Thursday, March 5, 2009

Class warfare? No, inequities vs. needs

"Class warfare."

"Largest tax increase in history."

Get used to these words. If President Barack Obama's tax policies come to fruition, his political foes will wring those phrases for every hint of potential.

We know they will, because those are the same words used to assail what Bill Clinton did with taxes.

And, we were warned that if Congress allowed Clinton to do it, well. . . . Let Phil Gramm explain it.

"We are buying a one-way ticket to a recession."

Yep. That's what it was way back in the dark days after the "largest tax increase in history." You recall: such a fiscal cataclysm that swelling federal coffers from a robust economy actually allowed our government to buy back some of its debt.

Key point never mentioned by the critics then: Clinton didn't raise taxes on Americans in general, just the wealthiest. George W. Bush reversed that, awarding billionaires ungodly gimmes from a Washington increasingly starved for cash — something that happens when you wage two wars at once.

Obama said on the campaign trail that he would return to the general tax policies of the Clinton years. But for the sake of doing what we must, Congress has to go further.

That, Obama says he will — to deal with the millions of Americans who have no health insurance.

The administration proposes to raise $318 billion over 10 years toward that end by ending an inequity in the tax code that — I know this will shock you — benefits the rich.

Current tax law gives wealthy Americans more bang for the buck when they itemize deductions. If you are making $250,000 a year, you get roughly $700 more back for your $10,000 worth of deductions than in the next tax bracket down. Obama's proposal would close that gap.

Foes will call this "class warfare." I guess that would apply. With a tax code so tilted to one side, as a member of the middle class I say, "Let's get ready to rumble."

So, is it a better use of tax dollars for them to be frittered away for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans through unequal tax treatment, or to construct a health system whereby every working American can have affordable health insurance? Discuss.

Speaking of inequity: With the future of Social Security in doubt, and with tax fairness finally back on the table, we no longer can justify a regressive payroll tax for which only the first $102,000 of one's income is taxed for Social Security — FICA.

That means every penny of those of us who don't make $102,000 gets taxed for FICA, but those who make millions pay a ridiculously low rate by comparison. Obama has said he wants to lift that cap.

Oh, and when people tell you that low-income Americans don't pay any income tax, they generally gloss over the fact that everyone pays that payroll tax.

When the issue is raising taxes, often what we are talking about is seeking equity to pay for things this country needs.

Obama says he's not going to raise taxes until the economy is better. At some point, though, he should tell the Phil Gramms of society that, you know: Y'all were wrong then. You are wrong now.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail:

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