By Taylor Armerding
— I can't count the number of times I've heard President Obama say he wants to make sure we live in a society where, "everybody plays by the same set of rules."
If he really means that, he should probably resign before Election Day and let voters decide if they want to put crazy old Uncle Joe in the White House. Because the president is all about the opposite - demanding different sets of rules for different groups of people.
Start with his most famous meme - that millionaires and billionaires pay income taxes "at a lower rate than their secretaries" because they get to play by a different set of rules.
Indeed, in this past week's debate, he said it again - that his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, "has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules."
That's false, and he knows it. Yes, as that allegedly "patriotic billionaire" Warren Buffett has pointed out, his secretary pays a higher percentage of her income in taxes than he does. But that is not because they are playing by a different set of rules.
In this case, the rule is that investment income is taxed at a lower rate than earned income. That rule has been endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans, largely for two reasons: Investment income has already been taxed once as earned income, so the government's total take on it is something north of 40 percent; and elected officials want to offer incentives to encourage investment, because it helps the economy grow.
That rule applies equally to Buffett and his secretary.
Ah, but the "problem," according to Obama, is that a lot more of Buffett's income (and that of Romney) is from investments, while that of most middle- and lower-income people is earned, and therefore taxed at a higher rate.
Is that unfair? If it is, then it is arguably unfair for anyone to make more money than anyone else. Or, perhaps the president thinks it is unfair for anybody to make income from investments. If the rule is unfair, and the president really wants everybody to "play by the same set of rules, then he and Congress could change it for everybody, and tax all investment at 28 percent, 35 percent, 90 percent - whatever.
But that is not what Obama wants to do. He wants to tax investment income at a lower rate for people making less than $200,000 (above which, in the president's fantasy world, you become a "millionaire") and tax it at a higher rate for incomes above that.
Bottom line: Obama doesn't want everybody to play by the same set of rules, because he doesn't like the results.
The same is true in multiple other cases. Those employed by government at all levels get better pay, much better benefits - health care, vacation, personal time, overtime - and vastly better pensions than their average counterpart in the private sector. In most cases they can retire with that pension after 30 years or less, instead of the usual 40 to 45 years in the private sector.
Obama has never objected to one of his favored constituencies playing by a different set of rules than the rest of us.
The same was true of the government bailout of General Motors. Obama, who regularly applauds himself for "betting on American workers" (with your money) forced bondholders to play by a different set of rules than the unions, so he could reward his friends in organized labor and leave the rest who, if the "same set of rules" had been followed, would not have been forced to take a much bigger haircut.
Affirmative action is a major set of different rules for different people. There are substantive arguments on both sides about whether it is still useful and necessary to maintain and promote diversity and opportunity for minorities, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that the president does not want everybody to play by the same set of rules.
The president wants different rules for oil companies than for other energy companies. He, his surrogates, and virtually every Democrat on the planet bash "tax breaks for Big Oil." But they rarely provide any detail or context.
That's because eliminating that allegedly colossal subsidy would, by Obama's own account, bring in only $25 billion over 10 years. That's an average of $2.5 billion per year - not even a rounding error in a federal budget of $1.6 trillion. It would do zilch to address the nation's deficit or long-term debt in what the president is so fond of calling, "a balanced way."
Meanwhile, the Exxon, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips paid an estimated $55 billion in taxes in 2011, at rates ranging from 41.5 percent to 48.3 percent.
Sure, the oil companies are profitable and have a lot left over. But they are not even close to playing by the same set of rules granted to those in the allegedly glorious green energy field.
The list could go on. The president can continue to make the case that a society where success is punished and failure is rewarded is a much healthier one. But don't call it playing by the same set of rules. That is absurd.
- Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.