable those young people to continue helping to build a stronger America and stronger communities. It will allow them to continue lending their talents to the work of innovating and creating American jobs.

Hamilton on Congress

Election Reform Is About More Than Fraud 

By Lee H. Hamilton



A dozen years ago, the preface to a report on federal election reform began with these words: “Polls indicate that many Americans lack confidence in the electoral system, but the political parties are so divided that serious electoral reform is unlikely without a strong bipartisan voice.”

I can find no part of that sentence that’s not still true. Americans still lack confidence in the electoral system. The political parties are still divided. Serious electoral reform remains unlikely. Perhaps the only change is that the commission issuing the report was co-chaired by a Democrat and a Republican – former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker – who genuinely tried to find a bipartisan approach to our election system’s problems.

Since then, we’ve careened into a pitched political battle on the issue.

At one level, I’m baffled by the lack of progress. I sat on that commission, and what seemed obvious to us then seems even more obvious today. Voting is the most basic step a representative democracy asks of us. We do three things when we vote: we select the officials we want running the government; we suggest the direction of government policy; and we reaffirm our belief and our stake in representative democracy. You can’t get more important than that. So why do we remain in an endless national standoff on how to fix our elections?

The answer, of course, is that in politically divided times, changes to elections are seen through partisan eyes.

This is disappointing, because right now there should be plenty of room for agreement. We face genuine challenges to our electoral system that even the most partisan of Democrats and Republicans could come together on: aging machines, long lines at the polls, cyber attacks by hostile entities, foreign interference, inadequately trained voting officials, voter lists that are not up to date… It’s a long list.

But where the two sides fall apart is on the most basic of questions: how readily do we give access to the voting booth? I’ll lay my cards on the table. I believe in wider access. Creating a Congress and an overall government that are more representative of the American people rests on expanding the electorate and beating back the barriers to voting.

The more people who vote, the better the chance to strengthen the political center formed by moderates and pragmatists. The lower voter turnout becomes, the more sway held by the most ideologically intense voters, who reward the most polarizing candidates, and the more likely deep resentments are created among those citizens denied the right to vote.

This is not to dismiss concerns about voter fraud. We do need to make sure that the person arriving to vote at a polling site is the same one who’s named on the voter list. And we’re headed in that direction. The number of states requiring a voter ID has increased dramatically over the last couple of decades – today about 50 percent of American voters live in states that require a voter to produce an ID before casting his or her ballot.

Yet the ambivalence many of us feel about this is understandable. We want to ensure there’s no fraud, but at the same time we are aware that stringent ID requirements disenfranchise a lot of people who may have trouble acquiring an ID: they don’t have a driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate. So the requirements can be an effective way to block minority groups or others from voting. And there’s this political reality: many of those who call the loudest for restrictive ID laws are targeting groups that they think will vote against them.

Though we want to ensure that only those people eligible to vote are actually voting, we also want to ensure that all those who are eligible to vote find it convenient to do so. There’s a lot of work to be done on that front, at every level of government. The entire system needs top-to-bottom review and strengthening. And so far, I see no evidence that we as a nation are taking this need seriously.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Magic Mondays

Political ‘Education’