My presidential endorsement: voting your pocketbook
November 2nd, 2012
In our political discourse, we often hear the declaration that someone or other “only cares about their money”. It’s meant to be an insult. I, on the other hand, assume that everyone cares about their money. After all, they worked damn hard for it.
Sure, there are those few who inherit fortunes or for whom society assumes their burden, but most of us work for our money. Not because we enjoy turning over half of our waking hours to someone else’s control, or because we delight in smiling and being polite to inconsiderate clients and customers, or because we appreciate crawling out of bed when we aren’t feeling great, ironing a shirt, scraping the snow off the windshield, and driving through the pre-dawn so that we can start the morning hearing a recap of someone else’s favorite television show. It’s because we like to eat and have a roof over our heads.
I think it’s fair to say that even if we love our jobs, most of us would much rather win the mega-lottery.
So when I hear someone say “he only cares about his money”, I assume that it must coming from someone that doesn’t work for a living. And when I hear that someone votes their pocketbook, I think that this is a reasonable decision.
But voting for one’s financial best interest is complex and the decisions are not as easy as picking a party.
Republicans tell us that they want lower taxes and to cut government waste. But they never actually seem to get around to cutting any waste and those tax breaks ever don’t seem to impact my paycheck much.
Democrats tell us they will tax the rich to provide more services for everyone. But it seems that those services never apply to me – and if they do, I have to pay a “fee” for them.
Both parties promise they will improve the economy – and the economy impacts everyone. But who do you believe? Frankly, neither party has been very successful at illustrating how their policies will break the economic cycle that has been going on for decades. And while I have my opinions, based on my understanding of economic trends and on my basic understanding of human nature, I’m not convinced that either party’s ideas will put all that much more or less in my pocket.
So it’s all a bit of a crap shoot. You go for the guy that seems to have the best sense of what will help. You look at historical trends and see if they can guide you. But really – for most of us – there’s no candidate that will significantly and directly impact the amount of money that is in your pocket. For most Americans, there’s no objective way to vote your pocketbook.
Unless you’re gay.
In 2012, if you are gay, you actually can vote your pocketbook. Because, unlike most other sub-populations in this country, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney actually have policy objectives that can directly impact you.
Gay people pay higher taxes. One candidate wants to keep it that way and one has taken steps – and is encouraging more – that will make your wallet feel the impact of government on a more equal setting. It all comes down to DOMA.
Barack Obama believes that same-sex couples should be allowed access to marriage and Mitt Romney believes that they should not. And while these beliefs have not historically had much real consequence, in 2012 they do. It’s not just opinion, it’s not just position, it’s money in your pocket.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) forbids the federal government from recognizing both gay couples and the rights of states to set their own marriage laws. It even invalidates the rights of states to have other states honor their contracts. It is unconstitutional. Any constitutional scholar that is unshackled from hierarchal religious affiliation (in which they are bound to find law to be subject to their dogma) would agree that this law is unconstitutional on the face of it – and not even just the “all men are created equal” part. It’s simply bad law.
President Obama rightly noted that the law was unconstitutional and his Justice Department has refused to defend it in court, turning the defense of this mess to the Speaker of the House. John Boehner hired an attorney (Paul Clement), assigned a budget of $1.5 million (money far better spent elsewhere, but paltry in terms of multi-state litigation) and tried to never mention the word “DOMA” again in public. Even very conservative Republican judges are ruling DOMA unconstitutional.
But Mitt Romney has pledged to defend this law.
Oh yes, Romney would immediately direct the Justice Department to defend the federal government’s discriminatory law. And I have no reason to believe that they would not do so diligently.
And there is a risk that this could result in the Supreme Court finding it constitutional. Unlikely, but certainly more likely with a fierce Justice Department defense.
And, if you have a spouse or ever hope to have one, that’s money out of your pocket. Here’s how:
Federal Income Tax – In the six marriage states – and some of the civil union / domestic partnership states – taxpayers prepare their state income taxes selecting the “married” category. However, due to DOMA, the returns have to be redone for federal purposes and filed as though the taxpayer were single. And unless both partners make virtually the same amount of money, that can result in higher income taxes than a comparable straight couple. Even if it doesn’t cost you more taxes, it certainly can cost more in tax preparation.
(Oddly enough, in California and Nevada (where marriage is banned) and in Washington (where it is not yet legal) due to the way in which the state legislature has included same sex couples in the community property laws, the IRS has ruled that same-sex couples must each report half of their combined income. This helps with avoiding higher tax brackets in unequal income situations, but still leaves other issues unresolved.)
Immigration – if your spouse is not a legal resident – or their residency expires – under DOMA they can be deported. And even if they are not, an immigration department that is hostile to gay couples can result in much higher legal bills than one that is favorable.
Inheritance Tax – under DOMA your spouse is a total stranger, so death taxes apply. And that means that, unlike heterosexuals, the accumulation of your earnings and savings is subjected to taxes when you leave it to your spouse, and again when your spouse dies and leaves it to your kids. The net result is that your children receive half the inheritance that a comparable straight couple’s children will receive.
Gay Tax – This one is the most obscene of all tax differences and, for unfathomable reasons, it is the one that no politicians of either party seem willing to address. If your brother covers his wife on his health insurance policy at work, it is a non-taxable benefit. If you, however, cover your wife (or domestic partner) on your health insurance policy at work, the IRS requires your boss to report the amount as income to you and they tax it. This can mean hundreds of dollars a year paid in taxes, just for being gay.
(As many employers in non-marriage states now honor domestic partnerships, this is not exactly a DOMA issue. Even if DOMA is overturned, many gay employees will remain subject to the Gay Tax.)
Life costs – There are thousands of little advantages and financial benefits to being married. Some, like gym membership or the ability to inherit rental rights, are direct and obvious. Others are indirect, such as the extra time required because “you aren’t her parent” or “only his spouse can sign for this”. If you live in a state in which there are protections, many of these have been addressed. But in areas where it is left up to the goodwill of businesses and service providers, much of this is a matter of social expectancy. And having a president who sees you as married helps set that tone.
While some of these hit a few individuals more than others (for example: Edie Windsor, who was forced to pay an inheritance tax of $363,053), the life costs impact all of us. And these costs, over a lifetime, are substantial.
So while there could be a legitimate argument that our civil rights are a more important consideration than our pocketbook, I don’t think that in this election they are in competition. It is because of our civil freedoms and equalities and also because of our pocketbooks that I endorse Barack Obama for reelection on Tuesday.