Like many neighbors and friends, writing a big check on top of all the money paid to the IRS during the year is something I don’t like doing, but I think about the necessary role of government — roads, security, education, safe food and drugs, social security, national forests and parks, research, etc. — and write my check. The notion of paying taxes is akin to going to the dentist, unpleasant but necessary. Then I learn that Alaskans get a return of $1.84 for every federal tax dollar we send in and like getting a ‘no cavities’ report, paying taxes isn’t so bad after all.
However, my cocoon of tax comfort, gets quickly trounced when I tune into the ongoing debate about our federal deficit and how to fix it. According to House Speaker John Boehner, “The American people understand we can’t keep spending money we don’t have. The only ones who don’t are the Democrats running Washington.”
How quickly he forgets that it was President Bush and the Republicans who squandered the federal surplus delivered by President Clinton by spending non-existing funds on a war of choice — Iraq. Where were the cries for fiscal discipline then? The Republicans went right on providing tax breaks for the super wealthy and renewing lush subsidies without a blink of concern for the mounting debt. When George W. Bush finished his two terms the debt had pushed through the $10 trillion mark and the U.S. economy had crashed into the deepest hole in our history.
Certainly the national debt has grown under President Obama and now sits at $14 trillion plus. It is true that the Obama administration had to continue a bailout and provide stimulus funds to prevent another Great Depression. This means, that Democrats as well as Republicans are responsible for a debt level that threatens to undermine our recovering economy. To suggest that Democrats alone are responsible is foolhardy at best and catastrophic to finding a solution. Instead we need to pay attention to the findings of the Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform who set out these guiding principles to bring the federal budget into primary balance by 2015 and reduce our national debt by $4 Trillion come 2020:
• We all have a patriotic duty to make America better off tomorrow than it is today.
• Don’t disrupt the fragile economic recovery.
• Cut and invest to promote economic growth and keep America competitive.
• Protect the truly disadvantaged.
• Cut spending we cannot afford — no exceptions — including defense and entitlement spending
• Demand productivity and effectiveness from Washington.
• Reform and simplify the tax code.
• Don’t make promises we can’t keep.
• Keep America sound over the long run - ensure that future generations have retirement security, affordable health care, and financial freedom.
• The problem is real, and the solution will be painful — everything, including taxes, must be on the table. A sensible, realistic plan requires shared sacrifice.
These are guiding principles that restore some common sense faith in the system; making me feel better about paying more taxes this year. Unfortunately, the Novocain did not last long. Quick to dash any hope of shared sacrifice, patriotic duty and sustained economic recovery is the budget plan put forth by Representative Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee. According to many news accounts, Ryan’s plan does two things in immediate and specific ways: Hurt the poor and help the rich. After extending the Bush tax cuts, he would cut the top rate for individuals and corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent. Then Ryan slashes Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps, and low-income housing. These programs to help the poor, which constitute approximately 21 percent of the federal budget, absorb two-thirds of Ryan’s cuts.
When President Obama wanted to eliminate the Bush era tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year he was accused by the far right media of starting class warfare. The truth is that taxing the super wealthy who are experiencing the lowest tax rates and highest earning power in a decade is not class warfare. Class warfare is making the poorest of Americans suffer with immediate, draconian budget cuts. As for invigorating the economy, which do you think will stimulate it more: giving a big tax break that goes straight into the savings accounts of the wealthiest people, or providing funding to the truly disadvantaged to buy food, prescription drugs, and other necessities of life?
Instead of getting us closer to the principles listed above Rep. Ryan’s plan appears to deliberately undermine this bipartisan effort. Not only is the Novocain wearing off but now it feels like a root canal. Can’t we get back to the notion of shared sacrifice for a better America for our children? Can’t we pull together like the Bipartisan Commission and do the right thing for a better America without inciting class warfare? Paying taxes toward debt reduction shouldn’t feel so painful.
• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.