Healthcare and Tax Increases – Two Sides of the Same Coin (check the votes)

So you think that the House Republicans are really strident over their opposition to healthcare reform?  Well, maybe they are.  But, their stridency is not  about healthcare.  It’s about taxes, and it’s always been about taxes.  How a about a little memory refresher here:    

 Omnibus Tax Bill of 1993 – Democratic Yes Votes – 219

                                                    – Republican Yes Votes – ZERO

Health Care Reform 2010  – Democratic Yes Votes – 219

                                                    – Republican Yes Votes – ZERO

Weird?  Bizarre?  Coincidental?  Not at all.

Bill Clinton’s bill was about deficit reduction and income tax increases on the upper 1.2% of taxpayers and tax decreases for 15,000,000 low-income Americans and  90% of small business.   Barack Obama’s bill is about some assurance that 30,000,000 more American citizens have the opportunity for a basic need that has been taken for granted in every industrialized in the world to-date, except ours.    The only difference between the 2 bills is that they represent a different side of the same coin – where the money is going to come from.

According to Warren Buffett, “The money has to come from somewhere.”   And he believes it needs to come from the very highest earners.  Bill Gates is of the same opinion.   The richest two Americans both believe that income tax rates for high income Americans are ridiculously low.   Buffett is often quoted as saying, “Tax-wise, I’ve never had it so good.  I’m in a lower effect bracket that my secretary when our social security and medicare taxes are included in the calculation.”

How many House Republicans do you think agree with Buffett and Gates?  You’re right:    ZERO


Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 12:01 am  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Senator Durbin . . . Your Answer, Please?

In the fall of 2005, after the Senate Judiciary Committee had approved John Robert’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13 to 5,  I became curious as to why the senior Senator from my State of Illinois had cast one of the “no” votes.  I decided to send a letter of inquiry to the Senator via his website to find out.  I was 55 years old at the time with this being my first letter to any elected official about any subject. 

I had watched a considerable part of the confirmation hearing and thought that Roberts had handled the process quite well.  It was fairly obvious that he was quite a conservative nominee, but I did not think that should matter much.  He was as qualified as anyone in the United States, even though he was fairly young for a Supreme Court nominee.    Somewhat naively, I believed that the vote for his approval, whether in committee or in the full Senate should be based on merit and temperament rather than political drift.   

 I carefully composed my letter and hit the “send” key.   I received a timely, well-written response from the Office of the Senator, and it was more than I had expected.  Although the letter had the readability and content of a plain-vanilla reply written for general purposes, it was quite thoughtful and seemed genuine.  Actually, I was pleased to have received any response at all.   Even though I suspected that the letter had been written by a junior staffer, it seemed to have been well-reasoned and, possibly, honed by the Senator himself prior to distribution.   All and all, I was satisfied with his response even though I thought his vote went the wrong way.  4  years later, I am not so sure.  Maybe I made a rookie mistake.  Who knows?  I suspect that it is too early to tell.

It took quite awhile before I wrote another letter.  I drafted the next one to Senator Durbin several months ago.  I don’t recall much of the specific language, but the gist of my letter centered around the Senator’s whereabouts in the health care debate.  I had read his statements on his website, but I was curious as to why his public profile on the topic was so low.    This was the period when Baucus and his gang of an indeterminate number ran the health care show (seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?).  Was Senator Durbin, as Majority Whip, staying out-of-the-way until final vote tally time, getting ready for the big-whip, or what?  Anyway, I thought that I might make a rather general inquiry as to his involvement in the process.

It was about 3 weeks later that I received a reply.  OK, a little tardy, but it was a response.   It was also, disappointingly, quite general and bland.  I remember thinking that it wasn’t much better than a grammatically correct high school term paper.  I gave it a grade of C+.  It would have been a B- had it been delivered a little more promptly.  The letter had not really delivered anything other than the most general of platitudes.  Disgusted with this response, I figured that I was done writing letters to my Senator – that is, until I read a short piece by the economist, Paul Krugman.

This is the piece that inspired me to write letter # 3 to Senator Durbin:

My letter of inquiry was fired off almost the instant that I had finished reading the Krugman article.  I wanted to know what Senator Durbin’s opinion was, if he had one, on the Krugman piece.  Was the Senate indeed becoming a joke where, like in 17th century Poland, any Senator could stand up and scream, “No,” and the whole process would come to a halt?  It seemed a fair enough question.  After all, this was a question from a liberal citizen from Springfield, Illinois, to a liberal Senator from Springfield, Illinois (I believe we even had the same barber in the 1970’s) about a piece written by a liberal economist?  This would just be three ordinary, middle-age guys comparing notes, right?  Wrong.

It’s been about 5 weeks now, and not a peep.  Maybe the interns are on break . . . . 

5 years – 3 letters – 2 replies – 1 still in draft form??

(Update May 12, 2010 : A full 2 months since my original inquiry and still no reply.  I think it’s safe to assume that I can stop waiting.  Not a bit surprised though.  I believe that I can safely infer that the Senator’s Office only replies to mail inquiries that are convenient or self-serving.)


Public discourse on American tax policy, as we generally hear it, usually begins with the election of President Reagan in  1980.  The discussion, if it develops at all,  proceeds through a garbled debate about the effects of the tax changes during his two terms in office, slides quickly through the Bush I tax increases, drifts to the Clinton tax increases on the wealthy, and finally settles on Bush II’s tax cuts set to expire on December 31, 2010.  This discourse usually does not take too long.  Despite the many nuances and actual effects of this 30 year history, most of the discussion, both public and private, ultimately gets distilled into 2 crude summaries, as follows:

Republicans:  “Tax cuts are good.  With less revenue to wastefully spend, the beast of government is starved, and its unnecessary spending is reduced.  Further, all citizens, with their tax burdens reduced, are more productive and have more money to invest, save, and spend.  As a result, there is greater prosperity for all.”

Democrats:  “Tax increases or decreases are, of themselves, neither good nor bad.  The amount of taxes that the government must collect depends upon the various needs of its citizenry and general economic conditions of the country.   The weight of any necessary tax burden and upon which groups of people it falls, nonetheless,  should be fair and equitable.”

I am not trying here to make short shrift of either the Republican or Democratic official positions, if there indeed are such things.  I am simply trying to distill the mantras that are repeated ad nauseum by political pundits, commentators, policy wonks, and government policy makers   These chants have become not only tiresome but just plain insufferable.  What has resulted is that the public policy debate never seems to elevate itself beyond  these buzz phrases.  On the rare occasions when it does,  standard canned pieces of innuendo usually follow.  However, there is a definite reason for this:  the art of political persuasion does not require more.

Both political parties have known for a long time that tax policy is not something that people want to spend time listening to or discussing at any length.  The subject of taxes is usually a topic that people enjoy complaining about, but there is not too much tolerance for in-depth or at-length reasoning.  Quite frankly, for most  people,  tax topics are immensely boring.    Glassy eyes develop quickly on the particulars.  Politicians know this and use it effectively in the choice of their rhetoric.

Paul Krugman has correctly pointed to this when referring to Republicans as “tax-cut zombies.”  Say the word taxes in connection with almost any assertion to a Republican, and “cut taxes” is the instant push-button response.  Of course, whether or not the “cut-taxes” response is a logical fallacy with respect to the statement being asserted is irrelevant to the discussion.  Depending on the assertion being made, “cut taxes” may indeed be a logical argument.  But the underlying logic of any argument  is never penetrated when the first response is always so quick, so pre-packaged, and so seemingly rigid.  No matter, the Republicans know that a quick and dirty tax-cut blurb is what people like to hear. 

The Democrats, on the other hand, while not having had the complete tax-cut brain transplant, have managed to produce their own form of Zombi-ism.  They don’t assert “tax cuts;” they simply don’t assert anything.  They have learned to literally stampede away from the discussion of tax policy.   However, when pressed, most Democrats will spit forth some version “right now, we probably need to wait and see,” or, “a tax cut may be in the future, but not right now,” or “we’re going to do what the American people expect us to do.”  They may expand their comments to say that more careful study needs to be made, but that is about the extent of it.   All and all, there is little substance from the Democrats –  hollow rhetoric, at best;  sophistry, at worst.

I suppose some of what is described above is a result of our “sound-bite” media.  Say it quick, say it loud, and say it more times than your opponent.  Make it like advertising – say it, write it, and promote it a million times.  Eventually, like a soporific, it will first numb the senses, then induce a stupor.

I just hope that we awaken sooner rather than later.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,