Patriotism can't begin to compete with money

April 02, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- I always knew the Republican Party was the party of the super rich.

I also knew it was the party of super patriots.

But I never knew what would happen if the Republicans had to choose between the two.

Now I do.

And the super rich have won.

The saga began last November when Forbes magazine printed a story titled "The New Refugees."

The story was about fabulously wealthy Americans who were renouncing their U.S. citizenship and leaving the country in order to avoid paying taxes.

These included "billionaire John [Ippy] Dorrance III, an heir to the Campbell soup fortune," who renounced his citizenship and moved to Ireland, and "Kenneth Dart, an heir to Dart Container and his family's $1 billion fortune," who moved to Belize, and "Michael Dingman, chairman of Abex, and a Ford Motor director" who, according to the article, is building a home in the Bahamas.

"Michael Dingman may easily be able to pay for his new 15,000-square-foot home with the tax money he saved by giving up his American citizenship," Forbes crowed.

Americans are allowed to do this under a tax loophole.

They can enjoy the benefits of American citizenship, make their fortunes here, and then turn their back on this country in order to avoid taxes.

Other countries such as Canada, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland have laws to prevent this.

But not the United States.

One person who read the Forbes article and decided the United States ought to have such a law was Bill Clinton.

The U.S. Senate agreed with him and passed a bill that would tax these wealthy turncoats and add about $1.4 billion to the U.S. Treasury over the next five years.

"The idea that super-rich Americans would, in effect, sell their citizenship . . . is reprehensible to most of us," said Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah.

The Republicans in the House of Representatives disagreed, however.

There, two lobbyists, representing super-rich Americans, one of whom wants to renounce his citizenship and one of whom already had, went to work.

The lobbyists were two former Republican members of Congress, former Sen. Steve Symms of Idaho and former Rep. Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan.

And, lo and behold, last week the House voted to leave the loophole for the super rich open, and a Senate-House conference committee agreed. (The matter might come up again, but not until at least June 1.)

Why?

Human rights.

That's right. Human rights.

Lobbyist Symms compared closing the tax loophole to the actions of fascist, Communist and other dictators.

"Hitler did it," Symms told the Washington Post. "Stalin did it. Khomeini did it and I suppose the Iraqis still do it."

Our State Department disagrees, however, stating that the new tax bill would "not conflict with an individual's right to freely emigrate."

This is a key point. Closing the tax loophole would still allow people to renounce their citizenship.

It would still allow people to leave America.

It would still allow them to take their wealth with them.

But they would have to pay taxes before they left.

And that, some House Republicans decided, was not fair.

Republican Mel Hancock of Missouri said it would be much more sensible for the United States to lower taxes so that the super rich would not want to leave.

(Lower them how far, he did not say, but I figure to zero might do it.)

"They [the Democrats] want to tax the rich people out of existence," Hancock sniffed.

Democrat Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the House minority leader, said what the Republicans did "may be the most outrageous rich man's tax plan in the history of this country."

Not so, replied Nancy Johnson, Republican of Connecticut.

"People who give up citizenship are not necessarily economic Benedict Arnolds," she said.

Maybe not, but back in the '60s I remember a lot of Republicans who said "America -- love it or leave it."

Now, they have a new motto:

"America -- love it, loot it, then leave it."

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