The year-long journey begins, in earnest, tomorrow.
Happy New Year. See you on the flip side.
For the second week in a row, the Senate on Thursday voted down proposals to extend the payroll tax holiday through next year. In the case of the Democrats' proposal, Republicans objected to the "millionaires surtax" that would be used to pay for it.
Ever since the idea of the surtax was introduced weeks ago, Republicans in Congress have railed against it, arguing that it is a direct hit on small-business owners and other job creators.
INTERJECTION: Let’s disregard the bipartisan bill introduced this week that included this important point, as noted by one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME): “Our bipartisan plan is fully paid for with a two percent surtax on those who earn $1 million or more a year, but - and this is critical - with a carve-out to protect small business owner/operators.”
The argument is that many small-business owners report company profits on their individual taxes because of the way their businesses are structured. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., says the surtax would hurt their ability to hire.
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota says the "millionaires surtax" would hurt small-business owners' ability to hire new workers.
"It's just intuitive that, you know, if you're somebody who's in business and you get hit with a tax increase, it's going to be that much harder, I think, to make investments that are going to lead to job creation," says Thune.
We wanted to talk to business owners who would be affected. So, NPR requested help from numerous Republican congressional offices, including House and Senate leadership. They were unable to produce a single millionaire job creator for us to interview.
So we went to the business groups that have been lobbying against the surtax. Again, three days after putting in a request, none of them was able to find someone for us to talk to. A group called the Tax Relief Coalition said the problem was finding someone willing to talk about their personal taxes on national radio.
So next we put a query on Facebook. And several business owners who said they would be affected by the "millionaires surtax" responded.
"It's not in the top 20 things that we think about when we're making a business hire," said Ian Yankwitt, who owns Tortoise Investment Management.
Tortoise is a boutique investment firm in White Plains, N.Y. Yankwitt has 10 employees and in recent years has done a lot of hiring.
As a result, Yankwitt says he's had many conversations about hiring, "both with respect to specific people, with respect to whether we should hire one junior person or two, whether we should hire a senior person."
He says his ultimate marginal tax rate "didn't even make it on the agenda."
Yankwitt says deciding to bring on another employee is all about return on investment. Will adding another person to the payroll make his company more successful?
For Jason Burger, the motivation is similar.
"If my taxes go up, I have slightly less disposable income, yes," said Burger, co-owner of CSS International Holdings, a global infrastructure contractor. "But that has nothing to do with what my business does. What my business does is based on the contracts that it wins and the demand for its services."
Burger says his Michigan-based company is hiring like crazy, and he'd be perfectly willing to pay the surtax.
"It's only fair that I put back into the system that is the entire reason for my success," said Burger.
For the record, both Burger and Yankwitt have made campaign contributions to Democrats in the past, but they say their views on the surtax are about the economics of their businesses and not their politics.
And they're not alone.
"I, like any other American, especially a business owner, I want to make as much money as I can and I want to keep as much money in my pocket as I can, but I also believe in the greater good," says Deborah Schwarz, who owns LAC Group, an information management firm with offices nationwide and in London.
Surtax or no, Schwarz says she hopes to keep hiring.
"We're going to keep on writing proposals, going after contracts, hopefully winning them, and when we do we're going to continue to hire people," says Schwarz.
All of this contradicts the arguments about job creators being made by Republicans in Congress.
"Those I would say were exceptions to the rule," responds Thune. "I think most small-business owners who are out there right now would argue that raising their taxes has the opposite effect that we would want to have in a down economy."
But those small-business owners apparently don't want to talk.
I read this a few weeks back and wanted to write about it here. But life kept getting in the way, and then I had to return it to the library, and I figured – well, that was just a missed opportunity. But this is, in my opinion, such an important work that I need to at least put something down regarding it here.
I followed the news stories when Katrina hit back in 2005. I was as horrified as the next person by the facts that trickled out of New Orleans. I paid attention, as best I could, and read and watched as much as I could about this disaster. And maybe that’s why I held off on reading this for so long. I worried it might be too dry or might offer little that I didn’t already know. I’m not sure. But, I have to say, I am very glad I finally read A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge.
Josh Neufeld’s book recounting how six lives were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina is incredibly moving. He humanizes this tragedy in a way that only the best news stories were able to do. Thanks to the people spotlighted by Neufeld – from an Iranian-American store owner to a well-off, altruistic doctor – readers are afforded the opportunity to experience a variety of viewpoints within New Orleans leading up to, during, and after Katrina hits.
I was surprised how quick a read this was, which is not to slight it in the least. I think it’s a testament to Neufeld’s ability that this is such a complete story and includes so much detail of these victims’ lives. Neufeld boils things down to their basic components. His clean, detailed artwork combined with economical dialogue manages to convey all that is needed for his audience to be engaged by the narrative.
I wish I could speak more specifically to this book. But I apologize; I can’t.
But I can say that once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop. If I hadn’t needed to go to work the morning I opened it up, I probably would have finished it in one sitting. As it was, I finished it that night after I was done with work and dinner and putting out son to bed. A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge was a terribly affecting, well-written, beautifully drawn book. And it is one that any fan of the medium – or any “feeling” person – should make the time to read some day. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.