The same Republicans who vote for tax cuts for the rich have tried to choke off long-term unemployment benefits.
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Since those tax cuts were enacted in 2001, they have cost the U.S. government more than $2.5 trillion in lost revenue. Almost half of that revenue — $1 trillion — went to households making more than $380,000 per year.
After the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans led by newly minted Speaker John Boehner (R- Ohio) made it clear that their No. 1 legislative priority was to extend those tax cuts. The GOP said ending the tax cuts posed a danger to the economic recovery. President Obama, still reeling from the “shellacking ” his party took in the election, agreed to the GOP’s demand and signed an extension of the very tax cuts he had long opposed.
Obama had campaigned on a promise to raise the top marginal tax rate from 35 percent to 39 percent. This modest proposal led to charges from Republicans that the president was advocating “socialism” and “income redistribution.”
If raising the tax rate on the richest Americans is the work of a socialist, what are we to make of the Republican icon, former President Ronald Reagan? At the end of Reagan’s first term, the rate was at 50 percent. Under Richard Nixon’s administration, it was at 70 percent. And under Dwight Eisenhower, it was a staggering 91 percent.
Imagine if any of those three Republicans was trying to win today’s GOP primary. They’d be written off by the Tea Party types as liberals, traitors to the party and worse.
Obama’s push for tax hikes as part of his deficit-cutting efforts is modest when compared to Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan — and comes at a time of crisis over the debt and with the nation engaged in two costly long-term wars. But somehow Boehner feels it is politically smart to announce that any deficit reduction plan that includes tax increases is “unacceptable and a non-starter.”
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, pressures all Republican candidates for federal office to sign his “No New Taxes” pledge — effectively tying the hands of almost every Republican legislator. When Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a member of the president’s commission on deficit reduction, said he would support a proposal to close off tax loopholes last month, Norquist pounced. He said Coburn was effectively supporting a tax increase and “breaking his pledge to the people of Oklahoma.” He described the senator as a “malignant” cell in the GOP who has to be stopped so he does not “grow and metastasize.”
Somehow, no Republicans felt compelled to rally around Coburn and denounce Norquist.
The only Republicans speaking honestly are outside of politics. Martin Feldstein, Reagan’s former chief economic adviser, has come out in favor of ending tax deductions and tax credits. And former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has announced he no longer supports the Bush tax cuts.
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), reached essentially the same conclusion last year.
A recent Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans favored both raising taxes and cutting spending to reduce the deficit. Twenty percent said they favored “only” spending cuts and 28 percent said they supported “mostly” spending cuts.
Almost one out of every 10 Americans are out of work. Yet the same Republicans who vote for tax cuts for the rich have tried to choke off long-term unemployment benefits and deny aid to tornado victims.
Now they are hacking away at the social safety net. First, there was House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a limited private insurance plan. All but four House Republicans voted in favor of the plan that has proven extremely unpopular with the voters — just look at the recent special election in New York for evidence.
Now House Republicans are resurrecting President Bush’s failed scheme to privatize Social Security. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, introduced the “Savings Account For Every American Act,” which would allow people to immediately opt out of Social Security in favor of a private “S.A.F.E.” account.
We are beginning to get a clear sense of what the Republican Party’s platform will be heading in 2012 — endless tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Everyone else is on his own. No more Social Security. No more Medicare. No more retirement.
What has happened to the once Grand Old Party?
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His next book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) which will be released in July. This column originally appeared on TheHill.com.