The Dems' IRA Message Would Be More Effective If It Weren't Afraid of Touting TaxesRoundup
tags: inequality, taxation, Inflation Reduction Act
Molly Michelmore is an associate professor of history at Washington & Lee University and the author of Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics and the Limits of American Liberalism.
On Tuesday, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act. While the measure represents a major legislative triumph for Democrats, it also revealed an allergy to taxation in the United States.
The measure is expected to raise more than $300 billion in tax revenue to fund green energy, fight climate change and improve health-care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Yet, as they hit the campaign trail, Democrats probably won’t talk about the act as a revenue-raising measure — except to deny charges leveled by Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who claimed that Democrats “want to pile on giant tax hikes that will hammer workers.”
Republicans accusing Democrats of wanting to hike taxes and Democrats running from the “tax and spend” label is one of the most familiar features of modern American politics, but it wasn’t always this way.
Americans once saw paying taxes as a patriotic duty and Republicans spent most of the 20th century positioning the GOP as the party of fiscal responsibility, focused more on balancing the federal budget, not tax cuts.
The tax politics of the past 40 years have made it harder to address the nation’s societal problems and has even come to threaten our democracy.
The income tax as we know it was a result of World War II. In 1942, Congress transformed the federal income tax from a class tax, paid only by the wealthiest individuals, to a mass tax. Between 1939 and 1945, the number of Americans subject to the income tax increased more than 10-fold, from 3.9 million to more than 42 million.
To sell the new system, the government undertook a major public relations campaign to paint the move as patriotic. The campaign featured a new Irving Berlin song celebrating the ordinary men and women “proud” to pay “taxes to beat the Axis.” The public relations blitz also included radio spots, celebrity endorsements and even Disney films featuring Donald Duck.
This campaign helped make the wartime tax system not only effective but popular.
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