Opinion

OUR CORNER: Tax criticism of Obama unfair

Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, he’s been hit with criticism from all parts of the political spectrum. While it should go without saying no president can please everyone, it’s not hyperbole to say Obama’s criticism, especially from the Tea Party, itself an embarrassing blight on our country, is largely unwarranted.

After all, the Tea Party’s alleged main concern is excessive debt and overtaxation. “Taxed Enough Already” is a popular statement on many of the signs at the group’s protests. Personally, it was a relief to see most people holding such signs were able to properly spell all three words, which is more than I can say for many of their other phrases and slogans, but it is troubling to see so many people completely clueless as to what is occurring in terms of taxes, debt and deficit in this country.

The Tea Party’s criticism is misguided because their taxes haven’t gone up. In fact, under Obama’s presidency, taxes went down for the majority of Americans. Don’t just take my word for it. As a journalist, it’s my responsibility and obligation to verify facts and, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, nearly 90 percent of taxpayers paid less in taxes under Obama’s stimulus package, which included many tax cuts, including the Making Work Pay Credit.

In a piece on Forbes.com – not exactly a bastion of pro-Obama sentiment – Bruce Bartlett detailed the striking difference between the reality of taxes in America and the perception of them from the Tea Party. The stimulus package’s tax measures reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and more in 2010, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Despite this major disconnect, many loud voices spoke of the importance of fiscal responsibility, and it is believed this fear of the future helped Republicans win seats in the midterm elections. In my opinion, to say one is concerned about their own and the country’s financial health and vote Republican is like saying they are concerned about their 12-year-old daughter’s safety and hiring Roman Polanski to babysit, but I digress.

Following this shellacking, Obama did what anyone would do against a fierce opponent. He gave up.

Obama is evidently so tired of opposition, he caved to the Republicans and compromised on a tax cut package, which has a host of negative effects. The package adds $900 billion dollars to the national debt. It’s beyond comprehension for the party which railed against reckless spending finds it vital to extend these tax cuts.

Obama, I think, is only going along with this because he’s akin to the high-school president who can’t stand to be disliked by anyone.

Because he tries so hard for bipartisanship, he decided he’d cave on the estate tax and extend the value at which an estate is eligible. It’s a tax affecting so few people, it’s absurd for it to face significant opposition. Yet because so many people are ridiculously optimistic, they believe they will have an estate valued at $5 million one day and they’ll be darned if the government is going to tax them.

This is so unlikely I’m going to create a fictional tax now to demonstrate how absurd this view point is. Suppose our politicians in Congress spent time haggling over whether to extend the Kim Kardashian tax. This tax mandates a $5,000 charge for anyone who is ever asked out by Kim Kardashian. Just like the estate tax, it only affects wealthy individuals (read: Reggie Bush and Miles Austin), yet what if men who believe pictures snapped of K-Dash on the beach are so stunning they should be considered for a Pulitzer Prize, vehemently opposed the tax because they just knew someday she would tire of dating millionaire athletes and develop a taste for yokels at Denny’s? This Kim Kardashian tax would become the new town-hall meeting issue, with fights breaking out on C-SPAN.

I happen to be one of these men who gets cardio just by the heart palpitations she causes me, but if one day she walked into Starbucks, pulled “The New York Times” out of my hands and said, “I’ve been looking for a redhead to listen to Lady Gaga and watch Lindsay Lohan movies with me,” I’d put a ring on it and gladly pay the tax.

Of course, I know this is never going to happen, so it’s not worth fretting over. Unfortunately, the people making breakfast at the Waffle House don’t feel the same about the estate tax.

What is so offensive about the deal Obama struck is not the addition to the debt, not the reduction in taxes toward Social Security and not even the estate tax threshold being raised. This is an appalling deal because for all Obama’s talk about not raising taxes on Americans, he has ensured those who can least afford it will be receiving less. The only taxpayers in the country who are going to be worse off from the tax deal are single filers earning below $20,000 a year and joint filers earning below $40,000 a year. This is because the Making Work Pay credit is being eliminated.

While Obama can’t stomach taxing the middle class or the rich, he has no problem stepping on the poor, specifically the working poor. For the Republicans to pass legislation further crippling the poor is nothing new and I suspect it’s why Moneytree donated thousands to Dino Rossi’s failed campaign. For Obama to do so is not only unconscionable, but it flies in the face of everything I thought he stood for when I voted for him.

As I’ve stated in this column before, because the country is preoccupied with acquiring the latest electronic gadget, people view low-income earners as a quasi-theoretical concept, very low in numbers and often as a result of their own mistakes.

The reality is there are many people, who, as a condescending Tea Party member may say, “play by the rules” and are productive, honest, law-abiding members of society, yet make less than $20,000. Jobs paying below this are numerous and don’t only include the obvious ones like fast-food positions, but also cashiers, home-care workers, garment workers and agriculture positions.

In Pierce County, 8.1 percent of families and 11.6 percent of individuals lived in poverty in 2009. The current poverty threshold is $21,954 in annual earnings for a family of four.

According to a report this year by The Associated Press, 15 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2010. According to the American Bar Association, less than one half of 1 percent of Americans who die in 2011 will qualify for the estate tax.

The poor in this country have never had any recourse, while the rich wield tremendous power. For Obama to join others in pandering to the rich while oppressing the poor, while sacrificing the economic future of this country, is a devastating betrayal of the image of himself he presented when campaigning.

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