A group of wealthy Americans that calls itself the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength has sent a letter to President Obama and Congress asking them to raise their taxes and the taxes of the 370,000 other Americans who earn more than $1 million a year.
In a video the group released Tuesday, members say they "shouldn't be wallowing in ... riches while everybody else is suffering." They say the tax cuts President Bush signed into law 10 years ago were a mistake that needs to be fixed.
"My country — our country — means more than my money," members say in the video.
Dennis Mehiel, chairman of cardboard-box company U.S. Corrugated, is one of the 200 millionaires who signed the letter. He tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin that increasing the marginal tax rate on high earners is absolutely essential to balancing America's fiscal policies.
"You've got to go where the money is," he says.
Mehiel disagrees with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and other Republicans who insist that the only way to reduce the budget deficit is to cut spending.
"What they're really saying is that the sacrifices that need to be made to move toward more balance in our fiscal policies ... have to be made by the people who essentially have the least," he says.
Ryan argues the issue is not political, it's economic theory: Keeping taxes as low as possible is what stimulates economic growth. But opponents say the issue is political; it's class warfare, pitting the wealthy and successful against the less successful.
Mehiel won't go so far as to call it class warfare, but he says there is increasing income disparity in the U.S.
"Not to be overly partisan, but the Republicans and Mr. Ryan say that it's absolutely wrong to ask anybody — irrespective of how great their resources are — to chip in in what everyone agrees is a very, very significant challenge for our country, [and that] makes no sense to me," he says. "So I think they are pitting the classes against each other by framing the bait on that basis."
He says the argument for raising taxes on high earners doesn't resonate more because the people who are making the most money "have the resources and the access to policymakers, to elected officials and so on that enable them to amplify their point of view in a way that the average person can't."
Washington, D.C.-area restaurateur Andy Shallal supports raising the income tax on high earners. He tells Martin that the prospect of being taxed more is an incentive to spend more, so he doesn't claim the money as income.
"I spend it on infrastructure; I spend it on equipment; I spend it on refurbishing the places and so on," he says.
"I want to see more customers out there with money to come spend at my business," he says.
Shallal says he'd like to see more progressive tax laws in place to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots "so that we don't have this potential for this possible class warfare that's always bubbling beneath the surface in this country."