On Tax Day, House Republicans decided it was important to vote on a bill that would remind the American people how their party had turned a record surplus into a record deficit — while helping to create the worst inequality of wealth since the Great Depression.
After years of cuts affecting the people most injured by the Great Recession, Republicans voted 240-179 to repeal the Estate Tax, which currently only applies to the 5,400 richest estates, each totaling at least $5.43 million. This repeal would cost $269 billion over the next 10 years, which will be close to half the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, better known as food stamps), which benefits 46.5 million of the poorest Americans. They need that money for luxuries like breakfast or dinner.
Apparently Republicans looked at this chart, which shows how the richest 16,000 or so families have sucked up nearly all of the gains of the economy over the last few decades, and thought, “How can we help that top squiggle go higher?”
There’s no chance this bill will become law under President Obama. But Republicans still believed this was an important statement to make, after years of maligning deficit spending and blasting struggling Americans as “takers.” Conservatives, who often see taxes as incentives, are fine with the taxes you pay on your labor. But to encourage you to play with money in the markets, taxes on investments should be lower. And to encourage you to have the richest parents possible, you should pay no taxes on inheritance. It’s all about personal responsibility.
Why won’t Republicans let this idea die? Because they don’t have to.
By calling this tax on the people who have benefited most from the society we’ve built together the “Death Tax,” they’ve made it extremely unpopular. They also push the lie that it’s meant to help “family” farmers, without producing one “family” farmer it helps. And they argue that the money has already been taxed, though billions of it hasn’t, thanks to another tax shelter for the rich known as “step-up tax” basis. Actually, the person inheriting the money has never paid a dime of taxes on it.
It’s fallacious economics, designed to warp our economy with avaricious accumulation of wealth by those who need it least. And yet it’s still good politics.
That’s our Republican Party, where the life expectancy of a horrible idea is forever. Here are five more horrible ideas and beliefs Republicans won’t let die.
1. The richest should pay no taxes — or just pay lower taxes than you.
Marco Rubio’s tax plan is amazing for numerous reasons. It doesn’t just slash the top tax rate lower than George W. Bush did. It doesn’t just raise taxes on some middle-class families as it adds $4.5 trillion to our deficit. It cuts the taxes on investments to zero. When billionaire Warren Buffett complained that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, Rubio thought the problem was that Buffett pays any taxes at all. Imagine how much more his kids could earn on their tax-free inheritance if their dad never paid taxes on his earnings! With incentives like that, why would anyone ever be poor again?
It’s a tax cut that’s so huge that New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait suggests it achieved a metaphysical impossibility: It’s too large for Republicans to believe it exists. But the massive, gold coin-filled swimming pools this plan hands out to the rich aren’t the problem for the Wall St. Journal. It’s the tax credits Rubio wants to give to middle class families, in his attempt to seem like a different sort of Republican. If we pay for those credits, the supply-siders argue, people might choose to be born middle class again. Or, even worse, we won’t be able to cut taxes for billionaires again.
Rubio has already felt the need to “fix” his plan once to make it more friendly to the rich. Looks like he’s going to have to do another draft.
2. More war.
Rubio’s horrible economic ideas are almost harmless when compared to his belligerent warmongering.
Without quite understanding the strategic interests of ISIS or Iran, Rubio wants to confront both, but just not in the ways President Obama is. Sure, Obama has led America into months of air strikes against ISIS. Rubio wants the same thing, The Week‘s Michael Brendan Dougherty explains. The junior senator just wants to make them “devastating.” Why not just use the words “shock and awe,” since Rubio still thinks the Iraq War was a good idea?
“Rubio’s foreign policy consists of babyish moralizing, a cultivated ignorance of history, and a deliberate blindness to consequences,” Dougherty writes.
On Iran, Rubio isn’t as bad as his fellow senator Tom Cotton, who suggested that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon would be a military operation that would just take a few days. The presidential candidate seems to get that war with Iran — a country larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined — would take a while and thus cost us thousands of lives and trillions in wealth. But he’s into it anyway.
3. Alienating immigrants.
To be honest, this is the one mistake I’m relieved Republicans continue to make. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are both occasional supporters of immigration reform until they see their shadow and start screaming “Secure the border first!” — even though the border is more secure than ever. And it seemed they might successfully ease the party off its maximum deportations stand for this primary season.
However, whatever it was that made Mitt Romney take a drastic turn to the right on immigration has bitten Scott Walker.
The governor of Wisconsin was once a supporter of a path to citizenship for the undocumented, but in an interview with Glenn Beck on Monday, he came out against immigration. Not just undocumented immigration — but legal immigration.
Some pollsters believe that Republicans need to double their share of the minority vote from 2012 to have a chance to win in 2016. In that last presidential election, Romney was advocating for “self-deportation.” Now with Republicans demanding an end to programs that protect the undocumented brought here as kids and the family members of citizens—and with a surging frontrunner breaking hard to the right—they may do even worse next year.
4. Keep people uninsured.
Our national debt is a choice, and it’s largely built on our willingness to leave millions of Americans uninsured until the point where they’re sick, poor or old enough that we have to cover them anyway. Every other advanced country in the world covers all their citizens for far less than we spend per capita, and as a result, health care doesn’t blast a trillion-dollar hole in their economies each year.
Obamacare has thus far proven we can expand coverage to more than 11 million people without exploding costs. In fact, it costs less than predicted and our overall health care costs are now estimated to be $2.4 trillion lower than they were predicted to be before Obamacare became law.
Still Republicans are choosing to leave millions of working Americans — those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid — uninsured. States that have accepted the expansion have reduced their uninsured rate by 50 percent while states like Florida, Texas and Georgia, with the highest number of uninsured residents in the nation, have succeeded in their goal of keeping millions without coverage by only reducing their uninsured rate by 30 percent.
The federal government is doing some testicle wrenching to get these red states to accept the money their residents deserve. But an even more encouraging sign comes from bright-red Montana, where a grassroots campaign overcame opposition from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity to pass expansion. It’s a model that can be repeated, But it will require a huge fight with Republicans in each of the remaining 22 states that haven’t expanded coverage, as they seem to be determined to teach poor people that they should have “chosen” to be born to parents who will pay for their health insurance forever. Personal responsibility!
5. Wreck Social Security.
Republicans’ anti-immigrant, pro-richest policies weaken the backbone of America’s key safety net program — Social Security.
Republicans opposed the program’s creation from the beginning, at the polls, in Congress, and in the courts, but they let that opposition fade beneath their larger agenda for cutting taxes and expanding corporate power, until 2005. George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security was never a focus of his 2004 re-election campaign. But he decided to spend his “political capital” on it, and his political capital went away—along with much of his approval rating.
Raising the retirement age and means-testing the program not only violate the sacred trust people put into the program as they plan, when they can, their retirement…they’re designed to do exactly that, which is why Chris Christie thinks attacking Social Security is a way to thrill billionaire donors, bringing them back into his presidential campaign.
But the retirement benefits of this program aren’t the only crucial lifeline the right would like to pull back.
“Social Security’s disability fund is set to start running out of money in late 2016, which would require a 20 percent cut in benefits, a looming cliff that Republicans have pointed to as evidence of the program’s uncertain solvency,” National Journal’s Dylan Scott writes.
So we have money for another war, which would cost hundreds of billions a year, but not enough to keep struggling Americans off the street.
When you overwork and underpay people to whom you then deny health insurance, disability insurance is a crucial backstop. Since Republicans do not intend to stop doing any of those things, we have two other options. Pass immigration reform and give millions a chance to legally pay into Social Security, or ask the rich — who pay a far smaller share of their income in Social Security taxes than middle-class workers do — to pay a bit more in payroll taxes. Or how about a special tax on billionaires, who now pay the same rate as pediatricians and school principals?
You can see why conservatives believe punishing the vulnerable and the elderly is their only real option. How else are you going to convince them to have someone leave them a multi-million-dollar inheritance?
Photo: Mark Taylor via Flickr