Last year, Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed drug testing as a condition of unemployment benefits - and gave one of his typically strident lectures on the deficit. Yet he turns down millionaires who want to pay more taxes!
So the Patriotic Millionaires, a group that includes several dozen people in the highest tax bracket, first tried unsuccessfully to convince elected officials to let the Bush tax cuts expire. No dice.
Then, right before Obama was to announce his budget proposal, they took a different approach. Via Justin Elliott in Salon:
"For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you increase taxes on incomes over $1,000,000," the group writes in a new letter to Obama, Harry Reid, and John Boehner. "We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned incomes of $1,000,000 per year or more."
Last year, Obama signed a bill to extend the Bush tax cuts after originally proposing that the two highest tax rates return to 36% and 39.6%, up from the Bush tax cut levels of 33% and 35%.
One of the signatories of the new letter, film and television producer Linda Gottlieb, explained her participation to me this morning: "For me to be sitting and hoarding my money is insane," said Gottlieb, whose producer credits include "Dirty Dancing" and who now teaches at NYU's Tisch school. "We all give to charity, but that's not the same as creating a more equitable society."
Gottlieb said she has been upset by the experience of her grandchildren, who attend a New York City public school where arts education has been cut and parents have had to organize an auction to try to fill the gaps. She added that raising taxes on the wealthiest people would be an important way of reducing the deficit.
"For rich people to moan and groan -- nobody likes to pay increased taxes -- but it's not going to change your life in any important way," she said. "What it can do is help your country."
Now, I'm sure you're familiar with what a truly awful weasel Orrin Hatch is. (Remember when he wanted people on unemployment to be drug tested?) How do you suppose the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee responded? By mocking them!
"We hear this quite a bit from rich Democrats. 'Please tax us more,' they say. Well I know a lot who don't say that, I'll tell you that.
As the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, I feel obligated to inform Mr. Plouffe that the president and all those rich, liberal Democrats who are eager to pay higher taxes can do just that. They can write a check to the IRS and make an extra payment on their tax return to pay down the federal debt. The option is right there at the bottom of their tax return."
My goodness, what a typically snide response. The Patriotic Millionaires, unconvinced, tried again to advocate for their position. They released this statement to the press:
"A few of us voluntarily writing a check to the IRS will not fix the problem that Sen. Hatch and his colleagues created for our country with their fiscal irresponsibility. It will take the work of all Patriotic Americans to create a strong foundation for our continued prosperity.
"We are willing to do our part by paying higher taxes. It is clear Senator Hatch and many of his colleagues are not willing to do theirs.
"We challenge Senator Hatch and the other millionaire members of the Senate to put their country first and raise taxes on people like them – and us – who make more than a million dollars a year. In the meantime, if Senator Hatch would like to make a personal contribution to the IRS to help his country, we pledge to match his contribution."
And on Monday they sent Hatch a letter, including some useful context:
You and your colleagues over the past decade have voted for vast outlays that many of us as individuals might not agree with. Nonetheless, we recognize our responsibility as citizens to pay for these expenditures, which were authorized by our elected representatives, and are therefore ultimately our collective responsibility. That is an intrinsic part of living in a democracy: you don't get to opt out.
But letting people opt out is precisely what you are suggesting with your proposal of paying down our debt with voluntary contributions. In World War II, when we faced great challenges as a nation, we didn't ask for voluntary contributions to pay for the war, or ask only those who supported the war to contribute. We had high taxes during the war, and high taxes to pay down the debt, afterward. Today, we benefit from that fiscal discipline. But we are undoing those benefits to society by cutting taxes on the wealthy at the same time we face enormous expenses and are carrying enormous debt. We need all of the above to address this problem, just as we have done in the past.
During World War II, we even resorted to rationing to share the burden of war more equally. Who is paying the burden of war, today? Our less privileged, who fight and die in disproportionate numbers, and our future generations, who will bear the burden of the debt. We think that is shameful.
We are ready to step up to the plate with a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good but we are not willing to make that sacrifice in vain, which it surely would be if we followed the course that you suggest. You even point this out yourself in your letter when you note that "the Bureau of Public Debt recorded only $3.1 million in gifts in 2010."
We have been more fortunate than most people, but we are a very small group. If there were even the remotest chance of making a noticeable dent in the problem by acting alone we would have done it already. But we are a few dozen people in a nation of over 300 million facing a debt measured in the tens of trillions. To suggest that we try to tackle this problem by making individual contributions is, frankly, insulting. It is like suggesting to someone expressing a desire to serve their country by bearing arms that they buy a rifle and a plane ticket to Afghanistan. Some problems are too big to be solved except through collective effort and shared sacrifice, and this is one of them.
They go on to pretty much decimate the rest of his arguments. Here's my favorite part:
In 1977 when you first became a Senator, the U.S. National Debt was approximately $700 billion - that's with a B - or 36% of then-GDP. At the end of 2008, before Barack Obama came to the White House, the National Debt ballooned to almost $10 trillion - that's with a T - and about 70% of 2008 GDP (OMB). While there are different opinions as to how this happened, the National debt did not creep up on us suddenly. The spending that led to such debt resulted from the collective actions of Senators and House Representatives, including you.
It is true that government spending levels are at historic highs, but it is also true that tax rates (and hence receipts) are at historic lows in terms of percentage of GDP. It is the combination of these two factors that has taken us from surplus to near-catastrophic deficits in a mere decade.
And here's the kicker:
You close by expressing concern about raising taxes on us "during a vulnerable economic recovery." It is precisely because we do not want this problem solved solely on the backs of the most vulnerable that we have asked the President to call us to our duty. To him and to you we say again: raise our taxes. We can take it.
Stay tuned for another snide retort from the Utah senator.
Too bad we don't have more caring millionaires like this, huh? Good for them, and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster blow his nose directly over nasty old Orrin.