The holiday season leads many of us to reconsider our priorities, weighing whether we are spending our time and money on the right things. How unfortunate that the period of reflection does not seem to include some of the biggest money-movers in America.
First, there’s Congress, which appears ready to come to a deal on tax cuts and an extension of unemployment insurance. Republicans are insisting that the Bush-era tax cuts – which the country really couldn’t afford to begin with, and which were unusually instituted during wartime, a historic anomaly – stay in place for everyone. That includes millionaires, billionaires – and many of the people who were rightly excoriated a year ago for running the economy into the ground, playing virtual video games with folks’ retirement funds, and collecting big bonuses in the process. Defenders of the tax cuts won’t even agree to extend the cuts only to people making less than $250,000 a year – even though that idea would also continue a tax cut to the wealthiest, since they would keep the lower rate on the first $250,000 of their income. Extending the tax cuts to the wealthiest, while keeping them for the middle class, would add $700 billion to the deficit.
Meanwhile, the neediest are being held hostage. The GOP doesn’t want to extend unemployment benefits, saying the $55 billion a year cost should be offset by other spending cuts. That’s a truly laudable philosophy, and one that should be employed more often during this era of big deficits. But the principle apparently doesn’t apply when it comes to the cost of extending the tax cuts; GOP leaders aren’t demanding offsets for those.
Still, Congress looks downright responsible compared to their sports neighbors across town. The Washington Nationals announced they have signed right fielder Jayson Werth. Wonderful; they could use the talent. What’s horrifying during these tough economic times is that the Nats decided Werth is worth $126 million over seven years. What does he do – cure cancer in the off-season? Major sports franchise salaries have been out of control for some time, but this contract seems especially distasteful this year, when President Obama is proposing a two-year pay freeze for the federal workers who attend Nats games and subsidize the players’ salaries. Werth may thank the league for enabling such a high salary, but he should really be grateful to the GOP. In all likelihood, Werth will keep his tax cut for his entire inflated salary.