The Justice Department will no longer help local police and sheriff's departments seize suspects' cash and property, Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week. Conservative lawmakers as well as The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, no great admirers of Holder, are praising the decision, which will protect citizens from losing their property without being convicted of a crime. Many states already had laws restricting the practice, but federal involvement allowed local agencies to get around those rules.
The decision will also have major consequences for police equipment and tactics. The program, known as "civil asset forfeiture," has generated $3 billion since 2008, but departments were not allowed to use the proceeds of to pay for salaries and other regular expenses. This rule was presumably intended to prevent agencies from becoming dependent on seizures to pay their staff, but some of them likely found that there was little they could spend the windfall on other than armored vehicles and military-style weaponry.
What's in Wonkbook: 1) State of the Union preview 2) Opinions, including Chait and Rampell on conservatives 3) Gay marriage, generic drugs and more
Number of the day: 50 percent. That's President Obama's approval rating, according to the latest poll by The Washington Post-ABC News. It's his highest since 2013, and is likely due to Americans' newfound optimism about the economy. Scott Clement and Dan Balz in The Washington Post.
1. Top story: State of the Union will include progressive tax proposal
Obama's tax plan aims to subsidize wages with taxes on the wealthy and the financial sector. "Here's what it would do exactly.
1. End the step-up basis for capital gains. ... Imagine you bought $1 million worth of stocks that are worth $10 million by the time you pass away. That's a $9 million capital gain you'd owe tax on, which, at the 23.2 percent rate, works out to a little more than $2 million check for Uncle Sam—unless you leave the stock to, say, your kids. Then it's like your capital gain never happened...
2. Raise the top capital gains tax rate from 23.8 to 28 percent. ...
3. Tax the big banks for being big. ...
4. Subsidize middle-class work. ... If you're a stay-at-home parent, it's not just a matter of wanting to work. It's a matter of whether working makes financial sense. Once you add up the costs of childcare and commuting, a lot of times it doesn't. That's why Obama wants to introduce a second-earner tax credit of $500." Matt O'Brien in The Washington Post.
Mitt Romney gets a special shout-out. "In a fact sheet describing the new proposals, the administration never calls out Romney by name, though it does slyly refer to closing loopholes that have enriched '300 extraordinarily wealthy individuals who have accumulated more than $25 million each in IRAs.'" Jia Lynn Yang in The Washington Post.
If the 2016 campaign hasn't started yet, it's about to. "That's the context in which Tuesday evening makes the most sense. Certainly, it's not in terms of finding legislative common ground with the Republican-controlled Congress. Many of the policy proposals Obama has rolled out this month in advance of the speech amount to little more than a Democratic wish list, more likely to serve as planks of the party's platform at next year's convention than to be taken seriously by John Boehner or Mitch McConnell." James Oliphant in National Journal.
BEUTLER: Obama should ask Congress to moot the King v. Burwell case. "Congress should take this issue out of the Court's hands. It makes no sense to leave nine million insurance beneficiaries and the individual and small group health insurance markets in three dozen states facing tremendous uncertainty at the whim of the Court. If Congress were to pass a one sentence bill affirming what everyone knows, it would moot the case, and thus end the uncertainty." The New Republic.
EL-ERIAN: Congress has a chance to improve the economy. "It can do so quickly by moving in areas where there is already a notable degree of consensus -- namely, bilateral trade agreements, corporate tax reform, immigration and infrastructure." Bloomberg View.
Do we even need a State of the Union address anymore? "Obama is so eager for his ideas to be heard by the public that he has embraced the fragmentation of the media, announcing his community-college proposal on Vine and his immigration plan on Facebook. After Tuesday's speech, he’ll take questions from a category of people known as 'YouTube stars,' one of whom is fond of green lipstick and whose 2012 video of herself choking on cinnamon has been viewed 42 million times. (If you don't feel like doing the math, that’s 126 percent of Obama's live 2014 State of the Union audience.)" Philip Bump in The Washington Post.
2. Top opinions
CHAIT: Being a true conservative means being crazy. "The 'reformocons,' the small coterie of pundit-adviser-activists trying to coax the Republican Party back toward sanity, may be doing the most politically significant work of any faction in America today. But the task of talking sense to the senseless is tricky business, involving lots of soft whispering and noble lies." New York.
RAMPELL: Why do some conservatives deny the climate is changing? "Decades of anti-elite, anti-intellectual rhetoric, combined with the Internet’s uncanny ability to connect like-minded conspiracy theorists, have sowed a great distrust not only of climate change research specifically but of scientific researchers in general." The Washington Post.
Map of the day:
The year 2014 was the hottest worldwide since at least 1880, according to federal meteorologists. Chris Mooney in The Washington Post.
The economy accelerated in 2014 because Republicans made nice. Last year "was the first year since the Republicans gained a House majority in November 2010 that dysfunctional fiscal policy did not actively impede economic recovery. Having borne the brunt of the blame for the government shutdown of October 2013, Republican leaders decided to stifle their more radical “Tea Party” members and refrain from similar dead-end showdowns in 2014." Jeffrey Frankel at Project Syndicate.
FLAVELLE: Republican priorities are creating the single-payer constituency. "A defining feature of U.S. health-care policy is that most Americans get insurance through their employers. That has frustrated liberals' attempts to rally voters behind Obamacare's modest reforms, let alone the single-payer model that works so well in most developed countries: The average person has no incentive to support changes that might jeopardize their situation. But judging by the trend of the past few years, Americans with job-based coverage could soon become a minority." Bloomberg View.
3. In case you missed it
The Supreme Court will hear another case on gay marriage. "The crucial unresolved question, of course, is whether marriage for gays is a 'constitutional guarantee' that would trump a state's right to limit marriage to heterosexual couples." The Economist.
The Fed isn't blinking. "Federal Reserve officials are staying on track to start raising short-term interest rates later this year, even though long-term rates are going in the other direction amid new investor worries about weak global growth, falling oil prices and slowing consumer price inflation. The Fed's stance, as it prepares for a policy meeting later this month, is striking because European Central Bank officials are poised to take the opposite approach later this week." Jon Hilsenrath and Brian Blackstone in The Wall Street Journal.
The Food and Drug Administration approves a "biosimilar," a type of drug that will open a new class of medicines to generic competition. "While traditional generic drugs have long been commonplace in America, the health-care industry and regulators are still battling over the guidelines for biosimilars. The decisions they make will ultimately affect how broadly these drugs — on the market for the past decade in Europe and elsewhere — will be available in the United States and just how much of the billions of dollars in expected savings will eventually materialize." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.