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President Barack Obama's tax deal with the Republican leadership is a sad and, I believe, unnecessary cave-in to the power of extreme wealth. We must do better, and I believe we can.
The extension of unemployment benefits should never have become the hostage in this deal, as Obama apparently believes it has. The Senate should de-couple it from the overall package so it emerges from abstraction and is seen concretely for the sensible and humane necessity it is. If there is debate on this, let us witness it, and see which senators are the scrupulous and which are the Scrooges.
If that sounds na¿ve, and if it amounts to gambling with the fate of the unemployed, no doubt the vote-counters will rescue folks like me from our folly, but we must realize that there are other hazards in this package for the unemployed as well as the rest of us.
One hazard is the danger to Social Security. Sen. Mark Begich and several other senators are already addressing this and propose the tax cut for millionaires expire, with the resulting revenue used to strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund. While this would improve Obama's proposal and would be a progressive one-time boost to the fund, it would not insulate the fund from continued chronic attacks from the privatizers who would profit from our retirement savings going entirely into risky financial investment schemes. And, it would not directly address another dangerous feature of the package, the 2 percent payroll tax reduction, which would add to depletion of the fund and set a precedent for dipping into the fund as a stimulus source in hard times like these. The stimulus is needed, but not at the cost of adding to retirement insecurity.
And yet another estate tax reduction? In this provision of Obama's tax package the extremely wealthy have again demonstrated that they and their representatives have no shame. Or, to put it more kindly, maybe they just think it never hurts to ask. Their timing is a bit awkward, though, with a lingering recession and the deficit hawks circling.
Let's urge our representatives in congress to work on this some more, and get a better deal.