We must tax literally everyone but the rich

Republican celebrity Reihan Salam wants the middle class to pay the wealthy to have more heirs. (Pop!Tech 2009)

Really, Republicans aren’t just servile mouthpieces for the interests of the wealthy. Their economics are grounded in a sober assessment of the numbers and a principled objection to redistributing wealth with taxes to advance government goals. These beliefs may so happen to disproportionately benefit the 1 percent, but that’s just an irrelevant side-effect of an agenda that Republicans sincerely believe will help everyone.

Case in point: Senator Mike Lee’s proposed Family Fairness and Opportunity Tax Reform act. The bill would preserve the already significant tax benefits of having children

…while adding a new $2,500 tax credit. Unlike the current child credit, Lee’s new credit never phases out [for the rich], so it can be of use to higher-income families.

That’s how up-and-coming GOP celebrity Reihan Salam describes it in a new article for Slate. A new tax break for the rich? Sure, but that’s just incidental: the point is to help out parents in general.

A gift for [wealthy] parents

Salam isn’t just in this for the wealthy, which is why he argues that

You could come pretty close to closing the revenue gap by changing those [income] thresholds [where the government would levy taxes to pay for Lee’s plan] to, say, [the lower levels of] $50,000 for singles and $100,000 for joint filers.

Not sure if I can convey the two-step they just pulled here while maintaining the sarcasm, so to be direct: income neutrality is an important principle when deciding who should get tax cuts. But when it comes to who should pay for those tax cuts, we should abandon income neutrality and raise taxes on people who are earning less.

Senator Lee’s bill presumably has the same effect, but we can be sure without even running the numbers that Salam’s tweak comes entirely at the expense of the middle class.

It’s easy to miss this, because Salem misleadingly frames his change as a proposal to “tax the childless”. He insists that parents “wouldn’t have to worry too much about these new thresholds, because the new child credit would still lower their taxes” – but that new credit is already in Lee’s bill. The only change Salem has called for are the new thresholds, and those thresholds hit parents and nonparents alike.

To be fair, Salem seems dimly aware of “the view that…it is the ultrarich rather than nonparents who should pay for” the government credit. In America, this view is also known as “the obvious and most compelling objection to his entire argument”. But Salem shrugs this off by claiming without argument that “raising taxes on the ultrarich alone won’t be enough.”

An old scam

Salem frames his argument as provocatively as possible for a reason. For the 1 percent and their Republican apologists, it’s the oldest trick in the book: turn the working classes against each other while quietly sucking them dry. When Salem speculates that “we might have a revolution on our hands,” the last thing he has in mind is an actual revolution: he’s fantasizing a new culture war between nonparents, who he describes as “political enemies,” and parents, who he thinks of as “a sleeping giant”.

All of this may seem pretty brazen coming from a guy who openly argued, in “Grand New Party,” that the GOP needs to embrace an agenda that advances “the interests of the working class rather than the affluent.” Salem has called on Republicans to “fashion a domestic policy from the wreckage of Bush-style, big-government conservatism”; to some, an elaborate plan to socially engineer American families with a massive $2.4 trillion economic redistribution scheme disproportionately hurting the middle class may not entirely fit that bill.

But none of this should surprise anyone – the Grand New Party is still the Grand Old Party, no matter what you call it.