Republicans' role reversal over whether to extend the interim payroll tax cut another year for 160 million American workers and their families couldn't be more vivid. Republican lawmakers are insisting that the modest temporary tax cut, which provides an extra $1,000 to the typical family with a household income of $50,000, must be paid for by spending cuts if it is to be extended. In fact, many say it shouldn't be extended at all because of the cost.
That is directly the reverse of their argument for extending the high-end Bush tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest 2 percent, which are due to expire next year. Republicans uniformly argue that letting those high-end tax cuts expire would amount to a tax increase that would hurt the economy by taking away revenue flow and by punishing "job creators."
Those high-end tax cuts on capital gains and other income, of course, mostly benefit the very wealthiest Americans, the top one-tenth of the top 1 percent. Their annual multimillion-dollar after-tax incomes, adjusted for inflation, soared by 400 percent between 1979 and 2005. By contrast, ordinary Americans' inflation-adjusted incomes in the same period rose just 21 percent, a figure that trailed inflation for energy, health care and food.
The vivid contrast in their position -- falling on their swords to continue tax cuts for the rich but not for ordinary Americans -- has Republicans on the horn of a dilemma. Democrats do propose to pay for extension of the payroll tax cut by imposing a 3.25 percent tax surcharge on annual incomes above $1 million. That figure easily excludes the purported small business owners and "job creators" who Republicans are fond of saying they are protecting.
In truth, studies show that the nation's megamillionaires and billionaires, who take fully 48 percent of the Bush capital gains tax breaks and whose taxes on incomes are usually lower than their secretaries, are rarely small business owners, job creators or industrial innovators. Many are Wall Street and financial industry honchos or corporate executives who often reap lavish multimillion-dollar bonuses and stock options by cutting workers, freezing salaries and benefits, and offshoring jobs.
Republicans protect and disguise this ultra-rich strata not because they are vital job creators: If that were true, they would have created a lot of jobs since the high-end Bush tax cuts were implemented in 2003, instead of creating a bubble economy and the subsequent financial meltdown that wrecked the economy and left 15 million Americans unemployed. Rather, Republicans protect them because they are big campaign funders, and because they exercise huge lobbying clout to protect their own interests.
Ordinary American workers, nominally the 99 percent that the Occupy Wall Street movement represents, have no such political clout. Their incomes simply are not high enough on the big donor/lobbyist scale to merit the same fevered protection from Republicans to protect their payroll tax cut for another year.
In fact, the payroll tax cut, which allowed a temporary cut on Social Security payroll taxes, reducing them from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, was approved on a bipartisan vote in 2010 only because President Obama included a concurrent extension of the high-end Bush tax cuts. He did so precisely to get a deal with Republicans for the smallish, second stage tax-cut/stimulus plan that also extended unemployment insurance.
His new proposal to extend the cut in the Social Security payroll tax for just one year to keep the economy growing would also raise the cut to 3.1 percent, fully half of the tax, and would extend the tax break to employers, as well. They pay a matching share of the employee payroll tax on income up to the first $110,100 of taxable wages, the maximum on which the tax is to be levied in 2012.
The current 2 percent cut in Tennessee has put a total of $2 billion in the hands of 3.2 million residents. It's given 4.6 million workers in Georgia another $3 billion to spend, and 2.3 million Alabama workers $1.4 billion to pump into the economy. The tax cuts would rise by 50 percent next year if Republicans can find it in their hearts to treat tax cuts for working families like they do for the super-wealthy, for a change. That would significantly help the economy next year, and bump up the fairness meter a teeny bit.