Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-One Percent) Favors 375 Wealthy Mainers

December 02, 2011 2:05 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Earlier this week, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said she supports extending the payroll tax cut "to some extent." Last night, we found out the extent of that support: She's in favor of it as long as she can use it as an excuse to fire public servants, but opposed to it if it means raising taxes on a few hundred of the richest Mainers.

Snowe voted against the Democratic payroll tax proposal, which "would give a worker earning $50,000 a more than $1,500 tax cut," paid for by a surcharge on taxpayers who earn at least $1 million. Only 375 Mainers would pay that tax — though it's worth noting that Snowe, who is worth between $12 million and $44 million, may be among them.

Then, Snowe voted for a less-generous Republican proposal that "would provide a $1,000 tax cut" for a worker earning $50,000, paid for by cutting 200,000 government jobs and freezing federal employees' pay through 2015. That essentially means giving them a pay cut, as inflation will erode their purchasing power. (Roughly 15,000 Mainers are employed by the federal government.)

Put the two votes together, and Snowe chose to give every working Mainer a smaller tax cut, and to pay for it by cutting jobs and forcing stagnant wages on thousands of Maine workers so she could spare 375 Maine millionaires a small tax increase. It's almost better if Snowe is among the tiny number of wealthy people she voted to protect — at least then her vote would be understandable as an act of selfishness.

So how did Snowe explain her vote? Nonsensically, of course:

I do not want to see the existing payroll tax holiday end, and I could support a one-year extension if it is paid for sufficiently, fairly, and in a way that will not damage our economy. A permanent tax increase that will harm small businesses is the wrong prescription for our economy, and it won't promote economic growth.

Snowe's idea of paying for an extension "fairly" is to do so by cutting middle-class jobs and exacerbating wage stagnation among those lucky enough to be employed rather than asking millionaires to pay a little more.

And the damage Snowe claims the millionaire surcharge would do to small businesses and the economy? It's a figment of her imagination. The Democratic proposal would cut taxes for every small business with employees, and only about one percent of small business owners would be affected by the surcharge — the "small business owners" whose businesses are actually fairly large. Given that the economy is struggling due to lack of demand — something Olympia Snowe used to understand — Snowe's preference is exactly backwards. She wants to keep money in the pockets of rich people who are least likely to spend it rather than helping those who are living paycheck to paycheck and would therefore be most likely to spend extra money. Middle class consumers, not Olympia Snowe's fellow wealthy elites, are the real job creators

Olympia Snowe's approach hurts the vast majority of Mainers, and it suffocates the economy by favoring wealthy elites who aren't creating jobs instead of consumers whose increased spending would give businesses a reason to hire. On the other hand, she saves 375 of her richest constituents a little bit of money. Anything else about her approach that doesn't make any sense? In fact, there is. From her statement:

As I have said, it is of paramount importance that Congress end the partisan bickering and enact comprehensive tax reform that will end the need for these 'all or nothing' false alternatives.

Even for a politician, decrying "all or nothing" approaches while insisting on "comprehensive" legislation is an impressive bit of double-talk. But if Olympia Snowe is so convinced that "comprehensive tax reform" is essential, she should go ahead and propose it rather than perpetually using the lack of such reform as an excuse to oppose anything that might actually help the economy. Nobody's stopping her.