STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.
It is April 14th, and procrastinators know this. It means you've still got a full day before you need to start doing your taxes.
INSKEEP: This year, the federal deficit has fueled debate over how much we should be paying the government, and so has the conservative Tea Party movement - Tea, of course, standing for taxed enough already.
MONTAGNE: In a moment, we'll hear about the real Tea Party. We'll start with another part of the debate.
INSKEEP: Some wealthy people are lobbying Congress with the message: tax me more.
NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI: Marnie Thompson is, in a way, still trying to make amends for growing up rich.
Ms. MARNIE THOMPSON: I knew we were wealthier than most folks because my folks weren't into flaunting it, but they also sent us to private schools. I went to dancing school. To make my mother happy, I was even a debutante.
NOGUCHI: But Thompson did not want to carry on money traditions, so she gave what would've been her inheritance, $5 million, to charity. Now Thompson doesn't own a cell phone, but she feels she and her husband still have too much.
You want your taxes to be raised, currently.
Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. Absolutely.
NOGUCHI: And Thompson will likely get her wish. The Bush administration put in place a series of tax cuts that will sunset at the end of the year. That means income taxes will likely increase for those making more than $250,000, though Congress is expected to extend the cuts for households making less than that. The capital gains taxes will also return to their pre-Bush levels.
But it's less clear how much of the dividend taxes Congress will reinstate, or how estate taxes will be phased back in.
If you ask Jeffrey Hollender, all of those cuts should go away because they primarily benefit the richest, like him.
Mr. JEFFREY HOLLENDER (Cofounder, Seventh Generation): I do feel that I should pay more taxes. Absolutely. While I don't like the way the government spends the money I give them, I do feel that I pay too little.
NOGUCHI: Hollender is cofounder of the eco-products company Seventh Generation. He grew up in New York in a huge Park Avenue apartment, a world with doormen, maids, cooks and vacation homes. He's in his '50s now, so he was a teenager during the social unrest of the late 1960s.
Mr. HOLLENDER: I felt terribly, terribly guilty about having so much money as a kid.
NOGUCHI: Hollender even left home as a teen, lived out of his car and eventually struck it rich with his own business. He says he doesn't believe in trickle-down economics.
Mr. HOLLENDER: These arguments really are about keeping a lot of money in the pockets of people who already have too much money.
NOGUCHI: It might seem strange that some rich liberals like Thompson and Hollender would campaign to pay more taxes, but they say it's not as weird as it seems. Though there's plenty of evidence to the contrary, they point to a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing nearly two-thirds of wealthy households support raising their own taxes to reduce the government's deficit.
In the past, other superrich people, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Sr. - father of the Microsoft founder - have championed the pro-tax stance. They said their wealth should be taxed heavily to support the public institutions they say allowed them to succeed.
Politicians, though, are most familiar with the argument against taxes, and Marnie Thompson says it's as though elected officials don't know what to do with her letters.
Ms. THOMPSON: As a wealthy person, I want you to tax me more, and the letters I get back in no way acknowledge that kind of argument.
Mr. ALAN VIARD (Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute): Obviously, they're entitled to their opinion, and it's certainly refreshing that they're willing to take an opinion that runs contrary to their, you know, short-term personal interests. But that doesn't mean that their position is necessarily right.
NOGUCHI: Alan Viard is a scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
He says taxing the top 2 or 3 percent of earners won't raise nearly enough to patch up the deficit. Tax increases over a broader swath of the population and spending cuts would be necessary to achieve that. Besides, Viard says, higher taxes for the rich may not be in the overall economic or public best interest.
Mr. VIARD: I don't think it's going to be too big of a surprise if you see some reduction in saving and some reduction in investment.
NOGUCHI: Jeffrey Hollender, the eco-products millionaire, believes the country faces too many grave social and economic problems not to tap the resources of the rich. That doesn't mean paying taxes is barrels of fun for him.
Mr. HOLLENDER: You know, I can't deny that it is sometimes painful to have to write the check.
NOGUCHI: But, he says, he's better equipped to handle the pain than most everyone else.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.