November 17, 2011 · 0 Comments
By Marie Burns:
In an editorial in today’s New York Times the editors praise a new report by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) titled “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous .” The report, say the Times editors, “convincingly argues that there’s real revenue to be netted to help wrestle down the deficit if Congress dared to crack down on indefensible boons for the top brackets.” They call Coburn’s report “required reading for his fellow Republicans.” The editors are especially pleased with the populist tone of the cover letter Coburn wrote for his report. They cite part of that letter:
This welfare for the well-off … is being paid for with the taxes of the less fortunate, many who are working two jobs just to make ends meet….
The editors do note, as an aside, that “the senator remains opposed to raising tax rates on the rich,” but they drop that factoid without further remark. That aside, it turns out, is more important than the editors let on. Perhaps they would have found Coburn’s populism less convincing had they read Charles Pierce’s take on Coburn’s motives. In his Esquire blog, Pierce writes:
The problem, of course, is that, even if you believe Coburn is sincere, and not using this as a dodge to avoid putting the top rate back where it belongs, every one of these loopholes can be recreated in a heartbeat when the ‘millionaires and billionaires’ and their tax lawyers get a hold of whatever ‘reform’ passes to close them.
Oh, and another thing. The New York Times editors don’t even mention this nugget from the last paragraph of Coburn’s cover letter:
… we expect everyone to contribute and to demonstrate personal responsibility. Government policies intended to mainstream wealth redistribution are undermining these principles.
Coburn expects “everyone to contribute”? What does that mean? Here’s a translation: Flat Tax.
Tom Coburn is a member of the Congressional Flat Tax Caucus. This summer, in response to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial writer’s question, a spokesperson for Coburn replied, “The senator ” would prefer to get rid of all subsidies and move toward a flat tax .”
Loopholes or no, we have a progressive federal income tax. The wealthy pay at a higher rate than do lower income taxpayers. The rate is not progressive enough, and surely the loopholes Coburn highlights mitigate the income tax’s progressive aspect. But to move from a progressive tax, which is what the income tax was intended to be and always has been, to a flat tax, would change the very purpose and concept of the federal income tax. It would also work an immediate hardship on poor and middle class Americans. As Republicans like to point out, 47 percent of American households pay no federal income tax today. That isn’t because they’re deadbeats. It’s because their adjusted incomes are below taxable levels. Coburn, and many Republicans, want these low-income Americans to pony up, as Coburn writes, “to demonstrate personal responsibility.” It’s a moral thing. Showing “personal responsibility” a la Coburn requires the poor and middle class to pay taxes at the same rate as the rich. In other words, Tom Coburn wants to raise taxes on the poor and middle class and lower them on the rich. That is really what is behind the report the Times editors applaud.
Tom Coburn would like to raise taxes on the “less fortunate” a lot. Why? Because he thinks Congress must balance the federal budget, now hugely in the red. He has proposed a radical “ Back in Black ” plan to “reduce the deficit by $9 trillion over the next ten years and balance the federal budget.” Coburn was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Catfood Commission. He was also an on-and-off-and-on-again member of the Senate’s “Gang of Six.” In fact, to get Coburn back in the Gang, “Democrats had to concede an additional $116 billion in entitlement cuts ….” Both Simpson-Bowles and the Gang of Six were dedicated to reducing the budget deficit through a variety of draconian spending cuts on social safety net programs, along with revenue increases. The proposals of both groups hit the poor and middle class the hardest.
So yes, it’s pretty easy to agree with Tom Coburn’s zeal for cutting tax loopholes for the rich. But the editors of the New York Times misled their readers by suggesting that Coburn had the “less fortunate” in mind when he compiled his report. The editors had a duty to tell us that Coburn’s agenda doesn’t stop with closing loopholes, loopholes that can be reopened at the whim of Congress or the ingenuity of a tax lawyer. The premise that underlies Coburn’s plan is anything but populist. It is not born out of a concern for “the less fortunate.”
Rather, Tom Coburn intends – via a flat tax – to raise taxes on those less fortunate Americans. At the same time he would cut programs designed to help them through hard times. Coburn says so right in that letter the Times editors so glowingly cited. They just left out the part where Coburn reveals his real scheme.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com and until recently was a popular commenter on New York Times op-ed columns. Last week, she began boycotting the Times because of a change in Times policies that stratifies “trusted” and “mistrusted” commenters.