"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," wrote Karl Marx back in 1875, describing the essential principle of communism. Marx may not have imagined that he was setting forth what would become an operating principle of the modern Republican Party--long the party of American capitalism--but he surely must be grinning in his grave in Highgate Cemetery as Graham touts the cornerstone of Marxist thought as the driving principle of his healthcare overhaul proposal.
Hidden behind the rhetoric of small government conservatism is a simple money grab. This is not a matter of interpretation, it is literally Graham's words. No longer, he insisted in the Breitbart piece, will red states have to watch all that federal money flow to big, blue states like New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Now, that money will flow to red states. California can operate a single-payer system if it wants to, Graham went on, but South Carolina wants none of it.
What South Carolina does want--and what Graham proposes to deliver--is California's money. His proposal would divert $78 billion that would otherwise go to California to fund healthcare costs and redistribute that money to South Carolina and its red state brethren.
It can't be that simple, right? Well, it actually is that simple. Courtesy of the progressive federal income tax, those economically powerful blue states that Graham looks forward to plundering produce a disproportionate share of federal income tax revenues. Per capita federal income tax contributions from taxpayers in New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland range from $10,400 to $15,900, in stark comparison to the $4,900 that South Carolinians kick in on a per capita basis. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that taking money in from the states based on a progressive income tax and paying it out on a per capita basis is a great deal for the South Carolinas of the world. Lindsay Graham might call that small government conservatism, but a more honest conservative might call it straight out theft.
Perhaps Graham would sing a different tune if he thought of New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland as the 1%. It is not a bad analogy. Those states are wealthier--like the 1% and plutocrats that Republicans love and Democrat activists disdain--because they invest money in education, have higher levels of educational attainment, and as a result are economically more productive. But instead of applauding those states for their economic success--as he and his Republicans colleagues applaud the most economically successful Americans--Graham shows them nothing but disdain. Instead of encouraging less productive red states to emulate the economic success of those productive blue states, Graham is promoting a plan that reflects the age-old Democrat strategy of taxing the rich.
Lindsay Graham is no small government conservative. Small government conservatism is about cutting back--if not eliminating--federal entitlement programs that loom to bankrupt our nation. A small government conservative would propose legislation eliminating or cutting back on Medicaid, and call on states to make their own choices and use their own funds to support whatever government intervention in healthcare markets they deem to be appropriate.
Graham is from an entirely different tradition altogether. He is actually showing himself to be in the tradition of the southern Democratic Party. Southern Democrats loved the fruits of federal spending and--like Graham in his proposed healthcare bill--focused their effort on grabbing as much federal money as they could to deliver to their constituents. Indeed, the decision to keep in place the Obamacare tax on high income taxpayers--which draws an even more disproportionate share of receipts than the federal income tax alone from New York, California, Massachusetts, Maryland and similar states with high levels of personal income--underscores Graham's intentions.
For southern Democrats, the "tax the rich" strategy that underpins Graham's legislation is a core part of the political playbook. Southern Democrats, along with western populists, were behind the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which created the federal income tax. The Sixteenth Amendment was proposed for the specific purpose of taxing the economically prosperous northern states and their plutocratic robber barons and delivering that money to poorer states.
To a greater degree than even its most ardent supporters might have dreamed, the ensuing implementation of the progressive federal income tax created a massive inter-state welfare system that has been in force for the better part of the past century, raising money from wealthier states like New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland and shipping that money off to what are now red states like Graham's home of South Carolina. Graham knows exactly what he is doing, and there is nothing small government or conservative about it: his is part of the long, honored tradition the southern Democratic Party.
The founders of the Republic had a whole different scheme in mind when they drafted the Constitution. Under its original formulation--upended by the Sixteenth Amendment--each state was responsible for taxing its citizenry to fund federal spending, and Congress was required to allot any such funding requirements equally among the states on an equal per capita basis. Under that formulation, a per capita Medicaid block grant program such as Graham has proposed would be no more efficient than having each state pay for its own healthcare spending.
The founders, it seems, had a greater degree of integrity than Lindsay Graham, and could justifiably be viewed as small government conservatives. Each state could make its own choices, and would bear responsibility for its outcomes. Freed up from having to fund Medicaid for South Carolinians, California could--as Graham suggests--choose to have a single payer system. The difference is that if it were not for the progressive income tax and the disproportionate obligation it places on California taxpayers to pay for their government programs along with those of red states, and it would have the resources to do so.
The irony is that Democrats in New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland no doubt support the notion of a progressive federal income tax, while those in South Carolina no doubt oppose it. Those Democrats similarly support the notion of their tax dollars going to support healthcare access to those less able to pay, while those South Carolinians who have long been on the receiving end of the federal dole no doubt oppose that as well. Lindsay Graham understands the irony of the situation all too well, he is a part of a tradition that might hate taxes, but they love money. His proposal is just one more version of the adage long attributed to the titan of the southern Democratic Party, Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, who famously summed it all up: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, we'll tax the folks behind the tree."
The people who need to wake up are the folks behind the tree: the taxpayers in New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland. They are the ones who decade after decade have been taking it on the chin. And don't think that Lindsay Graham or the rest of his ilk would consider thanking them for their generosity. They just think they're a bunch of suckers.
Read it at the HuffPost.
Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul. He is working on a book, with a working title of "FedExit: Why Federalism is Not Just For Racists Anymore."
Artwork by Jay Duret. Check out his political cartooning at www.jayduret.com. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.