WaPo's Ruth Marcus: It Would Be 'Insane' To Restore Tax Rates For The Rich To Previous Levels

I could almost feel bad about picking on poor Ruth Marcus, another overpaid Washington Post columnist, lawyer and true Villager (married to the head o

I could almost feel bad about picking on poor Ruth Marcus, another overpaid Washington Post columnist, lawyer and true Villager (married to the head of the FTC). After all, she's probably just looking out for her boss, and Amato did just chide her yesterday.

But when you read this petulant hatchet job on Rich Trumka and progressive taxation, I think you'll understand:

This graphic depiction of income inequality is, understandably enough, at the center of Trumka's worldview, a perspective that became clear when he came to lunch last week at The Post. Growing income inequality is troubling. It would be troubling in the absence of a budget crisis. But that does not mean, as Trumka would have it, that the solution to the nation's fiscal woes is always, or only, reducing income inequality.

In short, soaking the rich gets you only so far.

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Take, for example, what Trumka calls "the current deficit hysteria" and its cousin, entitlement spending. "We don't have an entitlement problem," Trumka says. "We have a revenue problem." In the world according to Trumka, no benefits need be cut, no retirement ages adjusted. Simply requiring the rich to pay a fairer share would bridge the gap.

I'm all for a more progressive tax code. But consider: The Tax Policy Center examined what it would take to avoid raising taxes on families earning less than $250,000 a year while reducing the deficit to 3 percent of the economy by decade's end. The top two rates would have to rise to 72.4 and 76.8 percent, more than double the current level. You don't have to be anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist to think this would be insane.

Amato's right: Ruth isn't one for reading history books, or she would know that in 1945, we had a 94% tax on income over $200,000. And it stayed at over 90% until 1964, when it was lowered to 77%. Of course, Republicans have been hacking away at it since then!

Or ask Trumka about whether the eligibility age for Social Security, now 62 for partial benefits, should be raised. This former coal miner -- and son and grandson of coal miners -- erupts. His father worked 44 years in the mines, suffering from black lung, "and if you had said to my dad, 'You have to work until you're 63,' that would have been a death sentence." Fair enough. Some people may need special protection.

But, an editor asks, gesturing around the gleaming conference table at the middle-aged assembly, what about those who do not work in such punishing occupations and for whom the current system would provide two, maybe three, decades of benefits? "What's wrong with that?" Trumka asks indignantly. "The rest of the world does that!" Yes, and how are things going in Greece?

Fresh from The Post, Trumka told the new fiscal responsibility commission that the best way to fix Social Security would be to raise or eliminate the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security tax.

Again, sounds simple, and raising the cap makes sense -- in isolation. But combined with other taxes on the wealthiest? The Congressional Budget Office estimated that raising the cap to cover 90 percent of earnings would raise taxes on the highest earners by 6 percent for those born in the 1960s and by 15 percent for those born in the 2000s. Add that to higher income tax rates and you're talking real money, although that change would fill only about one-third of the shortfall.

Oh, boo frickin' hoo! Why, I can hardly see through my tears. Hey Ruth, the working and middle classes have been carrying the weight for the wealthiest for a while now, and they've been making out like bandits. Are you seriously suggesting that we continue to carry the burden because... well, because you like it that way?

Finally, ask Trumka about whether generous pensions and health benefits promised to public employees remain affordable -- were they ever? -- in light of strapped state budgets. Should public employees be called on to sacrifice? Trumka fairly bursts with outrage: "Were they the ones that caused this crisis? Were they the ones that lost 20 percent of the wealth in this country?"

No, but isn't it hard to defend outsize benefits to public-sector employees when wages elsewhere are stagnant and the unemployment rate is so high? Not to Trumka. "Why is that hard to defend when a guy in a hedge fund made $4.4 billion last year?"

Guys in hedge funds make outrageous sums. Union members -- even public-sector union members -- don't. Trumka's frustration is reasonable. His one-sided, tax-the-rich reflex is not. It is the shortsighted bookend to the no-new-taxes mantra of the ideologues on the other side of this stale, and seemingly stalemated, debate.

Let's get this straight. Because you and your husband (and your bosses) are used to a certain serene lifestyle, it seems only fair that nothing disturbs it. So instead of having the rich finally start to carry a proportionate burden, you offer to split the difference with those so battered by the wealthy in the past ten years?

Really, Ruth. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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