Another Perspective

Voluntary Clinton Surtax Day

How the former first couple can encourage wealthy Americans to start paying their fair share.

By 4.15.08

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The life of an ex-president is tough. Since leaving the White House the Clintons, mostly meaning Bill, have earned $109 million. And it's hard out there for liberal multi-millionaires.

The money just won't stop. Consultants pay dearly for Bill Clinton's earnest advice in helping foreign governments influence the U.S. government. Associations toss tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at him for a single speech. There are book royalties, his pension, and even Hillary's Senate salary.

This creates a real problem of etiquette. After all, it would be impolite to tell people to stop stuffing the Clintons' oversized wallets.

Even worse, when they give away money -- including to their own charity, the Clinton Family Foundation -- their taxes fall even further.

All good and moral people know that taxes are way too low. So the Clintons are forced -- practically at gunpoint -- to keep far too much of their own money.

Sen. Clinton explained apologetically: "We didn't ask for George Bush's tax cuts. We didn't want them, and we didn't need them."

What's a confirmed redistributionist to do?

REPEALING BUSH'S TAX CUTS should be a no-brainer, but a lot of greedy, selfish Republicans stand in the way. They've misled many otherwise decent Americans to believe people have a greater right to their own earnings than do bureaucrats and politicians.

What that means is that even if a President Hillary Clinton wins the opportunity to make everyone increase their contribution to the collective, she and her husband won't be paying enough this year.

But there's still time for the Clintons to do the right thing. When they file their return this year, they just need to engage in some creative accounting.

It's really quite easy. Our complicated federal income tax provides extraordinary opportunities for the socially conscious to hike their support for the public weal.

Are selfish capitalists refusing to do the right thing? No matter. The Clintons can set an example by giving back to the community a little more of that $109 million they've collected.

We could call this initiative the Voluntary Clinton Surtax (VCS).

WHO SHOULD PAY this surtax? Ideally, everybody. But those who (a) opposed the Bush tax cuts; or (b) claim Americans are under-taxed; or (c) complain about "tax cuts for the rich"; or (d) pine for new spending programs; or (e) or say tax cuts are selfish should lead the way.

In fact, a good rule of thumb would be: the more categories that apply to you, the higher your VCS. You've always wanted to put your money where your mouth is. Now you can!

Pull out that 1040. Start by cutting the number of dependents. Who cares if you have kids or are taking care of a parent? Don't declare them.

Line 7, for "wages, salaries, tips, etc.", is even better. Put down the salary you always felt you deserved. Toss in some imaginary tips. After all, you tip waiters and hair stylists. In a just world everyone should be tipping you for being a good, liberal humanitarian and here's your chance to send that message.

Next, toss in some extra, taxable interest, and add phantom dividends and capital gains. For a fleeting moment, you too can feel like the reincarnation of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

Claiming alimony seems a bit prosaic, but doing so does strike a blow against those who claim marriage should be inviolable. There's also a line for farm income -- what could be better than telling the government that you're a common yeoman, salt of the earth?

And putting down some unemployment compensation would indicate your solidarity with all the victims of outrageous trade deals.

SCHEDULE C OR "BUSINESS" income also offers a wealth of VCS opportunities. Here's another chance to claim some extra pay. For instance, Bill Clinton could dream up having another 20 or 30 speeches at 100k a clip, perhaps with sniper fire involved. Lesser liberals without his unparalleled earning capacity could claim a couple $5,000 faux payments.

Normally the IRS expects you to tell the truth on your tax form, but revenue officials won't mind if you declare more than you actually received.

Overall, any good liberal should inflate his or her income by at least a third. If you haven't got there yet, there's always line 21 for "Other income." You're supposed to list the sources, so let your imagination run riot.

Put down everything you imagine that the evil, undeserving capitalists typically receive -- royalties, bribes, bonuses, and pay-offs, as well as the proceeds from blackmail, extortion, child and sweatshop labor, and so much more. Here's your chance to live the ultimate right-wing fantasy.

It almost goes without saying that any good liberal should avoid "adjusting" his or her income. Everything from "certain business expenses" to moving costs to "domestic production activities" to alimony paid is deductible -- but shouldn't be. There's a line for health savings accounts, which shouldn't even exist, since the government should run healthcare.

The deduction for the self-employed SEP and other retirement plans is similarly flawed. It's the government's job to take care of retirees. No self-respecting liberal would take advantage of these write-offs.

As for itemized deductions, those too should be verboten. Welfare, not charity, is how we should take care of the poor.

And why should anyone be able to deduct taxes paid to states and localities? We all owe those governments just like we owe Uncle Sam. Paying our just due (actually, only part of our just due, since state taxes are woefully inadequate) to them shouldn't reduce our contribution to the Feds.

The 1040 also lists a host of tax credits -- for child and dependent care, education, residential energy, foreign taxes, children, retirement savings, and "other." They cheat the government by reducing taxes paid dollar-for-dollar.

Forget 'em!

A VOLUNTARY CLINTON SURTAX hiker's job still isn't done. The IRS conveniently has a section devoted to "other taxes."

These numbers are a bit more complicated here, since you're supposed to fill out other forms which indicate the income upon which your tax liability is based. You don't want the IRS to find an error and reduce your taxes accordingly.

So it will be hard to hike your Social Security taxes, since they are based on your declared income. Though if you inflated your alleged business earnings as previously instructed, that would certainly help.

But it shouldn't be hard to add some "household employment taxes." After all, if you're a liberal you should be embarrassed at employing domestic help. Pony up some extra taxes for the privilege of hiring them.

Now it's time to add everything up. How'd you do? Not enough of an increase? Go back to the beginning. Add a bit more capital gains, more speaking fees, and drop some deductions. It's important to get your taxes back up to where they should be to send a message.

If all else fails, write Uncle Sam an extra check as a gift. But remember: Don't take the deduction when you file next year. You owe the government the money.

Of course, it is most important that the Clintons themselves pay up. Many of us have long looked to them for leadership. They now have a chance to begin redressing the gross injustices of the Bush tax cuts.

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About the Author
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).