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Can we ever agree?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  August 13, 2012 10:03 AM

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US100000dollarsbillobverse.smaller.jpgWhat can Americans agree on politically?

Maybe not much. Abortion should be legal, abortion should be outlawed. Global warming is real, global warming is a hoax. Health care should be mandatory, health care should be optional.

Let’s put it this way: John Kerry and Michele Bachmann aren’t likely to have a meeting of the minds anytime soon.

And yet there are issues where I think we could find agreement. Granted, they might be somewhat peripheral, but finding notes of harmony might start to change the tone in Washington.

(Too much Kumbaya for you? Think both sides will refuse to bend? Well, after more than a decade of increasing polarization, we could simply give into perpetual stalemate - or try a different strategy.)

One of those issues is taxes on the wealthy. And by wealthy, I don’t mean families earning $250,000 a year. Or $500,000 a year. Or $1 million a year.

Let’s look instead at families and individuals making multi millions every year. As The New York Times reported on Friday:

[T]his summer the Internal Revenue Service released data from the 400 individual income tax returns reporting the highest adjusted gross income. This elite ultrarich group earned on average $202 million in 2009, the latest year available. And buried in the data is the startling disclosure that six of the 400 paid no federal income tax. The I.R.S. has never before disclosed that last fact... 27 paid from zero to 10 percent of their adjusted gross incomes and another 89 paid between 10 and 15 percent.

There has, of course, been debate in Congress over what constitutes “rich.” Should families that make $300,000 or $400,000 a year see their tax rate go from 35% to 39%? President Obama and Democrats say yes, arguing that the rich have to pay their fair share. Republicans counter that 39% is too high for people who may be creating jobs. And who’s to say that someone making $300,000 a year is rich?

But I’m fairly sure we can all agree that a family making $100 or $200 million dollars a year is wealthy. And we can probably also agree that they shouldn’t be paying less in taxes than a bank teller, a truck driver, or the poor sap who earns $300,000.

So, could Republicans and Democrats get together to make sure that people who make $200 million a year don’t pay fewer taxes than middle-class voters? Grover Norquist might not like it, but, as a stand-alone measure, it might just pass.

And such a compromise could highlight a surprising truth: that Democrats and Republicans can, on occasion, agree.

Obviously, ensuring that the richest people in America pay a few bucks in taxes would not mark our finest hour. But, heck, it’s a start. And you never know where that might lead.


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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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