NUMBER OF THE WEEK: July 26, 2009
The rich have never had it so good
Taxing the wealthy could help the poor? Not if Congress has anything to do with it
By David Sirota
Here's a truism: The wealthiest 1 percent have never had it so good.
According to government figures, 1-percenters' share of America's total income is the highest it's been since 1929, and their tax rates are the lowest they've faced in two decades. Through bonuses, many 1-percenters will profit from the $23 trillion in bailout largesse the Treasury Department now says could be headed to financial firms. And most of them benefit from IRS decisions to reduce millionaire audits and collect zero taxes from the majority of major corporations.
But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.
To review: With 22,000 Americans dying each year because they lack health insurance, Congress is considering universal healthcare legislation financed by a surcharge on income above $280,000 -- that is, a levy almost exclusively on 1-percenters. This surtax would graze just 5 percent of small businesses and would recoup only part of the $700 billion the 1-percenters received from the Bush tax cuts. In fact, it is so minuscule, those making $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more in taxes every year -- or nine-tenths of 1 percent of their 12-month haul.
Nonetheless, the 1-percenters have deployed an army to destroy the initiative before it makes progress.
The foot soldiers are the Land Rover Liberals. These Democratic lawmakers secure their lefty labels by wearing pink-ribbon lapel pins and supporting good causes like abortion rights. However, being affluent and/or from affluent districts, they routinely drive their luxury cars over middle-class economic interests. Hence, this week's letter from Democratic dot-com tycoon Rep. Jared Polis, of Boulder, Colo., and other Land Rover Liberals calling for the surtax's death.
Echoing that demand are the Corrupt Cowboys -- those like Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who come from the heartland's culturally conservative and economically impoverished locales. These cavalrymen in both parties quietly build insurmountable campaign war chests as the biggest corporate fundraisers in Congress. At the same time, they publicly preen as jes' folks, make twangy references to "voters back home," and now promise to kill the healthcare surtax because they say that's what their communities want. Cash payoffs made, reelections purchased, the absurd story somehow goes that because blue-collar constituents in Flyover America like guns and love Jesus, they must also reflexively adore politicians who defend 1-percenters' bounty.
That fantastical fairly tale, of course, couldn't exist without the Millionaire Media -- the elite journalists and opinion-mongers who represent corporate media conglomerates and/or are themselves extremely wealthy. Ignoring all the data about inequality, they legitimize the assertions of the 1-percenters' first two battalions, while actually claiming America's fat cats are unfairly persecuted.
For example, Washington Post editors deride surtax proponents for allegedly believing "the rich alone can fund government." Likewise, Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households." And most brazenly, NBC's Meredith Vieira asks President Obama why the surtax is intent on "punishing the rich."
For his part, Obama has responded with characteristic coolness -- and a powerful counterstrike. "No, it's not punishing the rich," he said. "If I can afford to do a little bit more so that a whole bunch of families out there have a little more security, when I already have security, that's part of being a community."
If any volley can thwart this latest attack of the 1-percenters, it is that simple idea.