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COMMENTARY

The people have spoken

By John Brummett

This article was published November 21, 2012 at 5:00 a.m.

If elections indeed have consequences, then rich people’s taxes must rise.

We had an election a couple of weeks ago. It was a really big one with about 120 million Americans participating.

The Democratic side advocating higher taxes on wealthy people put a significant whipping on the Republican side advocating no higher taxes on wealthy people.

It was not a landslide. I didn’t say it was. I said it was a significant whipping.

The returns are not difficult to read and the logical conclusions are not hard to reach.

President Barack Obama, advocating higher taxes for the rich, got around 4 million more votes than Mitt Romney, a billionaire who paid a minuscule effective tax rate himself and stood firmly for keeping it that way.

The U.S. Senate went from a 53-47 advantage for the Democratic side advocating higher taxes on the wealthy to a 55-45 advantage.

The U.S. House of Representatives stayed under control of the Republican side advocating that rich people not pay a fair share of taxes because that would harm “job creation.” But the Republicans lost eight seats in that majority and would have lost more except that they had redrawn districts to protect incumbents. Cumulatively nationwide, the GOP’s House candidates received a million fewer votes than the Democratic candidates.

So now we face the “fiscal cliff” that seems to command, or at least strongly invite, some major budget deal by the end of the year. And Republicans are still saying the only increased revenue they will support must come in the form of plugged loopholes, not higher tax rates.

They say it would send small businesses reeling to increase the marginal rate on household incomes exceeding $250,000 from 35 percent to the supposedly onerous 39 percent level of the go-go Clinton era.

May I translate? What they are really saying is that they signed that contemptible pledge from that right-wing, Koch-allied bulldog, Grover Norquist.

You know the pledge they mean—the one not to raise taxes. And what they are really saying is that they might get GOP primary opposition and maybe lose if they broke that pledge. And they think that would be bad—their losing to a right-wing kook who would then get beat by a Democrat.

This small-business argument is bogus. A tiny percentage of small-business owners in this country nets more than a quarter-million dollars in personal income.

If small-business owners do, in fact, make that much, then their small businesses are hardly hamstrung by tax policy. To the contrary, they are having fabulous years. Even then, they only pay the higher rate on the margin in excess of $250,000.

That’s essentially what Warren Buffett was telling CNN the other day. For goodness sakes, he said, the American economy has thrived with much higher marginal rates on top incomes than 39 percent.

Buffett also said—and this is most interesting—that the current American economy is entirely too resilient to collapse immediately if members of Congress can’t agree on a plan for fiscal-cliff avoidance by the end of the year.

Some Democrats have begun referring to the fiscal cliff as a “fiscal staircase” on which the economy could walk down incrementally and safely after the first of the year.

Liberal columnist Paul Krugman advocates, actually, that the Democrats invite that cliff, or staircase, to leverage negotiations early next year.

His point is that the American electorate has spoken in the Democrats’ favor. It is that the economy would not instantly crash if the Democrats let the Republicans wreak their wealth-protecting havoc. It is that Republicans would have to concede if taxes went up on everybody and draconian automatic spending reductions put the country on a recession-bound course.

Maybe then, so the thinking goes, a few Republicans would be willing to tear up their no-tax pledges and tell Norquist where to get off.

The far more responsible course is to do a deal by the end of the year, one with deep, but responsible spending cuts and either a higher marginal rate at $250,000 or at least a so-called Buffett Rule imposing a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent on annual million-dollar incomes.

The onus is appropriately on House Speaker John Boehner to round up a couple of dozen sane and personally responsible House Republicans—just a couple of dozen—to get such a deal done.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com.

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TomBear says... November 21, 2012 at 6:52 a.m.

Republicans may roll over and approve revenue increases, but Democrats will NEVER make meaningful budget cuts. But I hope I am proven wrong.

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Whippersnapper says... November 21, 2012 at 7:25 a.m.

Using your logic, Republicans in Arkansas should feel free to do whatever they want, because they DID win in a landslide and the Democrats did everything they could to make this an election about whether or not folks support Mike Beebe.
The truth of the matter is that folks representing a significant majority of the American population sent Republicans back to the House of Representatives - the electable portion of the Federal government where the politicians are held most closely accountable for their actions by the electorate (on a two year cycle even, so you don't have 4 or 6 years to hope your "supporters" forgot a past action). Presidential elections have not been about policies in a long time - they have been more about the perceptions of the individual as a person. To claim that this suddenly was not about the same thing that has been guiding elections for decades is ludicrous. (in fact, I think you'll find that it is centuries and our very first president was not elected over his stances on foreign or domestic policy but rather his popularity as a war hero)

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Johnbrummett says... November 21, 2012 at 8:39 a.m.

Not sure 51 seats in state house is landslide. But, yes, some of this right-wing madness has voter credibility. But on taxes -- you have to weigh 51 votes for income tax cuts versus two mandate elections for Beebe and grocery tax cut, if you think, as I do, that state can't afford both.

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SoonerHawg says... November 21, 2012 at 8:48 a.m.

No offense intended, but I believe that a good portion of the Democrat gains in the senate actually came as a gift of the far-right on social issues. Not necessarily on taxing the rich to death. I do not have an issue with increasing their penalty a bit, but everyone needs to understand that there will be some ramification to punitive taxation on these people.

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tommylit says... November 21, 2012 at 9:20 a.m.

There is no punitive taxation on the rich. We have had far more taxation on the rich in the past than what is proposed now. What is punitive is allowing the rich to be taxed at 15 percent, and the middle class taxed at a higher rate. Why can't he right accept tax fairness instead of using wealth to discriminate against the poor. That's the real reason you lost.

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NWAConsumerReview says... November 21, 2012 at 9:49 a.m.

This was an excellent article that did a good job of financial reporting.

More directly stated, the Republican platform is centered around money for the elite and powerful and then includes secondary issues regarding guns and the right to life to garner votes.This tiny controlling faction, epitomized by Romney, likes chaos, wars, market crashes and "fiscal cliffs" ... these events create oppotunuties for them to acquire more stock market assets and real estate at distress pricing. Unfortunately, these gains are mostly from the middle class. Yes, the people have spoken and shown they are getting wise to this game.

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LevyRat says... November 21, 2012 at 11:17 a.m.

Here's what is going to happen, rich people will hire lawyers and CPAs so they don't have to pay much in income tax no matter what these bozos come up with. Even Obama avoided most of the taxes on his million dollar income, paying less than 17%. While you and I will be paying 2% more in payroll taxes starting January 1, a TAX INCREASE on the middle class, thanks to the lying tax and spend liberals. Thanks Obama.

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Jjackk says... November 21, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

you mean the middle class tax that Republicans didn't want to cut in the first place? They fought against it until they had to make a stand publicly. why in the world would the Republicans fight against a tax cut? Because it only went to the middle class?

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Whippersnapper says... November 21, 2012 at 11:48 a.m.

51 votes in the state house when the Republican Party basically disavowed themselves of several candidates over their fringe positions is still actually right about where Obama ended up. Wasn't his percentage of the popular vote right at around 51%? How did the Arkansas Senate end up again? Seriously, if you think that 51% voting for Obama is a clear indicator that one of his specifically advocated policies has absolute backing, then the same can be said for any Republican issue that state lawmakers choose. That's my point - any "mandate" is at least as clear for state Republicans as it is for national Democrats (and considering that the state thing was the first ever rejection of Democratic elected officials, I would argue it is a clearer mandate).

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Johnbrummett says... November 21, 2012 at 2:13 p.m.

yes, obama ended up around 51 percent. your point is well-taken except that the democrats' gains were across the board nationally, but we didn't have a governor's race this time in arkansas to take an across-the-board temperature. that pits the grocery tax cut of a governor who got over 60 percent the last time he ran against the income tax cut or capital gains cut of a narrow house majority. and that's not a problem if you can figure a way to do both, which i can't, responsibly. you see.

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