What’s a loophole to a Republican?

Congressional Republicans keep changing the rules. Now they want to make a deal that doesn’t include any tax code reform. That, they say, would be the same as new taxes. And we all know Republicans don’t want to pay their taxes. They want Democrats to pay taxes – for them.

But the Republicans want to take money out of Social Security. They say that would be perfectly OK – it’s not a new tax. The Social Security is an old tax and they don’t have to change the tax rate.

I fail to see the difference. Tax loopholes are also called tax expenditures because they reduce what the government takes in. And if the source of the loophole is goofy, we don’t want to give people public money just to goof off. We don’t want to give people special breaks to take their money out of the U.S. or to spend their money on projects that cause more harm than good. Or for doing things they’d do anyway without the tax breaks.

But Social Security is no different. It has the same effect on those of us who get Social Security that closing a loophole has on someone who does something goofy enough to take advantage of it. And it has the same effect on government – government gets to keep less. If you’ve bought a home counting on your Social Security income, or you’ve retired thinking you’d be OK, or your job disappeared and went to China or Bahrain, changing your Social Security won’t feel any better than adding to your taxes and may be much worse.

So what’s the real impact? It’s all in who supports which party. Republicans want lower taxes. And they don’t like government – they want to do stuff that regulators would stop because of the effect of their behavior on the rest of us.

So I say President Obama should give them what they ask for – if the Republicans get their way with taxes, he should make sure that government doesn’t spend a dime in Republican congressional districts. That would really make everyone happy – less government for Republicans who don’t want to pay their taxes; more government for Democrats who believe government is a pretty good investment and don’t particularly want to go back into the forest and behave like wild creatures – or Republicans.

Now of course as an attorney, I should be aware of the restrictions on Obama’s ability to impound public funds. But why does law only bind Democrats? The Republicans don’t think law matters when it says they have to pay their bills or that bankrupt banks and financial institutions have to cash out, it’s only the ordinary folks who don’t have the power to get special favors that have to go bankrupt – that’s of course one of the reasons that Democrats want government regulation to control deadbeats like that. Republicans don’t think law matters when it comes to protecting consumers. They don’t think law matters when it protects the elderly from insolvency and poverty. Government only matters when it bails them out. So why isn’t what’s sauce for the goose also sauce for the gander?

So, President Obama, it’s time to make those congressional Republicans happy – let them live in their dream world. And don’t help them out when they go bankrupt.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 11, 2011.

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