The number two Senate Republican, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R), last week decried attempts by Senate Democrats and President Obama to pay for a payroll tax cut extension with a surtax on millionaires. Despite the fact that payroll tax cut extension would keep an extra $1,000 in the pockets of the average American family, and despite the fact that the millionaire surtax would hit relatively few households, Kyl said he could only support extending the tax cut for working Americans if it was accompanied by massive tax cuts for the wealthy.
This morning on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) what he made of characterizations of the GOP as the party that defends millionaires, given that more than half of McConnell’s caucus has repeatedly voted against a tax cut for the middle class. McConnell laughed at the assertion before saying the GOP is “not here to defend high-income people.” As proof, McConnell told Wallace that the Republican plan took such drastic steps as to prevent millionaires from receiving unemployment benefits or food stamps:
WALLACE: Why are so many Republicans, including more than half of your Senate Republicans, why are they voting against the payroll tax cut?
MCCONNELL: Well the president’s comments, it’s hard not to laugh, because four out of five of the people they’re targeting, of “the rich people” they’re targeting, are actually business owners who create jobs. Look, we’re not here to defend high-income people. In this bipartisan package that we’re just discussing, we make sure millionaires don’t get unemployment, don’t get food stamps. [...] It doesn’t do anything for millionaires, in fact, it goes after them on the benefits side.
McConnell’s assertions seem belied by the facts. Though he insists the payroll tax cut extension will pass, it was the GOP that opposed paying for it through a small surtax on the wealthiest Americans. It was the GOP that opposed any move to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in efforts to reduce the deficit — leading to the first credit downgrade in American history and ultimately dooming the super committee. It was his party that nearly shutdown the government in April over the same issue — even though the wealthiest Americans are paying historically low tax rates.
And while McConnell claims the GOP plan “goes after” millionaires “on the benefits side,” it “goes after” low- and middle-income Americans “on the benefits side” even harder. While the GOP opposes any tax increase on millionaires, the House plan to extend the payroll tax cut guts unemployment insurance — one of the most effective means of economic stimulus the government has — reducing the number of weeks one can remain on the program from 99 to 79, and then from 79 to 59.
McConnell’s claims that “four out of five people” Democrats are “targeting” are actually “business owners who create jobs” is equally laughable. NPR last week tested that claim, asking Republican Congressional offices to help them find business owners who opposed the millionaire surtax. Unsurprisingly, since only 2 percent of those with business income would be affected by the surtax, the Republican offices and business lobbying groups couldn’t find anyone for NPR to talk to.