PORTLAND – The Press Herald editorial page recently repeated and endorsed Sen. Olympia Snowe’s objections to President Obama’s deficit reduction proposal (“Raising taxes is not real tax reform,” Sept. 20).

Like a figure in the crowd at the Roman Coliseum, the senator joins her party’s unanimous thumbs down to the jobs plan because it would allow the Bush tax cuts to lapse while reducing the deficit.

After joining in declaring “no” to the jobs plan, Snowe said: “I welcome the president’s call for Congress to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of our tax code.”

She elaborated: “I urged the president more than two years ago to begin the debate on tax reform because the current code is too complex and too onerous.”

Hold on now. This is Sen. Snowe, who has served in Congress for the last 33 years. Over that time, she has had countless opportunities to work through Congress to simplify the federal tax code.

Why does a senior senator, first elected to Congress in 1978, need to urge the current president to begin a debate?

The tax code she assails has been getting steadily more complicated, grotesque and unfair to ordinary taxpayers over the decades of her tenure.

Does the senator defer to the president because the subject matter is beyond her jurisdiction? Not exactly.

Since 2001, Sen. Snowe has served on the Senate Finance Committee. According to the U.S. Senate website, her committee oversees “matters relating to: taxation and other revenue measures.” In short, tax reform is up to them.

In fact, in 2001, Snowe and the Finance Committee tackled tax reform by supporting the now-infamous Bush tax cuts. As a result, the country slashed taxes for millionaires to new historic lows.

Low taxes prevailed through the start of two wars and a new, costly drug benefit program. The result? Trillions added to the national debt. The wealthiest prospering more than ever. No jobs were created.

Certainly, we need tax reform. The complex, overstuffed tax code has spawned one of the few growth businesses: tax avoidance. Now some of the most prosperous companies and individuals, even in years of record returns, get refunds rather than paying taxes.

For example, the world’s largest corporation, General Electric, paid zero dollars in taxes last year. Worse, Bank of America received $97 billion of taxpayer funds from the federal bailout, then — instead of paying taxes — got a refund.

But today, Sen. Snowe says “no” to a return to historically modest tax levels of the more prosperous Clinton and Reagan years, not to mention the high-tax, economically booming years after World War II.

It was during the postwar era that the country last paid down a large national debt, thanks in part to a 90 percent marginal income tax rate along with the robust economy.

To Snowe’s credit, a decade ago she said she initially pushed back against the Bush tax cuts, asking for safeguards in the event that the surpluses the Bush economic team projected did not materialize.

Unfortunately, Snowe, unlike some Republican colleagues such as Sen. John McCain, eventually voted for the tax giveaway bill without the safeguards.

Snowe’s response to the president’s plan, as the paper said, may have gone “beyond the just plain ‘no’ we’ve come to expect from the president’s opponents.” After decades on Capitol Hill, we should expect Snowe to be driving important debates forward.

We should discuss how our tax code rewards those already prospering. We need leaders who are a force for building the kind of economy that once again rewards work and workers.

Hedge fund managers getting record returns while being taxed just 15 percent on capital gains are not the people who need more advocates in Washington. Congress should pass a jobs bill that puts people to work now, and we should move forward on tax reform.

– Special to The Press Herald