Sen. Dean Heller's New Tax Plan Gives Millionaires the Option to Pay National Debt


I’m a constant optimist.

That’s why, when the über-conservative Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, is willing to say that owning a second home and getting a tax deduction for it seems a little silly (particularly when the U.S. Census is reporting record-high levels of poverty), I’m inclined to think that representative democracy can get it right from time to time.

Yet, whatever optimism Coburn’s surprising rationality with respect to the top 1% of income earners can inspire is quickly eroded when it comes to the actual business of governing. Coburn’s GOP colleague, Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, has just released the Republican response to the current debates over extending the payroll tax reduction and reducing the national debt, and his solution is clear: Millionaires should only pay what they feel like contributing. 

While the goal of small government has long been a Republican rallying cry, the latter proposal seems to reflect a growing and troubling GOP boldness to blatantly elevate the rights of the rich over the needs of the poor.

Section 222, ironically titled “The Buffet Rule Act of 2011,” would add a section to the IRS Code to explicitly allow tax payers in the highest income bracket to check a box designating the amount of money they’d like to go specifically to paying down the national debt.

The plan’s brazen disregard for civic duty aside, the Buffet Rule is akin to asking kids to pay down the debt by taping pennies to letters addressed to the U.S. Treasury.

While I sympathize with the notion that taxes can be burdensome, today’s level of tax obligation is one of the lowest in this nation’s history. Some estimates predict that reverting to pre-Reagan era tax rates could net over $1.1 trillion for our ailing economy. Add to the fact that the incomes of the richest 0.1% of Americans have swelled by 400% since 1979 while those in the middle have seen their real wages increase by only 21% over the same time period, and you have a clear justification for a serious reassessment of how our tax system operates.

While Heller’s proposal does include provisions lifted directly from the Bowles-Simpson (such as implementing a three-year freeze on federal wages), it rejects the plan’s more sober and realistic suggestions, including the notion that deficit reduction is a “shared sacrifice” where “those of us who are best off will need to contribute the most” (p. 28). 

The craven notion in this plan that assumes there is a sense of moral obligation to support our fellow Americans and invest in the future of our country is an interesting theory, but ultimately trivial. That a social conscience can be so easily replaced by telling an accountant to check a box and throw in $20 only after they deduct last year’s gambling debts should give pause.

Given the dire economic straits the U.S. is currently facing, the individualistic “it’s not my responsibility” attitude is not sustainable. We tried Sen. Heller’s approach once (p. 3), and today we see the largest income disparity in our nation’s history. Can we not think of a better solution?

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