From Daniel Henninger:
The Barack Obama budget document just released is not a budget. It is a work of literature. It is Barack Obama’s published apologia for a second presidential term, in which—as the budget and its tax proposals make clear—he will reset the historic balance in America between the public sector and the private sector. This reset will require large wealth transfers—from individuals and companies to the government, and from the government back to the people.
The Obama budget is described everywhere as a “political document,” but it is more than that. Mr. Obama hasn’t assembled these ideas just to get elected. This budget is a statement of belief. It is a road map of where he wants the country to go.
The Obama budget is about an America whose path will be guided by the government far into the future. He is announcing that in his second term, the days of the private Wild West in America will come to a close.
There is no better way to discover this intent than in the president’s tax proposals. Taxes are a nation’s Rorschach test. In taxes you discover how a nation wants to be known to others. The burden of taxation may say that a nation more than anything wants to produce (say, Malaysia), or taxes may say that what a nation most wants is to be thought of as fair (Belgium).
What Mr. Obama wants, with the symbolic billionaire Warren Buffett propped at his side, is a wealth tax that redefines the U.S.
Mr. Obama wants to enact the Buffett Rule to ensure that every “millionaire” pays at least a 30% federal tax on some definition of income. He would raise taxes on married couples making $250,000. The tax on capital gains would rise to 30% from 15%, and he would return the estate tax to 45%.
No more certain sign exists that a nation has chosen to step off its historic upward path than the creation of wealth taxes. A nation imposes a wealth tax when it wakes up one day to conclude that it has become embarrassed, rather than proud of, its wealth, which is to say, its national success.
Its chief rival is liberty.
From Ross Douthat:
When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.
Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.
But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.
This is exactly the choice that the White House has decided to offer a host of religious institutions — hospitals, schools and charities — in the era of Obamacare. The new health care law requires that all employer-provided insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and the morning-after (or week-after) pill known as ella, which can work as an abortifacient. A number of religious groups, led by the American Catholic bishops, had requested an exemption for plans purchased by their institutions. Instead, the White House has settled on an exemption that only covers religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith. A parish would be exempt from the mandate, in other words, but a Catholic hospital would not.
The regulations are a particularly cruel betrayal of Catholic Democrats, many of whom had defended the health care law as an admirable fulfillment of Catholicism’s emphasis on social justice. Now they find that their government’s communitarianism leaves no room for their church’s communitarianism, and threatens to regulate it out of existence.
Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom. The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.
The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not widely appreciated, to put it mildly, and many liberals are inclined to see the White House’s decision as a blow for the progressive cause. They should think again. Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.