American Flag courtesy Click at MorgueFileI filed my taxes a long time ago (just one of the many benefits of being married to someone far, far more organized than I am). So, I haven’t been thinking about my own taxes much this week—except to hope for a refund and follow President Obama’s road-show about his budget (He did Jay Leno, 60 Minutes, two nationally-televised town hall meetings, and a prime-time news conference—but I caught most of it via Jon Stewart).

But the best thing I’ve seen about taxes all week is a bunch of millionaires telling it like it is, saying that paying taxes is patriotic.

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  • More precisely, 45 American millionaires wrote a letter to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner, urging them to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire.

    Our country has been good to us,” they proudly declare. “Now, we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have.” Music to my ears—that’s the way we should all understand taxes—as contributions to shared prosperity and quality of life, as our way of ensuring everyone has opportunities to succeed the way the richest among us have.

    In the National Journal, signatory and founder Garrett Gruener said, “This small monetary sacrifice is both an ethical and patriotic decision, made in the hopes of allowing the United States of America to continue to be a leader economically, politically, and morally.”

    A moral and patriotic duty to keep the American economy competitive! These millionaires get it.

    However, as Joe Conason at Salon points out, they aren’t necessarily representative of their ilk. And our representatives aren’t representative either! Conason points to a new study from the Center for Responsive Politics revealing that half of the members of the House and the Senate are millionaires. “That contrasts sharply with the general population, of whom fewer than 1 percent can claim millionaire status.”

    Still, as it turns out, most of us non-millionaires get it too.

    According to a recent poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal (reported here by Center for American Progress), Americans want the tax cuts to expire too:

    • More than four-fifths of Americans favor a surtax on federal income taxes for people earning more than $1 million a year.
    • Almost 7 out of 10 Americans favor eliminating the Bush tax cuts for households earning $250,000 a year or more.
    • The least popular deficit-reduction proposal is turning Medicare into a voucher program where seniors get government coupons for private insurance, as House Republicans have proposed.
    • A majority of Americans agree “government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people.”

    “Not less. More” The Center for American Progress article underscores this point. And, CAP reminds us, a poll they conducted last summer showed that “Americans prefer a better government over a smaller one.” In other words, “people put a priority on improving government in areas such as developing clean energy, making college more affordable, improving public schools, reducing poverty, and ensuring access to affordable health care.”

    Obama hasn’t said much about taxes. He hasn’t gone so far as to say paying taxes is patriotic. But he has said that he won’t sign an extension of the Bush tax breaks for the richest Americans. And on that point, his words have been quite powerful. “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires” he said. “And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.”

    And as the Washington Post reported, Obama “repeatedly called for increasing taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year to help balance the budget, an idea strongly opposed by many congressional Republicans. He signaled strong opposition to how House Republicans would reform Medicare.”

    “I believe it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic,” Obama said of the GOP’s budget plan. “It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them.” That’s not patriotic, in my book.

    Ever the optimist, I hope this opens the door—even just a crack—to a more productive conversation in the country about  budgets, taxes, and the role of government.


    Image courtesy Click at MorgueFile.