A Philosopher's Blog

A Matter of Principle

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 14, 2010
9/11 (film)
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The Bush era tax cuts are a matter of grave concern to the Republicans. They have made it clear that they will block all legislation until the tax cuts (from 39% to 36%) for the wealthiest 2% of Americans are secure. Since the Republicans are generally against taxes, it is no surprise that they are claiming that this is a matter of principle.

I do see the appeal of that principle. After all, taxes are (at best) a necessary evil and I, like everyone else, would prefer to pay less taxes rather than more. However, I do have some concerns about the fact that the Republicans’ principled stand means blocking all legislation until they get their way. Naturally, I will not argue that the Republicans seem to be engaged in what some might regard as threatening with a “nuclear option” or indulging in some sort of hostage taking or blackmail. Rather, I will take them at their word: they are acting on principle and this principle seems to be that tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are more important than any other legislation.

To properly assess the principle and its application, the “other legislation” must be considered. One is the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” While this measure is supported by the military leadership, most Americans and most service members, Republicans have often taken moral stands against this in specific and against homosexuality in general. While it might be argued that the repeal is the right thing to do, it does seem that being willing to block it is consistent with Republican values.

A second piece of legislation is the Dream Act. This act is aimed at enabling people who came here illegally as minors to be put on a track towards citizenship that involves college education or military service. On the face of it, this act seems to be a clever bit of headhunting: rather than sending people of good character who will complete college or serve in our military to other countries, America gets to keep them. The conditions and requirements of this act seem eminently reasonable and it would seem to be of benefit not just to the people who would fall under the act but also the country.

In general, the Republicans have been fairly tough on immigration (at least when it is a political issue). As such, blocking this act would seem to be consistent with their espoused principles.

A third piece of legislation is a bill to provide medical benefits and compensation for the 9/11 first responders. On the face of it, this would seem to be the sort of bill that the Republicans would proudly support. After all, they have been cashing in on 9/11 politically since 9/11. Republicans have praised the first responders as heroes and one would think that wounded heroes would be worthy of care.

However, Republicans have stepped up to filibuster this bill and intend to block it until the tax cuts for the wealthy are safe. The main arguments being advanced are financial. First, it has been argued that previous funding for folks involved with 9/11 have been misspent. The second argument is a question of funding for this bill.

Both these points are reasonable. Before federal dollars are spent on something, previous relevant financial irregularities need to be addressed and steps should be taken to prevent them from occurring in the future. By this principle, pork spending, the funding of the Iraq war, and so on all need to be properly investigated and steps taken to ensure that past problems (like the missing billions in Iraq) are fixed and proper safeguards are put in place. Naturally, I expect the Republicans to stick to this principle consistently.

It is also sensible to have funding for spending. This, of course, needs to be applied consistently. If it is applied to this bill, it must apply to all bills that involve spending. Of course, this bill could be funded by returning the tax rate on the wealthy Americans to the pre-Bush era rate. But, the Republicans’ principle seems to be that the wealthy are more important than the 9/11 responders. This makes the Republicans’ principle quite clear in this matter.

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19 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on December 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Reading this, you might think that the Republicans had control of even a little tiny piece of the government, but you’d be wrong.

    • erik said, on December 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm

      You might even think there’s such a thing as a filibuster. . .

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 14, 2010 at 4:49 pm

      Apparently those evil Republicans even have managed to mesmerize a Democratic president and Democratic ex-president…

      • erik said, on December 14, 2010 at 5:41 pm

        I like this part better:

        esp. from abt. 6:10 on (from Anthony Weiner) If Weiner’s accurate “3% of the beneficiaries will get 38% of the cash”. Unfortunately Weiner thinks Obama is negotiating from a strong hand–forgetting that it only took a few blue dog dems and one or two dems more interested in their seats than the welfare of the nation — combined with a unanimous “No” from Republicans– to block progress in Congress on almost anything useful coming out of that body.

        Then go to to 8:20 (from Harold Ford). He actually remembers Medicare D unfunded!) Bless him. So does Gigot, who opposed Med D!) .

    • Asur said, on December 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm

      TJ, that’s a joke, right?

      If a party had no control of the government, they’d be unable to block legislation. That’s as commonsense as eggs having yolk.

      A tactic like the one Mike describes is essentially a breakdown of the system; to be warranted, the legislation involved needs to be very important.

      I might be biased, though–it’s possible that people who’ve had to do things like sell their blood for grocery money while putting themselves through school might not adequately appreciate the plight of people with egregious sums of wealth. To the former, netting 100k out of 10 million earned would seem like such an amazing bounty regardless that I’m sure a great deal of bias must be going on somewhere.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 15, 2010 at 2:18 pm

      The Republicans are very good at cohesive action and this gives them an advantage over the Democrats. As such, their influence exceeds their numbers. It will be interesting to see if this cohesion remains when they are the majority.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on December 14, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    You might even think the rich paid a smaller proportion of taxes under the Bush rates, but again you’d be wrong:

    In 2000, for instance, the top 1 percent of income earners paid 37.42 percent of all income taxes collected. In 2008, they paid 38.02 percent. That’s down a bit from the peak of 2007 and reflects the recession hitting. The bottom 50 percent of filers saw their share of the income tax burden fall from 3.91 percent to 2.7 percent. Two groups in the upper half of the income distribution made out, it seems: Folks coming in between between 10 percent and 25 percent of income and those between 25 percent and 50 percent. Each saw their share of total tax collected decline a bit (like the share of taxes paid, this reflects the recession).


  3. T. J. Babson said, on December 14, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Just pointing out that Obama can change DADT with a stroke of a pen:


    In May 2009, a committee of military law experts at the University of California at Santa Barbara[83] concluded that the President can issue an Executive Order to suspend homosexual conduct discharges.[84] Obama’s current position is that he wants Congress to change the law, and not have the change come from legal action.[85]

    • magus71 said, on December 15, 2010 at 6:14 am

      He can also immediately end both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Why not? if they were evil then, why not now?

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm

        He is probably concerned about the consequences of just leaving at this point.

        • WTP said, on December 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm

          He didn’t seem all that concerned about the consequence when he was running for the job.

          • erik said, on December 15, 2010 at 11:31 pm

            Maybe it’s like that Bush “compassionate conservative” promise. . .

  4. suebarnett said, on December 15, 2010 at 4:12 am

    Michael, I have a principle question that is unrelated to the subject matter of this post. So I’m seeking permission to put it to you, and if you say I can, I will. Otherwise I will just yawp into the air on my own blog.


  5. suebarnett said, on December 15, 2010 at 4:14 am

    Forgot to tick notification box.

  6. notesfromrumbleycottage said, on December 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Not sure if I am smart enough to comment on this blog. What I do know is that if you have made your party the defenders of the free world because of 9/11 then you should be the party that helps those first responders to the 9/11 terror attack disaster area. But that is not the way the vote went, did it?

  7. T. J. Babson said, on December 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I couldn’t resist…

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