After trillions in tax breaks, the ultra-wealthy must step up on coronavirus assistance

After trillions in tax breaks, the ultra-wealthy must step up on coronavirus assistance
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Through no fault of their own, millions of hard-working Americans face a perilous future. In response, Congress has vowed to fast-track cash payments and other emergency assistance – to the tune of $1 trillion – to soften the impending economic blow of COVID-19. But with budget deficits at record highs following the 2017 Trump tax cuts, a trillion-dollar spending bill would blast a massive hole in the (already staggering) federal debt.

Enough is enough. Enormous spending proposals must be paid for. It is time to ask a small group of citizens – those who have benefited handsomely from decades of deeply inequitable tax cuts – to step up to the plate.

Indeed, a relatively tiny number of ultra-wealthy Americans have seen their fortunes grow to record levels after 40 years of tax breaks favoring the rich. These cuts – enacted under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE – amounted to tens of trillions of dollars in foregone government revenue; money that could have gone directly to Americans now in desperate need of assistance. If there was ever a time for a single, standalone tax on the very richest among us to help those in need (and keep deficits in check), this is it.

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To be clear, the spending bill proposed by Republicans in Congress is not an economic “stimulus” in the traditional sense. Instead, it amounts to charity in a time of crisis. The proposed payments would go directly to millions of Americans blindsided by enormous uncertainty and impending hardship. Indeed, these checks are not designed to stimulate the economy; they simply buy time for families who will soon decide between paying the rent and putting food on the table. Should we ever pass that point, all bets are off.

The moral and societal arguments for taxing the ultra-wealthy to pay for this enormous spending plan are unassailable. At a time when nearly half of Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency (let alone cope with a systemic economic shock), a small sliver of citizens has accumulated the greatest concentration of wealth in American history. Moreover, saddling future generations with yet more debt is simply wrong, and it must stop.

With federal debt in mind, the $1 trillion price tag of Congress’ emergency proposal begs for a closer look at four decades of tax breaks favoring the wealthy. Ronald Reagan drastically lowered tax rates on the super-rich, ultimately resulting in a staggering figure of $11.5 trillion in foregone revenues. George W. Bush’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy were not far behind, starving the U.S. Treasury of nearly $6 trillion while two colossally expensive wars raged. Donald Trump’s tax cuts, like the others, overwhelmingly benefitted those at the very top (as the president openly admitted) and are projected to lead to well over $2 trillion in lost revenues over the next ten years. Despite having virtually no effect on the economy, these reckless policies have caused federal debt to skyrocket.

All in all, the wealthiest Americans have benefitted enormously from roughly $20 trillion in tax cuts over the last four decades. Indeed, effective tax rates on those at the very top are now so low that no shortage of millionaires and billionaires – including some prominent voices – are explicitly asking Uncle Sam to tax them more.

If that is not enough, perhaps congressional Republicans need some ideological motivation.

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The GOP has long embraced the notion of “fiscal responsibility.” While the thought of Republican sanity on spending (and debt) is utterly risible in light of the debt-busting Reagan, W. Bush and Trump administrations, perhaps the GOP needs a friendly reminder that their trillion-dollar spending plan does, in fact, need to be paid for. With total federal debt closing in on $24 trillion, kicking the can down the road for our grandchildren to deal with will not cut it anymore. Indeed, where is the Tea Party hysteria and outrage these days?

The GOP has also branded itself the party of God. As such, some biblical inspiration may be in order. Matthew notes that only Christians who help those in need will be “blessed” with “eternal life.” Alternatively, ignoring the poor, hungry and needy lends itself to a particularly unpleasant fate.

If we combine ample biblical directives for the fortunate to help those in need with Jesus’s command to pay taxes in full and without complaint, we are one morally sound, deficit-neutral step closer to helping millions of Americans cope with staggering economic uncertainty.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.