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The Fight Continues

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The Patriotic Millionaires are striking back in a new letter to Ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch. Last week, he sent the group a letter detailing his views on tax cuts, the national debt and the budget -- and so it seems the fight has only begun.

In a detailed letter including historical data, statistics, and national debt trends, the Patriotic Millionaires counter Senator Hatch's assertion that the solution to our nation's problems is not increasing taxes but decreasing spending by stating, "The spending that led to such debt resulted from the collective actions of Senators and House Representatives, including you."

The dispute between Hatch and the Patriotic Millionaires began when he responded to their campaign by asserting that if they wanted their taxes to increase, they could make voluntary contributions to the IRS. See a time line of the dispute below.

-April 26th, 2011
The Patriotic Millionaires send a dignified response to Senator Hatch's condescending letter:

Dear Senator Hatch:

Thank you for your letter of April 20. With all due respect, you appear to be laboring under a number of misapprehensions. On behalf of the "so-called" (your words) Patriotic Millionaires we would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

First, we are well aware that making voluntary contributions to reduce the deficit is an option that is open to us. That you seem to think reminding us of this is a constructive contribution to this serious debate indicates that you have missed the point. In our democracy, individual citizens do not get to pick and choose what government spending to pay for. You and your colleagues over the past decade have voted for vast outlays that many of us as individuals might not agree with. Nonetheless, we recognize our responsibility as citizens to pay for these expenditures, which were authorized by our elected representatives, and are therefore ultimately our collective responsibility. That is an intrinsic part of living in a democracy: you don't get to opt out.

But letting people opt out is precisely what you are suggesting with your proposal of paying down our debt with voluntary contributions. In World War II, when we faced great challenges as a nation, we didn't ask for voluntary contributions to pay for the war, or ask only those who supported the war to contribute. We had high taxes during the war, and high taxes to pay down the debt, afterward. Today, we benefit from that fiscal discipline. But we are undoing those benefits to society by cutting taxes on the wealthy at the same time we face enormous expenses and are carrying enormous debt. We need all of the above to address this problem, just as we have done in the past.

During World War II, we even resorted to rationing to share the burden of war more equally. Who is paying the burden of war, today? Our less privileged, who fight and die in disproportionate numbers, and our future generations, who will bear the burden of the debt. We think that is shameful.

We are ready to step up to the plate with a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good but we are not willing to make that sacrifice in vain, which it surely would be if we followed the course that you suggest. You even point this out yourself in your letter when you note that "the Bureau of Public Debt recorded only $3.1 million in gifts in 2010." We have been more fortunate than most people, but we are a very small group. If there were even the remotest chance of making a noticeable dent in the problem by acting alone we would have done it already. But we are a few dozen people in a nation of over 300 million facing a debt measured in the tens of trillions. To suggest that we try to tackle this problem by making individual contributions is, frankly, insulting. It is like suggesting to someone expressing a desire to serve their country by bearing arms that they buy a rifle and a plane ticket to Afghanistan. Some problems are too big to be solved except through collective effort and shared sacrifice, and this is one of them.

Second, you write: "this debt crisis is not caused because we tax too little. It is caused because our nation spends too much." This is quibbling over semantics. Deficits result when spending exceeds receipts. Whether that happens because spending is too high or receipts are too low is a matter of perspective and priorities.

In 1977 when you first became a Senator, the U.S. National Debt was approximately $700 billion - that's with a B - or 36% of then-GDP. At the end of 2008, before Barack Obama came to the White House, the National Debt ballooned to almost $10 trillion - that's with a T - and about 70% of 2008 GDP (OMB). While there are different opinions as to how this happened, the National debt did not creep up on us suddenly. The spending that led to such debt resulted from the collective actions of Senators and House Representatives, including you.

It is true that government spending levels are at historic highs, but it is also true that tax rates (and hence receipts) are at historic lows in terms of percentage of GDP. It is the combination of these two factors that has taken us from surplus to near-catastrophic deficits in a mere decade.

Third, you cite Kevin Williamson's argument that "a public school administrator earning $130,000 married to a pharmacist earning $125,000 a year is rhetorically lumped together with millionaires and billionaires." That may be, but it is Williamson doing the rhetorical lumping, not us. We have urged the President to raise taxes only on people earning over $1 million a year, so Williamson's argument is a complete non-sequitur. But even under the most aggressive plan currently on the table, Williamson's hypothetical couple would pay zero additional taxes, as deductions and exemptions would reduce their taxable income to well below $250,000.

Finally, we would like to remind you of two historical points. The first is that the Constitution of the United States of America was established for the express purpose of "promot[ing] the general welfare" and not just the welfare of the rich and powerful. Over the last ten years we, the signatories of the PM letter, have done very well, in no small measure because we benefited from public education, government services, a civil society, and world-class infrastructure, all provided by the government. However, our good fortune has not been shared by the vast majority of our fellow citizens and since our success has been supported by the general public, we feel an obligation to pay back.

The second historical point is that we have faced a crisis like this before. In the early 1990's we successfully addressed a similar crisis through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. As a result, in 2000 we were not debating how to address a debt crisis, but rather how best to dispose of a budget surplus. It is also worth noting, as a matter of historical fact, that we reached this happy state of affairs through a bipartisan effort involving a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. This makes us fundamentally optimistic that the problem we face today is surmountable.

You close by expressing concern about raising taxes on us "during a vulnerable economic recovery." It is precisely because we do not want this problem solved solely on the backs of the most vulnerable that we have asked the President to call us to our duty. To him and to you we say again: raise our taxes. We can take it.

-April 20th, 2011
Senator Hatch writes a letter to the Patriotic Millionaires asserting that they can make voluntary contributions to the IRS if they choose to do so. Furthermore, he states, "this debt crisis is not caused because we tax too little. It is caused because our nation spends too much." Read the full letter here.

-April 15th, 2011
The Patriotic Millionaires respond to Senator Hatch's comments on the Senate floor:
"A few of us voluntarily writing a check to the IRS will not fix the problem that Sen. Hatch and his colleagues created for our country with their fiscal irresponsibility. It will take the work of all Patriotic Americans to create a strong foundation for our continued prosperity. We are willing to do our part by paying higher taxes. It is clear Senator Hatch and many of his colleagues are not willing to do theirs. We challenge Senator Hatch and the other millionaire members of the Senate to put their country first and raise taxes on people like them - and us - who make more than a million dollars a year. In the meantime, if Senator Hatch would like to make a personal contribution to the IRS to help his country, we pledge to match his contribution."

-April 13th, 2011
Senator Hatch mocks the Patriotic Millionaires campaign stating: "Well, as the Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Committee, I feel obligated to inform Mr. Plouffe that the President, and all of those rich liberal Democrats who are eager to pay higher taxes, can do just that. They can write a check to the IRS and make an extra payment on their tax returns to pay down the federal debt. The option is right there at the bottom of their tax return. America awaits these checks."

-April 13th, 2011
The Patriotic Millionaires launch the second iteration of their campaign, urging President Obama to increase taxes on all millionaires in America, stating: "Please do the right thing for our country. Raise our taxes." Read the full letter here.

-November 18th, 2010
The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength launched their first campaign, bringing together over 100 individuals who make over $1 million a year and garnering extensive media coverage.