by Joe Shea
December 8, 2010
SORRY, MR. PRESIDENT!
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 8, 2010 -- Mr. President, you are one of the greatest people of the past 40 years, and I heartily support you - except on this deal with the Republicans over tax cuts for the wealthy. I don't think we need an extension of unemployment benefits as badly as you do, and I don't think trading that extension for billions in tax cuts is worth it, either.
I have a different philosophy about our current situation, Mr. President. I believe that extending unemployment benefits will only make our economy weaker, and that extending tax cuts for the wealthy and the middle-class will only do the same. The only part of your deal I like is the payroll tax break of about 33 percent, which is meaningful, generous and likely to lead to more consumer spending and more jobs. Here's why I don't want you to cave in to the Republicans. When you extend unemployment benefits, you do ensure that people will not bother to look for work as energetically as they have before. I have had to go on unemployment several times in my life, and each time I did very little to seek work; instead, I used the money to underwrite my writing career and my beer-drinking habit.
You know how painful it is to be without money at Christmas, and I know you feel very deeply for those who have little to put under a tree - or can't afford a tree. Mr. President, Christmas is not about the gifts or the tree. We consumers are the fat targets of a mountain of sentimental slop that aims to part us with whatever discretionary money we may have. That's what it's about now.
For most of us in the middle and lower class, we can't really afford all we spend on Christmas to make the kids smile for a day, or to make us look like the people we envy on television in their new cars and skis and snow-topped chalets. They are not us.
We are plain folks in homes that need work we can't afford to do, worrying about upcoming property taxes we can't afford to pay, cell phone bills that are so high they take our breath away, and electric, heating oil and gasoline costs that are just way too much. We're not those folks on tv; we're out there in the real world with this mountain of advertising bearing down on us like a landslide, aimed at getting us to buy stuff we and our kids don't need and can't afford.
Some of us have learned how to enjoy Christmas without the ads and recrimination, mainly by helping other people who have even less than we do. I'm on food stamps, and one of the big things on my mind this year is how I can find a way to give some of the food I have bought and not used away to people who need it. I will feel very good after Christmas if I can just accomplish that. So, even more than another two years of unemployment checks, we need to resist the call to spend, spend, spend for Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Hallowe'en, all of which have become way too costly to support.
What happens to people who don't get unemployment checks? In a lot of cases, something wonderful. We're the American people, remember? Beneath our consumer compulsions, we're hard-working folks who know the value of a dollar. We're not dumb. What real Americans do is one of two things: they start a business from scratch - baking pies, building Web sites, carving wooden animals, shoveling snow - and on and on, and upwards and onwards.
Ray Kroc started McDonald's with a hamburger. Whatsisname started Facebook with a snippet of code. Mrs. Smith started with a pie. Waste Management started with a dump truck. There's nothing like a lack of checks from the government to stimulate that kind of activity. And a lot of that kind of work makes an economy that appreciates itself and where it's come from, and has a lot confidence about where it's going. Waiting for a check will never do that.
Now, what about those tax cuts for the middle class and wealthy? I'm not a member of either group, sadly, so in a sense I have no dog named Boehner in the race. I don't make enough money to pay taxes, and neither do hundreds of huge, rich corporations domiciled elsewhere and some 47 percent of the American people.
The corporations and the handful of people who own them need a problem to solve. They made their biggest profits in history in the past year and did it in large part by eliminating American jobs. Not having workers and selling stuff you've imported from China is a good way to great profits, and then housing those profits in a holding company in the Cayman Islands (like ExxonMobil's $11.4 billion quarterly profit, for instance, on which no taxes were paid) is a great way to end up with more money than Croesus.
They get the problem they need when you find some way to tax them. Being go-getters, they don't sit on their hands and wail crocodile tears about the money the government's taken. They start new businesses to make up those lost dollars with the vast amount of cash they've hoarded, and hard as it is for them, they hire people to run those companies, to R&D those hot ideas, to build those new automated factories, to gin up the cash they need to build profits and pay dividends.
They have done that for many, many years when taxes, compared to now, were relatively high. If they don't want to risk their own money, the Federal Reserve is loaning it out to their banks and investment houses and brokerages at rates very close to zero. If they need to make money, they just turn around and loan it to us, bad credit or not, at rates starting at 19.9 percent. Even if only a third of those loans pay off, they'll make truckloads of money to make up for the new tax burden of the pre-2001 tax rates.
That's the reality, Mr. President. There's something in the American people that makes them work harder when you take more. And when you don't play to that, they end up working less, creating less and doing less. Sitting on huge amounts of cash, American companies are not creating jobs; they're just earning interest and having a good time. Take away some of that cash and they'll go back to work, I promise.
By the way, on the debt ceiling: Just make it clear, if raising it or not becomes the ultimate bargaining chip, that it's the Republicans who are closing down the government it on behalf of the wealthy, and that doing without government spending (and make sure it includes Congressional paychecks) for a few weeks could save us a few billion right there. They'll get the point.
Mr. President, I know you don't need this back talk, this rebellion among Democrats in the House and Senate, but we've had it. We need to go back to work, and you need to stimulate that by closing down the check factory and hiring a new army of IRS agents. Spending is not the issue, no matter what your dog Boehner says; excitement, energy, striving, work - that is the issue. Make it happen!
I love you and wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, sir.