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Tax the rich: Should millionaires really pay more?

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The decision to focus on the deficit, it's worth adding, marks a seismic shift in the nation's economic policy. "Since the time of Keynes, it's generally been viewed as destructive to raise taxes or to cut spending at a time of recession. That's what we thought was the lesson of the Great Depression," adds Mr. Weisman. "But there is a feeling that we have to close the deficit, even though that's viewed as completely irrational among the diehard Keynesians."

Twelve legislators on a bipartisan "super committee" have been tasked with creating a plan by Nov. 23 to reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Failure to reach a compromise will unleash a round of automatic spending cuts, ones that both Democrats and Republicans find odious.

Legislators are now locked in a game of chicken. Republicans have vowed to reject any tax increases. Mr. Obama pushed back, promising in a Rose Garden speech on Sept. 19 to veto any plan that cuts Medicare without raising taxes on the wealthy.

The deficit debacle is one impetus for cries of "tax the rich" on the left and subsequent howls of protest on the right. The other reason comes from life outside the halls of Congress. If you think the public ledger looks bad, consider the personal pocketbook.

More than 46 million Americans now live in poverty, according to census data released on Sept. 13. That number is the highest it's been since the US Census Bureau started keeping track 52 years ago.

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