By Mark Mellman - 09/20/11 11:10 PM EDT
By rebuffing the Buffett rule, while continuing to demand cuts in Medicare, Social Security, education and job-creation efforts, Republicans have revealed their true colors, representing the values of few and the interests of even fewer.
Republicans would rather cut Medicare benefits than make millionaires pay their fair share of taxes.
According to the IRS, 1,500 people who made more than $1 million in income paid zero taxes in 2009 — not a cent. Republicans put a higher priority on ensuring that those individuals continue paying no taxes than on helping millions of unemployed get jobs.
The 400 richest Americans, all of whom made more than $110 million in 2008, paid only 18 percent of their income in taxes. A family making $69,000 per year pays 25 percent — and Republicans say they would prefer that the Forbes 400 go on paying less than the middle class.
Check the word “untenable” in the dictionary and you’ll find the GOP’s opposition to the Buffett rule — the notion articulated by President Obama that no household making more than $1 million a year should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay. As the president said Monday, “It is wrong that … a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.”
Yet the IRS statistics reveal it does happen, and Republicans defend the current inequities, arguing they represent the will of the people.
GOP claims notwithstanding, so far in 2011, at least six different public pollsters have asked Americans on at least 10 different occasions whether the wealthiest Americans should pay more taxes. Each and every time a majority said yes. And not narrow majorities — support ranged between 59 percent and 76 percent.
Last month, the CNN/ORC poll put the question in general terms, offering a less-than-optimal rationale. Yet 62 percent said “taxes on wealthy people should be kept high so government can use their money for programs to help lower-income people.” Just 34 percent believe “taxes on wealthy people should be kept low because they invest their money in the private sector and that helps the economy and creates jobs.”
In August, a USA Today/Gallup poll found 66 percent favoring “increasing income tax rates for upper-income Americans.” Only 33 percent were opposed.
I could go on reciting the evidence, but the conclusion is clear — every poll that has posed the question finds a majority in favor of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans — certainly on millionaires and billionaires — and not a single reputable survey has found voters opposing a tax hike on the rich.
Unable to defend their position, Republicans react by squealing incoherently about “class warfare.” Democrats shouldn’t fear this response, but rather chuckle at its ineptitude.
Republicans use “class warfare” as a pejorative. It means something very different to voters, who see it as a descriptive. When we ask focus groups what “class warfare” means to them, participants divide into two categories. Some have no idea at all. The rest say, “Big corporations, special interests and others have gone to war against the middle class.” They’re right — and Democrats are defending them in this conflict, while Republicans lay siege to the middle class.
Frankly, having learned over many years that voters sometimes don’t mean everything they say about taxes, I hesitate going into an election arguing over taxes, but on this one I’d much rather be in our shoes than theirs. The GOP has glommed onto the losing side of this argument, which will reinforce its well-deserved image as the party of the rich, at war against the middle class.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).