When President Obama says he is going to help the middle class, members of the middle class should grab their wallets. President Obama is no stranger to Orwellian language, and his supposedly pro-middle class rhetoric must be regarded in this light.
If you’ve come to know our president over these last six years, it won’t surprise you that President Obama’s emphasis on “helping” the middle class in the State of the Union address was accompanied by a drive to go after their assets and give them to more deserving elements of society.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds compares President Obama’s interest in the middle class to bank robber Willie Sutton’s interest in banks. Sutton, as you may recall, famously said (or is said to have said) that he robbed banks “because that is where the money is.” President Obama is inteerested in the middle class because that is where the money is–at least until the president finds a way to drain it.
In a Bloomberg View article headlined “Uncle Sam is Coming After Your Savings,” Megan McArdle sees President Obama’s vaunted pro-middle class plans as a in reality a plan to “redistribute money from the upper middle class to the lower middle class.”
One of President Obama’s most commented upon ways to help the middle class is to tax the 529 college savings plans by with they send their children to college. This would help him offer two years of free community college to others, which will be expensive, though the benefit to students will not be so great and it might even water down the courses offered at community colleges.
Because we have a Republican Congress, the president will be stymied in implementing these plans—but they’ll be there for a future Democratic president. If they are enacted, it will change the way the middle sends its children to college, as Glenn Reynolds notes:
[W]hile you used to be able to get a nice tax benefit by saving for college, now you'll be shelling out to Uncle Sam every time you withdraw to pay for Junior's dorm fees.
This doesn't hurt the very rich — who just pay for college out of pocket — or the poor, who get financial aid, but it's pretty rough on the middle– and upper–middle class. In a double-whammy, those withdrawals will show up as income on parents' income tax forms, which are used to calculate financial aid, making them look richer, and hence reducing grants.
The idea of taxing middle class savings, specifically the 529, is both unpopular and indicative of a greater truth about the Obama administration, as McArdle observes:
Everyone else seems to be somewhere between confused and aghast. One comment in particular struck me, as I saw it several times on social media and in writings: "How would you feel if they did this to Roth IRAs?"
Why did I find that particular question a compelling topic for a column? Because it's a question we may have to ask ourselves. As I observed when I first wrote about the plan, the very fact that we are discussing taxation of educational savings — redistributing educational subsidies downward — indicates that the administration has started scraping the bottom of the barrel when seeking out money to fund new programs.
As McArdle points out, the tax rate is already high and the administration is running out of other places to get the money. So it must reach further down to extract the money, including onerous taxes on what the middle class saves. McArdle has sobering advice:
Does that mean you should forget the Roth IRA?
I've thought a lotabout this question , and the tentative conclusion I have come to is that you have to save the money somewhere, so you might as well put it in a tax-advantaged account. Yes, I understand the temptation to implement Plan Grasshopper in the face of future tax hikes, but before you pull the trigger, I suggest you try to draw up a household budget living only on what you're likely to qualify for in the way of Social Security benefits. I'd rather live comfortably with a higher tax rate than scrape along on what the government will give me.
So when President Obama says he wants to help the middle class, the middle class had better be afraid—very afraid