The issue of how to improve the lot of poor and moderate-income folks has traditionally been the terrain of Democrats. But earlier this year, Republican leadership decided they should get on the band wagon and start talking about income inequality, particularly as the 2016 election approaches.
This is a dramatic shift from three years ago when Democratic attempts to make income inequality a core component of the 2012 campaign elicited dismissive, tone-deaf accusations of class warfare and attacks on poor and low-income people for being “takers."
Now, as the presidential campaign season heats up, Republican candidates are rehashing their shopworn tax-cuts-for-the-rich policies as prescriptions for addressing the growing income divide.
The Republican formula for discussing income inequality is transparent: first, talk about how the rich have gotten richer on President Obama’s watch; second, talk about how the nation needs to do more to stimulate growth to benefit the middle class; and third, trot out policy proposals that focus on big tax cuts for the rich and corporations.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaking in New Hampshire on Tuesday to drum up support for his possible presidential run, made it laughably easy to point out the lack of sincerity in his party’s claim that it cares about the vast chasm between the super rich and everyone else.
The governor unsurprisingly said President Obama has “worsened income inequality through his policies,” but provided no specific details to back up such a bold criticism. Instead, he offered a rebooted version of Mitt Romney’s 2012 tax proposal as a remedy, as CTJ Director Bob McIntyre outlined in a blog post. Deficit-busting tax breaks for the rich and tax giveaways to corporations? Check. Less government regulation? Check. Cuts in Social Security benefits? Check.
Just as global warming is a myth to some right-wingers despite copious science proving otherwise, supply-side economics really makes sense in their alternate universe, despite real-life results and mounds of research to the contrary.
Gov. Christie is in the GOP mainstream in offering trickle-down theories as an economic panacea. Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio earlier this year participated in a forum with wealthy donors in which they feigned concern about income inequality. Ted Cruz said the rich “have gotten fat and happy” on Obama’s watch. Nice sound bite. But as CTJ pointed out in a March blog post, Sen. Cruz’s fantastical tax policy proposals would make the income divide much worse by increasing taxes on everyone but the rich. He proposes a so-called “Fair Tax” that would replace all federal taxes with a hugely regressive national sales tax.
Sen. Rubio’s recipe for economic growth and reducing income inequality calls for the nation to tax cut its way to prosperity; his plan sprinkles in an increase in the child tax credit that has some commenters lauding the lawmaker for taking a different tack than other Republicans. But don’t be fooled. A linchpin of his tax plan is eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividend income, which would primarily benefit the top 1 percent of Americans.
Sen. Paul has been publicly speaking about income inequality since last fall. In April of this year before a gathering sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, the campaign arm of the billionaire Koch brothers, he implored, “We can’t be the party of the plutocrats and the rich people!” But then he said that he would give everyone a tax cut. Translation: Don’t you worry about your taxes, rich people, wink, wink. He then clarified that "poor people don’t create jobs." He proposes a regressive flat tax that would eliminate taxes on most of the income of the wealthy (i.e., their capital gains, dividends and interest). In the Senate, he has vehemently advocated for wealthy tax cheats, single-handedly blocking a treaty that would allow the federal government to go after U.S. citizens who illegally hide their money in offshore bank accounts.
For the last six years, Tea Party and rightwing rhetoric have labeled the president a socialist determined to redistribute income to the poor. Now, with the public’s growing awareness of rising income inequality, the rightwing insists President Obama has caused this 35-year trend. Which is it? By definition you cannot be a socialist and also a shill for the wealthy.
Republican presidential candidates are trying to have it both ways. They give a nod to Americans’ concerns over mounting inequality, but then offer the same old top-heavy tax-cut proposals designed to placate the billionaires who bankroll their campaigns.