"Because of my daughters" is the answer to the question in the headline.
“Because of my daughters” is the answer to the question in the headline.
The oldest is 10 and the youngest is 7, and like other parents I want to give them a better life than I had — which, thanks to my parents and ancestors, has been pretty good.
Like other Americans, I have benefited from Pilgrims who sailed dangerous seas to plant the seeds of the New World; from pioneers who hacked their way across the wilderness to build this country; from heroes who died in battle; and from civil rights activists slain in pursuit of justice for all.
But we are the first generation that is purposely giving our children a worse life than we had, all because we refuse to balance the federal budget and pay down a national debt that has passed $15 trillion — $50,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. My girls owe $100,000 between them.
I’m ashamed. You should be ashamed, too.
This is happening because there is a chasm between the government we expect and what we are willing to pay for — a chasm elected officials both encourage and succumb to. They have cut taxes while increasing spending in large part because we would not re-elect them if they didn’t. It’s our fault and theirs.
Bridging that chasm will require spending discipline and less government. We must re-examine our expectations, including retiring at age 65 instead of a little later, and having a military larger than the next 14 combined. And we should start now lest we become like Europe — debt-ridden and desperate.
Unfortunately, there is only so much spending that any elected official can cut for the simple reason that Americans will not let them cut more.
Americans may say otherwise, but — and this is going to be a hard pill to swallow — we obviously love big government. Polls have shown that even TEA Party members oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Some Republicans are attacking President Obama’s proposals to cut military spending.
But Social Security, Medicare and the military, along with Medicaid and interest on the national debt, make up such a large percentage of the federal budget that you cannot achieve balance even if you cut everything else completely.
You have to cut those programs for the same reason that people rob banks — that’s where the money is. Because Americans love these really big programs a lot, then the best that a political leader will be able to do is cut them a little.
Therefore, to balance the budget, revenues must be increased — just as a family that can’t or won’t change its lifestyle must earn more income or go broke.
Unfortunately, the federal government has not been acting like a responsible family. Over the past 11 years, it has been cutting taxes at the same time it has been on a spending binge.
Government revenues, which come mostly from the taxes we pay, are the lowest they have been since the early 1950s as a percentage of the gross domestic product. Traditionally around 18 percent, a succession of tax cuts under Presidents Bush and Obama have dropped them to about 14.4 percent. Half of Americans pay no income tax at all, though they certainly pay other taxes.
Spending, meanwhile, is about 25 percent of GDP. Do the math. The difference between 25 percent and 14.4 percent is what is being passed down to our children.
The Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of December if Congress and the president do nothing this year. Letting that happen, or at least letting part of that happen, would be the quickest way to start paying for the government we are buying. If that’s what’s necessary, so be it.
But a better way to increase revenues would be to close some of the loopholes and deductions that riddle the tax code.
They’re a mess. They drain resources by forcing us to push paper rather than produce goods and services. They favor the big corporations and the wealthy who can afford high-priced accountants and tax lawyers. They stress us out.
And they are a tool for government to make us do what it wants us to do, which often is the wrong thing.
The government wants us to buy big houses, so it gives us a mortgage interest deduction that encourages us to incur debt and then not pay it down.
It gives us a capital gains deduction so we’ll buy and sell stock, which forces employers to focus on the next quarterly report instead of the long-term good of their companies.
The government wants us to give to charity, which is fine, but its rules encourage abuse. Many college football bowl games are “charities” in the eyes of the IRS.
Unfortunately, Americans love loopholes and deductions as much as they love big government and hate taxes. And since the money has to come from somewhere, we’ve taken the easiest available route: Stealing it from tomorrow’s taxpayers who don’t have a say in the matter.
From my children, in other words, and from yours.
I don’t want to do that anymore. Do you?
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at Arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org