Fallout From the “Deal”

I don’t pretend to understand all the ramifications of the “deal” struck in Congress recently to keep us from going over the fiscal cliff. But the complaints from the political right-wing suggest that the deal was a good thing for the rest of the country. I figure if the Tea Party doesn’t like it, it must be a good thing for the majority of people in this country.

I do wonder, however, whether it might have been better in the long run if we had fallen off the cliff — on our collective butts — in order to force this country to eliminate some of the fat in our budget (starting with defense spending, of course) and make all of us pay more taxes — given the fact that we are taxed at a very low rate compared with the rest of the “developed” world, and also given the fact that our economy thrived when we were paying more in taxes. I was especially hoping for tax raises on the wealthy who have benefitted mightily from the Bush tax cuts. As I understand it, the new deal will raise taxes on individuals who make above $400,000 a year and that will help reduce the deficit somewhat. But a great many people who make a great deal of money will still avoid paying their share.

There’s more: one of the more interesting ramifications of the deal is the complaint we are hearing from some of the wealthy who have threatened to discontinue giving to charities. A recent story on HuffPost focusing on this issue caught my eye. In that story we are told that

Legislation passed by the Senate late Tuesday night will limit the amount wealthy people can claim for charitable deductions on their taxes. While some say donors shouldn’t be motivated by the amount of money they can write off, others –- including some nervous nonprofits –- argue that tax breaks for charitable giving should have been left untouched in the deal.

One such dissenter is Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. Fleischer tweeted his distaste for the deduction decision on Tuesday:

“I increased donations to charity in 2012. This deal limits my deductions so I, & many others, will likely donate less in 2013.”

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) January 1, 2013

When I was a kid I loved playing marbles. We played “keepies” where the winners get to keep the marbles they hit out of a ring drawn in the dirt. Every now and again a kid would see that he was losing and grab his remaining marbles and refuse to play any more. This is what Fleischer’s complaint reminds me of. Wealthy people like Ari Fleischer don’t want to play any more because they won’t get the tax breaks they are used to getting for giving some of their money to those less fortunate than themselves. Poor Ari. I expect he cries all the way to the bank. I thought the idea behind charitable giving was to help others, not to get tax breaks. Great wealth seems to cloud the brain.

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Cold-Hearted Politics

In a “secret” taping of a speech to a group of fundraisers which everyone and his dog has heard about by now, Mitt Romney revealed a side of himself that he might not want us to see. As I say this, I am aware that he makes no apologies so I guess we must conclude that he is proud of his lack of concern for nearly half of this country’s voting public — the poor half who “pay no taxes.”  Consider the two following paragraphs from Yahoo News if you will:

[In explaining his position] Romney seems to be referring to the estimated 47 percent of Americans who did not owe federal income taxes in 2011 because their incomes were so low that they qualified for a tax credit, or because they didn’t work at all. Last year, 22 percent of people who didn’t owe income taxes were elderly people on Social Security, and an additional 17 percent were students, disabled people or the unemployed. More than 60 percent of the group were low-income workers, many of whom qualified for the child tax credit or the earned income tax credit. (These workers did pay payroll taxes for Social Security and other programs.)

Romney campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho released a statement about the video Monday evening. “Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy,” she said. “As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney’s plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs.”

The second paragraph was written by a Romney “spokeswoman,” not Mitt himself. She gets paid to help Mitt get his foot out of his mouth. It’s getting to be a full-time job! But Mitt sticks by his guns. He cares not in the least about the poor in this country — we must believe this because this is what he keeps saying.

There are a number of problems with this scenario, of course, beginning with the cold heart that leads anyone to brag about the fact that he doesn’t care about the many poor people in this country — despite what his spokeswoman says. And it’s not just the poor vote he ignores, his policies are also designed to bypass the poor and favor the wealthy. But the attitude reflected here is not peculiar to Mitt Romney, sad to say. It is shared by a great many other people who see the poor as bloodsucking leeches who simply take and take and never give back. These stereotypes are more prevalent than we might like to admit in a country in which millions of Christians embrace the New Testament which preaches compassion for the poor.

But more to the point is the fact that the stereotype is built on a half-truth. To be sure, there are those in this country who have become dependent on the largess of the government and who will vote for a Democratic candidate in the hope that they continue to receive benefits from the large hand of the government. But there are also many poor — growing numbers in fact — who are in want not through any fault of their own, but because things simply didn’t go their way in an economy that is struggling.

But even if this were not the case, how can we condemn those in need for wanting help from their government when so many of the very wealthy receive even greater handouts in the form of tax breaks, bailouts, and subsidies that allow them to expand and protect their immense wealth? Talk about “paying no taxes”! And the people in this group are able to directly affect the way the government is elected in ways the poor simply cannot — by buying themselves politicians who are then obliged to see to it that the rich be allowed to continue to amass great wealth and avoid paying their fair share of taxes to help the poor and educate our children. Those people Mitt apparently cares about.