Time for Fair Share Politics

By:  Katrina vanden Heuvel

The lunatics are running the asylum that is Congress.

At a moment when nearly two-thirds of US corporations [1] don’t pay any federal income taxes, and companies are sitting on trillions [2] in cash while refusing to hire new workers, the only thing we hear when it comes to tax reform is that we need to cut the corporate tax rate.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Yet it’s par for the course in this take-no-prisoners, slashonomics [3] budget debate, where fighting to protect programs that help people get basic needs like housing, healthcare and heat is derided, but no corporate loophole is left unprotected. The debate in Washington has almost always been out of touch with the realities of people’s lives, but that gap has now widened into a gulf—perhaps greater than we’ve seen in generations.

Yet I still have hope.

A strong inside-outside strategy to reset, reboot and reframe the budget debate is emerging. The spirit, energy and outrage we saw in Wisconsin is being sustained and nurtured in communities across the country. Driven by progressives allied with the labor movement, people from a great range of backgrounds are standing up and delivering a message: our problem isn’t one of caring too much for working people and the most vulnerable and it won’t be solved by cutting vital investments. Our problem is freeloading corporations that need to pony up their fair share.

What demoralized progressives need to remember is there are allies on Capitol Hill showing real moxie, and doing what they can to offer real alternatives that respond to rising suffering, inequality and corporate greed, rather than shrink from it.

Consider the good Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Always the people’s champion, he’s called for closing corporate tax loopholes [4] to raise more than $400 billion over a ten-year period. He’s also introduced legislation that would impose a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires [5] and yield up to $50 billion per year. In the House, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky introduced the Fairness in Taxation Act [6], which would create new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires. (According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the most popular way to reduce the deficit is through a surtax on millionaires, preferred by 81 percent [7] of Americans!)

Sanders is also relentless in countering the lies about corporate tax rates. He speaks of the ten worst corporate income tax avoiders [8]: Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009, paid no federal income taxes, and received a $156 million rebate from the IRS; Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and was handed a nearly $1 trillion bailout by taxpayers; General Electric [9] made $26 billion in profits in the US over the past five years, and received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS; Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after taking in $10 billion in profits in 2009; Boeing received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon and a $124 million refund from the IRS last year; Citigroup made more than $4 billion in profits last year and paid no federal income taxes—it also received a $2.5 trillion taxpayer bailout.

Only in Congress would you find a chorus singing mightily that the affluent and mighty need an extra helping of taxpayer largesse. Screw the kids in Head Start, the students receiving Pell Grants, the dislocated workers and the nutritional needs of infants [10]—how can we better help JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon?

Sanders is just back from a Senate recess during which he held four town meetings throughout Vermont. He said of the fight for fiscal sanity: “We have a very, very long way to go, and the reason that I am holding meetings like this is because the only way to put pressure on Washington is when people stand up. What I have learned is that the people of Vermont do not believe the federal budget should be balanced on the backs of working families. The wealthiest people in the country also have to share the sacrifice.”

Common sense and humane response demand that we fight to reset the terms of a suffocatingly narrow and wrongheaded debate and pursue continued movement building. This is our heritage as progressives—independent mass movements have led this country towards its greatest ideals—we’ve seen it with the abolitionists, populists and suffragists and the workers, civil rights, women’s, LGBT and immigrant movements.

On April 4—the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood for the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis—this movement takes its next step. Progressive allies [11], the Nation-inspired US Uncut [12] and people who have simply had enough of the lies and distortions that define this budget debate, and the poor and middle-class who pay the price for it, will participate in actions, teach-ins, demonstrations, vigils and more.

This is our moment to reclaim the best principles of this country. Turnout on April 4 [11].