Economic prosperity doesn’t trickle down. But apparently, stupid political ideas do.
Last week, Mike DeBonis at The Washington Post reported on a list of rule changes approved by incoming Democratic congressional leadership. Some of the proposed rules are common sense reforms—I’m all for allowing a three-day review period before bringing legislation to the floor, for example. And I support requiring committees to solicit legislative ideas from colleagues who don’t sit on those committees.
But one of the proposed rules is so ideologically bankrupt that if you told me it flowed directly from the desk of Paul Ryan, I’d believe you. DeBonis wrote that Democrats are proposing a rule to “create a supermajority requirement to raise individual income taxes on the lowest-earning four-fifths of taxpayers.” In other words, Congress would have to muster a near-impossible three-fifths majority to raise taxes—any taxes—on the lowest-earning 80 percent of taxpayers.
Under current Republican rules, the House already requires a supermajority to raise any taxes, period. So, technically, Democrats are just making it easier to raise taxes on the rich. But this is the kind of self-defeating, neoliberal hair-splitting that makes me hate my own party.
First, it’s just bad politics.
In proposing this rule, Democrats are actually affirming the last 40 years of anti-government messaging from trickle-downers like Grover Norquist, Mitch McConnell, and the Koch Brothers—a message that insists that taxes are always bad. Worse, by publicly handcuffing themselves to the Republican minority in a feckless display of fiscal restraint, Democrats actually reinforce the caricature of themselves as profligate tax-and-spenders: “Stop me before I tax again!” is the message this supermajority rule sends to voters.
Second, the supermajority rule is just awful policy—especially when combined with a proposal to bring back PAYGO rules, which Nancy Pelosi said months ago Democrats would adhere to if they gained the majority—the bonkers trickle-down policy that requires Congress to either cut the budget or hike taxes to offset any new spending. Republicans always vote against tax increases—always, under any circumstance and for any purpose. So guess which option they’ll always choose?
Why would a newly elected Democratic majority give Republicans veto power over any new Democratic agenda? It’s like shooting yourself in the foot seconds before starting a marathon.
Third, because supermajority rules in general are profoundly undemocratic, this rule sets a dangerous precedent—particularly in an era when Republicans seem eager to undermine all our democratic institutions. Through their gerrymandering, voter suppression, and routine trashing of democratic norms, Republicans have already made impressive progress toward establishing a government of minority rule. So, if Democrats endorse giving the Republican minority a veto over tax policy, to what policies will Republicans seek to apply supermajority requirements next?
No doubt some in leadership thought this tinkering with the rule a savvy political move, creating an opportunity to repeal the bulk of the Trump/Ryan tax cuts without exposing Democrats to the usual Republican anti-tax fearmongering. But breaking news, fellow Dems: Republicans and their Fox News surrogates are going to cast you as Godless socialists regardless of what you do, so you might as well just quit the tinkering and repeal that bullshit Republican-era rule.
Look: Only die-hard Republican toadies and corporate stooges are dumb enough to believe that taxes are always bad. The vast majority of Democrats, independents, and realistic conservatives understand that taxes are how a society comes together to solve shared problems. Taxes pay for our roads and our information infrastructure. Taxes pay for the first responders who are right now fighting wildfires in California. Taxes keep us safe and enrich our lives in countless ways every day.
The middle class of America votes by initiative to raise their own taxes all the time—to improve our schools and modernize our libraries, to keep our children safe and to plan for the future. We love to pay taxes when they are used to promote the general welfare.
No, what the American middle class loathes are dumb taxes—taxes that exclude the wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else. They hate regressive taxes that penalize the poorest Americans while leaving me and my wealthy pals entirely untouched.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has found that from 2000 to 2018, the richest 20 percent of Americans have enjoyed 65 percent of all the tax cuts, with the remaining 35 percent of tax cuts were divided between the other 80 percent. The lesson from this finding is not that we should make it harder to raise taxes on the lowest-earning 80th percentile of taxpayers. The lesson is that we need to establish a sane tax code that taxes corporations and wealthy folks like me before we consider raising taxes on anyone else.
Presenting real, intelligent sweeping change that brings our tax code in line with our values as a 21st century economy—not fiddling with the failed neoliberal policies that have driven American income inequality to record highs—should be the day-one agenda for House Democrats.
If voters wanted a bunch of trickle-downers they’d have voted Republican. So stop looking over your shoulders, Democrats, start marching forward, and deliver the bold progressive economic narrative and agenda the American middle class desperately wants and needs.