April 12, 2005

Class Warfare, By Any Other Name

I'm one who believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. Congress, however, prefers a more oppositional approach to tax "reform" and our economy.

With the House digging into Budget talks this week, a lot of people are spilling ink on the estate tax and the attempted repeal of it.

The Washington Post gets moving with an editorial that briefly touches on Earl Pomeroy's (D-ND) alternative to the full repeal. More importantly the Ed Board writers explain in clear terms just how few people pay the estate tax compared with how many benefit from the programs and reduced deficits that it helps to pay for. E.J. Dionne chips in with a bit more flare than his colleagues and goes the extra, necessary, step of connecting the dots between the Estate Tax question and the Social Security debate. An important point that the Post's tandem hammers home is that the usual tropes dragged out by the "repeal the death tax" crowd--such as the family who sees their farm taxed away--are essentially fiction. What Congress is considering has little to do with farms, small businesses, or any other poll-friendly (often for good reason) demographic representation, and everything to do with asking even less of the absolute richest Americans when it comes to financially supporting the common good.

For more information on the estate tax, look at Citizens for Tax Justice's quick FAQ sheet and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities run-down on the current legislative debate.

In thinking about the estate tax, it's worth mentioning that nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything Congress does reflects our priorities and this Congress has clearly cast it's lot with the wealthiest few at the expense of most people. This has applied to its thus far slap-dash engagement with Social Security and its refusal to take its own tax code seriously.

Harry Reid wisely hit the theme of our responsibility to future generations in his response to the State of the Union last winter. He quantified our national debt, saying, "Too many of the President's economic policies have left Americans and American companies struggling. And after we worked so hard to eliminate the deficit, his policies have added trillions to the debt - in effect, a 'birth tax' of $36,000 on every child that is born."

It is uncomfortable to think about each person's individual share of the debt, but with each budget, our government makes a choice: accept responsibility now or push it off 'til next year. This Congress has chosen the doubly cynical route of deferring deficits year after year even while it reduces the responsibility of those who have profited the most by the opportunity America has afforded them.

The White House and Congressional Leadership frequently offer the American people false choices. Social Security provides a good example. Choose between decreased benefits or higher taxes on middle class families, they say. But while all that is going on, they've voted to hand out bigger checks to the richest third of seniors and are about to vote on cutting taxes for the astronomically wealthy. In most cases, these are reported as separate phenomena. We need to start thinking in more holistic terms.

Gutting the IRS's ability to enforce the law, threatening to throw it out entirely--along with any income tax--and in exchange rely on a nationals sales tax (good grief), record debt and deficits, trying to repeal the estate tax, and increasing Social Security benefits to the richest retirees while putting Medicaid and Food Stamps on the budgetary chopping block.

That's just in the last couple of months, and that's Congress's vision for our future.


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