By Joshua Henne
Over 13 years in the NFL, Jon Runyan's job was to protect the quarterback. Now that he's in the House of Representatives, his job is to protect his constituents. Runyan (R., N.J.) can do that by agreeing to President Obama's plan to preserve Bush-era tax rates for the middle class while letting them expire for the richest 2 percent.
Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that middle-income families' taxes shouldn't go up. But they will increase if Congress fails to act. With a Dec. 31 expiration date looming, Runyan would be wise to heed the advice of his colleague Tom Cole, the first Republican congressman to openly urge approval of Obama's plan. Cole served as the Republican National Committee's chairman and as its chief of staff during George W. Bush's presidential run. But even this rock-ribbed partisan knows there is no good reason to hold all the country's taxpayers hostage simply to fight for the uber-wealthy.
It's fine if you still believe in trickle-down economics, unicorns, and leprechauns. But what truly fuels small-business success is regular folks' having money to spend. And if Congress fails to act, tax hikes could force Americans to reduce their spending on clothes, cars, and other consumer products by almost $200 billion next year alone.
Ending tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires is also essential to avoiding the fiscal cliff's automatic spending cuts, which would cripple many government programs that families rely on. Obama's proposal to let taxes go up for the wealthiest households would bring in half the money needed to avoid those cuts. Meanwhile, 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses would keep the tax rates they currently enjoy.
Runyan should show he's not willing to allow middle-class taxes to spike just to avoid asking the wealthiest to pay their share. New Jersey's employment has consistently trailed the nation's under Gov. Christie. Unemployment hovers around 10 percent, significantly worse than the U.S. rate, and middle-class incomes are languishing even as those of the top earners are rising.
Runyan has already said he won't be beholden to Grover Norquist's silly no-tax pledge, as has his colleague across the Delaware, Pat Meehan (R., Pa.). They should take the next logical step and embrace Obama's proposal.
Last month, Americans voted resoundingly for the president after a campaign that focused squarely on the fairness issue. At his own election-night victory party, Runyan said, "The political positioning is over, and it's now time to have the adult conversations with the American people." Runyan was completely correct: His constituents want action, not posturing.
There is no better way for the former lineman to tackle the real problem and put his money where his mouth is - and to put more money in the pockets of the middle class and small businesses - than by supporting the president's call for tax relief for 98 percent of Americans.