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Congressional Republicans Poised to Raise Middle Class Taxes

30 Nov

We know the drill – our sovereign debt is about to be downgraded because (a) the Congress couldn’t get it together to pass a budget that includes both a reduction in public spending and a repeal of the Bush/Obama tax cuts for the richest earners, so they punted to a so-called “Supercommittee” to do it; and (b) predictably, the Supercommittee was unable to reach an agreement because a tax hike for the wealthy was out of the question for almost all Republicans, and some Democrats.

So, now with our malaise economy of high unemployment, uncertainty, and a crisis of demand in the market, the federal government refuses to increase revenues by asking the wealthy to pay more, and is instead seeking contraction of the government’s involvement in the economy. To say this is backwards would be an understatement.

Many fingers have been pointed in recent weeks at Republicans’ obeisance to a pledge most of them signed with Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform“. As ATR describes it,

…candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases. While ATR has the role of promoting and monitoring the Pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is actually made to a candidate’s constituents, who are entitled to know where candidates stand before sending them to the capitol. Since the Pledge is a prerequisite for many voters, it is considered binding as long as an individual holds the office for which he or she signed the Pledge.

Yet, the Republicans have pledged themselves into a corner.

Part of the Obama stimulus package included a payroll tax holiday for wage-earners. Social Security payroll taxes are paid equally by the employee and his employer at 6.2%. The tax holiday reduced the employee’s share to 4.2%, and the Social Security trust fund took no hit whatsoever.  A vote to extend the tax holiday is scheduled for later this week, and all indications are that Congressional Republicans are going to vote against it.

For a $50,000 earner, [the tax holiday] meant paying $1,000 a year less in payroll taxes. It was agreed in that law that the holiday would cost the Social Security Trust Fund nothing—the depleted revenue would be replaced out of the general treasury. So the holiday adds to the general deficit but does not affect the trust fund.

This is part of the Republican jobs and economic program, which basically amounts to “prevent anything Obama might do to help the economy, so one of our party’s questionable fringe candidates wins the White House in 2012.”  All it’s missing is a catchy acronym.

And if the no-tax-hike-pledge-taking Republicans vote against a renewal of the payroll tax holiday, thus effectively raising taxes on wage-earners. The party that supported President Bush’s gimmicky $300 rebate checks now recommends a plan that may plunge us deeper in an economic hole, all in the hopes that Obama would get the blame.

Two economists at the Economic Policy Institute say ending the holiday would reduce GDP by $128 billion and cost 972,000 jobs in 2012. The EPI is a liberal outfit, but Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who advised John McCain in 2008, agrees that raising the payroll tax back to where it was could cause another recession.

And besides those macroeconomic concerns, there is the simple question of money in people’s pockets as they try to tough out the economy. A thousand dollars to a $50,000 earner, or $1,500 to a $75,000 earner, isn’t nothing.

The Democrats? They want to further lower the earner’s share to a full half – 3.1%, and they also want the reduction to apply to employers at the same 50% rate, in the hopes that more money in the pockets of consumers will spur economic activity, and that more money in the employers’ coffers might spur further hiring.  For $255 billion, you target the real job creators directly. How will they pay for that?

… with a 3.5 percent surtax on dollars earned over $1 million per year. In other words, if someone earns $1.3 million a year, she will pay the extra 3.5 percent only on the last $300,000 in earnings; that is, an extra $10,500 a year (bear in mind that this person takes home, after taxes, around $30,000 every two weeks). So it certainly raises the taxes of the very wealthiest. But it gives more money back to middle-class people, and it stimulates the economy, perhaps to the tune of 50,000 jobs a month, maybe even more.

The Republicans would have supported something like this if it was their idea, but now it’s the Democrats’ plan and must be blocked reflexively. Interestingly, they’re likely to grudgingly demand a continuation of the status quo, in which case they’re asking that the deficit be further enlarged.

Decisions, decisions.

What should President Obama do? Take it to the people.

Obama should give an Oval Office speech Wednesday night and say: “If you are an employee and make less than $1 million, or if you are an employer of any size, I am trying to give you a tax cut. If you are an employee who makes more than $1 million a year, you should write and thank your Republican senator, because the Republicans are blocking me and helping you.”

The proof couldn’t be more stark. The national Republican Party isn’t the party of low taxes. It’s the party of the superwealthy and the social warriors.

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