Several top Republicans have said recently that President Obama’s plan to allow the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans is “class warfare.”
“Instead of resorting to tired old class warfare rhetoric, pitting one working American against another, the president and the Democratic leadership should start working with us this week to ensure a fair and open debate to pass legislation to cut spending and freeze tax rates without any further delay,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner on Sunday.
And Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) reportedly also used the term during a Tea Party rally in Washington Sunday: “We will not compromise our economy to accommodate the class warfare rhetoric of this administration.”
On Monday, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate elaborated: “I don’t think Americans should be pitting Americans against each other,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on the Senate floor. “Americans agree with President Kennedy’s formulation that a rising tide lifts all boats. And Americans believe — it’s our basic idea of a country — that we want everyone here to succeed, to do well and not to pit one group of us against another group.
“We all aspire to be in the very top groups of whatever we’re talking about. And because of the kind of country we have, we have that opportunity and people do move from one income tax bracket up to the next one for example, as we increase our incomes,” Kyl continued. “So we don’t want to punish anyone for being successful. That class warfare went out of style when the Cold War ended.”
Who’s been waging war against whom? Democrats might say it’s the other way around. Over the summer, when Senate Republicans filibustered a bill to reauthorize unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) characterized the obstruction as a “class warfare issue,” as Kyl led his caucus in suggesting that unemployment benefits actually discourage people from looking for work.
“The Social Security Act of 1935 made these entitlements, Social Security and unemployment insurance and welfare,” McDermott said. “The Republicans have been after all three of those programs ever since 1935. They got welfare a few years ago, because that’s poor people. They could jump on them. But unemployment and Social Security is middle-class people — they haven’t been able to get them, but it isn’t because they’re not willing to try.”
Extended unemployment benefits lapsed for more than a month, affecting 2.5 million people, and a half as Republicans and some Democrats insisted that the cost of the benefits not be added to the deficit — though the GOP has abonded talk of deficit discipline for the proposed tax hike, which is worth nearly $700 billion over 10 years.
“It’s ironic, to say the least, that less than two months ago, Senator Kyl fought so hard to block extending a meager $300 a week in unemployment benefits to those hardest hit by the recession because it would increase the deficit by $30 billion in the short term,” wrote Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project, in an email to HuffPost. “Yet today, he and other anti-deficit hawks are more than willing to increase the deficit in a long-term and structural manner that would result in $700 billion in non-offset spending… The tax cuts were set to expire for a reason — because we might not be able to afford them any longer. We have reached that point and recognizing the reality of the situation isn’t class warfare; it’s just good common sense.”
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