After his party's devastating setback in the 2010 midterm elections, Barack Obama was re-elected earlier this month by painting his Republican opponents as heartless in favoring lower taxes for the rich. They were portrayed as nativists for opposing the Dream Act amnesty for illegal immigrants, and as callous in battling the federal takeover of health care.
Republicans countered with arguments that higher taxes on the employer class hurt the economy in general. They assumed most voters knew that amnesties are euphemisms for undermining federal law and in the past have had the effect of promoting more illegal immigration. They tried to point out that there is no such thing as free universal health care, since Obamacare will only shift responsibility from health care practitioners and patients to inefficient government bureaucracies and hide the true costs with higher taxes.
And they utterly failed to convince the American people of any of that.
Why doesn't the Republican-controlled House of Representatives give both voters and President Obama what they wished for?
The current battle over the budget hinges on whether to return to the Clinton-era income tax rates, at least for those who make more than $250,000 a year. Allowing federal income rates to climb to near 40 percent on that cohort would bring in only about $80 billion in revenue a year -- a drop in the bucket when set against the $1.3 trillion annual deficit that grew almost entirely from out-of-control spending since 2009.
Instead, why not agree to hike federal income tax rates only on the true "millionaires and billionaires," "fat cats" and "corporate jet owners" whom Obama has so constantly demonized? In other words, skip over the tire-store owner or dentist, and tax those, for example, who make $1 million or more in annual income. Eight out of the 10 wealthiest counties in the United States voted for Obama. Corporate lawyers and the affluent in Hollywood and on Wall Street should all not mind "paying their fair share."
Upping federal tax rates to well over 40 percent on incomes of more than $1 million a year would also offer a compromise: shielding most of the small businesspeople Republicans wish to protect while allowing Obama to tax the one-percenters whom he believes have so far escaped paying what they owe, and then putting responsibility on the president to keep his part of the bargain in making needed cuts in spending.
Likewise, instead of hiking death taxes on small businesspeople, why not close loopholes for billion-dollar estates by taxing their gargantuan bequests to pet foundations that avoid estate taxes. Why should a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates act as if he built his own business and can solely determine how his fat-cat fortune is spent for the next century -- meanwhile robbing the government of billions of dollars in lost estate taxes along with any federal say in how such fortunes are put to public use?
The president flipped in an election year on the Dream Act. Suddenly, in 2012, Obama decided that he indeed did have the executive power to order amnesty without congressional approval for those who came illegally as children, stayed in school or joined the military, avoided arrest and thus deserved citizenship. In response, Republicans supposedly lost Latino support by insisting that federal immigration law be enforced across the board, regardless of race, class, gender or national origin.
But why not make the president's Dream Act part of the envisioned grand bargain on immigration? Once it is agreed upon that we have the ability to distinguish those foreign nationals deserving of amnesty, then surely we also have the ability to determine who does not meet that agreed-upon criteria.
Why, then, cannot conservatives allow a pathway to citizenship for the play-by-the-rules millions who qualify, while regrettably enforcing an un-Dream Act for others who just recently arrived illegally; enrolled in, and have remain on, public assistance; or have been convicted of a crime? Who could object to that fair compromise?
Finally, Obamacare will be imposed on all Americans by 2014. But so far the Obama administration has granted more than 1,200 exemptions to favored corporations and unions, covering about 4 million Americans. Shouldn't Republicans seek to end all exemptions rather than tackle the improbable task of overturning Obamacare itself? Their motto should be: "Equality for all; special treatment for no one!"
One of the brilliant themes of the 2012 Obama campaign was forcing Republicans, on principle, to systematically oppose most of the things that the administration wanted them to oppose -- thereby shielding itself from the unwelcome consequences of its own ideology while winning political points. Now, in defeat, Republicans should agree to let the chips lie where they fall: Tax only the truly rich; reward only the truly deserving illegal immigrants; and exempt no one from Obamacare.
Nothing could be fairer or more equal than that.