Hot on the heels of President Obama's re-election, attention has already shifted to the "fiscal cliff" negotiations that are now taking place ahead of an end of the year reversion in tax rates to those that existed prior to 2001 and the imposition of mandatory cuts to defense spending and non-entitlement programs. A major sticking point is whether the tax rate that the top 2% of wage earners (the so-called "wealthy," which we have now apparently defined as individuals making $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000) pay on ordinary income above those thresholds should rise from 35% to 39.6%.
The President, and most Democrats in Congress (as a party, Democrats are pathologically incapable of marching in lock-step) are standing firm that these rates must lapse while allowing tax rates at below these income thresholds to be extended indefinitely. Republicans, by and large, have come out against tax increases, but the few tepid, and infuriatingly vague trial balloons supposedly "courageous" GOP members of Congress have expressed in support of some increase in tax revenue are treated like profiles in courage. Take Saxby Chambliss, for example. You might recall that back in 2002, Mr. Chambliss won his U.S. Senate seat in Georgia by tagging a Vietnam Veteran named Max Cleland as "soft on terrorism." That Mr. Cleland left three of his four limbs in the jungles of Vietnam while Mr. Chambliss received military deferments and avoided service was of no moment. Flash forward 10 years, and Senator Chambliss is being elevated to "elder statesman" status for saying that a pledge he signed 20 years ago to never raise taxes is no longer operative and that (without getting into specifics) he wants to "do the right thing" when it comes to our nation's finances and that he won't be held to that anti-tax pledge because he "care[s] too much about my country." (You can read the full 1:21 interview bite here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/23/saxby-chambliss-grover-norquist_n_2177333.html).
Chambliss's supposedly principled stand has yielded an enormous amount of favorable press, but in an effort to lionize any Republican who appears "moderate" (which these days means just to the left of Torquemada), Inside the Beltway types conveniently gloss over a few important facts. Chambliss has been a member of Congress since January 1995 and in that time, cast "aye" votes in favor of every last major initiative that helped cause the awful debt he is suddenly so concerned about- every Bush tax cut, every appropriation of money for Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare Part D and on and on. But is Chambliss called to account for these votes? Of course not. It only matters that he's now willing to "look" at ill-defined "revenue raisers."
Ok, so what about that. Google "Chambliss Norquist Tax Pledge" and hundreds of hits come back, but Chambliss's statements were anodyne and unspecific. He did not come out in support of raising income tax, capital gains, dividend or carried interest taxes on the wealthy, all of which he voted to lower in years past, and have all contributed not just to our massive deficit, but a huge redistribution of wealth upward, or in support of closing loopholes and tax subsidies (and why would he? Along with his Senate colleagues, he filibustered Democratic efforts to get rid of some of the most egregious examples, such as the one that gives a tax break to corporations that own private jets). But mainstream journalists are too busy polishing Mr. Chambliss's posterior to either call him out for his hypocrisy or ask why he should be taken seriously on this issue when his prior votes contributed so mightily to our current economic weakness (we won't even get into the myriad bills Mr. Chambliss helped block in the past two years that could have aided employment).
When George W. Bush famously went before a joint session of Congress in 2001 to pitch his tax cuts, he said that he spoke on behalf of taxpayers who, having swollen the nation's coffers to the tune of a $236 billion surplus, wanted a "refund." By this logic, Chambliss and his cohorts in the GOP, should, on behalf of the nation, be asking the wealthy to return the favor.