Published: Saturday 28 July 2012
It's truly unbelievable: At no time in modern memory has the privileged class been richer, the middle class more endangered, or the number of people in poverty been so high. And yet the Republican Party, whose leaders are overwhelmingly wealthy themselves, is openly and shamelessly proposing to give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires - including heirs and heiresses who have done nothing to earn their riches - while actually raising taxes on millions of poor and middle class people.
There will be a time to engage in argument. But first let's take a moment to gaze in wonder at the nakedness of their greed.
Okay, moment's up. Now it's time for the argument.
In Plain Sight
Yesterday the Senate voted on a Democratic proposal to extend the Bush-era tax breaks for all income below $250,000 per year. Everybody would get that tax break, even billionaires. Taxes would go up for anything earned above that amount, and for some kinds of investment income. The bill would also preserve a number of tax breaks for middle class and lower-income working people.
Forty-eight Senators voted against the Democratic bill. Forty-four of them then promptly voted for the Republican proposal, which would keep the Bush tax cut for earnings above $250,000 - a cut which provides greater and greater tax breaks as you climb the earnings scale toward "millionaire" status and eventually ascend to the rarefied atmosphere of the billionaires' club.
They didn't even try to hide what they were doing. They didn't bury it in loopholes, or under pages of indecipherable legal language. They just ... put it all out there.
This is a stick-up.
The GOP bill would actually increase the average tax bill for 25 million households who earn less than $250,000. The Republican proposal would also end the Tuition Tax Credit, raise the "marriage penalty" (hey, welcome to our world, gay newlyweds!), and increase the tax burden for working families with kids.
Put up your hands, Mr. and Ms. America. This is a stick-up.
Bill Scher notes that the Senators who voted to raise taxes on the poor and the middle class while cutting them for the wealthy, then rejected the bill that extends tax cuts for the middle class alone, were now on record as believing that "the rich pay too much and the poor pay too little in taxes."
For his part, Senator Joe Lieberman voted neither nor against the Democratic bill, officially placing himself on record as believing that "nonpartisanship" consists of standing for absolutely nothing.
Class Warfare Against Our Children
The Republicans want to impose these new tax burdens on the struggling middle class while giving an average cut of $160,000 in income and estate tax cuts for households that earn a million dollars or more. And if those households earn a billion or more, the breaks could run into tens of millions annually.
But tax deductions so a working family can send their kids to college, which is already all but impossible? No can do. Perhaps they feel that parents who want a better life for their kids should "know their place" instead.
The Republican proposal for taxable estates doesn't change life for ordinary households but, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities documents, rich kids inheriting their parents' money would receive an average $1.1 million in tax breaks - while parents working to support their children or put them through college would pay more.
The GOP proposal is nothing less than an all-out assault on any but the wealthiest children, closing the door to every struggling generation's dream of a better life. It's enough to leave a guy speechless.
Embarrassment of Riches
Sure, they try to justify their actions, but it can't be done. It's actually embarrassing to watch them struggle to cover the nakedness of their greed with rhetorical fig leaves. "Only [our plan] is aimed at helping the economy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "Only ours is meant to help struggling Americans in the midst of an historic jobs crisis."
Dear Sen. McConnell:
As the young people reportedly say nowadays: Please, girlfriend.
A Concerned Citizen
But the truly cynical hack du jour is Sen. Orrin Hatch. His ploy is a bill called the "Tax Hike Prevention Act of 2013," which (get this) doesn't prevent tax hikes - unless you're rich, that is. Instead it ends the payroll tax "holiday" which (although it was a bad way to get tax relief for non-millionaires) is a "tax hike" according to every other Republican use of the term.
Ezra Klein points us to this language:
"The increased spending through the tax code from the partisan 2009 stimulus law (ARRA) is not included in the amendment."
What that means in plain English is that the Hatch "Tax Hike Prevention Act" takes away the Tuition Tax Credit, marriage-penalty relief, and other badly needed breaks for working families and individuals.
War is Peace. Love is Hate. Spending is ... oh, forget it.
That language in Hatch's bill employs some Orwellian phraseology you'll be hearing a lot in the next few months - mostly from the GOP, but also from right-leaning Democrats. In their Craven New World, tax deductions selectively become "increased spending" - or even more scabrously, "increased stimulus spending."
Hatch's spokesperson compacted all of this doublespeak into a single phrase, saying that the middle-class and lower-income deductions they tried to kill today were really "expanded stimulus spending through the tax code." That's supposed to sound really, really bad.
What about their reasoning? What logic could Hatch, McConnell, and the rest of the GOP possibly be using to justify this expansion of the historically low levels of taxes paid by the wealthy - now that they're collectively wealthier than they've been in many generations and while the nation's struggling through such hard times?
So they're defending their tax cuts for the wealthy by saying they will a) create jobs, and b) foster economic recovery. You know what that makes them? Right: By their own definition, what the Republicans are proposing is "expanded stimulus spending through the tax code."
Despite their rhetoric, Republicans aren't always against a stimulus. It all depends on who you're, ahem, "stimulating."
Okay. So we know that the entire "stimulus spending through the tax code" argument is a phony, a fake, a rhetorical dodge that's an insult to voters' intelligence. We also know that justification for it has repeatedly been disproven, in the most ruthless and accurate court of economic judgment known to humanity: reality.
You don't need a lot of econometric modeling to prove it, either All it takes is one simple question: We've had these cuts for ten years, so where are the jobs?
Joshua Picker notes that "during the economic cycle that began in March 2001 and ended in December of 2007 --which almost exactly coincides with the Bush presidency and the implementation of the Bush tax cuts ... registered the weakest jobs and income growth in the post-war period."
Tax cuts on the wealthy didn't create any jobs - not before the financial crisis brought on by deregulation, and certainly not since. The Republicans, like the Democrats, are proposing "stimulus spending through the tax code." They're just proposing the kind that doesn't work.
A Novel Way to Give People Jobs
That leads us to what would be the next logical question - that is, if we really were engaged in logical debate rather than shameless pandering: Accepting Hatch's figure of $36 billion in revenue, how might we spend that money in a way that would create jobs? There's one approach that's worked every time: We could use it to create jobs.
That's right: One sure way to increase employment is by hiring people. And in a happy coincidence, the kinds of jobs which government can provide are exactly the kinds of jobs we need right now: Teachers. Cops. Firefighters. Construction workers to rebuild our crumbling public infrastructure.
For all the needless misery we're experiencing, the solution is beautiful in its simplicity. And that solution isn't just obvious - it's proven. It worked after the Great Depression, it worked after World War II - in fact, it's always worked.
We Are the 0.99 Percent
Instead, the GOP's proposing a plan that would benefit our 2,100,000 highest earning households, while shafting about 25 million others. The American Prospect tells us who loses under their proposal, and it isn't pretty.
On the flip side, the GOP deal gets better and better as you look at households that are higher and higher up the income ladder. A family earning $251,000 in taxable income probably wouldn't even break even, while one earning $350,000 might save a few hundred dollars.
But a household earning a billion dollars a year could save tens of millions under the GOP plan.
Which gets us to another under recognized fact: Even the 1 percent suffer from income inequality. As the CBPP also notes, the GOP's estate tax breaks are targeted to the top 0.3 percent of inheritances - while many working or poor families leave no estate at all. The Republicans know who really greases their wheels, and it ain't the local neurosurgeon pulling down a few hundred thousand.
When you're talking about pay-to-play politics, the real money is with ... the real money.
F For Effort
Everybody, including billionaires, gets a tax break under the Democratic proposal. Maybe the Republicans don't like the fact that that a billionaire's break isn't any larger than that of someone who makes $250,000. Maybe the fairness irritates them. Or maybe they don't want the hoi polloi to get uppity. Nah, that's not it: You'll find the explanation for their behavior under "real money," above.
As we were saying: They're not even trying to hide it anymore.
I miss the old days, when hack politicians at least felt the need to give voters a decent cover story for their chicanery. After all, if they're going to stick it to us, the least they can do is put a little effort into misleading us. C'mon, guys, show a little more courtesy! You're not even trying to fake it.
There used to be a saying: "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullish*t." But apparently even that's too much effort nowadays. In this post-Citizens United world you can just have Sheldon Adelson write another check instead.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
What do you call a political party that doesn't hide its own corruption - the "Marie Antoinette Party," for "let them eat cake"? Apparently Marie Antoinette never said those words, so that's out. The "Butlers and Valets Party," since they're acting as foot servants and toadies to the ultra-wealthy? Do you reassign the "GOP" acronym so that it stands for "Greed On Parade"?
I admit it: I'm almost at a loss for words. And since words are a big part of how I make my living, that would be an occupational disability. Oh, and that reminds me: They want to cut disability payments too. It's part of their plan to cut Social Security, whose benefits go to children and the disabled as well as seniors. And while we're at it, let's not forget that they want to slash away at Medicare with a flim-flam voucher plan.
Sorry, Gramps, say the Republicans, but we've gotta find the money for the rich kids's tax break somewhere. Try not to cough on the carpet as you find your way out. I'd see you to the door myself, but Master's in the study ringing his bell.
GOP to America: Suck it up, small fry, while we serve our lords and lieges their afternoon tea and biscuits tax cuts.
Minority Leader McConnell refrained from his typical obstructionist filibustering this week and allowed a floor vote on the Democratic tax proposal. "The American people should know where we stand," said McConnell. "Today they will."
Congratulations, Senator: Mission accomplished. Now it's the House's turn.
Do you hear that sound, Mr. Boehner? Somewhere deep within in a stately mansion, a person of great wealth and privilege is ringing a bell. Don't even bother asking that ancient question, because in this case we already know the answer:
It tolls for thee.