I've been thinking a fair bit about entitlements.
Today on C-SPAN in a replay of Thursday's House debate, I heard Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) say to Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ):
Only it isn't. Taxation levels might change, but only in the sense that a cut that was only ever temporary will resume its normal level.
Since I've recently discussed the spin aspect of this, I won't belabor it here. But today I have a new point which is well illustrated in Rep. Camp's remark above.
We have an entitlement class in America. The Republicans make this point all the time, they're just wrong about who it is. It's the rich, not the poor.
If you look at Rep. Camp's remark, implicit in his words are the notion that the “temporary” status of the Bush tax cuts is just irrelevant. Bush and his Congress didn't pass tax cuts forever. They couldn't. It would have been impossible to do without subjecting it to the full scrutiny of the opposing party, and its deficit impact would have had to have been considered. He did an end run, an end run that existed only for temporary programs. It is intrinsic in the presence of these cuts in law at all today that they weren't really there for the long run, since that's the only condition under which the “reconciliation” process was available to put them in place at all.
But now the Republicans would like to forget that. They don't really care what the law is, and you can see it in their rhetoric. What I mean is: They know the rule of law is there. They do care in that sense. But they don't see that law as defining the current state even when they put those laws in place because they know what they want and only what they want matters. They're willing to assert as a matter of truth that what is true is not true. They think there is a higher law—the law of their gut, if you will, or the law of truthiness, if you prefer. They are incensed at the idea that someone would disagree with what they just expect to be even when the truth is other than they are saying.
They feel entitled, in other words. That's what it means for them to have this “my way or the highway” attitude.
They refer to themselves relentlessly as the champions of the “Job Creators” even when the legacy of their policies was the rampant loss of jobs. Is it that the companies losing these jobs have no money? No. Many have record profits. They have the money to hire, but are not hiring. The Republicans tell us now that if we would please just sustain this glut of money, the hiring will resume. Ex-President George H. W. Bush called it “voodoo economics.” That's a good name, as it implies much handwaving with no documentable relation to observable causality. Still, through all of it, we are reminded that they are entitled to speak about their actions as “Job Creation.”
If a single person spilled oil on their front lawn, they would sue the Hell out of that person. But when BP poured oil on the front lawn of the entire United States, its gulf coast, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) thought BP deserved an apology for the idea that they might bear substantial economic responsibility. Big companies are entitled to do this kind of thing. It's just white collar crime, nothing serious.
In 2005, a Republican congress passed legislation to clamp down on individuals who go bankrupt, but when the entire banking system goes bankrupt, there have been almost no negative consequences for any of the powerful people involved. They are entitled to do this kind of thing to us.
And then there's the estate tax. It's framed in terms of ownership because that sounds politically popular. But when someone dies, there is no owner. What this issue is really about is the entitlement not only of oneself but of one's family to be treated well. In some cases, a person may have earned that right, but the next generation has not earned it. It's just a gift. And it's the kind of gift that perpetuates inequities in our society. It makes it easy for someone from that family to stay on top of a corrupt system, while making it hard for someone from across the tracks to ever climb out. At its core is a gut-level assertion that these children of the rich are entitled not just to live well, but to every last penny, even when what has enabled that wealth is an ever-more-corrupt system that favors people who already have money.
Yes, there is an entitlement class. And it's the one asking us to believe that it's already got the tax cuts, and that what's being voted on is the taking away of those cuts. That's not what's being voted on, no matter how much they want to believe they're entitled to better treatment. What we're voting on is whether to give them a new bonus.
Enough with the bonuses. They are not entitled. When they start actually creating good high-quality jobs—when they start investing in the United States—we can talk again.
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I don't mean here to suggest that every rich person is in this category. I know personally some people with a lot of money who haven't forgotten about investing in the United States and who are working hard to help the poor and the middle class. And there are the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength who have stepped forward. I'm happy to see them doing these things and to acknowledge their efforts. As with all social struggles, one has to acknowledge if one expects to gain any ground at all, that the motion is person by person. But I'm also sure these well-meaning folks would agree with me that there is still much to be done, or they wouldn't be speaking out.