By Ethan Rome - Executive Director, Health Care for America Now
Just the other day in Iowa, GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry said, "The American dream was available to me because America was never set up as a class society." A classless society? It's too bad the Texas governor didn't alert the Republicans in Congress before they started mouthing off about how President Obama's tax proposals are "class warfare." Republican leaders were caught flat-footed on Monday, and the class-warfare talking point was the best they could do.
But this claim is nonsense. As the president said, "This is not class warfare, it's math." It's also the right thing to do. The country is in a jam, and everyone needs to pitch in. The president made a forceful argument that it's a matter of fairness to ask the wealthiest in America to do their part. Specifically, the president wants fewer than 450,000 of 144 million taxpayers to pay a bit more. That barely qualifies as shared sacrifice, let alone "warfare." And let's not forget that the wealthy did pretty well under the Bush tax cuts.
The fact is that even if the GOP wanted to do they right thing, nearly every Republican in Congress has signed Grover Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection" pledge to oppose civilization and never raise any taxes in any way, ever - including closing corporate loopholes or asking the super-rich to pay a little more. Both of those things would actually help the middle-class taxpayers the Republicans pretend to protect.
Given the sweeping nature of Norquist's cult-like pledge, it effectively makes members of Congress who adhere to it less than full members because they've signed away their ability to use all the tools available to solve problems that involve money, and money-type problems come up a lot. The Republicans like to say that every problem is a spending problem. Well, when hedge-fund managers pay lower tax rates than families that can only dream about having enough money to invest in a hedge fund, that's a tax problem, not a spending one, and it's best fixed by changing the tax code.
Virtually every Republican utterance and action in the deficit debate has been reckless, irresponsible and totally driven by politics. Now that we're entering the official election season, it's naive to think Republicans would start governing now. But the pressure is on. The president has made serious proposals, and the GOP has to figure out how to go respond with a lot more than empty bumper-sticker lines like "class warfare." Slogans won't help much when the Super Committee gets down to business.
It's old news that the GOP functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of insurance companies, Wall Street banks and other big corporations. But these are new times. When the Republicans fight tooth and nail to keep three one-hundredths of one percent of taxpayers from paying their fair share, it's a stark reminder that they won't stand up for America's working and middle-class families no matter how bad people are hurting.
Many of the GOP's traditional allies in the business community know we need to take action now to get the economy moving with more resources and initiatives like the president's jobs plan. But the Republican Party's loyalty to inside-the-beltway extremists like Norquist exceeds even their commitment to serving their corporate patrons, and that's saying something.
The president isn't talking about class warfare. He's talking about economic firepower, and that's what America needs right now.