As an expat, it’s tough for me to explain America to people overseas. America’s a big country, and there a lot of things going on it. There are a lot of opposing viewpoints, different regions.
While people here think Japanese politics is bad—and it is—in some ways it’s no match for U.S. national politics.
Ever since President Obama got in, the Republicans have done nothing but give him and the Congressional Democrats a hard time. For any reason. Or no reason.
Bush left Obama with a number of serious problems to fix. Since Bush was a Republican, you’d think that the Congressional Republicans would pitch in and help out, right? No. They get in the way, use special rules to try and block congressional majorities from taking votes on issues, table and obstruct the nomination of federal officials and judges.
I of course follow a lot of this, but I get too disgusted to write about it. One of the nice things about living in Japan is that you don’t have it “in your face” as much as being stateside. So often, I would rather just watch the Japanese scene.
Here’s one that caught my attention, though: Congress has been trying to extend unemployment benefits, amid a 9%+ something unemployment rate, and a significant underemployment rate.
Republicans are blocking them with the Senate “filibuster threat”, which years ago only was used for the most dramatic of federal legislation, but now, with the Republicans in the minority, is essentially used as a standing threat. They’d block the appointment of the Senate door greeter if they don’t like the way he (or she) parts his hair.
How the federal unemployment extensions work is as follows. Unemployment insurance is mostly a state-administered income security program. It was enacted as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s great Social Security legislation in the 1930’s. The states raise the money and distribute the benefits. BUT there is also a federal component. The feds impose a special tax on employers (very small, and they have for years), and chip in money to the states. Uncle Sam especially does this when a bad recession in on.
The last time things were this bad, maybe 1980-82 and the mid 1970’s, Congress kept acting to extend the benefit by appropriating additional money to be sent to the states for unemployment benefits.
Now in the lingering unemployment of the so-called “great recession” ( * ), the Republicans are blocking this effort. They say they are concerned about the federal deficit.
However, at the same time, they are seeking to have the so-called “Bush tax cuts” (a 2001 Congressional tax act that was advocated by Bush) extended beyond their 10-year limit. Under Congressional budget rules of the time, tax cuts that would impact the deficit had to be limited. And so, the 10 years are up at the end of 2010.
These tax cuts favored extremely wealthy people—they basically raided the Unted States Treasury. Sure, the ordinary taxpayer saw some of the cuts. But the bulk of the money went to the superwealthy. And, it turned out, we had to run deficits to pay for this, which we’ll be paying on for years.
A commenter at Politico made an interesting comparison, here. The cost of extending the so-called Bush tax cuts far exceeds the cost of extending unemployment. But the Republicans are screaming about how the unemployment extension would bust the Treasury. And extending the Tax Cuts for the Rich, which would cost 30 times more (it looks like from the chart) is something no one should worry about!
Well, how is that? How?
One thing you have to remember about the U.S. Federal Tax Code is that even though it’s “flatter” (taxes top earners less) than most other countries you readers might be familiar with, it’s still got that progressive element. So someone making $1,000,000 a year might be paying $280,000 in federal tax. (I doubt it, because tax planning drives the bill down.)
But the thing is, it’s a BIG ISSUE to the Republican Party whether that person earning a million a year pays $280,000 or $320,000. But the schmuck who is out of a $35,000 a year job and can’t get back into the employment pool is flat out of luck.
Moreover, the Republicans are happy to waste everyone’s time for the goal of making sure the person who makes $1,000,000 a year pays $280,000 rather than $320,000. Even though there are more pressing issues facing America.
( * ) – I refer to this concept of “great recession” because it’s just used so much. But if you are older than 40, you should remember there were bad times like this before, in recent history. You don’t have to go back to the Great Depression.
We are probably, technically, in an expansion by now. But it definitely still feels like a recession.