To tax or not to tax

President Obama’s remarks on fiscal policy today put forth a few numbers worth committing to memory before the forthcoming, protracted budget debates:

“So here’s the truth.  Around two-thirds of our budget — two-thirds — is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security.  Two-thirds.  Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20 percent.  What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else.  That’s 12 percent for all of our national priorities — education, clean energy, medical research, transportation, our national parks, food safety, keeping our air and water clean — you name it — all of that accounts for 12 percent of our budget.”

Consider also a very interesting tax calculator from Remapping Debate, a publication that started showing up in my inbox a few weeks ago and as been worth a look pretty consistently. Taxes are currently pretty low, by historical standards (unless you’re talking Gilded Age).

Today I sent $4,000 to the feds and another $1,000 to the state of Colorado. Being taxed doesn’t feel good. I could only afford to put four grand in my retirement account this year. But you grit your teeth and remind yourself: taxes are necessary, because government is necessary. Taxes are quite low in Somalia, I hear, for those who want to give no government a shot. The House Tea Party caucus could do an exchange year. “Morons to Mogadishu,” we’ll call it.

Which brings me to the Republican party writ large. The idea of privatizing Medicare/Medicaid aside (it’s insane — let’s cut costs of a proven program by adding layers of private-sector bureaucracy and diluting purchasing power! At best, it’s cost shifting — rather than via government, seniors and the poor and society as a whole will pay more, just directly to insurers), the particulars of their plan are just cynical. Sure, we must cut. But taxes have to be on the table, too, just like they were for Ronald Reagan, who raised them eleven times. Because Reagan was a leader. A pragmatist.

And so U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. and his cadre, in the face of a $14 trillion budget deficit so dire that the government was nearly shut down last week, that the Environmental Protection Agency and Planned Parenthood were to take debilitating cuts, that a fight over the $14.3 billion debt ceiling makes the world wonder what our problem is, proposes to lessen the tax burden on the wealthiest.

Let’s get this straight. You refuse to even consider raising taxes — even when the numbers show that cutting outlays in meaningful ways will make us more vulnerable and hurt our most vulnerable. It’s fighting the budget battle with one hand tied behind your back. Our problems are too serious to play these games.

2 Comments

  • Matt Posted April 14, 2011 2:14 pm

    I can’t resist weighing in. The wealthiest 1% of the country pays 41% of the tax base. At what point do you believe the wealthy pay their “fair share”? As for us middle classers, I don’t mind taxes for schools, military, law enforcement, and roads. I don’t mind medical care and aid for the poor, and a Social Security net for the disabled and poor elderly. But more than a third of my income is taken away to do that PLUS retirement benefit for most every American over 65, plus Medicare. Medicare , Medicaid, and SS make 40% of budget spending (defense us 20%, which Obama conveniently lumps in to his stat above). Ryan rightly identifies the absurdity of this continued path. Taxes aren’t the answer. Reduced spending is.

  • toddneff Posted April 14, 2011 7:50 pm

    All true, Matt. Couple of thoughts:
    – The absurdity isn’t the question. We’ve got to tackle the big entitlement programs for sure. Question is how. Reality is we waste gobs of health-care dollars by not providing medical homes for people (i.e. someone who has a holistic sense of a patient’s health problems and can do preventative, as opposed to reactive, medicine). Privatizing won’t address that at all.
    – Obama’s point is that the deficit reduction is probably going to be morally or politically difficult without some sort of tax increase.
    – The wealthiest 1% pay 41% of the income tax base and probably even more of the capital gains/dividends tax base — because they’re loaded! And X percentage of loaded is a lot of money. And there’s a helluva lot left over, and they have great tax attorneys, too, so their actual percentage hit is lower. Also, they can afford to dig deeper, ipso facto, than you or I. And they also have farther to fall if the economy goes in the tank because China gets cold feet about holding $1.16 trillion in U.S. treasuries. They have benefited greatly from the status quo, can afford to pay more, and will probably have to. Because cuts won’t be enough.

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