FISH WRAP: WEEK ENDING 7/15/12

by E.C. Fish on July 16, 2012

ISSUE OF THE WEEK: SLUICING OUT THE TAX DEBATE: The news this week was dominated by tax issues, which means that much of the national conversation this week was stupid, pointless, and devoid of fact. One whole side of our national debate on taxes proceeds from an anti-empirical combination of bad and blind faith. At its best, the conservative side of the tax debate resembles a sort of religious cult devoted to doing what the sainted Reagan said rather than what he did. At its worst, it resembles nothing so much as a bunch of Frankensteinian homunculi groaning, “Taxes bad!”

Any consideration of this week’s news on tax issues can be considered utterly irresponsible if it doesn’t take into account the following facts: first, that what we are discussing here are increases in marginal tax rates that will only apply to income above the $250,000 mark, not on the entirety of income; second, that the chances of the vast majority of the temporarily embarrassed millionaires that populate this great land of ours ever having income above that mark are exceedingly small; and third, that taxes under President Obama have actually decreased. Most considerations of this week’s news on tax issues can thus be considered utterly irresponsible.

There are many more, but these will do for a start. We now bring you back to your country, already in regress.

I AM BARACK’S SPINE: The week began with an announcement by President Obama that at once threw a cup of kerosene on the already smoldering tax debate and changed the terms of the debate itself completely. By proposing an extension of the Bush tax cuts for those making under $250,000 a year, Obama managed to cast his tax policy in positive and popular terms and neatly separate the issue of an extension for income above that level. “Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans and our entire economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy . . . We can have that debate, but let’s not hold up working on the thing that we already agree on.”

It’s worth remembering that the main reason we are having this debate in the first place is that Republicans did exactly that last time, basically threatening both the extension for the vast majority of earnings and the economic recovery on behalf of the upper two percent of income. They are hereby dared to do it again.

It is also worth remembering that we’re still having the debate because Obama let them do it last time. While early indications are that this time will be different, as John Fugelsang says in a Current TV promo, “Obama has caved so many times that there are miners trapped inside him.”

CUE THE HORSESHIT: The Romney campaign dubbed the proposal a “massive tax increase” (horseshit — it’s the end of a temporary tax cut) and cited it as evidence that the president “doesn’t have a clue . . . how to help the middle class” (horseshit — the middle class won’t see a rate increase, which they’re likely to find somewhat helpful). House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) termed the proposal a small business tax hike (horseshit — 97% of small businesses won’t see a rate increase). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said it was a “distraction” that “. . . wasn’t a plan for deficit reduction” (horseshit — outside of Republican magical-thinking economics, increased revenues are completely necessary to reduced deficits). Various and sundry Republican spokespeople and commentators established the usual background noise of charges that the president is “playing politics” (which translates roughly into “doing something that is not in keeping with giving us political advantage”) and grunts of, “Taxes bad!”

ROMNEY AS ALBATROSS: As luck and the collective will of Republican primary voters and caucus participants would have it, the Republicans reentered this debate with a presidential candidate and presumed party head who is a virtual poster boy for the deferential tax treatment of the wealthy, in a week when Romney’s own taxes were themselves a lead news story. Vanity Fair offered an extensive report on his use of such tax avoidance measures as offshore tax havens, while Romney’s “blind trust” defense was effectively undercut by the revelation that the 1994 Romney described the sort of blind trusts he’s using to shield himself from conflict-of-interest accusations as an “age-old ruse” years before he had one himself. As for the 2012 Romney, he has released exactly one year of tax returns (2010, with an estimate for 2011) and has campaign surrogates strongly implying that he won’t release any more, begging the question of what other ruses might be afoot.

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) defended Romney by saying that tax avoidance — including, presumably, the use of expatriated funds — was “really American . . . it’s a game we play . . . every American tries to find the way to get the most deductions they can. I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game.” The “we” Graham refers to is legislators like him, who have larded the tax code with “incentives” (that is, loopholes) for specific industries and even specific companies (that is, their campaign contributors) and who have used tax breaks in place of spending whenever possible, as if the two didn’t have the same effect on the bottom line.

Graham, of course, would like to see a complete overhaul of the tax code, and, like most Republicans, the extension of the Bush tax cuts on the highest bracket until the end of that knock-down, drag-out congressional melee — say, in 2028 or so.

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E.C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

jids July 17, 2012 at 3:46 am

Why does every Fish Wrap leave me with clenched fists?

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