If ever, in a moment of weakness, I was tempted to swim the Potomac and become a Republican, I would only have to re-read this article posted at Politico yesterday to remember why I am not and never can join the Grand Old Party. In searching for a way to pay for extending the payroll tax cut, the GOP has come up with a novel suggestion: Deny the child tax credit to immigrant families that do not file federal tax returns with a Social Security number.
For months, congressional Republicans have balked at the prospect of paying for the payroll tax cut extension by crafting a surtax for those earning more than $1 million per year. And, remember, with our progressive tax system, this higher rate, or surtax, would not apply to the first $1 million of income, only to income above that number. But, the GOP is committed to its mantra – never raise taxes – and Grover Norquist serves as a modern day Torquemada, enforcing the no-tax-increase orthodoxy on his congressional minions.
Except, of course, if you eliminate the tax credit for certain working class families, you will be raising their taxes. The GOP argues that they should not be receiving the tax credit in the first place because, after all, if they don’t have a Social Security number it is probably because they lack documents to work here in the first place. This fact points to the need for comprehensive immigration reform, to be sure, but that is not the lesson the GOP draws. They ignore the fact that, with or without documents, these workers are paying their taxes, otherwise there would be no credit.
The tax credit for children was first introduced in the Clinton years. George W. Bush, when he was still in his compassionate conservative mode, increased the tax credit and President Obama, trying to help middle class families struggling through the recession, increased it yet again. It amounts to an average of $676 per child which will not even cover the cost of day care for a month: the national avergae is $972 per month for day care. But, with families struggling to make ends meet, to pay the mortgage and keep food on the table, every little bit helps.
“Why Latinos? What does it mean the symbolism of targeting poor Hispanics? What message does that send?” asked Eric Rodriguez, a vice president for research and legislation at LaRaza. Alas, struggling to inoculate himself from the charge of being a “Massachusetts Moderate,” the GOP’s presumptive nominee Mitt Romney has run to the right of his more conservative opponents on the issue of immigration, challenging Rick Perry for endorsing his state’s version of the DREAM Act and attacking Newt Gingrich for his ever so slight deviation from the “Deport ‘em all” rightwing orthodoxy on immigration. So, Mr. Romney and his party will find out what kind of message this sends in such key swing states as Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida. But, in a GOP primary in South Carolina, you can count the number of Hispanics on one hand, so I suppose Romney thinks he can, like Scarlett O’Hara, worry about it tomorrow.
To be clear, the child tax credit also shows how messed up our entire political system is. The problem, the real problem, is that wages for middle class families have been stagnant or falling for years. Even during the boom years of the 1990s, which had more to do with the Internet and growth in the financial sector than with any particular government policy, those wages remained stagnant. Indeed, over the past fifty years, the primary reason family earnings have increased at all is because most families are now two-earner families, which adds to the family income but also to family expenses in the form of child care. No one on either side of the aisle is really addressing what can be done to address this great underlying problem: If the nation as a whole gets wealthier, but that wealth goes only to the upper stratosphere of the uber-rich, how are we to help middle class families and the working poor keep their families together?
I have a modest proposal. Republicans have lately been decrying “crony capitalism” in which certain companies get special tax breaks or government loan guarantees based on their political influence in Washington. Apart from the taint of influence peddling, free market purists denounce the attempt to pick winners and losers, which is something they think the market should adjudicate. (We will set aside, for the moment, the irony that these same folks tend to stoke fears about China, where the government is rather more involved in the economy than here in the U.S.) Members of both parties have advocated eliminating those loopholes in the tax code in exchange for lowering corporate tax rates. But, let’s devise a different definition of economic “winner.” Let’s say that there will be two corporate tax rates, one for companies that pay their workers a living wage and in which the different pay scales between CEOs and the lowest paid workers do not need a math degree to calculate. So, if Company A starts its workers at $15 per hour, and the CEO makes millions not tens of millions, they qualify for a 20 percent corporate tax rate. If Company B pays its workers the minimum wage and its CEOs gazillions, it could pay a higher corporate tax rate. Why? Because Company A is not adding to the burden on the rest of society that results from paying low wages. Wal-Mart may not think they are subsidized, but of course they are, by programs like the child tax credit and other anti-poverty programs that help the working poor. Will the tax payer pay or will Wal-Mart?
The GOP has decided to go after the tax credit for immigrant children because they know that some Americans, I think wrongly, believe that immigrants who lack documents are getting a free ride. They should try and walk a mile in their shoes for a day and see how free that ride is! But, they are also stoking racial tensions too: little white children will continue to get the tax credit, it is the little tan ones that won’t.
I hope America’s bishops are paying attention to all this. As my colleague Zoe Ryan is reporting, the U.S. bishops are sponsoring a conference on immigration in Salt Lake City this week. Immigration reform has been at or near the top of the bishops’ policy agenda for some time now. But, come the fall, some bishops will suggest that even though Mitt Romney is about as trustworthy on abortion policy as Nixon was on Watergate, because he gives lip service on the abortion issue, it is unthinkable that a Catholic could vote for anyone but the Republican nominee. Frankly, this latest attack on immigrant families from the GOP tells us all we need to know about the current mindset of the Grand Old Party. It is not Grand. It is well-versed in some of the oldest and ugliest forms of race-baiting. And, it is a Party for rich white folk and rich white folk only. There have been times when I have not been able, in good conscience to vote for a Democrat. How any Catholic could, in good conscience, vote for a party that promotes denying the child tax credit to immigrants is beyond me.