Republicans have been preoccupied for much of the year with those Americans who don’t make enough money to qualify for a federal income tax burden. Some are working-class families who fall below the tax threshold; some are unemployed; some are students; and some are retired. These Americans still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes, but not federal income taxes.
This, apparently, annoys the right to no end. It’s why all kinds of Republican officials — including Mitt Romney and Rick Perry — want to “fix” what they see as a “problem,” even if it means raising taxes on those who can least afford it.
This argument is even manifesting itself in a new “movement” of sorts, intended to respond to progressive activists calling for economic justice.
Conservative activists have created a Tumblr called “We are the 53 percent” that’s meant to be a counterpunch to the viral “We are the 99 percent” site that’s become a prominent symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t. “We are the 53 percent” was originally the brainchild of Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, who worked together with Josh Trevino, communications director for the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson to develop the concept, according to Trevino.
The overriding message is that the protesters have failed to take personal responsibility, blaming their economic troubles on others.
There are all kinds of problems with the right’s approach here, including the fact that they seem to want to increase working-class taxes and also seem entirely unaware of the fact that it was Republican tax cuts that pushed so many out of income-tax eligibility in the first place. There’s also the small matter of some of those claiming to be in “the 53 percent” aren’t actually shouldering a federal income tax burden at all, but are apparently unaware of that fact.
But putting that aside, take a look at Erick Erickson’s argument, presented in a hand-written message posted to the Tumblr blog: “I work three jobs. I have a house I can’t sell. My family insurance costs are outrageous. But I don’t blame Wall Street. Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”
Just for heck of it, let’s take this one at a time.
The very idea that Erickson works “three jobs” is rather foolish.
Blaming financial industry corruption and mismanagement for Erickson’s troubles selling his house is actually quite reasonable.
If Erickson’s reference to “family insurance costs” is in reference to health care premiums, he’ll be glad to know the Affordable Care Act passed, and includes all kinds of breaks for small businesses like his.
And the notion that victims of a global economic collapse, who are seeking some relief from a system stacked in favor of the wealthy, are “whiners” is so blisteringly stupid, it amazes me someone would present the argument in public.
If there are any actual “whiners” in this scenario, shouldn’t the label go to millionaires who shudder at the idea of paying Clinton-era tax rates?
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, October 11, 2011
Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly boasted the other day that he enjoys “more power than anybody other than the president.”
Apparently, though, this rather extraordinary degree of influence over national affairs isn’t quite enough for the conservative media personality. In fact, O’Reilly is so concerned about his potential tax burden under the “Buffett Rule,” he told his television audience last night he might just quit working altogether.
“I must tell you I want the feds to get more revenue. I don’t want to starve them as some people do. We need a robust military, a good transportation system and protections all over the place.
“But if you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in. Again, let’s take me. My corporations employ scores of people. They depend on me to do what I do so they can make a nice salary. If Barack Obama begins taxing me more than 50 percent, which is very possible, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I like my job but there comes a point when taxation becomes oppressive. Is the country really entitled to half a person’s income?”
In case anyone’s interested in the relevant details, let’s clarify a few things.
First, we don’t know if President Obama is eyeing a top rate of 50%, and even if he did, the likelihood of congressional passage would be roughly zero.
Second, a top rate of 50% does not mean O’Reilly would lose “half” his income. I know this can seem a little complicated, but that’s just not how marginal tax rates work.
And third, a 50% top rate for millionaires and billionaires would be a departure from the recent past, but to describe it as “oppressive” is to forget much of the 20th century.
In Ronald Reagan’s first term, for example, the top rate was — you guessed it — 50%. Did Reagan’s “oppressive” tax rates prevent robust economic growth? Did “the achievers” decide to “pack it in”? No and no.
For nearly all of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, the top rate was 91%. That’s not a typo. Did this Republican president’s “oppressive” tax policy prevent the U.S. economy from growing in the 1950s? Apparently not.
That said, if O’Reilly is contemplating retirement to avoid helping America pay its bills, I’m not inclined to discourage him.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 20, 2011
Over the weekend, the White House leaked word that President Obama will push a new debt-reduction idea: the “Buffett Rule.” Named after Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, who’s been urging policymakers to raise taxes on the very wealthy. As Buffett recently explained, millionaires and billionaires “have been coddled long enough.”
We don’t yet know the details of the proposal — most notably, what the new millionaires’ minimum tax rate would be — but Republicans are already responding with predictable disgust.
Here, for example, was House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) yesterday on Fox News, making the case for coddling millionaires and billionaires for a while longer. See if you can pick up on the subtlety of his talking points.
“Class warfare, Chris, may make for really good politics but it makes a rotten economics. We don’t need a system that seeks to divide people. […]
“[I]t looks like the president wants to move down the class warfare path. Class warfare will simply divide this country more. It will attack job creators, divide people and it doesn’t grow the economy. […]
“[I]f we are just going to do class warfare and trying to get tax increases out of this, and I don’t think much will come of it…. He’s in a political class warfare mode and campaign mode.”
So, I guess I’ll put him down as a “maybe” on the Buffett Rule?
By any reasonable measure, Ryan’s arguments aren’t just wrong, they’re borderline offensive.
For a generation, Republican policymakers have rigged national tax policy to reward the wealthy, and then reward them some more. We’ve seen the class gap reach Gilded Era levels, only to hear GOP officials again demand that working families “sacrifice” while lavishing more breaks on the very wealthy.
Remind me, who’s engaged in “class warfare” and “dividing people”?
Also note the larger policy context here. President Obama wants the richest of the rich to pay a little more, but keep tax breaks in place for the middle class. Paul Ryan and his cohorts want the polar opposite — more breaks for the very wealthy and higher taxes for the middle class.
Let’s also not forget that one of the GOP’s more common tax-policy arguments is that nearly half the country doesn’t have any federal income tax burden — and they see that as a problem that needs fixing. As a practical matter, the Republican argument on this is practically the definition of “class warfare.”
I realize much of the political establishment has come to look at Paul Ryan as a wise wonk who deserves to be taken seriously, but it really doesn’t take much to realize how spectacularly wrong the far-right Wisconsinite really is.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 19, 2011
One wonders why Congress convened its budget-reforming “supercommittee” at all; House Speaker John Boehner (R) on Thursday announced that he’d done all its members’ work for them.
At a speech to the Economic Club of Washington, Boehner articulated a hard-right line on taxes that even the most moderate of Democrats could never accept. Remove loopholes from the tax code, he argued, but “not for the purpose of bringing more money into the government.” Tax increases? Not a chance — they “are off the table,” Boehner said, repeating the dubious argument that planning to raise revenue many years down the road would hurt job creation now. If you’re looking for deficit reduction, Boehner barked, “the joint committee only has one option — spending cuts and entitlement reform.”
A new Bloomberg poll on Thursday reconfirmed voter anger at Washington’s inability to compromise — on budgets, on jobs policy, on long-term deficits. On the same day, the speaker gave a lesson by example of why it’s been so hard.
True, Boehner’s speech followed news that President Obama is scaling back the entitlement reforms he would favor in a long-term budget reform package, retreating from concessions he was willing to make over the summer to strike a debt deal. Both sides, then, are hardening their positions. But Obama’s remains politically braver than Boehner’s, since the president says he still wants to achieve some balance between raising revenue and cutting spending through reforms to Medicare, the protection of which Democrats are desperate to use as a campaign issue.
That is the key to deficit-cutting, drilled home in study after study: You can’t expect to fix America’s finances with tax increases alone or with spending cuts alone. Plans that lack this essential balance would fail either because their math doesn’t add up (the GOP’s Ryan plan) or because they would be reversed the second the other party took control of the government (the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s proposal…and the Ryan plan).
A deficit plan must also be balanced in another way — against premature budget austerity while the economy is sluggish, which Obama designed his latest jobs plan to avoid. Boehner said on Thursday there might be room for limited agreement with Obama. But not much, signalling disapproval of even the sorts of temporary tax cuts that would have been an obvious choice for Republicans for decades — until now.
Boehner might just be gearing up for further negotiations. But the speaker’s demonstration that he and his party are still in thrall to the ideological fantasies he described on Thursday aren’t going to enhance Americans’ confidence — in their leaders, or in their economic future.
By: Stephen Stromberg, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011