Once again the tidings of the season and the news from the news reminded
one and all that it is better to be rich than to be poor. The week ended with
news of the Cheneys' tax refund and began with stories in the New York Times
and the Wall Street Journal reminding us that the rich get richer and the rest
The Cheney news was that Dick and Lynne Cheney would be getting a $1.9 million
tax refund because they had overpaid their estimated taxes. They were simply
getting back their own money. Being slightly more money than many of my readers
anticipate receiving in wages for the foreseeable future, to say nothing of
tax refunds, it highlighted the difference between Dick and Lynne, and the rest
of us. The refund has nothing to do with the pay Mr. Cheney got for being vice
president, which is only $205,031, nor does it have anything to do with $211,465
of deferred compensation he received from Halliburton that a White House spokesman
pointed out has nothing to do with Halliburton's performance or earnings. It
had to do with profits Mr. Cheney realized when he exercised stock options given
him when he left Halliburton. The White House spokesman forgot to say those
profits had something to do with Halliburton's performance and earnings since
they affect the stock price. (Halliburton and the Iraqis have been the principal
beneficiaries of Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Thanks to Mr. Bush's post-war
planning, Halliburton stock has proved to be worth more than Iraqi lives).
The Wall Street Journal depressed retired readers by pointing out in discouraging
detail what many retirees had already discovered. A cutback in medical benefits
promised upon retirement does not affect all retirees equally.
The United Auto Workers Union agreed with General Motors in 2005 that retirees
should begin paying a portion of their health insurance premiums, a change that
will cost retirees hundreds of dollars each year. Ron Gettelfinger, UAW president,
admitted it was difficult to agree that retirees should begin paying for something
they'd been getting for free but it was "a right decision to make in the
long term." He was not, of course, referring to rich retirees. Their treatment
was described in the Wall Street Journal story written by Ellen Schultz and
The story showed that the more money a retired executive receives from the
company in retirement, the more likely it is that the executive will not be
asked to pay for health insurance. The less money a retired employee receives
in retirement, the more likely it is that the employee will have to pay all
or part of his or her health insurance premiums.
Northrop Gruman Corp. requires its vanilla flavored retirees to pay an ever
increasing share of their health insurance premiums based on inflation whereas
a select group of executives participate in a different program in which all
cost increases based on inflation are paid by the company.
AT&T pays its top executives $100,000 annually for out of pocket health
care costs before and after retirement. Commenting on this benefit a spokeswoman
said that compared with other companies AT&T gives those who are not top
executives "very good medical benefits". Not reported was how "very
good medical benefits" for the humble employee compare with the benefits
received by the more exalted.
At Northwest Airlines regular employees must work 23 years before they are
eligible for retiree health insurance coverage beginning at age 55. It disappears
when the employee qualifies for Medicare. The company's top executives, in contrast,
receive full health care coverage for life for themselves and their dependents
after three years with the company.
The report on health benefits for the retired was not the only reminder that
the rich get richer. On April 13 the New York Times described the retirement
package received by Lee R. Raymond, chairman and chief executive of Exxon from
1993 to 2005. It was reportedly worth $398 million and included not only cash,
stock options and stock but country club fees and other benefits. It was not
clear whether Mr. Raymond had to pay for his own health insurance out of the
$398 million. A follow-up story two days later reported that during the time
Mr. Raymond led the company his average daily compensation was $144,573, somewhat
more than many of his employees earn in a year.
There is something to be learned from the foregoing. In favoring tax cuts and
other benefits for the rich, Mr. Bush is not demonstrating original thinking.
He is reflecting the attitude towards money that the rich would say has made
America great. The non-rich can simply envy as they wonder.
Christopher Brauchli is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado.
He can be reached at: Brauchli.email@example.com.
Visit his website: http://hraos.com/