Terrance Heath

Conservatives See U.S. as Charity Case

Filed By Terrance Heath | September 30, 2012 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Chris Cristie, conservative politics, Elizabeth Warren, Michele Bachmann, Warren Buffett

It’s one of the dumbest, most insulting, dismissive, and frequently heard bits of rhetoric spewed forth from the sneering mouths of conservative pundits and politicos. So, it stands to reason that congressional Republicans would like to make it the law of the land. Michelle Bachmann offered it as advice to Warren Buffet, and served up another version of the same during the GOP primary debates. But nobody put it more than that “heartless, smug, bullying embodiment of the Republican Party,” New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

…The night before the nation received its latest bad news on unemployment, Christie told a cheering Republican crowd that the nation’s jobless were lazy examples of an entitlement mentality.

Needless to say, Chris Christie is now considered a leading Vice Presidential contender.

Christie’s blunt style seemed refreshing at first. Hey, I kinda liked the guy myself.

But “blunt” became “ugly” very quickly: Telling union officials to “cut the crap.” Shouting down a right-wing millionaire who asked a blunt question at a Meg Whitman rally. Insulting a nonpartisan state agency for reaching a conclusion he didn’t like. Rudely blowing off a constituent during a televised question-and-answer session. Telling Warren Buffett to “just write a check and shut up.’

Maybe GOP leaders are taking their cues from Bachmann and Christie. Then again maybe they’re merely following the lead of their presidential nominee. After all, in one of his less-reported gaffes, Mitt Romney equated taxes with charity. Or perhaps Republicans are simply trying help Romney to spin the revelation in 2011 tax returns (not the potentially more interesting 2010 returns, but the ones nobody is asking to see): that Romney may have overpaid his taxes.

You dont often see Republican politicians donating money to the federal government. But thats what Mitt Romney did today. In a statement about Romneys just-filed 2011 tax return issued by his campaign, Brad Malt, the trustee of Romneys blind trust, notes that the candidate and his wife paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 in income, for an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent. Malt notes that the Romneys claimed only $2.25 million in charitable deductions, despite having given more than $4 million to charity. By way of explanation, Malt states:

The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the Governor’s statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13 percent in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.

This summer Romney suggested that paying more taxes than required is for suckers. So maybe House Republicans are trying to help him out with legislation framing taxes from the wealthy as charitable donations, according to NYT’s Bruce Bawer.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives took a break last week from doing nothing to pass a bill to facilitate voluntary taxation. Almost simultaneously, Mitt Romney released his final tax return for 2011, showing that he voluntarily overpaid his taxes by taking less of a deduction for his charitable contributions than he was permitted.

The legislation was H.R. 6410, The Buffett Rule Act of 2012. Those not acquainted with the misleading titles often given to Congressional bills might at first glance think this one has something to do with raising taxes on the ultrawealthy.

Of course, Republicans would never actually raise taxes on the ultrawealthy; they think, or at least assert publicly, that the deficit results from too many poor people not paying taxes. But it would be very helpful to them to have a fig leaf that looks as if they had found a way of getting the rich to pay more. That is by encouraging them to voluntarily pay more, as Mr. Romney did.

Named for the billionaire Warren Buffett, what came to be known as the Buffett rule is a proposal by Democrats that all those with incomes of $1 million or more pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal income taxes.

You may be forgiven for initially thinking, as I did, “They’ve got to be kidding me.” But the reality of 2012 election season is that the kind of stuff you’d expect to read in The Onion turns out to be actual news. (Case in point, a coworker of mine at first didn’t believe the Romney quote about windows on airplanes was real, and thought it had to be a joke. Then he asked me about the source of the quote. It was the LA Times. He merely sighed in response.)

It’s no joke. They really mean it. Tim Price, at Next New Deal, explains the implications.

There's a fundamental ideological divide between progressives and the modern conservative movement, and it concerns how much they buy into the concept of the social contract. That divide is reflected in the GOP's fallback response to President Obama's Buffett Rule proposal: "If Warren Buffett thinks he doesn't pay enough taxes, why doesn't he just volunteer to pay more?" Mike Konczal effectively dismantles this pseudo-logic here, and on a rhetorical level, it's on par with "If you love the government so much, why don't you marry it?" On the other hand, it makes a certain amount of sense if you think of society as something we can choose to opt out of once it's outlived its use to us instead of an ongoing support system that we've all bought into. If you see the rich as the people who have benefited the most from our tax-funded social structure, it only seems fair to ask them to give back more in tough times. But if you think the rich are noble martyrs who are doing the rest of us a favor by choosing not to "go Galt" and withdraw from society, it's clearly unjust to ask any more of them unless they volunteer it out of the goodness of their hearts.

Unfortunately, the GOP approach presents an obvious collective action problem, which is why . The reason we have a tax code in the first place is that we determined it was impossible to fund the essential functions of government by having the president busk for tips. We don't set the federal budget by passing a basket around and adding up the loose change we've collected. Congress establishes tax rates, we pay our taxes, and in exchange we get schools, roads, police, firefighters, health care, clean air, safe food, and so on. That's how it works - except for the wealthiest Americans. With Republicans' help, they have a few extra steps, like hiding their money in tax shelters, benefiting from all those government services anyway, and then complaining vociferously about how unfairly they're treated.

There’s no real need to craft a response to the GOP’s latest Orwellian nonsense. First, most Americans see right through it. Patriotic Millionaires has posted on its website

Government, Republicans endlessly intone, should do less, not more for the unfortunate. Leave the food pantries and the homeless shelters to the churches and the do-gooders.

This is wishful thinking, and judging by new polling data, most Americans seem to see right through it. Seven in 10 Americans oppose cutting funds for social programs aimed at helping the poor, according to a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. Moreover, 67 percent of those polled said that government should do more to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Can I hear an amen for charity?

True, Republicans and Democrats answered such questions quite differently. Nevertheless, if the GOP candidates are looking to replace the current occupant in the White House, they might want to dig deeper into the polls findings.

Independents tended to side with the Democrats on taxation and social spending questions. Moreover, the poll found that majorities of respondents of all religious groups, ages and education levels agreed that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Eight in 10 polled agreed that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased.

One telling detail was that 60 percent of white evangelicals, a historically Republican group, favored raising taxes on those who make more than $1 million a year to help eliminate the federal deficit. This same group was also heavily opposed (58 percent) to cutting federal aid to the poor.

Second, there are several versions of an effective reponse out there. Patriotic Millionaires has one posted on its website, in an open letter President Obama, Harry Reid, and John Boehner. President Obama has delivered several effective reponses, but perhaps none quite so eloquent as in his address to a joint session of Congress last September. And, arguably, nobody has done it better than Elizabeth Warren.

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In a video of a recent Warren appearance, posted online by an individual who says he or she is not affiliated with the campaign, Warren answered the charge. I hear all this, you know, Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever, Warren said. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own nobody.

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didnt have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

But, for my money, I think Stephen King’s reponse to Chris Christie is most appropriate.

What groups like the Patriotic Millionaires and candidates like Elizabeth Warren have said with more civility and eloquence, King puts in language even Christie can understand.

Chris Christie - Caricature

Cut a check and shut up, they said.

If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.

Tired of hearing about it, they said.

Tough shit for you guys, because Im not tired of talking about it. Ive known rich people, and why not, since Im one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing Disco Inferno than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. Its true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (jaws of life are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesnt go far enough.

What charitable 1-percenters cant do is assume responsibility Americas national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich cant fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, Okay, Ill write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS. That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

King has a lot more to say; like how the wealthy don’t create jobs because the wealthy don’t spend their tax cuts, but use their wealth to create more wealth not jobs.

I’d quote more of it here, but I’d end up posting the whole thing in order to get the best bits in the context of the whole piece. Instead, I’ll just include this bit where King really “brings it on home.”

I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, Im rich and I dont apologize for it. Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us wantthose who arent blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn moneyis for you to acknowledge that you couldnt have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That its not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? Its un-f–king-American, is what it is. I dont want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means thatsorry, kiddiesyoure on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to paynot to give, not to cut a check and shut up, in Gov. Christies words, but to payin the same proportion. Thats called stepping up and not whining about it. Thats called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesnt cost their beloved rich folks any money.

What I wouldn’t give for someone to stand on the House floor and read that into the record.

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