Let’s see. That’s $391 for you, $28,000 for me. A thousand for you (except that your mortgage and car payments may be $1,100 a year higher), seventy-five thousand for me. Something for everybody! Who could complain?It’s breathtaking: a concerted effort to shift the balance of wealth and power away from the middle class and disadvantaged to the wealthiest and most powerful.

The party of the rich – controlling all three branches of government, despite a slight minority in the popular vote – does the following:

  • Issues an order cutting family planning services to poor women around the world. Its effect is not to halt U.S. funding of abortions – that was done in 1973. Rather, it is to gag free speech and sex education where they are needed most – Third World countries where the population continues to explode, where women most need to be empowered, where poverty and AIDS are epidemic.
  • (If this, or any of the other items that follow, bother Ralph Nader, I haven’t seen him storming the TV stations to talk about it.)
  • Decides against adjusting the census statistically to include an estimated 3 million citizens missed in the door-to-door count.
  • Reconsiders Clinton/Gore efforts to crack down on off-shore tax havens.
  • Passes legislation to make bankruptcy tougher on the little guy, as advocated by the big banks.
  • (It is widely noted that the number one contributor to the Bush campaign was MBNA, the country’s largest credit card issuer, and that the first major legislation passed by the House was this bill. “You’ve got to admit, there is a poetic symmetry at play when the No. 1 contributor gets the No. 1 bill,” writes Arianna Huffington.)
  • Yes, people should be responsible for their debts. But where’s the balance in this bill? Where are the clear disclosure and warnings long sought by consumer advocates?
  • Includes in it a special provision for 300 American members of Lloyd’s of London. BANKRUPTCY BILL BENEFITS CHOSEN FEW, reads a front-page headline in Saturday’s Washington Post.
  • Confronts our dependence on foreign sources of oil – now 56% of our total consumption – by proposing a 22% cut in the budget for alternative energy sources like wind and solar. It’s almost as if our government were run by a handful of rich oil industry executives, out to pinch the competition.
  • (I am doing these numbers from memory. If some of you have better ones, please correct me.)
  • Halts the Korean peace process. Ally South Korea is disappointed, as must be the poor people of North Korea. I’m sure the decision makers are sincere in their reasons – but, as a side-effect, this can’t hurt the guys in what Eisenhower dubbed “the military industrial complex.”
  • (Last year, the Republicans went out of their way to kill the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty.)
  • Passes a bill to wipe off the books the workplace safety regulations Clinton/Gore put into place in the waning days of its administration.
  • (Sixteen hundred pages of federal regulation do not warm my heart, either – maybe the House should have directed OSHA to simplify or moderate some of this, and/or allow for a streamlined “waiver” process in cases that clearly make no sense. But you only had to listen to the calls coming into C-SPAN during the House vote to know that the problems are real, and that regulation is needed. Why? Because there are many situations in which a company would be more than willing to clean the air, say, or, in this case, make its workplace safer — so long as it can be sure its competitors will face the same costs. But without a uniform government standard, how can it be sure?)
  • Advances as its highest priority a tax cut that gives 43% of the benefit to the richest 1%, those making roughly $370,000 a year or more (some of them, much, much more).
  • We should cheer for our top 1% – good for them! – but give them little or no tax relief at all.
  • I say that not because I dislike the rich. Some of my best friends are very rich. I say it because the top 1% already have a 0% tax rate on municipal bonds and a 20% tax rate on long-term capital gains . . . because the top 1% already saw their tax rate cut from 90% under Eisenhower to 70% under Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter to 50% under Reagan in his first term – all of these rates, I would readily agree, too high – to 39.6% now. This is a rate that seems to have worked.
  • At lower rates, we racked up $4 trillion in additional debt. But at this rate, we broke into surplus. And still the income of the top 1% — the after-tax income – rose far faster than that of the man or woman on the street. Never fear: the gap between rich and everyone-else grew ever wider.
  • But not enough, apparently. Still the poor and middle class have too large a slice of the nation’s wealth. So 43% of the tax relief should go to the top 1% and their heirs.
  • I would argue that we should first reduce the tax rates of “everyone else,” who have not enjoyed commensurate rate decreases but have, rather, seen their payroll tax go up and up and up . . . that we should then wait until we’ve made a much larger dent in paying down the national debt . . . and that, if all goes well, we should then revisit the possibility of doing more for the top 1%. But not now.
  • The tactic seems to be – go in for the moon, with a straight face, and then “settle” for something that’s still more than you could ever have dreamed of if people weren’t still in a state of shock.
  • It’s a tactic that can work when you’re in a position of power. Say you see a plot of land you think the seller pretty badly needs to unload. He’s asking $100,000 and you secretly think it’s worth about that. You offer not $90,000 or even $70,000 – you offer $28,000. The seller is shell-shocked, insulted and says no. You come up to $35,000. He can’t believe you’re even throwing out numbers so patently crazy and says no. But by the time you finally get up to $63,000 and he’s down to $85,000 and you offer to split the difference, he’s so shaken, and so worried he might not do better in time to meet his needs, he accepts.
  • What position of power are the Republicans in? Well, they control both Houses of Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court. It’s a start.

Look. There are a lot of fine Republicans in Congress, and I don’t think any of them want to make poor people poorer. They’re just focused on making their friends, who are the best off, better off still. Yes, they would like to see the wealth “trickle down,” as it was supposed to under Reagan, and, yes, they may have persuaded themselves that “we can do it all” without running up the debt, as Ronald Reagan argued we could when he reduced the top bracket to 28%. But by the time it finally got pushed back up to 39.6%, we had in fact added $4 trillion to the national debt, and have only lately begun to pay it down.

We can’t do it all, we have to set priorities. The Republicans’ number one priority appears to be the tax cut for the top 1%. The Democrats, rightly or wrongly, put a lot of things – including debt reduction – ahead of that.

A final note and a disclaimer:

Note: Republicans will argue that huge budget deficits were racked up under Reagan and Bush not because rich people’s tax rates were slashed, but because of the spendthrift Democratic Congress. Yet today they argue that a tax cut is preferable to debt reduction because if taxes weren’t cut, the debt wouldn’t be reduced. Congress would just waste the money – by which I suppose they mean the spendthrift Republican-controlled Congress, despite veto power by the spendthrift in the White House? No, it doesn’t compute. They just desperately want the rich to get that huge tax cut.

Disclaimer: Yes, I’m still treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. But, no, none of this is written in that official capacity, or has been vetted or approved. I write this in the middle of the night, as a private citizen, because I think it’s an important debate and that we should all chime in.

 

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