Every time I try to make sense of Republican tax doctrine I get lost.
For example, rank-and-file House Republicans are willing to increase
taxes on the middle class starting in a few weeks in order to avoid a
tax increase the very rich.
Here are the details: The payroll tax will increase 2 percent
starting January 1 – costing most working Americans about $1,000 next
year – unless the employee part of the tax cut is extended for another
Democrats want to pay for this with a temporary – not permanent –
surtax on any earnings over $1 million, according to their most recent
proposal. The surtax would be 1.9 percent, for ten years. (Democrats
would also increase the fees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge lenders.)
This means someone who earns $1,000,001 would pay just under two cents extra next year, and 19 cents over ten years.
Relatively few Americans earn more than a million dollars, to begin
with. An exquisitely tiny number earn so much that a 1.9 percent surtax
on their earnings in excess of a million would amount to much. Most of
these people are on Wall Street. It’s hard to find a small business “job
creator” among them.
Nonetheless, Republicans say no to the surtax. “The surtax is
something that could very much hurt small businesses and job creation,”
says John Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.
This puts Republicans in the awkward position of allowing taxes to
increase on most Americans in order to avoid a small, temporary tax only
on earnings in excess of a million dollars — mostly hitting a tiny
group of financiers.
Not even a resolute, doctrinaire follower of GOP president Grover
Norquist has any basis for preferring millionaires over the rest of us.
To say the least, this position is also difficult to explain to
average Americans flattened by an economy that’s taken away their jobs,
wages, and homes but continues to confer record profits to corporations
and unprecedented pay to CEOs and Wall Street’s top executives.
So Republican leaders are trying to get rank-and-file Republicans to
go along with an extended payroll tax holiday — but by paying for it
without raising taxes on the very rich.
tending the pay freeze on federal workers for another four years — in
effect, cutting federal employees’ pay even more deeply — and
increasing Medicare premiums on wealthy beneficiaries over time.
But even this proposal seems odd, given what Republicans say they believe about taxes.
For years, Republicans have been telling us tax cuts pay for
themselves by promoting growth. That was their argument in favor of the
Bush tax cuts, remember?
So if they believe what they say, why should they worry about paying
for a one-year extension of the payroll tax holiday? Surely it will pay
Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He writes a blog at www.robertreich.org. His most recent book is Aftershock.