Ever since the First Couple entered the White House, their social life has swirled around the very rich. Hollywood actors, pop star singers, Wall Street hedge fund managers, billionaire investors — these are the fabled "top 1 percent" in terms of income and wealth.
The Obamas invite them to White House dinners. They vacation with them on Martha’s Vineyard. They party with them. They sup with them at $35,000-a-plate fundraisers.
(Have these affairs ever included an auto worker? A mine worker? How about someone who is unemployed and looking for a job? What about someone who has lost his home? As far as I can tell, the bottom 99 percent never seems to make the cut.)
Here is what we are being asked to believe. During his three years in office, the president has come to realize that all of the people he plays golf with, has dinner with and collects millions of dollars from have too much. All of the people he never sees, never talks to and never socializes with have too little. So the president’s campaign-for-re-election theme will be: take from his friends and give to all those strangers.
Is any of this believable?
If you are inclined to take it seriously, let me remind you that you have heard it all before. Remember the 2008 presidential campaign? Health care was the number one issue. Remember the Democratic primary mantra? It was "universal coverage." And how was it to be paid for? Almost every serious candidate for the Democratic nomination gave the same answer: taxes on the rich. Barack Obama was explicit: "If you make less than $200,000 your taxes will not go up at all."
So what happened? We got Obama Care, at a cost of almost $1 trillion over the next ten years. And who is going to pay for all that? You are. And so is everybody else. My best estimate is that only about one-fifth of the cost of this measure will fall on the shoulders of the "rich." The vast bulk of the burden will fall on everyone else.
According to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, about 73 million Americans earning less than $200,000 a year will see their direct taxes rise as a result of ObamaCare.In addition there are indirect taxes that no one will be able to avoid. These include:
-A "medical devices" tax that will reach everything from bedpans to wheelchairs and crutches will raise $20 billion over the next ten years; it will hit pacemakers and artificial hips and knees, as well.
-A tax on health insurance plans will raise about $60 billion.
-A tax on prescription drugs will raise another $27 billion.
The Republican staff of the Senate Finance committee estimates that these three taxes alone will ultimately push up health insurance premiums for a typical family of four by about $1,000 a year.
A tax on tanning salons is already collecting revenues from ordinary folks. Because of new restrictions on the use of medical accounts (Health Savings Accounts, Health Reimbursement Arrangements, and Flexible Spending Accounts), people are now paying more for such over-the-counter items as Claritin, aspirin and Advil. All told, "medicine cabinet" taxes are expected to raise about $45 billion over the next ten years.
Then there is the tax on sickness. Right now, people can deduct medical expenses in excess of 7.5 percent of their income. That figure will soon rise to 10 percent. Families who have the misfortune of incurring high medical bills will have to pay more to Uncle Sam as a result.
Pity the elderly and the disabled. More than half the cost of the health reform bill will be paid for by reduced spending on Medicare — a whopping $523 billion reduction over the next ten years. Although this is technically a spending reduction rather than a tax increase, the economic impact is the same.
Medicare’s chief Actuary predicts that in eight more years, Medicare will be paying doctors and hospitals less than what Medicaid (for poor people) pays. If so, senior citizens will be lined up behind welfare mothers, seeking care at community health centers and at the emergency rooms of safety net hospitals.
Will seniors be able to survive by paying more out of pocket to offset the reduction in Medicare spending? Maybe. But if they do so, it’s going to them 10 percent of their Social Security checks within eight years.
Here’s the bottom line: when President Obama talks taxes on the rich, expect even more taxes on the middle class.
But what about the rich? Is the president really going to sock it to his friends and golfing buddies?
Would you believe that under the president’s higher-taxes-on-the-rich proposals most of Warren Buffett’s income won’t be taxed at all. More on that in a future column.