Bonus tax really just creeping socialism?

Larry Kudlow worries that the bill is a cover for "the ultimate class-warfare spread-the-wealth redistribution scheme."

Published March 20, 2009 8:10PM (EDT)

I'm not absolutely certain of this, but I'm pretty sure the National Review's Larry Kudlow just made history: His recent column may be the first time anyone has ever given Congress too much credit for intelligence and organization. In it, Kudlow says there could be a hidden agenda behind the House's recent vote to tax bonuses paid out to employees of AIG and other companies that have received federal bailout money -- and that members of Congress would be capable of pulling something like that off.

"This is being done in the name of AIG outrage, and nobody wants to defend the insurance company — including me... Yet one wonders about this 90 percent tax rate. If it passes the Senate, will it ever be repealed? This could be the ultimate class-warfare spread-the-wealth redistribution scheme, aimed squarely at punishing success and penalizing the so-called rich," Kudlow says. Later in the piece, he writes: 

[E]ven though the 90 percent tax is a reaction to the AIG bonus fiasco, you have to wonder if the very-liberal-left House Democrats have a much broader agenda: to completely overturn the supply-side tax cuts of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.

Now, Pres. Obama has said that he has no intention of returning to the 70 or 90 percent tax rates of the past. But one wonders if the 90 percent House Democratic tax rate on so-called unearned income (bonuses) might not be the congressional tail that wags the presidential dog.

Most folks will say this scenario is farfetched. But it’s worth pondering. Is there truly a tax-the-rich hidden agenda in Washington that goes far beyond the Obama budget?

Yes, I imagine most people will say this scenario is farfetched -- ludicrous, even. First, at this point there are very few, if any, economists who want to see the rate for the top bracket go back up to 90 percent. Second, while the tax may be overly broad in some ways, it's pretty clear from reading the bill that it applies only to people employed at companies that received money under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. That takes care of Kudlow's worry about the lack of repeal.

And finally -- when was Congress ever capable of being as devious as Kudlow imagines? The explanation for what's gone on here is, unsurprisingly, the simplest one available: A bunch of politicians saw an opportunity to score some quick political points. There was, very clearly, no long-term thinking going on in any way here. Anyone who follows politics in any way -- not to mention someone apparently thinking of a Senate run -- should know that's the way Congress nearly always operates.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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