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Above top, Occupy Detroit protesters demonstrate outside Bank of America in Detroit. Above, Occupy Wall Street demonstrators stand up for the 99 percent on the streets of New York City.
The 2012 elections will give us all a stark choice. The Republican Party has embraced an extreme economic ideology that keeps giving more and more money to the rich and taking more and more from everyone else.
The pro-wealthy agenda of the Republicans is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the Republican Party’s tax policies. Recently, President Obama proposed that Congress extend and expand last year’s temporary payroll tax cut when it expires at the end of the year. Last year’s tax holiday reduced by 2 percent the 6.2 percent that workers typically pay in Social Security taxes. To stimulate the economy and spur job creation, the president is proposing that the holiday be continued for another year and increased to 3.1 percent (half of the usual tax rate).
If extended as proposed by the Democrats, the average American family would receive $1,500. This would give needed relief to working-class Americans, and would inject up to $179 billion of additional spending into the economy. Unbelievably, Republicans voted against this temporary, targeted middle-class tax cut. They vehemently fought against the Democrats’ suggestion to pay for the tax holiday for the middle class with a small, temporary tax on millionaires.
The Republicans’ opposition to reducing taxes for working people contrasts strongly with their fierce commitment to preserving the Bush tax cuts. These tax breaks gave an average tax cut of roughly $520,000 to the top 0.1 percent of earners (making over $3 million), more than 450 times the amount received by an average middle-income family. These tax breaks to the rich are largely responsible for turning the Clinton-era surplus into the federal government’s current deficit. Yet there is no evidence that cutting taxes to the wealthy results in increased employment. Rather, it leads to less investment in critical infrastructure and other government services.
This lopsided preference for the wealthy is also clear in the Republicans’ insistence that income from investments, or capital gains, should receive a tax rate far less than the tax on income from hard work. Capital gains taxes are capped at 15 percent, far less than the 35 percent maximum rate on wage and salary income. If the richest 400 Americans paid a 35 percent tax on their capital gains rather than 15 percent, this would give the government $18 billion – enough to fund three million Pell grants!
The goal of the Republican Party to reduce the tax contributions of the wealthy extends to large corporations. Some large corporations pay no taxes at all. In 2010, General Electric, Boeing and Bank of America paid nothing in federal taxes. The CEOs who orchestrated this tax-free status managed to divert millions of dollars to their own pockets. Twenty-five top corporations paid more in CEO salaries than they paid the government in taxes.
Republicans in Congress are also opposing President Obama’s request for an extension of unemployment insurance for the 1.3 million Americans who could lose their benefits at the end of the year. Unemployment insurance allows people to put gas in the tank and food on the table, and is often the difference between survival and disaster for families suffering during this recession. Nearly all economists agree that additional spending is critical to continuing the nation’s slow recovery from this terrible recession. Allowing extended benefits to expire would cost our country 500,000 desperately needed jobs as unemployed workers cut their spending and, in many cases, sink into poverty.
If the Republicans win in 2012, they are openly promising that they will cut taxes even more for the wealthy. This will accelerate a trend that has been occurring for three decades of a growing gap between an increasingly wealthy upper class and everyone else.
The Republican agenda is clear: Cut taxes for the rich while raising taxes for everyone else. Cut public education and public health services. Reduce unemployment insurance and other safety net programs. Abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters, police, other public workers and, ultimately, for all workers. Allow corporations to ship American jobs abroad to wherever they can exploit workers.
We must create a new economic justice movement to demand basic fairness for all Americans. Every one of us must get involved in standing up for ourselves, our families and all of our fellow working Americans. We have a responsibility to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to be active in the struggle for justice for all and in the political process to elect candidates that will support economic justice for all.
Because of Republican policies, we are losing the great American middle class. We are becoming a land of division and of polarization, where some have enormous wealth and privilege while the majority struggle with economic insecurity and hopelessness.
Please join us in standing up to demand a fair deal for all Americans!