Has U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn joined the Occupy Wall Street movement at least on principle?
His recent report, titled “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous,” contains much of the same populist rhetoric criticizing economic injustice used by Occupy protesters, including a reference to the oligarchic “one percent,” but its recommended solutions to two of the problems it points out remain debatable and could be simplified.
Here’s what “Occupier Coburn,” a Republican, has to say, as outlined in the report:
From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Multimillionaires are even receiving government checks for not working. This welfare for the well-off- costing billions of dollars a year – is being paid for with the taxes of the less fortunate, many who are working two jobs just to make ends meet, and IOUs to be paid off by future generations.
And then there’s this:
Even in these difficult times, the United States remains a land of opportunity and not everyone is in need of government hand outs. The income of the wealthiest one percent of Americans [emphasis mine] has risen dramatically over the last decade. Yet, the federal government lavishes these millionaires with billions of dollars in giveaways and tax breaks.
Sound familiar? The Occupy movement often refers to the fact that most people belong to a 99 percentage group that finds itself stifled by the top 1 percent of rich people, who control the world’s economic system. Coburn, of course, must be aware of this, and, consequently, it’s an interesting gambit on his part in terms of party politics.
Coburn makes several points in the report about how millionaires are subsidized by the government. Let’s look at two of his points: (1) Millionaires collectively receive billions of dollars in Social Security payments and such payments should be means tested in some way, and (2) millionaires should pay more for their Medicare coverage.
On first glance, these ideas may seem logical until you factor in the point that millionaires have paid into the Social Security and Medicare system as well. If we view these programs as “welfare” or “entitlements,” as Coburn appears to do, then it works, but if we rightly see the programs as retirement and medical insurance, then the ideas don’t work as well.
Why not simply raise the income caps on Social Security taxes? Why not create a universal health care system that would lower medical costs for everyone?
Coburn’s overall point is that millionaires receive $30 billion a year from the federal government in, among other things, farm subsidies, mortgage tax deductions and other tax credits as well as Social Security and Medicare. That’s a good point to make. That the economic system is now heavily weighted in favor of the ultra-rich in this country is a given, but some of Coburn’s solutions, as I noted above, seem designed to make structural changes in extremely popular programs. These changes deserve discussion in terms of their long-term effect on everyone, not just the rich.
What’s interesting, though, is that Coburn’s report and his blunt language could bridge the gap between Tea Party and Occupy activists.
Coburn notes, “. . . this reverse Robin Hood style of wealth redistribution is an intentional effort to get all Americans bought into a system where everyone appears to benefit.” This language could encompass both progressive thinking and the anti-Wall Street bailout sentiment among Tea Partiers.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote recently, “. . . it’s hard to avoid the sense that Republicans are especially eager to dismantle government programs that act as living demonstrations that their ideology is wrong.”
Does Coburn want to dismantle Social Security and Medicare under Krugman’s frame by cutting benefits or does he want to be America’s “real” Robin Hood?