Friday, June 24, 2011

Raising Taxes

“I don’t think there’s any conceivable way, under current circumstances, that any Republican would vote for any kind of tax increase whatsoever.”  Bruce Bartlett, former economic adviser to President Reagan

This interesting sentence appears in the April 2011 issue of the Christian Science Monitor, in an excellent article called “Budget Stalemate: Why America Won’t Raise Taxes” by Liz Marlantes.  The sentence does not meet standards of good writing, but does, in its repetitiveness, make a stronger point than if it were the more succinct, “No Republican will vote for any tax increase.” 

Let’s parse it and see what we find:

“any conceivable way”:  could this mean that some moderate Republicans would like to conceive a way to vote for revenue as one solution to our deficit?

“under current circumstances:”  which are what?  What could call for tax increases: more than a trillion dollar deficit, double digit unemployment,  60% of seniors living on Social Security alone, 30% of Americans with no health insurance,  25% of children living below the poverty line, and so on?  There are apparently other circumstances that pressure Congress and none of them seem to have anything to do with the common good.

“any Republican:”  because they are all of one mind?  Or are they one mind divided amongst the whole GOP?  Or is this is another remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?

“any kind of tax increase:”  Republicans are even willing to reject regressive and unfair tax increases, such as a federal sales tax?  This is a new day, indeed. 

“whatsoever:”  This wonderful old English word in the King James Version of the Bible begins the Golden Rule, “Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you,  do ye even so to them.”  This word is now the final word summarizing complete abrogation of any commitment to the public good. 

The source of the word “any” in this context is an unelected powerhouse named Grover Norquist who runs an organization with the moderate sending name, “Americans for Tax Reform.”  Since 1986, Norquist has asked every incumbent and every candidate for office to sign a document called “The Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”  The pledge says, “I promise to the people of my state that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”  Again, we see the emphasis “oppose and vote against” or “any and all” because to do one and not the other is not sufficient.

In 1986, Norquist was able to get 100 members of the House and 20 Senators to sign it.  Today 40 out of 47 Republicans in the Senate have signed it, along with one Democrat and one Independent, and 235 out of 242 Republicans in the House have signed it, along with two Democrats.  (For a full list of signers and a look at the actual pledge, see the Americans for Tax Reform’s site.)

People sign this because it comes with money and help with campaigning, and not signing – or signing and then not following through – is met with swift punishment.  The goal of having  bi-partisan dialogue on how to create fair and just tax policy that pulls our country out of this recession and helps everyone have a better quality of life is stopped at the starting gate when so many people have basically said, “Let’s talk, but I have already decided what I am going to do.”  

Norquist, who has never run for and so obviously never held public office, is not on the staff of the Republican National Committee nor has he been appointed to any public position.  Yet he has amassed the power and money to control how most Republicans vote on tax policy.  The only thing he cannot really amass is all the votes of the American people, and this is the good news in the tax debate.  The Center on Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland presented voters with a simplified but realistic version of what the budget might be in 2015 and let them make their own tax and spending choices.  They weren’t told they had to balance the budget or to bring down the deficit.  Those decisions were up to them.   The study showed that on average, voters reduced the deficit by about $400 billion, with Democrats cutting more in spending than Republicans.  91% of respondents, including 77% of Republicans and 66% of self-identified tea partyers, chose to raise taxes by an average of $292 billion. 

Our Congress is far more opposed to taxes than the people they are supposed to represent.  We, who are those people, must make it clear that we believe that taxes are a fundamental tool to creating a working democracy.  We call for accountability in spending, a tax structure that calls on everyone (including the corporations who are now people) to pay their share, vigorous and informed debate on what constitutes ‘fairness’. We pledge to vote for people who will return “whatsoever” to the front of our sentences, for example, “Whatsoever is best for the common good should drive any and all public policy."

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