Imagine a bulky schoolyard bully routinely holding you and your classmates upside-down by your shoes and pocketing the money that falls out, using the amount gained from his extortion to buy a new bike at the end of each semester. Now imagine enduring this process every day, all year, throughout each grade of school.
What if one day, the bully actually complained that you weren't bringing enough lunch money to school because he wanted a nicer bike? Would you comply and let him rob you of a larger amount, or would you and your fellow classmates surround the teacher and demand the bully return the money he stole?
Despite billionaire Warren Buffett's pleas to reduce the deficit by shifting the tax burden to the super-rich, Republican members of Congress have officially come out in favor of raising taxes on the poor, while fiercely protecting trillions in tax handouts for billionaires, big oil and corporate jet owners. Right-wing politicians and corporate-media pundits have now set their sights on "lucky duckies," or the bottom half of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. As law professor Edward Kleinbard noted, this statement is misleading and ignores the need for meaningful reform of our tax code.
Jon Stewart creatively dismantled the poor-people-don't-pay-taxes argument on The Daily Show, highlighting conservatives who dismissed the $700 billion in revenue gained from ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in 2010. According to Stewart's calculations, taking exactly half of everything owned by the bottom 50% of Americans would also generate $700 billion, exactly as much revenue as increasing the tax rate for the richest Americans by a modest 3%. Stewart sarcastically suggested Republicans trim the deficit by seizing all assets owned by the bottom half of Americans.
It's incredibly audacious for the rich to ask the poor to pay more in taxes in order to protect their budget-busting tax breaks, especially considering America's wealth disparity. The gap between the richest and everyone else has grown to levels even greater than on the eve of the crash that triggered the great depression, with the top .001% of Americans now owning 976 times more than the bottom 90%. In 1928, the richest only owned 892 times more than the bottom 90%.
And of course, those accusing the working poor of freeloading ignore the fact that 1 in 4 American jobs don't even pay poverty wages, or that the federal income tax is inherently designed to avoid hitting the poor, the elderly and working families with children. Such bold accusations also ignore the reality that all of the aforementioned groups still pay roughly one-third of their income in sales, property, payroll and excise taxes.
A single mother struggling to keep a roof over her child's head would probably love to trade places with a six-figure earner and bear the burden of paying federal income tax on a comfortable salary. But would a six-figure earner be willing to work three part-time minimum wage jobs and still worry about how the rent is going to be paid at the end of the month? Would he really be eager to forgo paying federal income tax if it meant he had to scrape quarters together to buy beans, lentils and ramen noodles for dinner?
Big oil doesn't need $4 billion per year in taxpayer subsidies - they're making record profits. Excessive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires won't create jobs - the unemployment rate doubled after ten years of the Bush tax cuts. And corporate jet owners don't need a tax break while public employees nationwide are losing their jobs to budget cuts.
America needs to surround our teacher before recess and make a strong statement together - the bullies don't need to rob us of our lunch money to continue their excessive lifestyles. Let's stop subsidizing wealth for the sake of wealth, and leave struggling middle-class families alone.