Ted Cruz takes flight
Logic, thy name is not Ted Cruz. The very junior senator from Texas is a well-credentialed windbag, with degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law, and a stint clerking at the Supreme Court. After a few months in Congress promoting Ted Cruz, smartest guy in the room, it looks as if he now wants to be Ted Cruz, extremely obnoxious president. But he keeps saying things that make no sense.
There he was, earlier this month, writing in opposition to a bill that would allow cash-strapped states to tax Internet sales. It passed by a bipartisan majority in the Senate, which is like saying Newt Gingrich just climbed Mount Everest.
“And, how is it fair for a Texas business to collect taxes to support California Gov. Jerry Brown’s big spending? Or to underwrite New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s nanny statism or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s anti-Second Amendment agenda?”
Perhaps it’s not fair, but neither is it a mandatory requirement of the bill. The Marketplace Fairness Act would allow consumers to buy local, and keep the taxes local, should they wish. Isn’t that what Republicans want? I mean, outside of trying to repeal the 20th century.
It’s clear that Cruz can’t stand California, Illinois or New York and all they represent. Fine. But let’s say the Internet sales tax bill becomes law, and Cruz is sitting at home in Houston, doing some online shopping. While buying the latest weapon accessories, he could support Texas values and purchase only from Texas-based retailers, thus ensuring that Texas taxes continue to be spent on their usual things — everything but regulatory oversight of industrial polluters. Wow: choice!
Now, should his wandering shopper’s eye drift toward some product that comes from one of the evil blue states, he would indeed have to contribute in a small way to the welfare of non-Texans. This happens every day, of course, on a huge scale, with the distribution of federal tax dollars throughout the United States, all 50 of them.
Just to take the Cruz argument to its, um, logical end, you should be pretty upset if you live in New York, California or Illinois right now, because you keep afloat dozens of Republican states. New Yorkers pay far more in federal tax dollars than they get back in federal spending. Between 1990 and 2009, taxpayers in New York state transferred out $950 billion to the rest of the country in federal taxes, according to The Economist.
That money went to keep states like Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia and Arkansas from further hardship. Still, even though New Yorkers subsidized the states closest to the political values of Ted Cruz, you never heard much complaining about how it’s unfair to support the gun-toting culture of the South, or underwrite its chronic disregard for the poor, the environment and those without health insurance. For that matter, “how is it fair” that tax dollars from Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago are underwriting Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where dozens of recruits say they were sexually harassed and raped by their instructors?
You pay taxes, but you don’t get to pick and choose how they are spent. Cruz knows this. He also has to know that Republican governors like Bob McDonnell of Virginia support the Internet sales tax bill, because it will pay for needed transportation projects and allow the state to forgo a gas tax hike. The bill is endorsed by the National Governors Association — where Republicans hold a majority — because the states lost out on an estimated $26 billion in sales taxes last year alone.
The National Retail Federation also favors the Internet sales tax bill. To them, it’s a matter of simple fairness. A brick and mortar store, selling the same product as a Web-based retailer, pays taxes that the competitor can avoid. “This collective disparity,” the organization wrote in support of the bill “has tilted the competitive landscape against local stores, creating a crisis for brick and mortar retailers around the country.”
Helping fellow Republicans govern, or small businesses prosper, is clearly not part of the grand design of Ted Cruz. His job is to say outrageous things and hope that enough people consider him a maverick for his outbursts. But shouldn’t a man with his self-proclaimed intellectual prowess at least try to be consistent? You would think that someone born in Calgary, Alberta, to a father who is an immigrant from Cuba would reach out to the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country. Instead he put his marker down last week: Under no circumstances would he support a path to citizenship for those living in the shadows.
Cruz probably doesn’t mind the title that’s been hung on him: most hated man in the Senate. I suspect he also relishes being called a “wacko bird” (John McCain’s term) because, for now, it’s the avian wing that dominates his party.
Timothy Egan is a columnist for The New York Times.