Throwing the baby out with the bath water
Many of those who voted Republican last month as a vote against President Obama may have cast a vote against the past instead of voting for their own futures. Unfortunately for us all, the Republican Party has fallen under the influence of the extreme right-wing tea party element.
It is no longer the Republican Party I used to belong to, which was willing to work with Democrats to arrive at compromise solutions addressing the country’s problems, instead of hunkering down and treating compromise as a dirty word. Grover Norquist epitomized this attitude, foisting on Congress his pledge never to raise taxes, to which 95 percent of the Republicans signed on.
Wealthy Americans cheered this action, knowing that their tax breaks and historically low tax rates would be secure as long as Republicans have a majority in Congress.
But that policy leaves only two options available — shrink the budget, which can be achieved only by cutting government-financed programs, or run up federal deficits, further increasing the national debt, which means passing the bill on to future generations.
The programs that are targeted by the tea partiers for cuts, or doing away with altogether, include Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, school lunches, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, earned income credits for low-income workers (including military families), national parks and national forests, Occupational Health and Safety, Consumer Product Safety, clean air and water standards, communicable disease control, control of forestry and mineral extraction practices, civil rights enforcement, and even several federal departments, including Education, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency (the list goes on), most of which the wealthy consider unnecessary because they don’t need them.
But they are important to the rest of us, and essential to the quality of life that we have grown up with. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans want the benefits that only the government can provide, and most are willing to pay their fair share of the cost with their taxes, whereas the well-healed apply their wealth to convince Congress to keep the their share of taxes as low as possible.
The argument put up by the wealthy is that they are actually paying more than their fair share, because the income taxes being paid by low-income families (many of whom pay no taxes) are a much lower percentage of income than the tax rates on the wealthy. And because there are so many of them, taxing them more would shrink annual federal deficits. Their position is that it is only right that low-income families should pay for these programs because they are the ones who benefit from them. Talk about being out of touch.
An analysis of the ratio of the percentage of national income received by various personal income brackets to the percentage of the U.S. population of each bracket is enlightening. The ratio for the top .01 percent of earners is 460:1, while for the lower 90 percent is 0.6:1, and for the top 5-10 percent is 1:1
The gap is probably even greater than these figures show because the income of the wealthy includes large amounts of non-taxable income from such sources as the interest on state and municipal bonds.
If the wealthy, who control the corporate world, feel strongly enough that the rest of us are not shouldering our fair share of the tax burden, they could resolve that situation by paying higher wages to their employees and raising the minimum wage to a level that will take millions of families off food stamps and earned income credits. Higher wages would produce a huge increase in the amount of taxes coming from the lower 90 percent, and would greatly reduce the outlay for food stamps and earned income credit payments, saving the government hundreds of billions of dollars.
It will be interesting to see if the newly constituted Congress will adopt programs that will benefit all of the American people, or whether it will just be business as usual, with Congress continuing to curry to the wealthy, preserving all of their benefits in return for the lavish sums of money they bestow on those who do their bidding. Have we sacrificed our future to spite the past?
Hal Sundin’s “As I See It” column appears on the first Thursday of the month.
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