The Absurdity of Voluntary Taxation for the Rich

The Republicans are fast becoming not just a fringe party, but a comical (not the fun way, the caricature way) party. As President Obama pushes Congress on a common sense tax reform: the idea that those who make more than a million dollars a year should pay at least the same marginal tax rate as middle class families. But even after videos of that super-commie Ronald Reagan touting the same exact thing surfaced, I keep seeing suggestions that Democrats who want the ultra wealthy to contribute their fair share in taxes should somehow just make a voluntary contribution to the treasury and shut the hell up. The absurdity of this several iterations of... the stupid.

The Stupid Round 1: The finest Republican tax idea: the working poor needs to be taxed more in a mandatory manner, but the super rich should only pay if they want to.

Tax time is coming up, and the Republicans will soon be on TV bumbling about the falsehood that half of American tax filers don't pay any taxes! But it only concerns income taxes, they'd clarify. Half of American tax filers don't pay any federal income taxes. And even though these Americans pay federal payroll taxes on their entire incomes (whereas for the rich the payroll tax stops after about the first $110,000), and many pay Medicare Part B premiums, property taxes, sales taxes and other taxes in their states, the Republicans will be galled at the idea that some hard working people, including the working poor, are spared more taxation from Congress. We need to "broaden the base," they will say, in code language for raising taxes on the poor. No one talks about that tax being a voluntary one, now, do they?

But suddenly, if you want the wealthiest to pay their fair share, it must be voluntary. Why? Suddenly if you want Mitt Romney to pay more than 15% on his $21 million in income, that can only happen should Mitt Romney feel like sparing America the change. Suddenly, if you want to say that money made from work (earned income) should be treated the same way as money made from money (i.e. capital gains), you need a permission slip from the people who make money from money?

But that's the GOP's basic tax policy. Tax the poor, spare the rich, and eliminate the social compact. They can argue for that if they wish, and let the voters decide. But they cannot run from it by demanding that taxation become voluntary for the most privileged in our society.

The Stupid Round 2: The absurd idea that our responsibilities as citizens are voluntary.

Taxes are what we pay to live in a civilized society. There are no organizations in the world in which you can enjoy all the benefits of membership and only pay the dues (or perform other responsibilities of membership) when you want to, if you want to. The Republicans who are claiming it should be that way should try suggesting that their male-only golf club dues should be voluntary and see how that goes over. Try signing up for the military, availing yourself to all the benefits thereof (such as Tricare, on-base housing, etc.) and then suggesting that you should only have to show up for combat when you wish, regardless of what your deployment order says.

One can argue that all this stuff I'm talking about is voluntary to join in the first place, and no one is under any obligation to join or maintain their membership. But that's not true, is it? Especially in case of the military - once you join, you can't just leave. And Congress makes every male 18-26 register with the selective service, so that they could, when they want to, for .... you know... a draft.

If you live in this country, wish to enjoy the protections, rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution and protected by the government and armed forces of the United States, then your responsibility to contribute to the common wealth cannot be voluntary. If you want to drive on the freeways, if you want the fire department to show up at your house if it catches fire, if you want to make sure your children aren't fed lead in their diet, if you want clean, running water in your house, you cannot simply chalk up the costs to voluntary contributions.

One's views about public policy, social welfare, and proper levels of taxation and spending issues is a different matter - and that is a values and policy debate we can have - but to argue that taxation should be voluntary and that responsibilities of citizenship ought to be severed from its rights privileges is not only absurd, but it is un-American. When you are an American, you sign up to do your part, period.

And as for voluntary membership, in a sense, living in America is voluntary too. As many Republicans are often fond of reminding their political opponents, if one is so offended by the idea that we have a social compact that has to be paid for, one can, always, leave if they cannot turn America into an experimentation in social Darwinism.

The Stupid Round 3: The anarchist, anti-democratic idea that only those who favor a given public policy idea should be affected by it.

That's what voluntary taxation basically is - it's telling people, well, if you're so for it, why don't you just pay and shut up? If you're against the Bush tax cuts for the rich, then don't take your portion of it, right?

Fine. I hereby submit then that every Republican member of Congress who votes against an FAA funding bill be forbidden from flying. That anyone personally opposed to extending unemployment benefits be barred from taking advantage of it should they become unemployed for an extended period of time. I submit that if Republicans want to keep the tax breaks for big oil, that the RNC be forced to raise the $4 billion to pay for it. I submit that everyone who opposes health care reform be barred from availing themselves to the tax credits made available by the Affordable Care Act.

I propose that whenever members of Congress vote to authorize use of force, that they must go fight it themselves - and they certainly cannot force anyone in the military who is against the policy to go to war. Furthermore, extending the idea of voluntary taxation, I propose that Congress be forbidden to use the taxes of anyone who is not for the war to pay for the war. Moreover, if Republicans want to increase defense spending, they should have to raise the amount from a voluntary tax.

This is not how democracy functions. In a democracy, we decide what our priorities will be, and then how to pay for them as a whole. We can have a debate about those priorities - although I very much suspect that the Republican party wants to avoid a debate about priorities at all costs - and about tax policy, but there is no room for suggesting that national priorities be funded by voluntary contributions.

In conclusion...

It's clear what the Republican party wants in terms of taxes, the social safety net, and the fabric of our country. It's clear that they want to remake America into a radically different country than it is today - from a nation that values individual freedom, equal opportunity and social responsibility and honors each as the essential promoter of the others to a country where the economic elite pulls the rug out from under the rest of us. They want a radical redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. They literally want an America where we steal food from 236 hungry children and families to fund the average millionaire's tax cut.

It's not a vision I agree with, or even think is American. But if the Republican party and its supporters have the courage of their conviction, let them stop hiding behind the veil of the absurd, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest idea of voluntary taxation for the elite. Let them stand up for their ideas and defend them rather than trying to muddy the water. Let's have a full hearing among the public. Let's pit the Romney-Ryan path to poverty vision against the Obama-Biden vision of fairness, and let's see where we honestly end up.

I bet they won't, though. Because the Republican party, and their right wing allies, for all of their huffing and puffing, are in reality a bunch of cowards.