Cantor’s confused case

CANTOR’S CONFUSED CASE…. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) takes his case for more tax breaks for the rich to the Wall Street Journal today, hoping the public realizes why he and his Republican cohorts are going all out to protect millionaires from 1990s-era top rates.

Lest there be any doubt why we are so determined to fight — instead of going quietly and giving President Obama his way before Congress bolts for the elections — the GOP has two primary motivations. The first concerns the pain that tax increases threaten to inflict on our economy over the short term. The second is to stop the slide under our current leadership towards becoming a stagnant European-style welfare state with limited individual opportunity and entrepreneurship.

This is, by the way, the same dimwitted conservative who thought the debt crisis was so serious, the United States ran the risk of becoming Greece. Now, however, Cantor is on board with throwing billions of dollars onto the debt, just so long as it comes in the form of tax breaks for people who don’t need them.

Cantor may or may not realize this, but what he’s “determined to fight” is a modest increase in the top marginal rate. The tax burden facing all Americans would still be lower — in many cases, quite a bit lower — than during the Clinton era. Indeed, the Democratic plan to give the middle class a break would even benefit the rich on the first $250,000 of their income.

I don’t imagine Cantor wrote the op-ed himself, but I’d be curious to see him defend it. A Clinton-era top rate would inflict “pain” so severe that it threatens the economy? No serious economist believes this. Indeed, if a Clinton-era top rate is such a killer, why did the economy thrive in the 1990s? For that matter, under the Obama tax policy, rates would still be lower than they were for most of Reagan’s presidency. Does Cantor think Reagan-era tax rates were so confiscatory that they crushed America’s economic dynamism?

What’s more, Cantor’s silly rhetoric about “a stagnant European-style welfare state” is just so tiresome. If Cantor wants to sit at the big kids’ table, he’s going to have to get over these cliches. A 39.6% top rate will not stifle “individual opportunity and entrepreneurship.” I can say this with confidence because this and higher rates never undermined “individual opportunity and entrepreneurship” before.

I’d also love to know how Cantor explains the lost decade of the Bush/Cheney era. Republicans got the tax rates they wanted, the regulatory structure they wanted, the economic policies they wanted, and there was no hint of a “stagnant European-style welfare state.” Nearly a decade of weak growth, stagnant wages, and non-existent job creation later, we know that Cantor’s way simply doesn’t work.

We tried it; it failed; there’s no point in repeating failure and hoping for a different result. The fact that Cantor wants to hold middle-class breaks hostage in order to protect ineffective breaks for millionaires and billionaires tells us a great deal about his priorities, values, and understanding of the world around him.