Conservatives and corporate-owned Democrats are in a tizzy. The House is moving its version of healthcare reform forward, and it (gasp!) raises money by (double-gasp!) taxing rich folks. Not by very much, as these things go -- but you certainly wouldn't know that from hearing Republican politicians and their enablers in the news media. As far as they're concerned, Democrats are going to raise everyone's tax rates (yes, even YOURS!) until they rival Denmark's (complete with Fox News graphics, in case you missed the point). While the tactic is new, the strategy is an old one, and can be summed up as: "Who will stand up for the poor, poor millionaires and billionaires?"
You know what? I'm sick of this nonsense. I really am. Starting, first and foremost, with the term "class warfare." I keep waiting for some Democrat (Jim Webb would be a good choice, in my opinion) to stand up and say something like the following -- to either some clueless, overpaid, inside-the-Beltway media type, or some clueless, bought-and-paid-for Republican officeholder:
"I'm sorry, did you just say 'class warfare'? Your use of this term is highly offensive to me. In case you have forgotten, we are at war. We are currently waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vice president's son is currently serving in a war zone, as are thousands of other brave American men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America. And you have the gall to sit there and call a discussion of marginal tax rates 'warfare'? Please show me the video highlights of this war, if you would. Where are the clips of armed guerrillas laying siege to the Hamptons? Where are the battlelines where people are dying in the hills of Bel Air? Where are the armed insurrectionists? How many casualties has this class warfare cost? Where are the pitchforks and torches and mobs in the streets? If you don't have video of such battles raging right now to show me, then I would insist you not refer to a debate in Congress over making the ultra-wealthy pay the same tax rate they did under Bill Clinton -- a tax rate much less than they paid under Ronald Reagan, I might add -- as any type of 'warfare,' because it insults me and it insults the men and women who are putting their lives on the line on foreign soil right this very minute to preserve your ability to say such repugnant things."
As I said, Senator Jim Webb would be my first choice for delivering this message, for obvious reasons. Sometimes, as Robert A. Heinlein said, you have to step on people's toes until they apologize.
A few facts are in order here. What is causing apoplexy in Republicans is a plan to raise the income tax rate for people making over $280,000 a year by one to five percentage points. Right now, the wealthiest of the wealthy in America pay 35 percent income tax. What is being proposed is raising this back to where it was before Bush lowered it -- to a high point of 39.6 percent. Not, as Republicans will tell you "almost as high as Denmark's." Denmark's highest income tax rate is 60 percent. Plus (a fact they conveniently ignore), in Denmark you pay a "Value Added Tax" (or national sales tax) of 25 percent on everything you buy. So don't worry, nobody in America is going to be paying anything like what the Danish pay.
Nancy Pelosi has even already walked these numbers back. She's now proposing taxing only single people who make more than $500,000 and couples who make more than one million dollars every year. In other words, Joe The Plumber should relax, because his taxes aren't going up a dime. He would be part of the ninety-nine-percent-plus of the American workforce who would not have their taxes changed one tiny little bit under this plan.
This stuff seems obvious to me, but then I turn on the television, and listen to "journalists" who have apparently beamed in from Mars. Or Pluto, since they seem to be speaking Plutocrat as their first language. Ahem. Seriously, when is some Democrat (Al Franken springs to mind for this one) going to ask one of these blow-dried talking heads "Excuse me, but in the interests of full disclosure, you really should tell the viewers how much money you make per year. You seem to be championing low taxes for the ultra-wealthy, but I detect more than a hint of protecting your own self-interest in this discussion." I'd pay good money, so to speak, to hear someone (anyone!) say that to one of these "journalists" on television. It would put things in some sorely needed perspective. "Did you make more than a million bucks last year? How many millions did you make? Why didn't you share that with your viewers at the beginning of your comments?"
But perhaps that's a tad too confrontative, eh? OK, how about laying it on the line in a calm and rational manner, then. Democrats have been terrified -- absolutely terrified -- to raise any taxes at any time, because the Republicans have used it so effectively as an iron club, for so many years now. But healthcare reform has to be paid for somehow. Now that the House has thrown down the gauntlet, we need to hear a few Democrats defending this action, instead of eternally shying away from it. Democrats, so far, have seemed to think that if they don't talk about it, nobody will notice that they're raising taxes on the rich. This is wrong -- Republicans have been waiting to pounce on this particular issue ever since Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as Speaker of the House, and they are now gleefully doing so. The only way this is going advance politically is if a few Democrats defend the policy to the public, and calm everyone down a bit. Here's an example of what I'm suggesting:
"President Obama promised during his campaign not to raise taxes on people making less than a quarter of a million dollars per year. We are going to help him keep that promise. Others have been suggesting that we tax everyone's health care benefits to pay for health care reform. We're not going to do that, because it would affect union members and other hardworking Americans -- lots of policemen and firemen, and others who make up the backbone of the middle class in America. We think they've been taxed enough. We think that the millionaires and billionaires who have made out like bandits under Republican tax cuts for the past eight years can afford to go back to paying what they paid under Bill Clinton. We want to repeal the Bush tax cuts on the extremely wealthy, because we think it is more important to provide access to healthcare to all Americans than it is to help people like John McCain buy another house or airplane. Everyone is having to sacrifice in this economy. Millions have already sacrificed by losing their jobs. Millions have lost their health care. Millions of sick people are sacrificing their health, because they cannot pay for treatment. Millions more have had to take pay cuts, and are relieved just to still have a job. The American people have sacrificed, and continue to make tough decisions daily -- because some can't afford both medicine and food. And we simply do not think that asking millionaires to pay an extra few percent of their million-dollar incomes is asking too great a sacrifice from them. We think it's about time they sacrificed a little bit, for the good of the country, and gave back the Bush tax cuts."
Until and unless Democrats start saying things like this, this tax increase is simply not going to happen. Democrats have to get over their knee-jerk reaction to being labeled "tax and spenders" by their opposition. Democrats have to stop scurrying away from the issue like cockroaches when the light hits them, and get out there and defend it. If higher taxes for millionaires are the way to pay for healthcare reform, then let everyone know it, and know why.
The poor, poor millionaires already have plenty of people beating their chests and rending their garments in public. Republicans and mainstream media "journalists" are already doing a dandy job of this. Democrats have to stand up and say, in response, "I'm for the little guy. I don't want to tax the average worker any more than they already are taxed, so I do not support taxing the middle class' healthcare benefits. Instead, I think the ultra-wealthy can pay a few percent more each year to fix the healthcare system in America. I don't think that's too much to ask of them, and I will fight any attempt to move this tax burden away from the wealthy down to the little guys. That may have worked in the past, but it's not going to work this time!"
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant