by Linda Beale
Illinois’s Tim Johnson (Rep.) Squirms under Norquist No-Tax-Increase Pledge
Back in 2002, Tim Johnson represented a safely red district in Illinois and the radical right was pressing on his back with its reaganomics-inspired program to cut-taxes-to-shrink-(nonmilitary)-government-and-eliminate-public-infrastructure-and-social-justice-programs; de-regulate-to-free-up-big-business; privatize-wherever-you-can-especially-schools-bridges-and-other-essential-services. Not to be outdone, Tim Johnson signed the no-tax-increase pledge on the dotted line, with his right-hand aide as witness.
In spite of the decades of extraordinarily well-funded anti-tax/anti-government propaganda spewed by purported think tanks like the “Americans for Prosperity” arm of the Koch Bros, the anti-estate tax “American Family” coalition arm of the Walton heirs, the Big-Business oriented Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth and similar groups, the American public seems to be finally beginning to learn to read between the lines and recognize self-serving propaganda for what it is. Even with all the money being spent to misrepresent and distort the truth about taxes, it is worth noting that Rasmussen polls (run by a leaning-right head) are finding Americans more willing to support tax increases than they were a few years ago. For example, back in December 2011, despite the anti-tax nonsense of the Tea Party and other radical right-wing groups, only 52% thought tax cuts would help the economy–in the low end of the 51% to 63% range answering that question affirmatively since July 2008. Similarly, a recent poll showed that 47% favor a candidate who wants to raise taxes on the rich over a candidate who wants no tax increases. Back in September 50% of Americans favored a mix of spending cuts and tax increases (but 64% weren’t willing themselves to pay higher taxes, a product of the NIMBY syndrome). And a March poll found a significant decrease in Americans responding who thought that America is an “over-taxed” nation.
[N]ew Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% of Likely U.S. Voters believe America is overtaxed. But that’s down from 66% two years ago and 64% last year. One-out-of-three (33%) now believe the country is not overtaxed, while another 12% are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
[ASIDE: The problem with the question about whether Americans are overtaxed–especially in this age of 527 groups spending buckets of money to convince them that they are–is that it depends on who you are asking and what facts they actually know about taxes, the economy, and what the difference is between effective tax rates and statutory rates. Everybody hears the radical right prattle on about how high our (statutory) tax rates are. Very few hear much about effective tax rates and fewer still understand the difference. The wealthy are not over-taxed, though they have spent a good bit of their money to convince typical Americans that they are. Those who escape federal income taxation because they earn amounts covered by the standard deduction and personal exemptions and earned income tax credits–amounts intended to keep lower income taxpayers from having to pay income tax–nonetheless have to pay signficant state and local property and sales (and often also income) taxes and have to pay significant federal payroll taxes. Not surprisingly, they may well feel overtaxed when their wages are going down and their tax burden is staying the same and they hear the think tank spew of anti-tax stuff on the airwaves day and night.]
And now Tim Johnson’s district has changed. He represents a more Democratic electorate, that is less likely to swallow the Tea Party tax aversion hook, line and sinker. So he is backtracking. Which is good. It’s a shame he backtracked bit by bit, at first claiming he’d never signed and then suggesting his aide signed for him before he finally admitted he had signed the pledge but just didn’t consider it cast in granite. See Are you Now and Have You Always Been?, New York Times editorial (March 11, 2012).
But to give him credit, he finally did take a stand against the idiocy of the tax pledge. See Pat Garofalo, GOP Rep. Blasts Norquist’s Anti-Tax Pledge as “Disingenuous and Irresponsible”, Think Progress.org (Mar. 8, 2012). He ought to do it more straightfowardly–by admitting that it is a mistake to assume that tax cuts are always good or that tax increases are always bad and by acknowledging that there is plenty of room to tax the rich more without harming anybody’s economic recovery. His statement (quoted on ThinkProgress) weasles by making clear that he is leery of tax increases other than fixing tax loopholes or raising the Social Security tax…..
One hopes that these few quasi- brave Republicans who are beginning to speak out against the idiocy of a “pledge” to cut off a key tax policy tool of democratic institutions for supporting public infrastructure and public needs will cause Norquist’s pledge to go to the same ignominious fate that awaited Joe McCarthy’s anti-liberal binge (under the name of anti-communism) when a lone lawyer questioned his decency. As a constitutent told GOP representative Rick Berg in a North Dakota town hall meeting (quoted on Think Progress), these guys are supposed to work for their constituents, not for Norquist.
crossposted with ataxingmatter