President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest 5 percent while cutting taxes for the remaining 95 percent has raised fierce opposition nationwide. Protests against the proposals are scheduled later in the month in major metropolitan areas coast to coast. Organizers expect the largest turnout since the futile demonstrations of 2003 against a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Officials in New York and Los Angeles both anticipate turnouts of more than a million demonstrators.
Rep. David Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said that with unemployment exceeding 10 percent in many parts of the country, numerous former workers will have time on their hands to show their opposition to the increase. “As CEOs slash workforces to maintain their company’s bottom line, that frees up huge numbers of people to show their support for maintaining the status quo,” he said.
Evan Rouse, a teacher whose contract will not be renewed for next year because of budget cuts, was among many local citizens protesting the tax increase for the rich. “Those at the top need our help,” said Rouse. “I feel their pain.” Facing the possibility of losing his health insurance for his family of four, and of having his mortgage foreclosed, Rouse remained upbeat in his support of the well-to-do. “I just think it’s unfair to put people in a position where they might have to rethink the purchase of a Rolex or downsize their yacht,” he said.
Bibi Weinhart, a local socialite, appreciates the outpouring of support from across the community.
“It’s so heartening to see the housekeeping staff at hospitals and universities, Hispanic landscape workers, retail clerks, fast food servers--just the whole range of little people who make our lives easier--come to our defense,” she declared. “I’m giving our nanny and housekeeper an extra hour for lunch to attend the local rally.” “They can make it up on the weekend,” she added. “They understand that my friends and I regularly donate our cocktail dresses and sportswear to thrift stores once we’ve worn them a few times. We have a social conscience; we’re not ogres.”
“It’s not just the increase in the tax rate that’s so unfair,” contends local real estate developer Max Wilmoth. “The president also wants to keep us from using tax havens to avoid paying taxes. That’s a double whammy. My friends and I salt away part of our capital gains on a little tropical island, thinking we can hide it from the IRS, and then along comes this Obama fellow, breaking an unspoken compact between the rich and our government. Wealth has its privileges, and avoiding taxes is one of them.”
“It’s not the principle,” he added, “it’s the money of the thing.”
Wilmoth knows what he’s talking about. The top tax rate people pay for money they earned at work is 35 percent. But the top rate for income from dividends and capital gains is only 15 percent. So the super-rich are taxed a much lower percentage on much of their income than their cooks and chauffeurs pay on their earnings.
“That’s as it should be,” says Wilmoth. “ It’s all about job creation. It’s how we can afford so much help. Obama is trying to take us back to the fifties, when people in the top income bracket paid more than 50% of their income in taxes. Who would want to go back to those days?”
Rouse, the math teacher, agreed. “Just think, if we had kept those fifties tax rates, we could have afforded universal health care, maintained the levies in New Orleans, kept from robbing the Social Security system, cleaned up the environment, and invested in education,” he said. “It’s frightening even to contemplate. The preference of every ordinary voter I know is to line the pockets of the rich instead of squandering money on those kinds of programs. Where are this administration’s priorities? I’m organizing the staff of my school. We’ll show up en masse to oppose Obama’s budget.”
“I never imagined he’d actually follow through on his campaign pledges,” added Rouse. “He would never have been elected if people had understood he was serious about this kind of change.”
Don Hagerman, an investment banker, joined in praise of the usually-silent Americans who are flocking to the defense of the elite. “Who knew there would be this overwhelming popular support for people in our tax bracket?” he asked. “We thought we were dependent on thousands of lobbyists and hundreds of millions of dollars in political donations to make our case. But it turns out the voice of the people is more powerful than the cries of cash, and it’s making itself heard.”
The cause of the rich is being aided by Republicans in Congress, who are nearly unanimous in their opposition to Mr. Obama’s proposals. “ When we cut taxes for the rich and shifted the burden of the budget to the poor and the middle class, that was intended to help everyone; when Obama wants to cut taxes for the lowest 95%, that’s class warfare!” declared Eric Cantor, R-VA, the Minority House Whip.
“President Bush, over a period of eight years, fought for a series of tax cuts for the wealthy, tax cuts that helped forge the economy we have today,” Cantor continued. “How quickly people forget.”
© Tony Russell, 2009