If you want to really understand why liberals are outraged over President Obama’s tax-cut deal with Republicans, pay attention to Richard Trumka.
The head of the venerable AFL-CIO labor organization, Trumka’s a stalwart fighter for working people in this country. He’s usually a solid ally of the president’s, but he is no fan of this agreement to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
“The tax cut deal rewards Republican obstructionism by giving the wealthy the tax breaks they demanded,” he says. “It throws away precious resources needed for investments in jobs and our economy on upper income tax cuts that will do very little to propel economic growth—setting up excuses for the deficit hypocrites to argue for even more cuts to programs serving working families. It lards the tax cuts for the top 2 percent with an indefensible cut in the estate tax – giving yet another bonus to the super-rich. Taken together, this package locks in the growing income inequality that has plagued our country for at least another two years – and quite possibly much longer.
“It is unconscionable that the price of support for struggling middle class families and workers who have been unable to find jobs for months and months and months is yet more giveaways for our country’s wealthiest families. Millions of jobless workers have lived in fear for months while Senate Republicans had the gall to use their hardships as political leverage for the benefit of the rich.”
Notice Trumka doesn’t bother mentioning the conservative hypocrisy of railing against the federal deficit out of one side of their mouths while screaming for more budget-busting tax goodies with the other.
What’s really gotten people angry is just what Trumka says: rewarding Republicans for holding the rest of the country hostage, to use Obama’s own words, while at the same time giving more to the rich while the rest of us struggle.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders notes, another progressive who’s hopping mad over the deal, in 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the United States made 23 1/2 percent of all income–more than the entire bottom 50 percent.
That percentage of income going to the top 1 percent has nearly tripled since the 1970s, Sanders adds.
“That is why people are wondering and asking: What is going on in my life? How come I am working longer hours for lower wages? How come I am worrying about whether my kids will have as good a standard of living as I had?” he said in a recent speech on the Senate floor.
Meanwhile, even as he defends compromise this time, Obama insists he is ready to fight Republicans in the future.
Well, Mr. President, that future is now.
To soothe his base — and perhaps even to salvage his tax-cut deal against members of his own party who want to bring it down — Obama ought not only to be “itching for a fight,” as he says, but be ready to pick one with the Republicans.
The president should take the issue of income inequality head on.
He should propose a package of tax reforms targeted for working people, perhaps a minimum-wage increase, too, all put together to help those of us, as Sanders says, who have been having such a hard time getting ahead in the last decade or more — all while the rich get richer.
The Republicans will scream, “Class warfare!” at the tops of their lungs. They will probably take more legislative hostages.
The truth is that Republicans have already declared class war against the poor and middle class. It’s just about time we start fighting back.
The president and Democrats must back conservatives into a political corner, to prove to middle class Americans that they, not Republicans, are on their side.
It will be a battle royale. It likely will help Obama and Democrats in the 2012 election. And it’s a fight worth having.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as It’s The Income Inequality, Stupid on Blogcritics.