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Book of Matthew: Death, taxes and incompetent Republicans

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Opinions

I hope you’ve all filed your returns, because Tax Day is April 18 this year, and you don’t want to miss it. No, really, you don’t. They have penalties for that.

Yes, I know it can be depressing to sift through all that paperwork and figure out how much Uncle Sam withheld from you this time, but if it makes you feel better, you’re not alone. We all have to pay the price for a stable and secure society. And besides, it’s good to know that the wealthiest among us—those who have benefited the most from society—are the ones who will pay the most for it.

Oh … wait … nevermind. This is America, where the wealthiest individuals and the largest corporations pay little or no income taxes.

For as long as I have been politically aware, the tax debate has been pretty absurd. Sure, while I was growing up, President Clinton was busy balancing the budget with a timely combination of tax increases, spending cuts and a booming economy, but I didn’t start paying attention to government policy until President Bush took office and decided that no one should pay taxes—he argued that the less money people had to pay, the more government revenue would magically appear.

As we all know, that hasn’t worked out so well. After 10 years of generous Bush tax rates, government revenue is at its lowest point since 1950 and the total national debt has increased from less than $6 trillion to more than $14 trillion. Meanwhile, thanks to convenient deductions and some fancy arithmetic, corporations like Bank of America, Boeing, General Electric and Wells Fargo all escaped paying a cent of federal taxes. Even Google and Facebook—two companies that go out of their way to appear friendly—used questionable banking maneuvers to cut their tax bills by billions of dollars.

Some people might call this unfair, or cheating, or outright theft. Some might even say that it’s a good time to start talking about eliminating loopholes and bringing tax rates to more reasonable levels. But, as it turns out, the word “reasonable” doesn’t mean the same thing to a high profile Republican as it does to you or me.

When a ThinkProgress reporter asked former House Speaker and possible Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich what he thought about big businesses that were avoiding paying taxes, Newt shot back with a particularly slimy response. Tax loopholes, he argued, are actually incentives created by the government to encourage businesses to hire more workers.

Which they haven’t been doing, if unemployment statistics are any indication. But they have ensured that their CEOs and other top executives are paid several hundred times the amount that the average American workers receive.

But Gingrich, like most Republicans leaders, doesn’t care that taxpayers are subsidizing expensive vacations and private jets for the super-rich. He wants taxes to stay low—specifically, he wants taxes for his wealthy donors to stay low. It’s the same strategy that Republicans have been using for about 30 years, and they’ve gotten so good at it that they can argue, with a perfectly straight face, in favor of tax cuts as a panacea for any economic situation. And somehow, their constituents—many of whom are not wealthy—still buy it.

And really, that’s all it comes down to. That’s why Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has all but trashed his formerly moderate political stance in favor of one that more closely mirrors Gingrich’s. That’s why Representative Paul Ryan recently proposed a budget (or, as he put it, a “roadmap”) that would supposedly solve America’s fiscal woes while still lowering taxes for the wealthy. If you feed your constituents the same talking points long enough, you get to a point where they will not accept anything else (see: Tea Party), no matter how destructive your plan.

A few days ago, President Obama revealed his own plans to solve the rising debt, which include, as responsible plans should, spending cuts and tax increases. Almost immediately, Senator Mitch McConnell insisted that tax increases were “off the table.” And so it goes. As this debate heats up, be prepared to hear every Republican in Washington say roughly the same thing. It’s not because they’re right. It’s because they’ve run out of other things to say.