Republican Senator Mitch McConnell famously said, “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And Republicans in both houses of Congress have seemed dedicated to this quest, opposing virtually anything Obama tries to do to help the economy, even many things that were proposed originally by Republicans.
Recently, the Republicans have even seemed anxious to violate the Norquist pledge in order to oppose Obama by voting against extending the payroll tax cut, a move that would raise taxes on ordinary Americans in a very noticeable way, by an estimated $40 out of every two-week paycheck for someone making $50,000, or by $1000 year if you prefer to think of it on an annual basis.
In an attempt to finally play some offense against a Republican-controlled Congress—or perhaps more precisely a Republican-impaired Congress—the White House has asked, “What does $40 mean to you?”
You can go to their site to answer for yourself. My answer is probably longer than they wanted, but that’s how it goes. I thought I’d share it with you:
I make more than $50K, but that means I give up less than someone who is making $50K. It's true that it's more money out of my paycheck, but that "more money" probably has less impact on me than the $40 has on someone making less.
To people I know who are making $50K and trying to support a family, that $20/week or $83/month, could be the make or break for heating oil or electricity or groceries or clothing. I know because we get calls from family that run short of amounts like these and need occasional help.
Raise my taxes if you need to, and CERTAINLY raise the taxes of people making more than me. But for people making less this is REAL money.
For me the missing money would probably mean a lost vacation -- but perhaps a vacation someone making $50K might never have taken. So I'd notice the difference for sure, but I can hardly call the absence of a vacation some sort of pain. I wouldn't be put at risk of starvation or of losing my home in the way people making less money than I would be.
For people making more than me, I bet the lost money is no more than numbers on a page and changes nothing in how they behave.
The less one makes, the more precious these small amounts of money are. The more one makes, the more money doesn't matter. I bet most people making a huge amount of money don't even care about small amounts. That's why people of means write $50K and not $50,000, right? Who can be bothered with all those pesky zeros? And yet these amounts of money DO matter to people who are just barely getting by.
Would I feel it if my taxes went up? Sure. I'd have to adjust. But I'd cope. That's why I KNOW people making MORE THAN ME could cope with paying a little more. If I can do it, they can do it. But I would NOT say that about the people making less.
For the poor, every dollar goes to mere survival. And every single missed dollar is a threat to that survival. For the middle class, some dollars go to survival and some to comfort, so missed dollars might come out of comfort, though they may not have many comforts to draw from. It might mean the difference between Christmas and no Christmas, since many people don't have $1000 to spend on Christmas; they may save all year for gifts much more meager. It could make a huge difference in quality of life. Yet for the rich, survival and comfort are assured, and the missed dollars only affect WHICH comforts they'll see, or HOW MANY and HOW SOON.
See my Open Salon blog article "Enough" for a pictorial representation of this. It wasn't written in response to this question, but it's on a closely related topic and many have said they found the graphics I made to be visually helpful.