Jonathan Chait

Your Questions Answered: Tim Noah

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Tim Noah is puzzled:

Why aren't Republicans livid about Obamacare's proposed Medicare tax increase? ...

According to an analysis by the labor-backed Citizens for Tax Justice, the Medicare payroll tax increase would fall almost entirely on the richest 5 percent, and 84 percent of it would be paid by the richest 1 percent. This is the sort of thing that drove conservatives batty in the past.It doesn't seem to be driving them batty now. Would you like to know how many times Republicans brought it up at the bipartisan health care meeting on Feb. 25? Twice, both times in passing. ...

Rather than tax investment income and labor income on an equal basis," Jonathan Chait observed in his 2007 book The Big Con, "Bush has tried to wipe out all taxes on capital by eliminating the estate tax and slashing rates on capital gains and dividends." Such fanaticism appears now in retreat. Why?

Noah is confusing rhetoric with commitment. The Republicans are pursuing a rhetorical strategy of opposing health care reform by trying to find its weaknesses. The aspects of the bill that the public dislikes (Medicare cuts, taxing employer-provided health care) are not necessarily the aspects Republicans dislike. Indeed, those are aspects that Republican plans often share. But the point of the rhetoric isn't to identify the parts of the bill Republicans dislike the most. The point is to kill the bill, or exert the highest possible political toll on Democrats for passing it. (To be sure, Democrats would do the same if the position were reversed.)

Republicans are fanatically committed to reducing the progressivity of the tax code. If the Republicans were negotiating over the details of a health care plan, they would adamantly oppose an increase in taxes on the rich. But they also recognize that this position is enormously unpopular with the public, which strongly favors paying for health care reform by taxing the rich. So why would they emphasize this?

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