Amid the harsh debate on Capitol Hill over tax reform, some of the old white guys in the Senate have come out of their shell and engaged in old-fashioned nonsense about who in this country receives tax breaks or government assistance.

Philip Bump of The Washington Post has written a priceless piece, based on basic math and hard data, to show that these old-timers are engaging in nostalgic politics that has no basis in fact.

Bump focuses on a bizarre statement by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa a few days ago when he said that ending the inheritance tax on wealthy estates – what Republicans call the “death tax” – rewards the productive among us vs. the slackers.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said in an interview, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

The senator’s obvious implication is that those who spend their money in frivolous ways, living a gratuitous lifestyle, avoid paying the tax, which applies only to the tiny number of estates worth $5.5 million or more. Meanwhile, Grassley contends, those households with a life-long emphasis on frugal personal savings and stock market investments are penalized by the tax.

Bump points out the obvious Grassley flaws in a thirst-quenching manner that liberals will gulp down. Here are some the comical, tongue-in-cheek conclusions reached by Bump after researching the Iowa senator’s assertions:

  • The average Iowan family could avoid the $5.5 million estate tax ceiling by purchasing 311,000 bottles of whiskey. But it would have taken 851 (or many more) years to accomplish such a boozing vs. saving move.
  • As for the reference to spending money on women (assuming Grassley was not referring to high-priced call girls), the average Iowa man would need to go out on dates with women 83,182 times over the next 798 years to blow away the $5.5 million savings referred to by Grassley.
  • How about saving money by avoiding the movies? Well, it would take shunning the local theater 523,855 times over 115 years to build up a nest egg that would ultimately face the inheritance tax.

Bump’s piece is worth a full read as it ends with a crescendo of farcical spending that Grassley views as a means of dodging the estate tax. The WaPo political analyst’s point, of course, is that the estate tax impacts wealthy families not those who live in frugality.

Grassley is among a select group of clueless octogenarian senators who have lived within the Washington bubble for decades and make a substantial salary for doing, well, not much.

This delusional approach, in a different manner, is shared by some aging Democratic senators too, especially independent democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, a 1960s throwback who wants to expand the size of the federal government by trillions of dollars.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah is another. Hatch and Grassley, as C-SPAN watchers know, often fumble around trying to make a point when debating their Senate colleagues.

Before Grassley blurted out his warped view, Hatch made an equally strange comment a few days ago on the Senate floor when he seemed to commit an astounding flip-flop regarding the upcoming budget cuts that may be required, given the federal deficits that will be created by the reform plan’s tax cuts.

In particular, Hatch brushed aside the likelihood that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), currently in financial limbo, could face major reductions. To be clear, Hatch worked with the late Teddy Kennedy in a major stroke of bipartisanship to create CHIP and then he successfully pushed for enhancements to the program that aids middle class families with insuring health care for their kids.

But when Hatch was challenged on the Senate floor about the fate of CHIP, he said this:

“I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything,” he said.

The Grassley and Hatch mentality represents a return to the decades-old, well-worn clichés about “welfare queens” and lectures about the need for the poor to “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps.” According to this overly broad view, government entitlement programs are wasting money on those who won’t land a good-paying job to cure their own maladies.

What these senior citizen senators seem to conveniently forget is that CHIP is for kids of working families, Medicare is for retirees, and Medicaid is mostly for the elderly, poor children and the disabled.

 

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