Today when the New York Times reports "Tax Cut Timing Is Proving Problematic for Democrats," I faxed and mailed the following letter to President Obama and sent similar messages to his economic team (Austan Goolsbee, Jared Bernstein, Elizabeth Warren), along with Vice President Biden, David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine, and others.
[ Illustrated version at Levees Not War ]
I’m sorry to hear the timing’s inconvenient, but my view is that a shortage of tax revenue from the upper 1 and 2 percent tax brackets is "proving problematic" for America: for the unemployed, the teachers and police who are being laid off, for the crumbling infrastructure, the public transportation that isn’t being built or maintained, and so on. The richest 1% of Americans now take home almost 24% of income ; in the past 30 years more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes has gone to the richest 1% (Nicholas Kristof, "Our Banana Republic"). So, sorry, but I’m not real sympathetic to the plight of the upper 2 percent—or to squeamish Democrats’ timing problem.
Join me in pressing on the White House and congressional Democrats (there are still some left) to do the right thing for America and not extend the Bush tax cuts for the upper 2%. Obama and the Democratic-led 111th Congress passed some 25 tax cuts for the middle class (the "lower 95%"), as he promised he would in 2008, but the Democrats forgot to make sure we knew it. Contact info here. White House phone: 202-456-1111. White House fax: 202-456-2461. Senate. House of Representatives.
Restore Top Rate to Reagan-Era 50%
November 9, 2010
Dear President Obama:
I am writing as an OFA and Obama-Biden campaign volunteer to plead with you: it has to be you, the President, taking the lead on not extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%. Congressional Democrats won’t move without your lead. Gain the upper hand and the moral high ground by not compromising on this. Speak up, and hold firm. Stay in campaign mode—the G.O.P. surely will.
Economic fairness. It would be unfair to the point of criminal to extend the upper 2% tax cuts when the nation is suffering 10% unemployment, 15 million are unemployed, infrastructure is crumbling, and the richest 1% own almost 24% of income. In the past 30 years more than 4/5 of the total increase in American incomes has gone to the richest 1%.
Political winner. In addition to the moral argument, it is essential politically that Democrats take a stand for the middle class. The G.O.P. is handing you a gift, just as Gingrich did to Clinton over Medicare cuts. Bring it on, G.O.P.—we’re not backing down. Force the Republicans to show who they really care about. You already know that they are not serious about reducing the deficit. Anyway, the more they pay in taxes, the less they’ll have to donate to anti-Obama commercials.
"Compromise" by honoring Reagan. Raise the upper-income rates to the 50% they paid during the Reagan years of 1982–1986. Tell ’em, "You’re always praising Reagan, so if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for you now." Honor the Gipper, and pay your share.
Focus on jobs. Use the money to (finally) fund really ambitious WPA–style jobs programs, rehire teachers and municipal workers, develop green energy initiatives and public transportation, Gulf Coast cleanup and wetlands restoration. Unemployment benefits and student loans. Also present a workable plan for ending the home foreclosure crisis. Jobs and homes. Jobs and schools.
Control the debate. Teach the public—as you failed to do before the midterms—that you and the Democrats cut taxes, repeatedly, for 95% of the people, as promised. And keep saying "Republicans want to raise the deficit by $700 billion to help rich people." Organize and train your Democratic surrogates. Don’t let Fox News control the microphone. You have the bully pulpit. Stress economic fairness. Hard times, wartime, need for sacrifice, as the rich have not done for the past 10 years. Let the public see what the G.O.P. really cares about. No "kumbaya" for billionaires!
Feeling "shellacked"? Come back from the midterms in fighting mode. There is no better time to end the upper-income tax evasion. You can’t do it as the 2012 election comes closer. (You’ll be accused of "raising taxes" then, too.) If you cave in on this issue, the G.O.P. will whip you on everything for the next two years, and you’ll really lose the public’s confidence. You and the Democrats are in trouble not because you weren’t generous enough for the well-to-do.
Mr. President, you’ve been more than conciliatory. The conservatives will call you a socialist no matter what olive branches you extend, so offer them a crack of the whip instead.
See Timothy Noah’s fine and troubling series, "The United States of Inequality" at Slate.
See Pulitzer Prize–winning NYT reporter David Cay Johnston’s Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—and Cheat Everybody Else
Stanley Greenberg, James Carville, et al., "Democrats Should Want This Tax Cut Debate"
Robert B. Reich, "Extend the Bush Tax Cut to the Bottom 99 Percent, But Not the Top 1 Percent"
Robert B. Reich, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future
Robert Kuttner, The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity
Robert Scheer, The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker
Jacob Hacker, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class