© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tax debate has Missouri senators talking about 'pitchforks' and 'demagoguery'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 3, 2010 - WASHINGTON - The congressional debate over the Bush-era tax cuts heated up Friday, with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D.Mo., saying Americans might "take up pitchforks" against Republicans who want to extend tax cuts for millionaires -- while U.S. Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., called such arguments "populist demagoguery."

Appearing at a Capitol news conference with six other Democratic senators, McCaskill endorsed a plan -- which may come to a Senate vote on Saturday -- that would extend the tax cuts for families earning as much as $1 million a year, but allow the Bush-era cuts to expire for millionaires and above, to help reduce the deficit.

That plan is portrayed as a compromise between the Republican position of extending the tax cuts for all income levels and the White House-backed and U.S. House-passed plan to extend cuts only for those families taxable earned income of less than $250,000 a year.

"I don't know how anyone can keep a straight face and say they are for deficit reduction while they insist on a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, completely unpaid for," McCaskill said of the GOP stance. "If they think it's OK to raise taxes for the embattled middle class because . . . (Democrats) don't give more money to millionaires, it really is time for people in America to take up pitchforks."

But the arguments made by McCaskill, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other Democrats seemed to fall on deaf ears on the other side of the political aisle. Calling the campaign against taxing millionaires "populist demagoguery," Bond said he would stick with the Republican position of insisting on extending the tax cuts for all income levels.

"It's nonsense," Bond said in an interview. "You shouldn't be raising taxes on anybody in a recession." He said that refusing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for small businesses that make profits of $250,000 or $1 million would end up killing jobs in the private sector.

"Why raise taxes on the only people who are going to create the jobs that you want?" Bond said. "There's a hole in the populist argument that 'the rich don't need it': the small businesses that create the jobs are the ones that are making profits over $250,000. They put that back into hiring people, they expand, they give raises and buy equipment."

While there was sound and fury in the Senate statements and news conferences Friday on both sides of the aisle, it was unclear whether the debate would lead to any compromise. The Senate's Democratic leadership planned to move to separate votes Saturday on the $250,000 and $1 million tax-cut extension plans, but Republicans said they had enough votes to block the legislation. If not extended, all of the tax cuts would end next month.

Calling the Democrats' argument about protecting the middle class in the tax votes "a distraction," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said: "This is what those in power often do when their policies don't work. They search for a target. And the targets Democrats have decided on are Republicans and small business owners."

While many Republicans have claimed tea party support, McCaskill said Friday they were not really looking after the interests of most people who are tea party activists in states like Missouri. "All those people out there in the tea party who are angry about the economics of Washington, they really need to . . . pull back the curtain and realize that you've got a Republican Party that is not worried about people in the tea party," she said.

Republicans are "worried about people that can't decide which home to go to over the Christmas holidays. They're worried about people who think they may take a jaunt to Europe for the New Year." She added: "They're not worried about those people packing those town halls -- because those folks are middle class."

Schumer refined the rhetoric of McCaskill's tea-party theme. "The Republicans are not for the tea party," he said. "They're for people with sterling silver tea services."

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.