Alan Simpson Plays Lucy Holding the Football

Robert Borosage

We all despair of the chump Charlie Brown. Each fall Lucy promises to hold the football. Charlie trusts her. And –bam — she pulls it away at the last moment each time.

Well, the clownish Alan Simpson, dyspeptic co-chair of the president’s deficit commission, is replaying the Lucy game. And Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has fallen for it, playing the Charlie Brown chump.

Simpson and his investment banker co-chair Erskine Bowles recommend as part of deficit reduction lowering tax rates, particularly those on the top.

WIth America afflicted by gilded age inequality, this doesn’t make much sense. But they promise the lower rates will be accompanied by cleansing the tax code of various tax deductions and expenditures that mostly benefit the rich. (Including many like the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit that mostly benefit the working poor). And they’ll tax captial gains and dividends as regular income, ending the noxious notion that the returns on wealthy should be taxed at a lower rate than the returns on work. Sounds great. Conrad thinks so highly of it, that he endorses the co-chair’s plan which also includes terribly punitive and gratuitous cuts in Social Security benefits and hikes in the retirement age.

Only we’ve played this game before. In the 1980s, bipartisan reforms lowered tax rates across the board, particularly those on the top, and cleansed a tax code riddled with corproate and fat cat deductions. “Revenue neutral” we were told.

And then Lucy pulled the football. They eliminated the deductions but not the corporate lobbyists. They began to ply their wares, and soon we had a tax code with lower rates so riddled with deductions that Alan Simpson can play the same game again.

We marvel at what a chump Charlie Brown is, trusting Lucy again and again. Who’d be that thick as to fall for the same con? Aaaaah, Kent. Say it ain’t so, bro, say it ain’t so.

Want to prove you’re serious about deficit reduction? Start by raising rates on the wealthiest Americans at a time when the top 1% have captured, after taxes, about 40% of the income gains in the society. And tax capital gains and dividends as income. And eliminate or cap various deductions and dodges used by the affluent. Raise more money to pay for the investments we so desperately need in infrastructure, education, R & D if our country has any hope of regaining its competitive edge.

We know the deductions will creep back in. The corporate lobbyists infest this town like never before. But at least the rates will be higher and more progressive.

Or let’s trust Alan Simpson, as he calls for “shared sacrifice,” derides the “greediest generation,” and lowers tax rates on the top end, promising that this time, really, he means it, the tax dodges will be eliminated forever. Go ahead, trust him, play the old con once more.

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