by Paul Goldman
If Howard Dean had said it, the usual suspects would have called the former DNC chair an anti-business/socialist/pinko/anti-American/love-it-or-leave-whatever. They would have successfully used their 24/7 noise machine to drown out the message. But when Mark Warner says it, these same suspects smile politely and move on to another politically correct but factually incorrect position hoping to get Warner to fall for a different canard. They dare not call Warner all those silly names; they know he has too much of a pro-business image to turn him into a pinko/commie whatever.
Of what do I speak? Namely the urban legend, mostly recently repeated by none other than former President Bill Clinton, claiming the current corporate tax burden makes our corporations “uncompetitive” and has to be relieved as part of a “grand deal” on debt/taxes/economy/whatever.
Senator Warner had to set Bill et al straight, showing the real corporate tax burden has dropped dramatically since Bill Clinton began running for Governor of Arkansas. Indeed, let me go further: when Clinton was just a boy from Hope, the corporate tax burden, as a percentage of federal tax revenue, stood 300% higher than it is today: and as we know, Mr. Clinton grew up in the golden age of American business in terms of national policy (What’s good for General Motors is good for America, famously said the Eisenhower Administration)
Senator Warner could have also said that, contrary to current claims from the usual suspects, corporate profits are at a record high, hardly a statistic supporting the view of corporate America being uncompetitive in the world. Truth is, the S&P 500 make more than half their profits outside of America!
Fact: Corporate profits are soaring despite the worst unemployment/underemployment situation for working families since the Great Depression. Why is no one at the “debt-ceiling” talks insisting on a job-creation part to an agreement when the GOP is ready to agree?
Warner himself isn’t even pushing a proven initiative he backs, along with the state’s top Republicans, Tim Kaine and Jim Webb, that they all know could create 1,000,000 jobs over the next few years, based on the state’s own sponsored study likewise backed by Governor McDonnell.
President Biden’s top economic advisor wrote yesterday that school modernization is far better than road building in terms of jobs in a relative capital investment basis.
Eric Cantor put in the bill to fix the anti-business “rule” in the IRS code stopping it. So did Webb and Warner. It can be done fast.
So I say: Give Warner some major credit here. He was being intellectually honest, rejecting political correctness, and instead hoping to have a real discussion of real issues.
Should the tax code be simplified for corporations and individuals? Of course it should; only a tax lawyer like Michelle Bachmann would disagree, since complexity is why she got hired.
But don’t confuse means and ends: A simplified tax code is a means to the end we want, presumably a fairer system of allocating the “rent” we pay for being Americans.
Warner had it right: Claiming that the “rent” paid by business over the years has somehow made them “uncompetitive” – to use Clinton’s word – or unfair in terms of debt-ceiling mega deal, is simply not true.
It might be more than our society thinks business should pay, or it might be less. That is a judgment we must make. But at least let’s have an honest discussion on the matter.
My suggestion: Warner should move from generic analysis to making specific suggestions that can create jobs right now — small initiatives, yes, but they proved hugely successful for President Clinton, who left office with very high approval ratings on an historic basis.
Warner was early with his “Gang of Six,” but they couldn’t come to an agreement. So, he should pivot to specific suggestions, based on his idea from last year for target job creating tax-credits.
That is the part of the political spectrum open right now to Warner in a big way, with a big potential payoff down the road.
Now, it does need to be said that Warner’s recent Washington Post OpEd may have been counter-productive, as it put him in the position of scolding everyone else. I know what his colleagues are going to say: “Warner voted for the Bush tax cut extensions, and the like, now he complains how others talk a good game but act differently. Who is he kidding?”
It is hard to be but so pure once in office. By definition, a “grand bargain” is a huge compromise by another name. Warner needs to keep having the guts to speak out for an honest discussion.
Of course, the Post OpEd will be taken personally by some people even though he didn’t name any names. That’s not his usual strategy. He has to be careful not to let frustration get him off his game.