Over a year before the GOP "Pledge to America" demanded permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans costing $700 billion over the next decade, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) fretted, "We're running out of rich people in this country." But as it turns out, anecdotes and polls alike reveal that the rich themselves support letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those families earning over $250,000. Of course, that should come as no surprise, given that they voted with their wallets for Barack Obama.
As reported recently, millionaires like Garrett Gruener ("I'm rich: tax me more") and billionaires like Bill Gates and his father ("I have a very clear recollection of the days when we took for granted an income tax rate on the highest earners of 90%, 70%, at times when our country was just motoring along in very good style") made personal pleas for letting upper income tax rates return to their slightly higher, Clinton-era tax rates. But citing data from a Quinnipiac poll this spring, the Wall Street Journal concluded:
They may be an eccentric minority, or (in the view of conservatives) a lunatic fringe. But a Quinnipiac University poll this year showed nearly two-thirds of those with household incomes of more than $250,000 a year support raising their own taxes to reduce the federal deficit.
Asked "Do you think - raising income taxes on households making more than $250,000 should or should not be a main part of any government approach to the deficit," 64% of respondents whose household income topped $250,000 answered yes. That's the same percentage of affirmative responses from families earning under $50,000.
But it's not just opinion polls showing more affluent Americans willing to put their money where their mouths are. When it really mattered most - the 2008 presidential election - upper income voters chose the man who said he wanted their tax rates to go back up.
As reflected in the table above, exit polls revealed that Barack Obama beat John McCain 52% to 46% among those earning over $200,000 annually. In 2004, the same group overwhelmingly backed George W. Bush over John Kerry by 63% to 35%.
As Mark Penn noted in the Politico after the election:
"Barack Obama promised he would lower taxes for 95 percent of Americans and presumably raise them for the 5 percent who benefited most under President Bush's tax policies. But, remarkably, the most affluent 5 percent supported Obama and that was perhaps the key to his victory last week."
For its part, the conservative Weekly Standard lamented the class betrayal of "educated and cosmopolitan voters [who] regard other issues as more important than the personal bottom line."
We were told the [Bush tax] cuts would accelerate business growth and create jobs. Instead, we got nearly a decade of anemic job growth, stagnating wages, declining incomes and high inequality...
What American businesspeople know, and have known since Henry Ford insisted that his employees be able to afford to buy the cars they made, is that a thriving economy doesn't just need investors; it needs people who can buy the goods and services businesses create. For the overall economy to do well, everyday Americans have to do well.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)