Dec 142010
 

Rather than confronting the country’s growing economic disparity and attempting to reduce it, our political leaders are pursuing policies that just make it worse.

Remember when we were told that the bailout was supposed to save our economy? It worked amazingly well for those who are well off – the banks are back in the black, the bankers are pocketing huge bonuses, corporate profits are soaring and the stock market is humming along.

But for those less fortunate, the situation remains dire: unemployment is stuck around 10 percent, wages are stagnant, state and local governments face staggering cutbacks in all services, and foreclosures continue unabated.

The most recent example of this glaring callousness is the deal President Obama reached with GOP leaders to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for 2 years in exchange for keeping unemployment compensation coming for 13 months.

Both the president and the Republicans profess to be unhappy with everything they had to give up and said nasty things about each other. The president insisted it was simply the best deal to be had to get some stimulus in the face of Republican intransigence.  But the president never took to the airwaves to challenge the Republicans on the tax cuts or the unemployment insurance. After his party’s “shellacking” in the midterms, he just headed for the back room to make a deal on his own, without ever trying to galvanize public opinion, which according to the polls, wasn’t even sympathetic to the high-end tax cuts.

So far the Senate has appears ready to pass the deal with votes to spare but the House has balked.

Back when he was candidate Obama, the president had no qualms about proclaiming just how unfair the tax cuts for the wealthiest were, how little they do for the rest of the economy, and how worthy they were of opposing. Now the president labels as `sanctimonious’ those who agree with the position he took so forcefully when he ran for president.

But the tax cuts for the wealthy won’t work any better now that that they’re the Obama tax cuts than they did when they were the Bush tax cuts.

The Center for American Progress breaks the $954 billion Obama tax cut deal into two parts: first, a $133 billion tax cut for the wealthiest, including $120 billion in lower taxes for the top 2% of U.S. households, plus $13 billion in estate tax savings. The other $821 billion consists of government cash for unemployment benefits, tax cuts for the middle class and small-business job-creation incentives.

The deal is supposed to create somewhere between 2.2 and 3.1 million jobs, though some find those estimates vastly inflated. CAP contends that the deal offers a relatively expensive way to create those jobs.

Economist Dean Baker questions a lot of the phony hysterics being used to sell the deal as scare tactics. He doubts the president’s assertion that is the only way or last chance to extend unemployment benefits. If unemployment stays above 8 percent as the Federal Reserve projects that it will, both Republicans and the president will feel pressure to extend benefits.

But one of the worst aspects of the deal is the way that it actually raises taxes on the working poor, according to the Tax Policy Center. That’s because the president has agreed, as part of the deal, to phase out his own Making Work Pay tax cut (implemented as part of his previous stimulus package) and replaced it with a temporary Social Security payroll tax cut. The Making Work Pay tax cut was focused on the working poor, giving single people with incomes of at least $6,452 and less than $75,000 a $400 tax break and couples making less than $120,000 an $800 tax break. People at the lower end of those income ranges would do worse under the present Obama tax cut deal. Wealthier taxpayers meanwhile, stand to do better with the payroll tax break than they did under Making Work Pay, which phased out at higher income brackets.

To me the tax deal looks suspiciously like the bailout – shoveling money to those who have suffered the least, without any conditions imposed to require that they plow some of that cash back into the economy, only the vain hope that they will share their prosperity.

We assumed that’s what the bailout recipients would do with all of our tax money.

We know now how that worked out.

About Martin Berg

Martin Berg, WheresOurMoney.org editor, is a veteran journalist.

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