Apparently, Louisiana Congressman John Fleming spends $200,000 a year to “feed his family,” which leaves him with only $400,000 a year to spend on other things. Fleming, who is ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress, reports assets of between $4.06M to $17.0M and made more than $6M last year, according to The Wall Street Journal, though Fleming claims that his actual net income was more like $600,000, which, I’m assuming, given the context of his remarks, does not also include his salary and benefits as a Congressman.
No one should begrudge Congressman Fleming’s entrepreneurial success, but it seems particularly tone-deaf and disingenuous for him to argue that those who seek marginal increases in the tax rates for the very wealthiest Americans are engaging in class warfare, while, at the same time, suggesting that it takes $200,000 a year to “feed his family.”
The median income in Congressman Fleming’s district is around $31,000 a year. If Congress repealed the Bush tax cuts, Congressman Fleming’s annual tax rate would increase by 4.6%, a return to the rates Dr. Fleming paid during the Clinton administration (back when he was building up an impressive and successful investment and real estate portfolio).
There’s another problem with Dr. Fleming’s argument, and it percolates right beneath the surface: That is, the notion that the wealthy are the real victims of a progressive tax structure. No one likes to pay taxes, but taxes help provide for the very infrastructure that ensure Americans can, with the right combination of insight, ingenuity, and tenacity, become successful: free education for its children, roads and utilities, police and fire protection, Social Security, Medicare, and, yes, programs that help disadvantaged citizens become a productive part of our workforce– all things that employers rely upon, even if it seems indirect. Whether he chooses to admit it or not, Dr. Fleming’s own success is intrinsically reliant on the government’s capacity to serve the basic needs of its citizenry. Asking a man who makes $600,000 a year to pay an additional $27,600 in taxes should not, to most reasonable people, inhibit his ability to invest, and indeed, before the Bush tax cuts were signed into law, Americans created 22 million new jobs and enjoyed a sustained period of economic success, particularly at the top. Today, of course, for many Americans, it seems the success is only at the top. And in a country suffering from persistent and rampant unemployment and poverty, it’s a little grating to hear a powerful multi-millionaire Congressman complain about having to pay slightly more taxes, while framing himself as some sort of job-creating patriot who is being victimized by class warfare.
I don’t claim to know the panacea, but I’d suggest that if you’re going to lecture anyone about out-of-control government spending or the need for austerity measures, then you probably shouldn’t also complain about how a marginal increase in your taxes would diminish your own out-of-control spending on food. (In fairness, I do assume that Congressman Fleming was not being literal with his comment about “feeding his family,” but either way, his comments today demonstrate how completely out of touch he is with the everyday needs of the vast majority of his constituents and customers).