You might think that in our much touted Democracy, those representing The People in Congress might be representative of the The People. In a “fair and balanced” report on America’s governing class, NPR’s Andrea Seabrook investigated Who’s Weighing A Tax On Rich? The answer? Millionaires in Congress.
Intro: President Obama continued laying what may be more groundwork for his re-election campaign Monday, including a new tax proposal. He calls it the “Buffett rule”: a new tax on people making more than $1million a year, who currently pay a much lower rate than an average middle-class American. The president, in fact, proposed this rule to a group of people with a lot of millionaires in it.
Seabrook [left]: The number of Americans who are millionaires is pretty low — about 1 percent of the population. Members of Congress who are millionaires? Nearly 50 percent.
That’s according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics.
Of the 435 members of the House, “244 current members of Congress are millionaires — that’s about 46 percent and that includes 138 Republicans and 106 Democrats,” says Center for Responsive Politics spokesman Michael Beckel.
Beckel is talking about net worth, the total amount of money and assets lawmakers have, according to their own financial disclosure forms. In fact, there are probably many more millionaires in Congress, since lawmakers don’t have to include the value of their family home and other details.
I don’t like to state the obvious, but I’ve learned that the obvious is what makes the world go ’round. So, here it is: members of Congress who are millionaires are less likely to vote to increase their own taxes.
Beckel says this wealth already makes life pretty different for lawmakers than it is for the constituents they represent. A member of Congress is more likely to be hit by the tax hike they’re considering.
Now the Buffett rule is not aimed at millionaires per se — but at people who earn an income of at least $1 million a year. Some in Congress come under this category too.
But the biggest effect of raising taxes on those making a least one million dollars annually is not on members of Congress. It’s the campaign donors who will likely feel the pain.
“We don’t know how many political donors are millionaires, but we do know that it takes a certain amount of disposable income to make contributions,” Beckel says.
Campaigns are expensive. In 2010, says Beckel, the average winner of a House race spent $1.5 million. The average Senate winner spent close to $10 million. The hot races are even more expensive. And about half of that money, on average, comes from an elite group of very wealthy donors, people who get a lot of attention from politicians and people who have plenty of opportunities to tell lawmakers how they feel about a new millionaires’ tax.
“Wealthy Americans have more access to lawmakers than most regular voters and constituents do,” Beckel says.
In a waning Empire, journalistic standards for truth in reporting are low. In fact, such standards can hardly be said to exist. Consequently, our expectations of the media have fallen in line with the decline of those standards. We no longer believe anything the media tells us. But I was excited listening to this NPR story. Although she had not actually used the keywords, Andrea Seabrook was now talking about bribes and access, she was talking about an elite group of very wealthy donors. Money in politics is usually (if not invariably) virgin territory in American journalism. I was ready to nominate Andrea for a Pulitzer Prize.
You can easily imagine my great disappointment as Andrea continued…
Not everyone agrees that the flow of money in politics creates a conflict of interest for lawmakers on some issues.
Roger Pilon of the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute says just the opposite.
“They’re not going to be affected or corrupted by any single small contribution,” Pilon said. “In fact, the more money there is, the less potential there is for such corruption.”
If a lawmaker votes against a millionaire’s tax, Pilon believes it’s because of his or her political ideology — not because of a campaign donation.
So what we have here is a kind of chicken-and-egg question. Which came first, the donation or the decision on how to vote for a particular bill?
For the wealthy, opportunities to lobby against the millionaires’ tax happen every day. All they have to do is pay the minimum donation — which could be $5,000 or even $30,000.
Which came first? The ideology? Or the donation? Clearly they go together, something the Romans knew over 2000 years ago. Political views can change, and often do. Hard cash is hard cash. Try buying a summer home or a sail boat with an ideology—good luck with that! Ideologies and bribes are mutually reinforcing.
Human obtuseness never surprises me anymore. I am no longer dumbfounded by the fact that people like Andrea Seabrook are so clueless about Human Nature that they do not understand even the basics of human motivation. Cluelessness is a big problem for our species, as I wrote about in Homo laeviculus — “Clueless Man”, but cognitive thickness is not the only problem we have here.
Our mainstream media is kept on a short leash, or keeps itself on a short leash. (These are actually the same thing in practice.) This becomes manifest in the “fair and balanced” news story. In Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren calls it false evenhandedness. He quotes Paul Krugman to make his point.
Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read
Views Differ on Shape of Planet
Yes, views differ on shape of planet. Which comes first, the ideology or the bribe? Same thing!
Unlike the Krugman example, the bribery issue is not partisan. Both parties take bribes, both parties cater to elite groups of wealthy donors. Any Republican or Democrat will tell you that fund-raising is their most important political activity. But it verboten to admit that money determines political decisions. It is not allowed! This is not a conscious rule Andrea Seabrook is following. She is merely protecting the legitimacy of the political system, and her reporting on that system. This is done completely outside of her awareness. She is inside the box.
Mainstream media reporting in America is worthless.