The proposed tax deal between Republicans and Democrats lays out in clear relief the sharp contrasts between Republican and Democratic priorities.
Democrats have demanded major economic benefits for the middle class:
- No increase in middle class taxes;
- Continued payment of unemployment benefits to the millions who are out of work because there are five job seekers for every job;
- A payroll tax holiday for employees (not corporations) that would save a couple making $70,000 a year $1,400 next year.
- Continuation of tax benefits for middle- and low-income families that were included in the Obama stimulus bill -- including expanded college tuition deduction that provides support for eight million students; and expanded versions of the child tax credit and earned income tax credit that benefit low income working families.
Republicans demanded big time benefits for the wealthy and the country's largest corporations:
- Tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans;
- An estate tax provision that increases the number of millionaires who are entirely exempt from inheritance tax, and lowers the tax rate for the multimillionaires and billionaires who are covered.
- A business tax break for companies who invest in new capital equipment.
There you have it. No clearer map exists as to who is on whose side. The Republicans have held the middle class hostage so it could continue huge tax breaks for the tiny sliver of the population whose incomes have skyrocketed at the same time the incomes of everyday Americans have actually dropped and the recklessness of Wall Street has cost eight million Americans their jobs.
Let's be clear. The Republican Party in America has only one core value: massive economic benefits for the wealthiest Americans. When the chips are down, that's all they ultimately care about, and they'll sacrifice the welfare of everyone else who is gullible enough to vote for them in order to get it.
The case of the estate tax is particularly egregious. By definition, the estate tax only affects the taxes of the sons and daughters of multimillionaires -- people who all grew up with silver spoons in their mouths -- the Paris Hiltons of the world. No one even tries to argue that providing this group with this tax cut will somehow benefit the economy.
The Bush era tax cuts phased down the estate tax over a period of years. Last year it was zero. But it was due to return to its pre-Bush levels for the tax year 2011. The Republicans were desperate to prevent that from happening and insisted that part of the package include Senator Kyl's proposal that individuals with estates under $5 million and couples with less than $10 million should be excluded entirely. And he insisted the rate would drop to 35 percent for all of those above this level -- instead of the 45 percent proposed by Democrats. Over the next two years these changes only cost us about $18 billion. If it is allowed to extend beyond that it will be worth hundreds of billions to the sons and daughters of multimillionaires.
And talk about hypocrisy. Republicans paraded up and down the countryside just a month ago blathering on about "the deficit." None of the tax breaks for the wealthy are "paid for." They all come right out of the deficit. Proving once again, that for Republicans -- as Vice President Cheney once said -- "Deficits don't matter."
Republicans couldn't care less about the deficit. They took budgets that were in surplus at the end of the Clinton administration and turned them into the largest deficits in history by giving huge tax cuts to millionaires, launching two wars that were not paid for, and causing a massive recession.
Of course none of the tax package is "paid for" -- including the major benefits for the middle class. And that, ironically, is a good thing. Right now our economy does not need less "federal deficit," it needs less "demand deficit." We have to fill in the deficit of economic demand to jumpstart self-sustaining growth that will create jobs. That requires more stimulus -- which is exactly what Democrats have demanded and Republicans have denounced.
Most Republicans do not denounce more stimulus because they actually believe it is bad for the economy. They oppose it because it is good for the economy. Frankly, they have a political interest in actually preventing economic recovery. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made it very clear that his top priority is defeating President Obama, and there is no surer way to do that than a bad economy. And besides, his real constituents -- the folks on Wall Street and the super-rich -- are doing quite well as things are, thank you very much.
House Democrats may still demand changes in the tax package -- especially the outrageous Republican demands concerning the estate tax.
No doubt Democrats should do everything they can to get the best deal possible for the vast majority of Americans before this deal is passed into law. Democrats don't have the votes in the Senate to pass a tax package without at least some Republicans. Republicans have insisted on holding benefits for the middle class hostage to their demands for the rich.
On the other hand, Democrats absolutely have the high political ground in this standoff. Everyday voters agree with us that the time has come to end these outrageous giveaways to the wealthy.
President Obama has made a single-minded priority of the importance of using this negotiation to provide hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus for the economy -- from unemployment benefits, tax cuts for the middle class, and the payroll tax holiday. His top priority is the creation of new jobs.
He believes that this is one of the last trains out of town for stimulus before the Republicans make it ever so much more difficult to pass any progressive legislation when they take control of the House next year. For progressives, that focus on jobs must certainly be the most critical priority as well.
There are those who believe that we could have done a better job playing our cards in this political poker game. Whether or not that is true, we cannot lose sight of one critical fact:
If the terms of this deal demonstrate anything, it is the glaring difference in priorities between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats represent everyday Americans and Republicans represent the rich.
And there is another lesson. When the Senate convenes Jan. 5 of next year, it's time to change the archaic rules that allow the minority Senate Republicans to hold the interests of everyday Americans hostage. If Democrats did not need 60 Senate votes to pass middle-class tax cuts without pandering to the interests of the wealthy, then we could have eliminated the remnants of the Bush tax cuts long ago.
Senators can change those rules by majority vote on the first day of the session of the new Senate. If you want to do something to prevent the Republicans from holding most Americans hostage to the interests of the wealthy in the future -- call your Senators today. Tell them to vote to change the Senate filibuster rules now.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.