Can Democrats step up and save the country?
Democrats have become irrelevant, and a government shutdown is looming.
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Then came the Great Recession – and with it, lower tax revenues. That means all levels of government are squeezed. Obviously, the middle class can’t pay more in taxes. But because the Democrats seem to lack the intestinal fortitude to suggest the obvious – that taxes need to be raised on the super rich – we’re left with a mess.Skip to next paragraph
Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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Teachers are being fired, Pell grants for the poor are being slashed, energy assistance for the needy is disappearing, other vital public services shriveling. Regulatory agencies don’t have the budgets to pay the people they need to enforce the law. Even if it wanted to the Securities and Exchange Commission couldn’t police Wall Street.
All of which is precisely where Republicans want the nation to be. It sets them up perfectly to blame government, blame public employees, blame unionized workers. It lets them pit workers against one another, divide the Democratic base, and promote the false idea that we’re in a giant zero-sum game and the nation can’t afford to do more.
It diverts attention from what’s happened at the top – so no one sees how well CEOs and Wall Street bankers are doing again, no one views the paybacks and tax giveaways engineered by their Republican patrons, and no one focuses on the tide of money flowing from the likes of billionaires Charles and David Koch into Republican coffers.
Where are the Democrats? Shuffling their feet, looking at the floor. “Please oh please give us four weeks before you shut us down,” they ask. “No,” say the Republicans, “you’ll get only two.” “Well, alright then,” say the Democrats.
Here’s what Democrats should be saying:
Hike taxes on the super-rich. Reform the tax code to create more brackets at the top with higher rates for millionaires and billionaires. Absurdly, the top bracket is now set at $375,000 with a tax rate of 35 percent; the second-highest bracket, at 33 percent, starts at $172,000 for individuals. But the big money is way higher.
The source of income shouldn’t matter – salary, wages, capital gains, other unearned income – all should be treated the same. There’s no reason to reward speculators. (Don’t penalize true entrepreneurs, though. If they’re owners who have held their assets for at least twenty years, keep their capital gains low.)
And while you’re at it, raise the ceiling on income subject to Social Security taxes. And bring back the estate tax.
Do this and we can afford to do what we need to do as a nation. Do this and you prevent Republicans from setting the working middle class against itself. Do this and you restore some balance to a distribution of income and wealth that’s now dangerously out of whack.
Do this, Democrats, and you have a chance of being relevant again.
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