Political Hay

The Credibility Tax

If liberals want to tax the rich, they can tax themselves -- right now.

By 11.12.07

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So.

Hillary and her fellow Democrats say they want to raise taxes on the rich. Really? Well then, there's no time like the present.

First, a hat tip to TAS colleague James Taranto, who writes the Best of the Web column over at the Wall Street Journal. Pondering billionaire Warren Buffett's musings about the need to tax the rich, Taranto was reminded by reader/blogger Mark Perry that Buffett does not need to wait for any changes in the tax laws to raise his own taxes. Perry directed us to the webpage of the U.S. Treasury. There you will find the following information:

Citizens who wish to make a general donation to the U.S. government may send contributions to a specific account called "Gifts to the United States." This account was established in 1843 to accept gifts, such as bequests, from individuals wishing to express their patriotism to the United States. Money deposited into this account is for general use by the federal government and can be available for budget needs. These contributions are considered an unconditional gift to the government. Financial gifts can be made by check or money order payable to the United States Treasury and mailed to the address below.

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 6D17
Hyattsville, MD 20782


Well, well, well. Let's forget Mr. Buffett for the moment. After all, while Buffett is a player of note in American life, he is not a candidate for president. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama are, however. There are also any number of liberals running for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House vowing to "raise taxes on the rich" if voters will just give them the chance to do so. But why wait for the voters? The next election is an entire year away, and as so many of these candidates love to point out we're in a crisis right now.

The question that should be asked of Clinton, Edwards, Obama and company is a simple one. It is a version of the question that Taranto posed to Buffett. Why wait? While the Treasury Department classifies this type of self-tax as a "gift" to the United States, actually there's a better name for it. Let's call it "the Credibility Tax." If you, Senator Clinton, believe so passionately in raising taxes on the rich -- and keep telling us how well off you and your writing/speechifying husband have become -- you can tax yourself right this minute, giving voters an instant image of serious credibility on this issue. Ditto with your presidential candidate colleagues and fellow true believers. Each of you can write a very large sized personal check to the Treasury Department and pay your fair share of the Credibility Tax in less time than it takes to decide your positions on giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

Democrats are saying something else these days that complements perfectly the opportunity given them by the chance to pay the Credibility Tax. They have made much over the last several years with a charge that President Bush has not called the American people to sacrifice during a time of war. Not long ago several top Democrats in the House proposed that in the spirit of sacrifice high-income taxpayers should have a 12%-15% "war surtax" added to their tax bill if they favored the war on Iraq. There is no reason to limit this idea to paying for the war, and the beauty of the Credibility Tax is that one doesn't have to wait for that irritating legislative procedure to make something like this a law. Democrats, who love the idea of adding programs to the federal government, could just start sacrificing right now -- today -- by ponying up an additional 12%-15% of their income for the Credibility Tax. Even better, the Treasury Department specifically says that paying these funds is a demonstration of "patriotism." With that kind of applause coming straight from the government itself these candidates would be instantly vaccinated against any future "swiftboating" episodes that might churlishly challenge their love of country.

Where would the money go once donated by these rich patriots? Why, to the plethora of federal programs liberals love. Let's take Hillary Clinton's list as displayed on her website. Receipts from the Credibility Tax could be used to help provide affordable health care for all Americans, reduce the cost of energy and make us energy independent, expand access to affordable, high-quality child health care, make college more affordable, protect families from predatory lenders and help them avoid foreclosures, balance the federal budget "so we don't pass today's massive debts to the next generation" and much, much more. This being the same Hillary Clinton who exuberantly says she has "a million ideas" for the government to spend money, you'll understand if I list only a few. But you get the idea.

Think of the political opportunity here for these folks. John Edwards could call a press conference in the massive new gym he's built on his multi-million dollar North Carolina property and have a check signing ceremony before hopping his next flight to New Orleans to collect his investment from all those residents losing their homes to his favorite investment company. Hillary and Bill could have their check signing in Rep. Charlie Rangel's Harlem, with the tax-happy chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee by their side as they signed individual Credibility Tax checks. As a matter of fact, Rangel himself could write his own Credibility Tax check, setting a superb example for his fellow tax-paying Americans. Having just proposed a half-trillion dollar tax increase over the next ten years, Rangel and his friend could get an early start on filling those Treasury coffers. With all these prominent liberals raising their own taxes 15% for this year (and why not retroactively for last year?) the fever of self-sacrifice among our liberal friends could sweep the country. After all, you can set your own tax rate when you pay the Credibility Tax. Why cut your payment as low as 15%? Why not, as most liberals favor with the capital gains tax, raise it to 30%? Or 50%? The higher the better, right?

Think of it. Moving back to Buffett and our higher-income fellow citizens, the possibilities are endless. Just imagine those Credibility Tax checks cascading into the Treasury from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and his publisher, Pinch Sulzberger. The whole upper class gang at the Times could get in on the act, Dowdifying the Treasury. Say, isn't Frank Rich? We could move on to Hollywood with Arianna Huffington writing her check alongside Bill Maher right there on HBO. The musical Ms. Streisand wouldn't have to sing a note -- just sign one. Instead of restricting his money to a Minnesota Senate campaign Al Franken could sit next to the ruins of the recently collapsed bridge in Minneapolis and start off a "rebuild the bridge with the Credibility Tax" campaign, a seriously good civic venture if ever there was one. Keith Olbermann could sign his on live television, boosting MSNBC ratings. Hollywood billionaire David Geffen could sign his check alongside his favorite candidate, Barack Obama, inside Obama's Chicago church. Obama, of course, is on record attacking the Christian Right for supporting tax cuts. "I don't know what version [of the Bible] they are reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version," Obama has said, something he could repeat as he signs his contribution. It's a beautiful thought, isn't it? Obama and Geffen voluntarily sending in 50% of their income to jibe with Obama's version of the Holy Scripture.

What a grand vision. A real Kumbaya moment. Self-sacrifice and lots of tax dollars all rolled into one. But if you're thinking I'm crazy, I have to confess you're probably right. There will be sacrifice if any of these people gain the White House, of that you can be sure. But the Credibility Tax? Why should any of these rich liberals raise their own taxes unilaterally when, if they just wait until the next election, they can get even more access to the checkbook of the ultimate tax check writer in all of world history?

You.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.