The house voted yesterday to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, and to end the cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Most House Republicans voted against the measure.
John Nichols is the Washington correspondent for The Nation. He is also the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin.
The House voted by an overwhelming margin Thursday for tax fairness — extending tax cuts for the middle-class, while requiring individuals earning more than $200,000 and families earning more than $250,000 to pay a taxes at the same rate they did during the boom years of the 1990s.
Well, to be precise, House Democrats voted overwhelmingly for tax fairness.
House Republicans voted overwhelmingly against any change in tax policy that did not take care of millionaires and billionaires.
The actual vote to extend only some of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts was 234-188.
Democrats provided 231 of the 234 "yes" votes. (Twenty Democrats, most of them Blue Dog "Democrats-in-Name-Only," voted "no.")
Among the 171 Republican voting on the proposal, 168 voted "no." (Only libertarian Republican mavericks Ron Paul of Texas, Walter Jones of North Carolina and John Duncan of Tennessee voted "yes.")
With President Obama sending his usual mixed signals and the Senate stalled out by super-majority requirements that reject majority rule, the House vote may be the last stand for common sense — and the will of the American people, who by a 2-1 majority favor letting the tax breaks for the wealthy expire. (The new CBS News survey says the split is 53 percent for approach proposed by the House Democrats to 26 percent for the rejectionist stance of the House Republicans.)
So what did we learn Thursday?
Not that Republicans are the "party of the rich."
That characterization is unfair to the rich. There are many millionaires whose economic good sense — not just concerns about debts and deficits but also respect for the economic benefits associated with equity — has led them to argue that they should pay more. Organized as "Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength," they have written members of Congress, arguing that: "Now, during our nation’s moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don’t need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way."
So the Republicans are not the "party of the rich."
They are the party of "greed-is-good" contingent that favors rule by the rich.
That's an important distinction.
The Republican Party, founded by radicals and led well into the 20th century by political players such as Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, who feared the excesses of elitism, monopoly and plutocracy, has become the champion of elitism, monopoly and plutocracy.
What matters is no longer who the Republicans are standing up for. It's what they are standing up for.
With many of America's wealthiest individuals arguing that their tax breaks should expire, House Republicans are actually more enthusiastic about giving tax breaks to the rich than are the rich.
This is about more than tax policy.
This is about what kind of country America is going to be: a plutocracy designed to best serve the elites or a democracy designed to best serve the great mass of Americans.
The Republicans — with the exception of Paul, Duncan and Jones — have opted for plutocracy.
It's still a reasonably free country. That is their right.
But it is worth noting, as Bill Moyers does, that: "Plutocracy is not an American word and wasn’t meant to become an American phenomenon — some of our founders deplored what they called 'the veneration of wealth.'"
Like it or not, Moyers says, "plutocracy is here."
Yes, plutocracy is here.
It even has a party: the Grand Old Plutocrats.