Friday, December 17, 2010

Tax Cuts for Rich Vex Queens Residents by Elizabeth Daley - Queens Chronicle

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Demonstrators from protest proposed maintenance of Bush-era tax rates for high earners. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH DALEY

President Obama may have come to an agreement with Republicans on Tuesday regarding extending Bush-era income tax cuts to high earners, but last week, residents gathered in front of Congressman Joe Crowley’s (D-Queens and Bronx) office in Jackson Heights to voice their disapproval of the plan.

Holding signs reading “No Millionaire Bailout,” members of the grassroots organization collected signatures to deliver to Crowley, asking him not to support extending Bush-era tax cuts for high earners.

The tax cuts were implemented in 2001 and 2003. They reduced payments for the upper and middle class, with the highest tax bracket seeing the greatest reduction in taxes. Those earning over $311,000 as heads of household were taxed at a rate of 38.6 percent in 2002 and at a rate of 35 percent in 2003. The highest earners are still paying 35 percent. The tax breaks were set to expire at the end of this year.

It was the hope of many that Obama would decide not to extend tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, but maintain them for the middle class. “If anyone knows a millionaire who would be harmed by this policy, let us know,” said a demonstrator.

Still others thought that allowing the tax cuts to expire entirely would be prudent financial policy as it would reduce the deficit.

Standing in the cold, demonstrators including Hal Satinoff, a member from the Bronx, managed to collect around 100 signatures from passersby.

“I am not against tax cuts for millionaires, I am against tax cuts for billionaires. Anyone can be a millionaire these days,” said Satinoff.

“Oh, really,” said a fellow activist, “Let me know when you get to the first million.”

In a speech on the House floor last Thursday, Crowley seemed to agree with the demonstrators. He brought a in posterboard with a photo of Leona Helmsley’s dog Trouble, to whom the heiress bequeathed $12 million. “Under the Republican plan, if Trouble doesn’t get a tax break, nobody else should, Crowley exclaimed, frustrated that some Republicans were not in favor of extending the cuts exclusively for the middle class.

Though Obama has agreed to extend cuts across the board for two years in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits, Democrats in Congress still need to reach an agreement with Republicans in order for the President’s deal to come to fruition.

Democrats including state Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) have spoken out against extending tax cuts for higher earners. “If Republicans want to add to our deficit and defend the interests of billionaires, make them stand up in Congress and tell that to the public loud and clear,” he said in a statement on Monday.

In a televised interview on Tuesday, Crowley criticized Obama’s agreement with Republicans. “A deal has been worked out, one that includes hostages: the middle class, the working poor in this country as well as the unemployed,” he said.

Crowley was unhappy with the president’s decision, but said a stalemate would not have been preferable. He said very few people in his district earn more than $250,000 and that friends of his who are in a higher tax bracket said they could afford to pay more, though they may not want to.

“We stand for the middle class, the working poor, the unemployed people who are having difficulties putting food on the table during the holiday season,” Crowley said of his party.

Looking at the president’s agreement from the perspective of his district, Crowley said he could see that there were “some good things” about it, though he didn’t elaborate.

“This deal isn’t a bill yet and just as I do for any piece of legislation, I plan on reviewing the proposal once it is fleshed out and put to paper,” he said in a statement.

Though he said he intends on working with Republicans toward shared goals including job creation, he said, “I think they are going to have a difficult problem in terms of convincing Democrats this the only way forward.”