THE REPUBLICAN WAR AGAINST THE MIDDLE CLASS….Senate Republicans are taking aim at ? surprise! ? middle class families that try to shield assets from the government in order to deceive Medicaid into paying for nursing home care for elderly relatives:

As costs have risen, it has become commonplace for families to transfer elderly relatives’ assets to others ? often to adult children or to grandchildren ? through gifts or other legal devices, to keep the assets instead of letting them be used for nursing home care. So widespread is the practice that some estate planners hold seminars complete with video presentations, refreshments and spreadsheets.

Wrong is wrong, and it’s not as if I’m a fan of loopholes that allow stuff like this to happen. Still, the planned Republican “crackdown” is pretty appalling coming from a party that’s spent a big part of the past decade in an effort to eliminate estate taxes on the ultra rich so that their assets can be safely passed along in perpetuity to subsequent generations of Republican campaign contributors.

This is all of a piece for the modern Republican party: play to the cameras by denouncing penny ante reports of fraud from the poor and the middle class while doing nothing ? or even encouraging ? far greater use of tax loopholes by the rich. In the 90s, for example, Republicans forced Bill Clinton to devote extra money to prosecuting fraudulent use of the Earned Income Tax Credit by the poor, a problem that cost the government virtually nothing, while protecting the far greater tax avoidance of the rich by holding sham hearings designed to portray IRS agents as jackbooted thugs. The charges against the IRS turned out to be largely without merit, but the dramatically hooded witnesses testifying at the Roth hearings had already done their televised damage. The budget for IRS investigations of the rich were slashed, and tax avoidance soared to ever great heights.

More recently, of course, Senate Republicans have cracked down on bankruptcy “abuse” by the poor ? a pressing problem only for the credit card companies that demanded the legislation ? and are now taking aim at Medicaid. Meanwhile, in the wake of Enron, Republicans were persuaded only by the bracing prospect of midterm elections to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley act, while George Bush spent his time defending SEC chief Harvey Pitt, a man who had publicly expressed his desire for a “kinder and gentler” SEC. Pitt eventually resigned and was replaced by a guy who accidentally turned out to be pretty toughminded about corporate oversight, but with Enron now nothing but a memory and Republicans in control of everything, Bush feels free to replace him with a congressman whose sympathy for gentle oversight of corporate accounting practices is well known.

The lesson is clear: if you’re a middle class schmoe try to hide a few thousand bucks from Uncle Sam, congressional Republicans are appalled at your use of unfair loopholes. But if you’re a millionaire and a potential campaign contributor, congressional Republicans will cry into their beers about how unfair it is that class warriors continually vilify you for your use of perfectly legal tax planning services. F. Scott Fitzgerald was right, wasn’t he?

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