Monday, March 09, 2009

The Grand Obstructionist Party Has Some Plans Too


Despite a barrage of high volume screeching and obfuscation from Hate Talk Radio, Fox and Wall Street's television shows and networks, it isn't complicated or mentally challenging to figure out what's been happening in our country over the past couple of decades. To put it simply, harebrained right-wing ideology has been unleashed on our country by a series of venal regimes dedicated not to public service but to public fleecing (with an 8-year interregnum, the Clinton years, where a compromised and gutless president was fighting for his political survival against these same venal forces instead of for his constituents). The Bush II years were a kind of apogee as a time of plunder and pillage during which the class the Regime represented was gigantically and systematically enriched and empowered at the expense of society as a whole and at the expense of every other family and individual in the country.

And now we've awoken from the nightmare and elected someone who has promised to reverse that trend, rejecting someone who had been promising-- and still promises-- to perpetuate it. The venal forces are attacking him with all their considerable might, on every front and with every weapon available to them. As Bob Herbert reminded us in Friday's NY Times, Miracles Take Time.
Barack Obama has only been president for six weeks, but there is a surprising amount of ire, anger, even outrage that he hasn’t yet solved the problems of the U.S. economy, that he hasn’t saved us from the increasingly tragic devastation wrought by the clownish ideas of right-wing conservatives and the many long years of radical Republican misrule.

This intense, impatient, often self-righteous, frequently wrongheaded and at times willfully destructive criticism has come in waves, and not just from the right. Mr. Obama is as legitimate a target for criticism as any president. But there is a weird hysterical quality to some of the recent attacks that suggests an underlying fear or barely suppressed rage. It’s a quality that seems not just unhelpful but unhealthy.

Mr. Obama is being hammered-- depending on the point of view of the critics-- for the continuing collapse of the stock market, for not moving fast enough to revive the suicidal financial industry, for trying to stem the flood tide of home foreclosures, for trying to bring health insurance coverage to some of the millions of Americans who don’t have any, for running up huge budget deficits as he tries to fend off the worst economic emergency since World War II and for not taking time out from all of the above to deal with-- get this-- earmarks.

On CNN yesterday, Obama's budget director, Peter Orszag, made much the same point about how miracles don't happen overnight. How many years of Reagan, and two Bushes did it take to bring the country to where it is now? Boehner, Cantor, Kyl, DeMint, Limbaugh, McConnell, Vitter and the rest of the hard-core obstructionists may be working 24/7 on how to bring down Obama, but the administration is just moving forward with its plans to rescue the country from all that the Republicans (and the sold out and/or cowardly reactionary Democrats who allied with them-- Max Baucus comes quickly to mind) have wrought.
"It's very clear the economy is facing some tough times. We are inheriting the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Job loss began in January 2008. It's going to take some time for us to work our way out of this. But we acted quickly. Within the first month after the president took office, [we] enacted a recovery act to start back on the path to economic growth. But we acted quickly... The money is starting to flow. Let's give it some time to work."

He challenged host John King "to invite the Republicans on this show and ask for their specifics, and then compare them head-to-head... [W]e are proposing a change in course in which we are not only fiscally responsible, but we are investing in education, we are investing in energy, and we're investing in health care.” But all we get from the right are dangerously accelerating attacks on President Obama and his policies, on behalf of the special interests unwilling to give up their exalted positions-- despite leading the country to the brink of catastrophe-- are coming from their well-bribed handmaidens of our political class. The Republicans have now transformed themselves, once again, into the Grand Obstructionist Party and their shameless and treacherous leaders will stop at nothing-- no matter how much harm it does to the nation and to their own constituents-- to sabotage the president's rescue operations. They will continue to toss out every kind of attack they can think of until they find one that sticks. As citizens it's our duty to be ever vigilant and to always push back against their deprecations and lies.
To hear conservatives tell it, you'd think mobs of shiftless welfare moms were marauding through the streets of Greenwich and Palm Springs, lynching bankers and hedge-fund managers, stringing up shopkeepers, and herding lawyers into internment camps. President Obama and his budgeteers, they say, have declared war on the rich.

On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist (and former Bush speechwriter) Michael Gerson argued in an op-ed that "Obama chose a time of recession to propose a massive increase in progressivity—a 10-year, trillion-dollar haul from the rich, already being punished by the stock market collapse and the housing market decline." The plans are so radical, "there will not be enough wealthy people left to bleed." CNBC's Larry Kudlow wrote that "Obama is declaring war on investors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, large corporations, and private-equity and venture-capital funds." Other segments on the financial news network warn of a tax on the rich, a war on the wealthy. My personal favorite was a piece from, which had to be rewritten and reposted because the original was so poorly done. (The revised version isn't much better.) It quotes a dentist who is contemplating reducing "her income from her current $320,000 to under $250,000 by having her dental hygienist work fewer days and by treating fewer patients. [That way, she] would avoid paying higher taxes on the $70,000 that would be subject to increased taxation if Obama's proposal is signed into law."

It's hard to overstate how absurd these claims are. First, let's talk about the "massive increase in progressivity" that Gerson deplores. It consists largely (but not exclusively) of returning marginal tax rates to their levels of 2001, before Gerson and the epically incompetent Bush administration of which he was a part got their hands on the reins of power. Obama wants to let marginal rates for families with taxable income (not total income, but taxable income) of more than $250,000 revert from 33 percent to 36 percent, and to let the top rate-- currently 35 percent on family income above $357,000-- revert to 39 percent. (Here are the current tax tables.) There's also talk of capping-- not eliminating, but capping-- deductions on charitable giving and mortgage interest.
Obama's proposals don't mean the government would steal every penny you make above the $250,000 threshold, or that making more than $250,000 would somehow subject all of your income to higher taxes. Rather, you'd pay 36 cents to the government in income taxes on every dollar over the threshold, rather than 33 cents.

...[T]here has been a near total absence of discussion of what higher rates will mean in the real world. Say you're a CNBC anchor, or a Washington Post columnist with a seat at the Council on Foreign Relations, or a dentist, and you managed to cobble together $350,000 a year in income. You're doing quite well. If you subtract deductions for state and property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable deductions, and other deductions, the amount on which tax rates are calculated might total $300,000. What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!

Can she, or we, really be that stupid?

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At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes we can!


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