New Rep. Bob Turner Talks Capital Gains, Obama Plan

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Representative-elect Bob Turner

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, newly-elected congressman Bob Turner (NY-9) discussed his election victory and his agenda in Washington, including his thoughts on President Obama's jobs bill.

Capital pains

All through the debt debates, Democrats have suggested raising the tax rate on capital gains—profit from investing, or "money made from money," as billionaire Warren Buffet put it last month, when he suggested that CEOs like himself be taxed at the same rate as the janitors who clean their offices.

Just as President Obama delivers a new jobs and deficit reduction strategy that includes such changes to the tax code, the House of Representatives welcomes a new Republican: Bob Turner, who replaced Democrat Anthony Weiner in a special election last week. Turner is a first-time legislator, but like the rest of the GOP's rank and file on Capitol Hill, he's cold on the President's proposals; higher rates mean fewer jobs.

The operative word here is both 'risk' and 'investment.' Capital gains taxes are low in order to encourage money to pour into new projects and ventures; these create jobs, they create wealth, and ultimately more revenues. When Mr. Buffet says he ought to pay more, I think that would only discourage capital from going into these areas.

Turner suggested billionaires like Warren Buffet should write the government a check for the difference between what he's made to pay, and what he thinks he ought to pay.

Does Obama's plan have a shot?

Turner's election marks one more Republican and one less Democrat in the House—presumably, one more "no" vote for any of Obama's deficit reduction schemes. Brian Lehrer asked Rep. Turner plainly: Does President Obama's plan have any chance of passing? Turner didn't give a flat-out denial.

There are parts of this bill we all can agree with, other parts that I'm not sure have a great chance of passing or really stimulating jobs and job growth. But I would credit the President with starting the process.

Pushing back on taxes

Despite efforts to steer the conversation in other directions, talk of taxes dominated. Callers and internet commentators dogged Turner, questioning the wisdom and fairness of the current tax structure.

One wondered why taking a job as a construction worker wasn't considered both a "risk" and "investment", to use Turner's own words when he described what shielded capital gains from higher tax rates. Any job is both a risk and an investment, the caller said, so what made income from capital gains any different?

In the comments section at It's a Free Country, one person asked, "If lower capital gains rates incentivize certain people to create jobs, why aren't they creating jobs NOW?" Turner could only reply that he subscribed to the Milton Friedman/Chicago school of economics.

It works. There are ups and downs. We are in a down cycle, but I think capital incentives work and they will continue to work.