” … my father protested, ‘ALL Democratic candidates are unintelligent and corrupt. Do you want the Republicans to win?’ He meant to say that intelligent voters favored the party that best represented their economic interests and sociological perspective … He never doubted that there were good men among Republicans. He merely understood that they did not speak for his class.”
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1984
On October 3, White House Occupant (WHO?) Bush vetoed a Democratic bill that would have somewhat expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). He told the GOP-friendly Lancaster (Pa.) Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “I believe in private medicine, not the federal government running the health care system.” Over five years the extra $35 billion proposed would have covered an additional 4 million children. Economist Dean Baker recently noted that the rather tiny funding increase required (0.2 percent of projected federal spending—-$23 per person/per year) was dwarfed by Mr. Bush’s 2008 Iraq incineration project. There, the WHO proposes to spend $190 billion or $630 per person. Baker observes dryly that the extra $7 billion in SCHIP funding per year would be “approximately equal to what … Bush will spend on the war in Iraq in two weeks.”
Baker’s point about the relative size of federal expenditures is an important one. But of course there’s more to questions of public finance than the size of various allocations. The central question of politics is always, “Who benefits and who pays?” And in the case of the now vetoed SCHIP expansion the Democrats, cloaked in their bipartisan finery proposed that the poor and the addicted should pay. Currently cigarette smokers cough up 39 cents to the feds per pack. That would have been increased to $1.00 if the SCHIP bill passed.
In a rare burst of (Bush-inspired) economic analysis, the AP reported on October 1st that, “Congressional Democrats have chosen an unlikely source to pay for the bulk of their proposed $35 billion increase in children’s health coverage: people with little money and education.” The AP continued, “Low-income people smoke more heavily than do wealthier people … making cigarette taxes a regressive form of revenue.” Since “both political parties seem inclined” to stick it to the poor and uneducated this was a natural of course. Here in Maine, we’ve seen the same tendency for “New” Democrats to punish their base with so-called “sin taxes” rather than increase levies on the rich and the corporate.
The standard line is that raising taxes on smokers will maybe “help” people quit. Of course, the pols are somewhat less inclined to “help” Humvee hostages kick their planet-strangling/coastal-flooding habit by raising fuel taxes. Neither are they eager to economically “burden” the corporations that shut down US-based production and roam the third world seeking ever cheaper and more powerless workers to exploit. No, that behavior is rewarded, and the CEOs who do it get the taxes forgiven on their ballooning incomes.
Wall Street loves class war. The speculators dote on every downsizing, off-shoring, union-busting rollback. If stock prices are to rise, then the power-lunchers want to see “cost-cutting.” That generally means that a bunch of ordinary people have to get screwed. “Creative destruction” they call it. Others might see it as wagering and profiting from the pain of others. Whatever you call it, the political class is in no mood to therapeutically “help” the Wall Street crowd clean up their act.
Back in the 1970s economist James Tobin modestly proposed a small tax on short-term currency speculation. Inspired by Richard Nixon’s 1971 decision to end the gold-standard/dollar-based Bretton Woods system, the Nobel Prize winner suggested a small tax (0,1 to 0.25 percent) be placed on short-term speculation to promote “stability” in national currencies. Given the power of these well-connected gamblers, the idea was not immediately embraced. But because of the vast sums (in the trillions of dollars) that such a progressive tax on the wealthy would raise, the idea has never quite been killed. In 1999, for instance, Canada’s House of Commons resolved to “enact a tax on financial transactions in concert with the international community.”
But then Bush was selected, 9/11 “changed everything,” and the US Democratic party devoted itself full-time to organized murder and sucking up to rich people. One might think that, if the US political system wasn’t so whored-out, and with the dollar threatening to set off on a thrill and spill-packed roller coaster ride, the old Tobin Tax idea would be new again.
The 1990s Labor Party organizing drive featured a Single-Payer universal health care plan that included a Tobin Tax-inspired levy on the Wall Street Big Casino Crowd to help pay for a civilized medical insurance system. Theirs was a well crafted and rational plan but sadly, it benefitted the “wrong” people and was to be paid for largely by “The Right People.”
It was doomed.
Now comes the Conyers bill, HR 676, the latest single-payer plan, currently languishing in a theoretically Democrat-controlled congress. This modest proposal would end the pitiless reign of private insurers and cruel cost-shifters over the population’s health. It would cover everyone, for most everything, for less. HR 676 is no SCHIP-style baby-step toward civilization.
Best of all, most of the funding is a throwback to a simpler time when it was not heresy to propose imposing taxes on the rich. Among the suggested revenue streams Conyers projects raising $251 billion annually from a reversal of the 01-02 Bush tax cuts, $200 billion from a 5 percent surcharge on the wealthiest 5 percent, and 10 percent on the richest 1 percent —-in other words—Bush’s base. He proposes to lightly trim a few corporate subsidies to raise $100 billion. There’s also a proposed “Stock Transfer Tax” in the mix (“0.25 percent on buyer and seller”) which raises $150 billion.
There was a time when the Ds might have ridden 676 to super-majority status. Sadly, that time has apparently passed.
RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine whose place is just north of the Kennebunkport town line. Since 1990, Rhames has been the chair of the Biddeford Democratic City Committee, an organization charged with “promoting the ideals of the Party.” He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org