Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, discusses state finances Tuesday outside the Capitol. On right, Rep. Patricia Miller, D-Stamford, and left, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford. Keith Phaneuf / CT Mirror

There’s an odd sort of sticker shock I have experienced twice lately. The first time was when I fact-checked Mitch McConnell’s claim that the Democrat’s December $2,000-a-head COVID relief bill would have resulted in a family of five with an income of $250,000 getting $5,000 from the government. As far as I can tell, that was true.

It made that proposal pretty easy to criticize. $250k goes further in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky than it does here in the Land of Steady Habits and hedge-fund honchos, but I was somewhat startled to discover that the House Democratic caucus considered households nationwide with that income to be in need of relief on that scale.

The second time was when reading an article headlined “Proposal would cut Connecticut taxes for poor, middle class families,” about a child tax-credit proposal from Rep. Sean Scanlon, Democrat of Guilford. It would award a modest amount to families making less than $203k in the first year of the program, ramping up to as much as $1,800 in year four. On a sliding scale, the money would also go to families making up to $682,000 a year.

Really?

That’s 8.7 times the median household income in America. What is  Scanlon thinking?

The face of need in America is people who can’t afford insulin, who can’t make rent, whose dinner menu depends on the local food bank. Do Democrats like Scanlon think people like that don’t actually reside in Connecticut?  Or do they figure that a sum like $150-$450 in the first year is plenty for those people, and that we can therefore afford to include people who make half a million a year in the circle of giving?

The headline mentioned “middle class families.” Perhaps we should officially retire the phrase “middle class” from all grown-up discussion of tax policy. Everybody except the homeless and the billionaires are in the “middle class;”  just ask them and they’ll tell you. If “middle class tax relief” means granting further economic advantages to people who are clearly winning in the first place, then I am opposed to “middle class tax relief.”

If we want an intelligible conversation about taxes, income, wealth, or money in general, we need to use numbers and to associate those numbers with lives. A mindset that considers the quarter-million-and-up crowd to be in need of financial assistance is probably not a mindset that can fathom life on $40k or less, and perhaps doesn’t care to.

There is something of an elephant in this room: people who are truly needy don’t vote as heavily as the better-off strata of the “middle class,” and they don’t make campaign donations. Therefore, any fiscal help that is only for the truly needy tends to be a legislative orphan. The upper strata will be quick to claim that they worked for everything they have and are therefore deserving of whatever is on offer, and may well  resent a cutoff at, say, a mere three times the national mean. So, Democrats propose tax cuts for a slice of the voting public that includes people who are affluent by any sane definition.

I’m tempted to ask with Democrats like this, who needs Republicans? I know that wouldn’t be fair. Let’s put it this way: there seems to be bi-partisan agreement that financial relief that only goes to people who are truly suffering in this economy is somehow in bad taste. In any event, nobody proposes it.

Eric W. Kuhn lives in Middletown.

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