Patriotic Millionaires are undaunted by Hatch attack

Today the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength slammed Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for comments he made Thursday ridiculing ‘rich liberals’ calls to raise taxes on millionaires like themselves.

The Patriotic Millionaires – a group which includes the founder of, the founder of the Princeton Review, philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, top Google engineers, economist Nouriel Roubini, financial guru Andrew Tobias, actress Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), the founder of Esprit, and top executives from financial powerhouses like Warburg, Pincus – issued the following statement:

“A few of us voluntarily writing a check to the IRS will not fix the problem that Sen. Hatch and his colleagues created for our country with their fiscal irresponsibility. It will take the work of all Patriotic Americans to create a strong foundation for our continued prosperity. We are willing to do our part by paying higher taxes. It is clear Senator Hatch and many of his colleagues are not willing to do theirs.

We challenge Senator Hatch and the other millionaire members of the Senate to put their country first and raise taxes on people like them – and us – who make more than a million dollars a year.

In the meantime, if Senator Hatch would like to make a personal contribution to the IRS to help his country, we pledge to match his contribution.”

The Patriotic Millionaires released their statement in response to Hatch’s comments yesterday when he said: “We hear this quite a bit from rich Democrats. ‘Please tax us more,’ they say. Well I know a lot who don’t say that, I’ll tell you that. As the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee I feel obligated to inform Mr. Plouffe that the president and all those rich, liberal democrats who are eager to pay higher taxes can do just that. They can write a check to the IRS and make an extra payment on their tax return to pay down the federal debt. The option is right there at the bottom of their tax return.”

‘How dare Senator Hatch criticize a group of Americans for wanting to do what’s right for their country,’ said Erica Payne, founder of the Agenda Project and coordinator of the Patriotic Millionaires. ‘Those ‘rich liberals’ as Senator Hatch so disparagingly refers to them have stepped forward to help their country… Americans should ask themselves who more embodies all that is best about our country – private citizens offering to make a sacrifice for the good of their fellow citizens; or a United States Senator ridiculing them for doing so.”

The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength first came together in November of last year to urge the President to let the Bush era tax cuts expire for people making more than $1 million a year.

The group has garnered huge press in the last few days, including a story in The Colorado Independent Wednesday.

Writing in The Washington Post, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, notes that if the rich today tend to avoid taxes like the plague, it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, she says, higher taxes were once considered the patriotic duty of the rich.

For the most part, these are not the kinds of proclamations we have come to expect from America’s rich. More often than not their views are distilled through megaphones such as the Chamber of Commerce, which wield outsized influence and use both foreign and national dollars to further the causes of the relative few. We have come to expect America’s wealthy to stand behind the Republican Party – a party itself composed largely of millionaires in Congress – and to demand new income tax cuts, or corporate loopholes, or the end of the estate tax, even while they peddle faux concern about the federal government’s long-term debt position.

It’s worth remembering, however, that it wasn’t always this way.

There was a time when the concept of patriotism – the idea of putting country above self – extended beyond our foreign policy. There was a time when economic patriotism was very much a part of the business community’s mind-set, even embedded in the worldview of the kinds of Northeast Republicans who are now all but extinct. Robert Johnson, for example, one of the founders of Johnson & Johnson, urged his business colleagues in a 1947 speech never to ignore the plight of the working class. Doing so, he said, “is as foolish as it would be to ignore public health, crime, and the need for education.”

During the golden era of the 1950s, a Republican president, along with Republican members of Congress, accepted a top marginal tax rate for millionaires that was 91 percent. “The only way to make more tax cuts now is to have bigger and bigger deficits and to borrow more and more money,” President Eisenhower argued. “This is one kind of chicken that always comes home to roost. An unwise tax cutter, my fellow citizens, is no real friend of the taxpayer.”

As to Hatch’s charge that the millionaires should just send in extra tax payments, two of the millionaires, interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, had this to say.

Garrett Gruener, California-based venture capitalist and founder of Ask.Com

“I think it’s silly to say we should just write our own checks. Taxes are the price we pay for democracy. We make policy choices because it’s the right thing to do for society. In this case we have a real deficit problem and a real inequality problem and those in the upper tax brackets like myself have benefited enormously from a whole set of policies.”

“The U.S. government is not a charity. It’s a collective enterprise that we do together. Nobody loves to pay taxes. I’m as profit-oriented as any other businessman. But I have no desire to carry a burden that should be carried by others. I shouldn’t be covering costs that should be shared by other people with means. But I am willing to do my fair share.”

Dennis Mehiel, entrepreneur and owner of a packaging company based in Valhalla, NY.

“Let’s be honest, how many people do you know who are going to write a check for what amounts to charitable giving to the federal government? We’re talking about a tax increase that could raise $70 billion a year for 10 years. Maybe Bill Gates or Warren Buffett could make a difference. But if I write my check for $400,000, its a tiny drop in the bucket.”

“Let’s carry this voluntary taxation argument to its conclusion. We already have a country like that, it’s called Greece. No one pays taxes in Greece. We’ve had a progressive income tax in the U.S. for decades and during that time we had a growing middle class and increased affluence and increase consumption.”

“To say we should just write our own checks is a spurious argument. It’s catchy. But it has no validity in a substantial dialogue about public policy.”

“It’s easy to put the flag up and say we can’t raise taxes, government wastes money. That’s true, I can’t argue that government is efficient and that their money is always well spent. Very significant cuts in the size and costs of government must be undertaken soon. But that doesn’t mean that guys who have gone from 8 times the national income to three or four times that shouldn’t do more.”

“I don’t know any rational person who can look at the population where one small segment has tripled or quadrupled their share of national assets while everybody else goes backward. How is that good for the social fabric?”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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