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A taxing debate

April 18, 2012, 10:50 am | Posted by Jennifer Butler

This year’s Tax Day came at a time of intense debate about the moral dimension of the federal tax code. The outcome of this struggle has huge implications for our nation’s future. On Monday afternoon all but one Senate Republican (along with one Democrat) filibustered the Buffett Rule, blocking a vote on a bill that would have ensured people who make more than $1 million per year no longer get away with paying lower tax rates than middle-class American families.

The Buffett rule is fair, practical and responsible. Thousands of the wealthiest Americans pay lower effective tax rates than middle-income households. This is especially wrong when conservative ideologues are using the budget deficit as an excuse to cut off protections for the middle class and the poor, as well as defunding investments in future generations.

The arguments against the Buffett Rule are weak. Some say it’s “class warfare.” But if making sure hedge fund managers don’t get away with paying lower tax rates than teachers is class warfare, what does a class ceasefire look like? Others say it would hurt the economy by hitting small businesses and so-called “job creators.” Republicans and some conservative Democrats say this every time anyone proposes slightly raising taxes on rich people, but the facts simply do not bear it out.

The most common refrain from Republicans is that the Buffett Rule is a “gimmick” that won’t solve our national debt. No one claims the Buffett Rule alone will balance the budget – it’s simply one step in the right direction. And those who support Rep. Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposal really have no grounds to accuse others of fiscal gimmickry. The Ryan plan would practically dismantle the federal government other than the military and entitlements, and it relies on wishful claims about closing unnamed loopholes that supposedly offset the cost of still more gigantic tax breaks for millionaires.

Republicans make these empty arguments because the Buffett Rule exposes their true values. If you look at deeds rather than words, their most core political principle is an unbending dedication to making sure the richest Americans never see their taxes go up one cent. It’s nothing less than anti-tax fundamentalism.

Last week 59 Catholic theologians and social justice leaders rebuked Rep. Ryan for defending his radical budget plan on theological grounds, and yesterday the US Catholic Bishops slammed Republican leaders for eviscerating the safety net. Now that Republicans have voted yet again to put tax breaks for investment bankers before our fiscal health and the needs of American families, I expect the faith community’s drumbeat for economic fairness to grow even louder.

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