Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Monkey, Millionaires and Billionaires

President Obama recently announced his latest stimulus proposal (ahem, "jobs plan"). To pay for the stimulus proposal, Obama went to the populist grab bag of tax "reforms," proposing tax increases oil and gas companies and on "millionaires and billionaires."

Oh, by the way, Obama defines "millionaires and billionaires" as "married couples earning $250,000" and "unmarried individuals earning $200,000." I still haven't thought of an easy way to describe this category of taxpayers, other than "working professionals." Apparently, in Obama's world, a working professional married couple that earns $250,000 is more similar to a billionaire than a working professional married couple that earns $249,999 or, for that matter, $149,999.

That's not my world, and probably not your world, but too much time in the Beltway scrambles all common sense. In any event, that topic is fodder for another post.

Obama tax policy would be infuriating if it were not so obvious that there is no policy behind the policy. Obama's solution to the nation's dysfunctional health care sector? Raise taxes on the "wealthy." Obama's solution to 9% unemployment? Raise taxes on the "wealthy." Obama's solution to the federal budget crisis? Raise taxes on the "wealthy."

Keep in mind, I'm a political independent and I support the notion that we should tax capital gains at the same rates as ordinary income. My problem is two-fold.

Number one, President Obama talks a big game about increased taxes on "millionaires and billionaires." But there aren't enough "millionaires and billionaires" to make a significant dent in any of his spending proposals. He is hiding behind class warfare rhetoric to make tax increases on working professionals seem like tax increases on the uber-rich. It's slimy behavior, regardless of the politics.

Number two, I want some policy debate around the idea that the "wealthy," including working professionals, are not paying enough tax. Let's slice and dice the distribution of income taxes at various income levels. Do we really want a society where half the population pays zero income taxes? (Yes, many are subject to payroll, and most are subject to sales taxes, but we're discussing income taxes.) Should the top 5% of taxpayers pay more taxes? The top 20%? The uber-wealthy in the top 0.1%? Let's have a national discussion about the numbers and whether different groups of taxpayers are paying their "fair share."

Instead, we get the same, tired proposals from the Obama administration. I suspect that President Obama has two large spinning wheels in a super-secret room in the White House (think 'Price is Right'). On one spinning wheel are a series of "stimulus" ideas: tax credits for this or that; infrastructure spending; cash grants to state governments. On the other spinning wheel are Obama's "tax policy" ideas: raise taxes on the "wealthy"; close "corporate loopholes" for multinational taxpayers that "send jobs overseas"; increase taxes on the "big oil and gas companies."

Before Obama decides to hit the road for the day, he assembles with his advisors in the super-secret room. His advisors trot out a monkey. Monkey seems to enjoy throwing darts at the spinning Price is Right wheels. Advisors spin the wheel. Monkey throws a few darts. Advisors track the landings and furiously scribble some notes. The darts plot out Obama's speaking agenda for the day. Obama slips into zen-like meditative trance as the Price is Right wheels turn and turn. Advisors break the trance with some fresh organic coffee ground by a Berkeley PhD. Monkey gets some fruit and tries to bite Berkeley PhD as a secret service handler leads him back to his monkey room for the day.

This is tax policy in the Obama administration.

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