With the House set to vote today on dueling plans for the Bush tax cuts, a group of approximately 100 wealthy progressives — all of whom say they are in the top two percent of earners — have signed a letter calling on Congress to raise their taxes immediately.
Notably, the wealthy signatories make the case for higher taxes on themselves by supporting Obama’s “didn’t build that” case, arguing that the role of a smoothly functioning society in enabling their wealth more than justifies the demand that they chip in a bit more to ensure that it continues to provide opportunities to others.
The letter — which was organized by the liberal group Voices for Progress — was sent yesterday to lawmakers on the Hill, including the Congressional leadership in both parties. It will be released today at an event at which labor unions and liberal groups will announce a new mobilizing drive behind the Obama/Dem plan to end tax cuts for the top two percent.
The letter is right here; I can’t vouch for all of the names on it, but I contacted a half dozen of the signatories, and they all confirmed they had signed it and vouched for the group’s legitimacy.
“We, the undersigned, are among the 2 percent of Americans making more than $250,000 per year,” it begins. It continues:
The Bush tax cuts have given households with annual incomes over $250,000 a year hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra cash — money that America could not afford and that we in the wealthiest 2 percent never should have been given.
We would not have our current wealth if we had been born in a country that lacked the services our government provides — including federal support for schools and universities that have prepared us and prepared our employees for research and innovation, for roads and public transit, for our judicial system and law enforcement and the national defense...
Those of us who are business owners know that restoring taxes on the portion of our profits over $250,000 to Clinton era rates will have no impact on our decisions about whether to hire additional workers...
Congress faces a choice. It can ask the wealthiest 2 percent to limit ourselves to the tax cuts other Americans get — those on the portions of our incomes under $250,000 — so that it can shrink the deficit while continuing to invest in education, infrastructure, clean energy, health care, and rebuilding a strong middle class. Or it can slash investments vital to our nation’s future in order to be even more generous to those of us who need it the least. That shouldn’t be a hard choice.
Obama says it’s justifiable to ask wealthy Americans to pay a bit more in taxes, because their success — in addition to being attributable to their ingenuity and initiative — is also due to the opportunities afforded them by a system that’s partly enabled by government, and because they can best afford to do a bit more to help keep that system functioning.
Republicans and Mitt Romney have seized on the “didn’t build that” comment to distort this argument, insisting the President says that only government, and not individual initiative at all, is responsible for people’s success.
You can argue that Obama’s wording was clumsy and that his tone was off. But once you cut through the noise, what you’re left with is this: the argument articulated in the letter above is what Obama and Democrats have been saying and actually believe. Having a few dozen wealthy progressives add their voices to the debate obviously won’t be enough to change the politics around it. But perhaps having folks who have been sucessful — whatever their politics — on record vouching for the argument Obama and Dems are making will help drive home what a no-brainer it is, and how badly it is being distorted.