(By Eric Brehm, cross-posted at Bang The Buckets)
You no doubt have already heard, but late last week the Senate voted to extend the payroll tax cut, which affects millions of working Americans. It took a bit of heated debate and a small amount of compromise in the Senate and a lot of noise about the Keystone XL Pipeline, but it got done. As of this writing, however, the House has blocked it, and so we once again approach Congressional gridlock. If gridlock is avoided, then it looks possible that after a great deal of political wrangling, the payroll tax cut, which has been in existence about a year, will be extended for two more months.
You may not remember it nearly as well, because it was a little over a year ago now, but on December 17, 2010, President Obama signed an extension to the so-called Bush tax cuts, which many critics believe disproportionately affect hundreds of the wealthiest Americans. At the time, one paper called it the “strongest bipartisan victory on a major initiative” since the President took office. After a little bit of political wrangling, the Bush tax cuts, which began in 2001, were extended for two more years.
Once again, in case you missed it: Congress finds it difficult to come to any agreement on a middle-class tax cut in order to extend it for two months. But Congress (a different one, but still) finds bipartisan victory in happily extending a tax cut which benefits the wealthy for two years. If the payroll tax cut is allowed to expire, it will mean the middle class received a slight reprieve for a year. If the Bush tax cuts are ever allowed to expire, it will mean the wealthiest Americans received a generous reprieve for over a decade.
Most of the time, I try to maintain the same belief system in my personal life that I do in the classroom — that our government makes mistakes, but overall it is the best system of government there is, in the greatest nation that there is. I try to maintain that while politicians obviously differ in their beliefs, they are all dedicated individuals and all working to bring about what they honestly believe will make the lives of Americans better.
But watching the news lately regarding the payroll tax cut has allowed a tiny little crack in the wall of my belief. I began to explore the possibility that our government knows exactly what it is doing, and it is choosing to benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. I began to explore the possibility that our elected officials – whether Republican or Democrat – are simply not interested in working to make the lives of Americans better, but rather are interested in making the lives of certain Americans better. There was a brief moment in time when I thought about America and didn’t think of the word “Democracy” but instead thought of the word “Plutocracy.”
I like money. I do. And I recognize that the extension of the payroll tax cut will mean that I will bring a little bit more of it home every other week on my paycheck. That being said, I dislike the payroll tax cut for two reasons.
The first is that I think it is irresponsible. With the national debt at its current level, I believe the government should be in favor of raising revenue at modest levels, and one way to do that would be to allow the payroll tax cut to expire. However, I am only in favor of the expiration of the payroll tax cut if Congress will also vote to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. The end result of both of these will be that the government will in fact collect more money in revenue, which might help deal with the national debt. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that to be a problem worth dealing with.
But the biggest reason I am bothered by the payroll tax cut is that it reinforces the notion that I don’t matter. I’m a beggar at the feast, my bowl extended pitifully, forced to exist on the hope that some member of Congress will care just enough about me to throw me a crumb from the table.
At the moment, I am a member of the American middle class. I make a living. I can pay my bills. I don’t always put as much away as I might like, but I can put a little away, and sometimes I do. I can and do count myself blessed to have what I do have, and recognize that there are so many in this nation who are struggling to get by with far less than I have.
At the same time, I’m tired of attempting to prove to my politicians that the middle class matters. I’m tired of attempting to prove to my politicians that the poor matter. I’m bothered that many politicians in Washington — including a President I voted for — find it easy to provide tax breaks for the wealthy, but more difficult to do so for the middle class or the poor. I do believe that the Democrats are slightly better at fighting for the middle class than the Republicans are – call me biased, but there it is. However, the Democrats have an annoying tendency to care most about the middle class in an election year, and that’s not much better.
Maybe I shouldn’t complain. If the two-month extension ever does pass, I’ll be getting about $165 extra on my paychecks over that time. But $165 seems like too small a price to put on my willingness to keep silent.