Opinion

Fiscal cliff looms, but GOP’s head in the sand

Not one month after Election Day, the rank and file of the Republican Party and GOP leadership, after having suffered stunning losses in the Senate and failing to win back the White House despite a prolonged period of national unemployment, have once again resorted to obstructionist tactics moving into the new year.

The White House’s lead negotiator, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, met with party leaders from both sides of the aisle last Thursday, looking for an agreement to prevent the automatic federal spending cuts and across-the-board tax hikes created by the bi-partisan congressional “Supercommittee” last year as part of their plan to reduce the federal deficit.

With less than a month before the nation falls over the so-called “fiscal cliff” Washington imposed on itself and the entire country last year, Republicans continue to remain intransigent in the face of bipartisan negotiations.

After campaigning early, openly and often before the November elections, President Obama and Congressional Democrats have so far remained committed to their pledge to raise marginal tax rates on the top two percent income earners as part of a comprehensive deficit reduction package in preparation for the next fiscal year.

Doing so would raise top tax rates on individuals who make over $200,000 and couples making over $250,000 back to their Clinton-era levels, where they were originally 36 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively, slightly higher than their current levels of 33 percent and 35 percent during the booming 1990s before the Bush tax cuts.

The Democrats have already committed themselves, foolishly in the eyes of many liberals after victory at the polls, to cutting social spending on popular programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — as much as $250 billion — while Republicans have not committed to raising one dime in new tax revenue.

And it shows.

Poll after poll has consistently shown solid support in public opinion for higher taxes on the wealthy as a way to reduce the deficit and fund government programs. Yet Republicans continue to hold firm to Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge.

Republicans honor their purity pledge at their own peril. A Washington Post-Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday shows a margin of 53-27 percent in citing Republicans over Obama as the party to blame should the country go over the fiscal cliff. Another CNN/ORC International poll published last week recorded that 45 percent of voters would blame congressional Republicans, compared to 34 percent who would hold Obama responsible.

In spite of the fact that most Americans today pay fewer taxes than they did in 1980, Republicans remain committed to the false notion that even marginally higher tax rates on the wealthy will sink the economy.

Since 2000, federal revenues from national taxation of individual and corporate income collected only 9.2 percent of America’s gross domestic product, the lowest level for any decade since the post-war period.

The Great Recession and additional income and payroll tax cuts have only further reduced revenues to 7.6 percent of economic output in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

As income inequality increases and health care costs continue to match the spiral upwards of a graying population, expensive new medical technology and costly end-of-life treatment, taxes will necessarily have to go up, barring absolutely savage cuts in vital social services and anti-poverty programs.

This coming year marks the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax and, despite the howls of protest emanating from right-wing media, Amendment XVI is here to stay.

If the Republicans want to be, too, they will have to come to terms with that.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.