Sen. Orrin Hatch's Radical Class Warfare

January 18, 2012 1:00 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Orrin Hatch

Last year, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) complained that poor people don't pay enough taxes, calling the fact that rich people pay more "perverse." (Revealingly, Hatch has offered no similar complaint about millionaires who pay no income tax.) Now Hatch has a new plan to redistribute wealth upwards: He wants to slash pensions for state and local public employees:

"The public pension crisis plaguing our nation demands a real solution," Hatch, 77, who represents Utah, said in a statement. "Over the coming weeks, I will be putting forward ideas to reform public pension programs in a meaningful way that doesn't leave taxpayers on the hook."

It's interesting what Hatch considers a "crisis plaguing our nation." It's not a growing gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else that leaves the vast majority of Americans struggling to overcome stagnant wages while a privileged few enjoy unimaginable wealth. No, to Orrin Hatch, the crisis is a pension system that helps senior citizens retire with dignity (not to mention food and shelter) after a lifetime of work.

There are ways of meeting budget shortfalls other than cutting pensions and raising taxes on poor people, such as raising capital gains taxes on quarter-billionaires like Mitt Romney so they pay a higher tax rate than bus drivers instead of a lower rate, or implementing a surcharge on wealth. But Orrin Hatch doesn't like solutions like that; he angrily denounced a proposed surcharge on income in excess of $1 million last year, and he voted to maintain tax breaks for hugely profitable oil companies.

The people who can most afford to pay more — those who most benefit from the current system — are the people Orrin Hatch most wants to help. He wants to raise taxes on poor people and cut pensions for public workers so he can keep Mitt Romney's taxes low. That isn't hyperbole. Those are Orrin Hatch's stated positions: Higher taxes on the poor, pension reductions, no tax increases on the rich. (Worth noting: Hatch himself is a millionaire, and has a $125,000-a-year federal pension waiting for him when he leaves office.) 

If proposals like a wealth tax, or even a simple increase in the capital gains tax rate, seem like radical changes, or "class warfare," then what, exactly, is the elimination of pensions that have allowed generations of Americans to retire without having to choose between food and medicine? That's what's really perverse: A millionaire senator who wants to cut pensions and raise taxes on the poor and middle class rather than on people — like him — who can most afford to pay more.

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