Democrats unveil "new" strategy to tax the wealthy

If you thought the Democrats – recently chased into the minority – were going to sit by quietly while the GOP put all the proposals on the table, think again. Their agenda to fix America (at least in terms understood by your dog and your veterinarian) will still be on the table. The rallying cry of income inequality isn’t going anywhere, and Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) is ready to lay out the next plan in what the Washington Post laughably calls a “stark shift in messaging” for 2015.

Okay, boys… let’s see what you’ve got.

Senior Democrats, dissatisfied with the party’s tepid prescriptions for combating income inequality, are drafting an “action plan” that calls for a massive transfer of wealth from the super-rich and Wall Street traders to the heart of the middle class.

The centerpiece of the proposal, set to be unveiled Monday by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is a “paycheck bonus credit” that would shave $2,000 a year off the tax bills of couples earning less than $200,000. Other provisions would nearly triple the tax credit for child care and reward people who save at least $500 a year.

The windfall — about $1.2 trillion over a decade — would come directly from the pockets of Wall Street “high rollers” through a new fee on financial transactions, and from the top 1 percent of earners, who would lose billions of dollars in lucrative tax breaks.

So you’re cooking up a populist plan to use the tax code to target the most wealthy and successful Americans and hand out the money to everyone else. Perhaps I missed part of the story, but exactly how does this work out as a stark shift in Democrat messaging?

“The challenge is a big one. You have to think big, you have to think forward, and you have to think new. You have to think new and fresh,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview, endorsing Van Hollen’s proposal. Van Hollen said that he has briefed senior administration officials and that they were receptive.

For some reason the Washington Post is apparently going to allow both Pelosi and Van Hollen to describe this as fresh new thinking with a straight face, while failing to even note that this is the same playbook the Democrats have been working out of for most of our lifetimes. But they do at least acknowledge the one serious fly in the ointment; the GOP now controls which bills make it out of committee for a vote, and this plan is never even going to make its way out of the closet.

That won’t bother Pelosi and company, though, since they obviously never expect it to come to a vote. What they’re doing is trying to lay the groundwork for 2016 and the platform that Hillary Clinton will run on. Their ideas on foreign policy, civil unrest, gun control and a raft of other issues haven’t been selling very well lately, so they will fall back on the one thing they know best. You can always dig up a significant pool of votes from people who resent the wealthy and won’t be too opposed to dragging them down a bit, even if it makes little or no difference of significance in their own lives. It’s worked for Pelosi’s party before, so why would they abandon it now?

In the meantime, some of the Republicans’ 2016 hopefuls have obviously taken notice of how the Democrats will approach the race, and are starting to grab that banner themselves. The trick here is to approach it in terms of addressing wage stagnation and the lower upward mobility available to the middle class. But rather than going with the liberal strategy of equality of outcome, the GOP has the chance to make the case for equality of opportunity by talking about how a more robust economy and greater availability of jobs will exert upward pressure on wages and increase middle class spending, boosting the entire economy. In order to work, though, it has to be demonstrated in a way which reaches workers in the one place they can all relate to… their take-home pay.

But as that WaPo piece shows, there is no need to guess what their opponents will be talking about. New year. Same Democrats. Everything old is new again.

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