Not punishment -- teamwork
This week, President Obama continued his push to reform our tax code in a way that reduces our deficit and shares fairly the burden of our economic recovery. Unsurprisingly, Mitt Romney and Republican leaders in Congress have adopted a policy of obstruction and opposition, but they're missing the bigger picture: In order to build the future's shared prosperity, all Americans should contribute a fair share.
In my experience, it's always best to start with the facts of the matter.
First, the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 were never intended to be permanent measures. In the original legislation, these cuts, which disproportionately benefited the wealthiest Americans, were due to expire in 2010. However, President Obama, in seeking to avoid a protracted political battle that could hurt working families when the economy was much weaker than it is today, signed a two-year extension. That extension comes to a close at the end of this year.
Second, President Obama has pledged to maintain these tax rates for all Americans earning less than $250,000 a year, a full 98 percent of the country. His reasoning is clear. These are the Americans who buy homes, buy cars and support small businesses. The middle class is the engine of our economy and it always has been.
Yet we all agree that we need to reduce our deficit. We've seen in Europe and around the world what carrying around too large a debt burden can do to an economy. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, one of the largest contributors to current and future deficits is the Bush tax cuts. They have cost our country trillions of dollars in revenue, and they have put crucial programs like Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block.
By returning the tax rates of the top 2 percent of earners in this country to Clinton-era levels, we could put our country on the road to fiscal stability.
By answering the question of the Bush tax cuts now, we can remove the significant economic uncertainty that another half-measure would generate.
Now Republicans are claiming that the Obama tax plan is simply an attempt to punish a small group of Americans for their success. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has called the proposal a "kick in the gut." But, just for once, I implore Republicans to put aside rhetoric on this issue.
Our country is on the road to recovery, to be sure. But because of tax cuts and other measures left over from the era of Republican control, this recovery has been imbalanced. Corporate profits are at record levels and increases in income and wealth have been concentrated at the top. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the country has seen stagnant wages, slow hiring and lower levels of disposable income.
Taxes are not punishment. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." If we want to move our country forward, if we want to move boldly toward fiscal sustainability and a middle class that can spend again, President Obama's proposal is as necessary as it is just.
This is an issue that should be about coming together. Democrats and Republicans agree on tax rates for 98 percent of the American people. For a moment, it looked like the proposal would come to a vote in the Senate. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid both seemed to agree to bring the measure to the floor for an up-or-down vote by simple majority.
But at the last minute, McConnell balked, arguing that he needed more time to look at the proposal.
In fact, this is one of the simplest pieces of legislation Congress will consider this session. It's about basic fairness, and it's about sharing the responsibility of getting our country moving. President Obama's proposal is based on a simple mantra that we each do better when we all do better.
Surely that's something we all can get behind, even the folks on Capitol Hill. In times like these, we can't afford to perpetuate uncertainty. It's time to end the games and address this basic question about what kind of country we aspire to be.
DONNA BRAZILE is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.