Monday, February 21, 2011

Government shutdown, or, Republicans get their wish.

It has been a goal of the Republican Party at least since the time of Ronald Reagan, to destroy the government. I am not trying to read the minds of Republicans. Rather, I am listening to their words and taking them at face value.

Take Ronald Reagan, who famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; Government is the problem.” He explained his plan for reducing government’s role in our life: “Well, if you've got a kid that's extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker.”

When George W. Bush took office, he fully embraced the “starve the beast” mentality. In 2001 he said, “so we have the tax relief plan [...] that now provides a new kind -- a fiscal straightjacket for Congress. And that’s good for the taxpayers, and it’s incredibly positive news if you’re worried about a federal government that has been growing at a dramatic pace over the past eight years and it has been.”

Grover Norquist wins the prize for the most memorable quotation on the subject: “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Give the Republicans their due. Their plan seems to be working. Let’s take a look at how they have accomplished so much.

First, there is the tax code. As we all know, Bush turned a budget surplus into a huge deficit by reducing taxes on the very wealthy.

They also went after the inheritance tax which taxes income gained not by innovative thinking or hard labor, but by the good fortune of being the child of a dead rich guy. I don’t begrudge anybody money made in this way. Au contraire, I send my condolences to the orphans and widows. But for two centuries the estate tax served as a check on the tendency of the rich to get richer while the poor got poorer. It prevented the amassing of huge fortunes and the creation of an European-style aristocracy.

Then, there is the destruction of civil discourse, and comity. Without a spirit of compromise and bi-partisanship, government cannot function. Grover Norquist – who described bipartisanship as “date-rape” – explained, “We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals -- and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship.” Is it any wonder that fellow conservative Tucker Carlson described Norquist as “repulsive:” He’s “a mean-spirited, humorless, dishonest little creep… the leering, drunken uncle everyone else wishes would stay home.”

We have seen the mean-spirited Republican obstructionism at work in Congress for the last two years. Consider the unprecedented increase in the number of filibusters by Republican senators in the last congress. The 111th Congress again broke the record for the number of filibusters in a session. In March 2010, freshman senator Al Franken attacked the majority of the filibusters—some on matters which later passed with little controversy—as a “perversion of the filibuster.”

Or consider the alarming – nay, shocking – refusal to confirm judges. Here’s how Doug Kendall, President of the Constitutional Accountability Center described the situation:

“Across the nation, Americans seeking justice in our federal court system depend on a functioning judiciary to hear their claims and adjudicate their complaints. While it is positive news that 19 of President Obama’s judicial nominees were confirmed by the Senate during this lame duck session of Congress, it is outrageous that Senate Republican leaders denied floor votes for 19 others.

“Throughout the 111th Congress, conservatives in the Senate have blocked floor votes for even the most uncontroversial nominees, creating a roadblock that needed to be cleared in the lame duck session. While votes have now been allowed on 19 previously blocked nominees, 19 other nominees will have to be re-nominated, and will be forced to go through a duplicative confirmation process – all while Americans wait for justice.

“Fifteen of the 19 blocked nominees were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without recorded opposition or with overwhelmingly bi-partisan votes. Worse still, 13 were nominated to fill ‘judicial emergencies,’ a designation by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts denoting a vacant judicial seat with a crushing caseload. Such inaction by the Senate, while our judiciary is literally pleading for qualified judicial personnel, is unconscionable.”

Thanks to Proposition 13, California is broke. They can’t keep the courts or the DMV open five days a week and they are laying off teachers like nobody’s business. In Wisconsin, a state with a rich history of workers’ rights, citizens by the tens of thousands are marching on the Capitol to protest the Governor’s plan to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights under the pretext that their state is also broke.

In Michigan, state education officials have ordered the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools to immediately implement a plan that balances the district's books by closing half its schools.

And in Congress, there is a real threat that the government will actually shut down for lack of funding, when the continuing budget resolution expires early next month. Make no mistake about it: this is the Republican plan.

How many times have you heard a Republican say, “we were elected to cut the deficit.” The funny thing is, I’ve never met a person concerned about the deficit. I think Dick Cheney struck a popular chord when he said, “deficits don’t matter.”

Now let’s assume ad arguendo that Republicans really do want to cut the deficit. You can cut the deficit by making the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share of taxes. Take the case of Warren Buffett who in 2007 was estimated to be worth $52 billion. He said that he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made in 2006, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent.

You have often heard it said that the U.S. tax-rate on corporations is higher than any Western nation’s. Well, consider General Electric. Last year the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing in U.S. taxes. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion!

ExxonMobil had a pretty good year. It made $37.3 billion on sales of 311 billion. I’m betting that you, dear reader, paid more taxes to the U.S. government than ExxonMobil. Hint: I’ll win my bet if you paid anything at all in federal taxes.

Bank of America managed to eke out 4.4 billion in pre-tax income, so the government paid them 1.9 billion in tax credits. Forbes reports they won’t be paying taxes anytime soon because of a $49 billion “provision for credit losses.”

Ford Motor Company didn’t take any bailout money and still managed to earn 3 billion on sales of 118 billion. On that profit they were required to pay 2.3% to Uncle Sam. Verizon did okay, raking in pre-tax income of 11.6 billion, but they were able to keep their effective tax rate down to 10.5%, which is considerably lower than the rate at which Warren Buffett’s secretary paid.

I could go on and on, but by now you get the point: America’s wealthy and American corporations are not over-taxed. And yet, the so-called liberal press has completely bought into the idea that the deficit cannot be cut without slashing entitlements.

Entitlements are things people are entitled to. They are not government largess. In most cases, they are deferred compensation for a lifetime of work and service. In other cases, they provide the modicum of dignity that – forgive me for saying it – everyone is entitled to. Social Security, which is fundamentally sound for the foreseeable future, doesn't count in the deficit, because it is "off-budget." But that doesn't stop the chattering class from saying that we must attack Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

John Boehner has said over and over again, “We’re broke.” If the Republicans shut down the government again, the sound you will hear is the sound of your government gurgling bathwater.

Thanks, Republicans.

“and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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