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“Mitt’s 13% Tax”: Romney’s Embodiment Of The Principle Of Equal Sacrifice

Mitt Romney says “every year I’ve paid at least 13 percent [of my income in taxes] and if you add in addition the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent.”

This is supposed to be in defense of not releasing his tax returns.

Assume, for the sake of the argument, he’s telling the truth. Since when are charitable contributions added to income taxes when judging whether someone has paid his fair share?

More to the point, Romney admits to an income of over $20 million a year for the last several decades. Which makes his 13 percent — or even 20 percent — violate the principle of equal sacrifice that lies at the core of our notion of tax fairness.

Even Adam Smith, the 18th century guru of free-market conservatives, saw the wisdom of a graduated tax embodying the principle of equal sacrifice. “The rich should contribute to the public expense,” he wrote, “not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in proportion.”

Equal sacrifice means that in paying taxes people ought to feel about the same degree of pain regardless of whether they’re wealthy or poor. Logically, this means someone earning $20 million a year should pay a much larger proportion of his income in taxes than someone earning $200,000, who in turn should pay a larger proportion than someone earning $50,000.

But Romney’s alleged 13 percent tax rate is lower than that of most middle class Americans who earn a tiny fraction of what he earns.

At a time when poverty is increasing, when public parks and public libraries are being closed and when public schools are shrinking their offerings and their hours, when the nation’s debt is immense, and when the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together — Romney’s 13 percent is shameful.

 

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, August 17, 2012

August 19, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eric Cantor’s Slick Upper Lip: “I Want What I Want When I Want it”

Eric Cantor has perfected the strategic sneer.

It comes, frequently, when he answers a reporter’s question about something President Obama has said: The House majority leader’s lip curls up on the left side and a look of disgust washes over his face. This week, he has been coupling the sneer with lines such as:

“How in the world can you even accept that notion?”

And, “That is laughable on its face.”

And, “That doesn’t make sense. . . . That again is just nonsensical.”

And, “Come on — let us think about this.”

Cantor, who is establishing himself as the lead GOP negotiator with the White House as the Aug. 2 default deadline approaches, is answering calls for compromise with contempt. He shook his fist during a news conference Tuesday and said that Obama’s thinking is “unfathomable to me.” To Obama’s complaint that the wealthy are not sharing in the budget sacrifice, he scoffed: “There is plenty of so-called shared sacrifice.” Asked about Obama’s belief that people like him should pay more in taxes, Cantor retorts: “You know what? He can write a check any time he wants.”

He draws out the vowels in a style that is part southern, part smarty-pants. Had young Cantor spoken like this at his prep school in Richmond, the bigger boys may well have wiped that sneer off his face. Yet even then, Cantor was accustomed to having things his way. According to Cantor’s hometown Richmond Times-Dispatch, the quotation he chose to accompany his yearbook photo was “I want what I want when I want it.”

What Cantor wants now is power — and he is prepared to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to get it. In a primacy struggle with House Speaker John Boehner, he has done a deft job of aligning himself with Tea Party House members in opposition to any meaningful deal to resolve the debt. If the U.S. government defaults, it will have much to do with Cantor.

He pulled out of debt-limit talks with Vice President Biden. He shot down the outline of a compromise that Boehner attempted to negotiate. Now Cantor has essentially taken over talks with the White House, and he has tamped down any hint of conciliation.

On Monday, Boehner hinted that he could accept a tax-reform deal that brought “additional revenues to the federal government” — and his spokesman confirmed that the proposal would be “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office as increasing tax revenue. But Cantor was having none of it: “We are not raising taxes, so it has to be net revenue neutral.”

Cantor’s aides say he is merely reflecting his caucus. But Cantor, a veteran of a decade in the Capitol, surely knows that he is jettisoning the last chance in the next couple of years to make a serious dent in the national debt. The White House has so far offered up a tantalizing array of concessions — $4 trillion in budget cuts and overhauls of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – but Cantor has yet to offer anything but sneers.

He flashed the trademark facial expression even before taking his seat at a Monday news conference. Asked whether he would offer any concessions, Cantor responded by saying that the cuts he demanded from the White House were in fact concessions by him, too. “Nobody relishes the opportunity to go and cut these programs,” said the creator of the YouCut Web site that made budget-cutting into an online game. Cantor further said that it was a concession merely to avoid a government default.

The search for a Cantor concession continued. “In terms of shared sacrifice across the country, do you see that one as necessary?”

Cantor swung his arm over his chair back and raised his upper lip. “I think behind this notion of ‘We want shared sacrifice’ that they continue to say means, ‘We want to raise taxes,’ ” he said.

Claiming that there have been “concessions made already” by his side, Cantor was pressed to name some of them. “I don’t want to get into specifics now,” he said.

Leaving a House Republican caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Cantor approached the microphones, flashed the cameras a good-morning sneer and demanded to know “why in the world” Obama wants to increase taxes.

NBC’s Luke Russert asked what “sacred cows” Cantor would be willing to sacrifice. Cantor repeated his denunciation of Obama’s tax policy.

“Where do the Republicans feel pain here, though?” Russert persisted.

After a long and contemptuous day, the majority leader probably feels it most in his upper lip.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 12, 2011

July 13, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Unemployed, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Don’t Have A Spending Problem, We Have A Fraud Problem

Conservatives seem to have a knack for changing the subject whenever their backs are up against the wall. Over the last several weeks, there has been an orchestrated chorus  by the House Republicans in particular to define the so-called “deficit problem” in terms of a wild spending binge by the federal government and the Obama administration. They seem to have easily forgotten who got us into this mess in the first place. That aside, everyone from Speaker John Boehner to Sen Mitch McConnell have been bellowing throughout the halls of Congress and at every available microphone that “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”.

It’s amazing how we all have bought into this line. The media, in its usual rush to get a headline or sound bite, immediately picked up this line and has been the waterboys for the GOP by enabling this hoax on the American people. The focus in most circles has been on spending cuts. Well, we need to re-characterize what is actually going on here. We don’t have a spending problem..we have a fraud problem.

This fraud has been played on the American people by an ideologically depraved Republican party for at least the last ten years. They have made everybody believe that if we just make the wealthy wealthier, somewhere down the road, we will all benefit. There would be job creation with full employment, small businesses would thrive, home prices would fall, gas would cost less than two dollars a gallon and there would be a chicken in every pot. And we believed it hook, line and sinker. Now we are back to square one. None of these things have happened except the fact that we have indeed made the wealthy wealthier. In 2010,  the 400 Americans with the highest adjusted gross revenue incomes averaged $345 million. The average federal income tax was 17%, down from 26% in 1992. The income gap just keeps getting wider. Why  does this continue to happen? Because we let it happen.

Just last week, Standard and Poor’s accentuated the Republican clarion that the sky is falling. This call comes from the same S&P who supported every toxic waste subprime security under the sky, the same S&P  who sold its ratings to the highest bidder. Regulators have also assisted the GOP in their fraud. The Office of the Currency has gone out of its way to protect its clients, ie the banks. Efforts to reign in the banks and stop their predatory loan practices have been foiled at every turn. Even the banks are too big to fail. Profits for banks, corporations, CEO’s, Wall St and the wealthy just keep soaring. There is a lot of back scratching going on here, by and for a lot of wealthy people.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, all of these wealthy people are trying to figure out a way to take the spot light off themselves. They are beginning to see that they may not be able to stave off demands any longer that they pay their fare share. People who have been adversely affected for so many years are now demanding that this fraud be stopped. Teachers and other low wage earners, the poor, seniors, students and union members have all come to believe that they have sacrificed enough. Even some tea party members are beginning to see the light.

For too many years, the Republicans and their wealthy friends have had their hands in everybody’s pockets. Your pocket was the revenue stream for them. General Electric and the Koch Brothers were probably happier than anyone. The Republicans were also happy because their happy friends provided the cover that allows them to do whatever they want to in terms of policy. Being the ideologues that they are, this protection gives them unimpeded opportunity to push forward with their agenda, from dissolving women’s rights, overturning the Affordable Care Act, union busting, replacing Medicare with vouchers and completely eliminating any sense of environmental protection just to name a few. With happy and contented wealthy backers behind you for so many years, how could you go wrong. My, how things are changing.

The revenue stream that the Republicans have depended on for so long is now drying up…that stream is you. They are finding that when they put their hands in your pockets now, they are feeling the seam of the sewn pocket. There just isn’t any more money there. They become flushed and filled with extreme panic, finally realizing that they are going to have their taxes raised after all these years. Their backs are against the wall. So what do they do now? Change the debate..”Let’s raise taxes on everybody”. Nice try!

It’s well past time that shared sacrifice mean exactly what it says. It is no longer acceptable that the poor, under privileged, seniors and the disenfranchised continue to carry the load for corporations, Wall St and their deadbeat tax-evading friends. No, let’s not raise taxes on everybody. Let’s end the fraud and insist that the wealthy start paying taxes just like everyone else. This being Easter Sunday, this may be a good symbolic time to increase taxes only for the rich. We should leave that rate in place for oh say, the next 40 years. Besides, they have accumulated a fair amount of wealth over the years and should easily be able to live off that profit during that time. Perhaps take a trip or two or just wander around the world enjoying their spoils. We will pledge to re-visit this issue after that time. If, and only if,  the middle class has reached a level playing field, then we can talk about lowering the tax rate for the wealthy. I think Moses and the Pharaoh’s would be happy with this compromise.  So it is written, so let it be done.

By: raemd95, mykeystrokes.com, April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Banks, Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Equal Rights, Federal Budget, Foreclosures, General Electric, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Journalists, Koch Brothers, Labor, Lawmakers, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Press, Public, Pundits, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Standard and Poor's, Tax Increases, Taxes, Tea Party, Unemployed, Unions, Wall Street, Wealthy, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yes, Paul Ryan Does Cut Taxes For The Rich

A number of conservatives have asserted that, contrary to what I’ve written, the House Republican budget written by Paul Ryan does not cut taxes for high earners. (See John McCormack, Ramesh Ponnuru, Charles Krauthammer, and McCormack again quoting Ryan.) Here’s the argument. Ryan keeps overall tax levels the same as they are right now by making the tax cuts permanent. He would then reduce the corporate tax rate and the top income tax rate by ten percentage points, from 35% to 25%. But he would make up for that additional revenue loss by closing “loopholes and deductions,” many of which benefit the rich. Therefore, his plan doesn’t really cut taxes on the rich.

There are four problems with this claim, each of them fatal.

First, the argument simply reflects a legitimate difference in baselines. Under current law, the Bush tax cuts are in full effect, but expire at the end of 2012. Keep Bush-era tax levels in place is not a tax cut compared with the tax code now, but it is a tax cut compared with the tax code in 2013. Which is the true baseline? I think both sides have a point, and Congressional scorekeepers have taken to using both baselines.

When President Obama accuses Ryan of cutting taxes for the rich, he’s using the post-2012 baseline. I consider that the best point of reference because the most important force in our political system is inertia. Given our multiple veto points, it takes great effort to enact a policy change that the parties disagree upon. Ryan proposes to make that change. Therefore, I think it’s fair to describe him as “cutting taxes,” even if revenues did remain at present levels (which I dispute, but more on that later.) I do think there’s merit in both baselines. The argument that Obama is lying about Ryan — that calling him a tax-cutter is, in Krauthammer’s characteristically understated phrasing, “scurrilous” — rests upon the assumption that the current-policy baseline is not only more preferable but the only remotely honest point of reference. That seems like a huge stretch.

Second, even if we accept Ryan’s preferred baseline, his description of his plan is hard to accept at face value. Tax reform is a trade where you take away deductions (that’s hard) and use the money to reduce rates (that’s easy.) The rate reductions are specified. The reduced deductions aren’t. Another way to put this is that Ryan has proposed a specific tax cut that would benefit the affluent, accompanied by utterly vague promises to find offsets. At the very least, the rate-lowering portion ought to carry more weight than the deduction-closing portion.

Third, even if we accept both Ryan’s baseline and assume he will match every dollar in lost revenue from the rate cuts with another dollar in reduced deductions, he will almost certainly wind up cutting taxes for the rich relative even to the post-Bush tax code. Ryan implies that his plan would leave the rich paying the same effective tax rates as they do now because he’s “getting rid of loopholes and deductions, which by the way are enjoyed by the top [tax] rate filers, the people in the top two brackets.” But he hasn’t put out any details. In 1995, House Republicans loudly promised to promote shared sacrifice by rooting out corporate welfare in the tax code. The actual savings they produced turned out to consist of proposals that hurt the poor (by cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit), benefited business (by letting them swipe funds from employee pensions, keeping the money as profit and thus increasing corporate tax revenue), or other reverse-Robin Hood measures.

Now, Ryan was not around then. But we can get a measure of his intentions from the more specific tax plan laid out in his “Roadmap” from 2010. That plan constituted a massive tax cut for the rich, combined with a tax hike on the middle class.

The Tax Policy Center examined various proposals to reduce tax deductions while using the revenue to lower rates across the board. All the plans decreased the tax burden for the top-earning 1%. The problem is that tax deductions are just not worth as much to very rich people as low tax rates.

It’s true that the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan includes proposals that would lower rates to around 25% while increasing the effective tax rate paid by the very rich. To do that, you have to do things like raise the estate tax rate and completely eliminate the preferential treatment of capital gains. But Ryan’s budget promises instead — and this is the only specific policy commitment in its tax section, other than lowering rates — to expand the preferential treatment of income from wealth:

Raising taxes on capital is another idea that purports to affect the wealthy but actually hurts all participants in the economy. Mainstream economics, not to mention common sense, teaches that raising taxes on any activity generally results in less of it. Economics and common sense also teach that the size of a nation’s capital stock – the pool of saved money available for investment and job creation – has an effect on employment, productivity, and wages. Tax reform should promote savings and investment because more savings and more investment mean a larger stock of capital available for job creation. That means more jobs, more productivity, and higher wages for all American workers.

Fourth — almost there! — even if you reject everything I’ve written to this point, Ryan’s plan includes the repeal of all the taxes in the Affordable Care Act, including the taxes on the affluent. Here’s the Path to Prosperity’s description of health care taxes he proposes to undo:

The new law imposes a 0.9 percent surtax on wages and a 3.8 percent surtax on interest, dividends, and capital gains. Both taxes only apply to filers in the top two income brackets, but as discussed elsewhere in this section, those filers include small businesses employing millions of Americans, and the new taxes on capital will reduce the pool of capital available for investment and job creation.

There. Per Paul Ryan, these are upper-bracket taxes he proposes to lower. He could keep those taxes in effect, and cover a few of the uninsured people he throws off their coverage, or make the progressively-more-inadequate health care vouchers he uses to replace Medicare slightly less inadequate. But he chooses not to do that, because he believes it’s more important to tax capital at lower rates. It’s fine for him to believe that. But he and his defenders have to stop insisting that he doesn’t propose tax cuts for the rich. He indisputably does so.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, April 20, 2011

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Reform, Jobs, Politics, President Obama, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Uninsured, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pragmatic Policy vs Ideological Philosophy

For some time now, Democrats and Republicans alike have been yearning for a great philosophical clash between the two parties. No more of this five percent of 12 percent of the federal budget stuff. We wanted entitlements, the role of government, the obligations that the old have to the young, that the rich have to the poor, that the powerful have to the powerless.

Paul Ryan’s budget offer exactly that sort of reconstruction of the social compact. America is a very different place before his budget than it would be after his budget. But though Obama’s speech was closer to that sort of clash of visions than anything he’s offered before — he used the word “vision” 15 times, for instance — what he offered was not philosophy. It was policy. But you have to read it closely — and know where it came from — to see that.

This is difficult advice when it comes to deficit reduction, but don’t look at the number. This plan cuts $4 trillion, that plan cuts $2 trillion, that one cuts $10 trillion. Those numbers reflect little but the internal hopes and dreams of the plan. If I say that my plan means Medicare will never spend another penny and economic growth will shoot to 8 percent — and that’s only a shade less optimistic than the assumptions and models included in the Ryan budget (pdf) — I can save an almost unlimited amount of money. My number can be anything I want it to be. The problem is I actually can’t save that much money because my math is based on fantasy. So my number is meaningless.

President Obama says his plan cuts $4 trillion over 12 years. Rep. Paul Ryan says his plan cuts $4 trillion over 10 years. If you look at the numbers, the two plans appear quite similar. But if you look at how they’d get to the number, they couldn’t be more different. And it’s how you get to the number that matters, because that’s what decides whether you’ll get to the number. It’s also, incidentally, what decides the shape of our government going forward.

Ryan’s number is the product of holding the growth of Medicare and Medicaid to the rate of inflation, which is far lower than has ever been shown to be possible. How he gets there is, on Medicaid, he tells the states to figure it out, and on Medicare, he tells seniors to figure it out. Both strategies have been tried: Various states have gotten waivers to radically remake their Medicaid program, and the consumer-driven model that Ryan is proposing for Medicare has been attempted in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and Medicare Advantage. None of these programs have worked, which is why we’re in our current predicament.

Obama’s number is the product of holding Medicare growth to GDP+0.5 percent — which is, in practice, a few percentage points beyond inflation, and a few percentage points behind the health-care system’s normal rate of growth. He mostly gets there through the cost controls passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, which hope to hold Medicare to GDP+1 percent. He then proposes to shave a further half-percentage point off the growth rate by introducing value-based insurance — where we pay more for treatments that are proven to work than for treatments that are not proven to work — into Medicare and giving generic drugs quicker entry into the marketplace. These programs have worked at smaller scales and in more limited pilots. We don’t know if they’ll work across the entire Medicare system, but we have reason to think they will.

Then there are taxes. Ryan’s plan pledges to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, at a cost of at least $4 trillion over 10 years, and more after that. He’d then clean out the tax code, but he’d pump the money he made from closing expenditures back into tax cuts. Obama proposes to return to the Clinton-era tax rates on income over $250,000 and then raise a further trillion through closing tax expenditures. Altogether, that’s about $2 trillion less than letting all the Bush tax cuts expire, but at least $2 trillion more than Ryan’s plan. Notably, Obama hasn’t said which expenditures he’d close to get to $1 trillion. The difference between the two tax plans — particularly when added to Obama’s decision to cut $400 billion from security-related spending, while Ryan largely exempts that category — explains why Obama doesn’t have to make such deep cuts in programs for seniors and low-income Americans.

So are we finally getting the grand philosophical debate we wanted? Not quite. Obama spoke extensively of vision — the GOP’s, which “claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires … {while} asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill,” and his, “where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and rising opportunity for our children,” but he’s overselling it.

Obama’s budget is not philosophy. It is very similar to the Simpson-Bowles report, which attracted the votes of Republicans as far to the right as Tom Coburn. Few Democrats would say their vision of balancing the budget is one in which there was only one dollar of new taxes for every three dollars of spending cuts, but that’s what Obama’s proposal envisions. Obama’s budget, somewhat curiously, is what you’d expect at the end of a negotiation process, not the beginning. In fact, as it’s modeled off of Simpson-Bowles, it is the product of a negotiation process, as opposed to an opening bid. It is, in other words, policy. You could argue that this is a philosophy, and that philosophy is pragmatism, but I think that’s getting too cute. This is the sort of policy that might pass and might work.

Ryan’s budget is purer, but it is also more fantastical. It posits the government it wishes were possible, and the policies it wishes would work. It is an opening bid so ideological that it leaves little room for a process of negotiation. Every dollar it purports to raise comes from cutting spending. Not one comes from taxes. It privatizes Medicare and unwinds the federal government’s role in Medicaid. For all the philosophy in his budget — and his budget does have a very different philosophy about the proper role of government than we see in federal pllicy today — there’s neither policy that could pass nor policy that could work. And, curiously for a conservative who distrusts both government and congress, it has no answer to the question of “what if this fails?”

The policy that clarifies this difference is the “trigger.” Obama’s budget, aware that it might not pass and, if it does pass, it might not work, proposes to make automatic cuts to discretionary spending and tax expenditures if the promised savings don’t materialize. If Ryan’s budget falls shorts, there’s no comparable failsafe. That is to say, Obama’s budget has two plausible ways to get to its number, while Ryan’s budget has none. You don’t need a PhD in philosophy to understand why that’s a problem.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 13, 2011

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Ideology, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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