The Republicans would have you believe that Democrats are “tax & spend libruls”, while they are the party of disciplined fiscal conservatives. Let’s take a closer look at that. When Bill Clinton left office in January of 2001, this country enjoyed a healthy $236 billion budget SURPLUS, the first budget surplus in decades. In all fairness yes, that was the result of bipartisanship – a Republican Congress prodding Democrat Bill Clinton to control spending, and President Clinton finding areas in which he could work with Republicans, and Republicans leaving existing tax rates alone. The $236 billion budget surplus and mix of spending & revenues Bill Clinton left us would have paid down the entire federal debt by 2010 – IF things were left alone. But of course, now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Republicans couldn’t leave well enough alone. President GW Bush and those disciplined fiscal conservatives chose to play regime change and “nation building” and chose to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq but didn’t put forth any plans to pay for those wars, and over $3 trillion was added to our national debt. “Disciplined fiscal conservatives”???? Then came the Bush tax cuts. Some of the cuts assisted the poor and middle class, but the largest tax cuts went to the wealthiest 2%, and those tax cuts alone to the wealthiest 2% will add $1 trillion to the national debt over 10 years. “Disciplined fiscal conservatives”???? That’s why President Obama and Congressional Democrats are determined to let them expire. And the hundreds of millions in contributions to Super-PACS from billionaires supporting Republicans explains why the Congressional Republicans are threatening to let the tax cuts for everyones expire if they don’t get to keep their tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%.
Then came a Medicare prescription drug program written by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries that made it illegal for Medicare to negotiate drug prices. And the Republicans didn’t put forth any plan to pay for it, so it will add about $400 billion to our national debt over a 10-year period. “Disciplined fiscal conservatives”??? And then came the uncontrolled greed, recklessness and downright illegal behavior on Wall Street that drove us into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The tremendous loss of tax revenue from people being out of work or earning less coupled with the slow down in business activity couple with the need for increased in federal support for safety net programs like unemployment benefits have caused the majority of deficits since President Obama took office.
I believe that Republicans shoulder the largest share of blame for getting us into this mess. If you don’t, fine, but I’ll bet we can agree on this: somehow we gotta work together to climb out of this mess. There are two paths for steering America back to back to prosperity and fiscal soundness, and that’s what this election is really about. Mitt Romney won’t provide any specifics on his plan, even yesterday on Fox News when pressed for specifics Paul Ryan said he “didn’t have time to go into all the math”. But since Romney picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate I think it’s only fair to assume his plan will be largely based on the Ryan Budget Plan. More tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, more trickle down economics. More funding for defense than even the Pentagon wants or asks for. Paid for with cuts to spending, primarily domestic safety net programs And it gets better: Romney has said don’t count on any big tax cuts, while he’ll lower tax rates he’ll also cut out many deductions. “Cut out many deductions”? Like maybe the deduction for home mortgage interest, state & local taxes, and medical expenses? Yeah, some of that that will hit the wealthiest, but it will also hit many middle class working families right in the gut. And then there’s Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system, at the expense of retirees and for the benefit of private insurance companies. And then Republicans never give up on their 70+ year long lust to “privatize” Social Security.
And then there’s the common sense approach that strengthens our middle class, instead of punishing it. Number 1 is to repeal the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent which will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Wall Street investment houses recklessness drove us into the worst recession since the Great Depression and had to be bailed out with taxpayer money to prevent the mess they made from being the worst recession ever. It’s time for them to help bail us out. Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a 0.03 percent Wall Street speculation fee, similar to what we had from 1914-1966. This would dampen the dangerous level of speculation and gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy and reduce the deficit by $350 billion over 10 years. Importantly, this fee, like similar levies in many other countries, would not apply to ordinary investors, retirees or parents saving to send their kids to college. Rather, it would apply to Wall Street investment houses, hedge funds and speculators who sell credit default swaps, derivatives and operate other risky financial schemes that nearly brought down the entire economy. Next we have got to prohibit offshore tax shelters. It is estimated that the wealthiest people in the world are hiding between $21 trillion to $32 trillion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes, and around one-third of that is from wealthy Americans. Cracking down on these tax evaders could reduce the deficit by about $1 trillion over the next decade. We have tripled military spending since 1997 and spend nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. We could reduce defense spending by $1 trillion over the next 10 years and reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over a 10-year period while ensuring that the United States continues to have the strongest and most powerful military in the world. We have to eliminate tax breaks for companies shipping American jobs overseas. Today, the United State government, despite our losing over 55,000 factories in the last 10 years, continues to reward companies that move U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas through loopholes in the tax code. Eliminating these loopholes would raise more than $582 billion in revenue over the next ten years and bring jobs back home to America. We eliminated welfare for people in the 1990s, and we need to eliminate corporate welfare in the twenty-teens. Ending corporate welfare for big oil, gas and coal companies; requiring Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices; taxing capital gains and dividends the same as wages & salaries; establishing a progressive estate tax; and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse at every agency in the federal government would reduce the deficit by more than $350 billion over the next 10 years.
And Social Security doesn’t need to disappear or be turned into a private retirement savings system, there are many simple, easy fixes. Social Security’s finances are being hit by a wave of demographics as millions of baby boomers reach retirement, leaving relatively fewer workers behind to pay into the system. Social Security trustees project that the surplus, now valued at $2.7 trillion, will be gone in 2033. At that point, Social Security would only collect enough tax revenue each year to pay about 75 percent of benefits, unless Congress acts. Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages. Workers pay half and their employers pay the other half. The tax is applied to the first $110,100 of a worker’s wages, a level that increases each year with inflation. Apply the Social Security tax to all wages, including those above $110,100. Workers making $200,000 in wages would get a tax increase of $5,574, an amount their employers would have to match. Their future benefits would increase, too. This change would eliminate 72 percent of the shortfall. If this had been done two years ago, it would have wiped out 99 percent. Increase the payroll tax by just 0.1 percentage point a year, until it reaches 14.4 percent in 20 years. At that point, workers making $50,000 a year would get a tax increase of $500 and employers would have to match it. This option would eliminate 53 percent of the shortfall. If this had been done two years ago, it would have wiped out 73 percent. And if the projected shortfall in Social Security is primarily caused by too many retirees collecting benefits and not enough younger workers paying into it, don’t we want more younger workers? Then why in the heck would we want to deport millions of young people who were brought here by their parents as babies or young children? Young people who have lived here for most of their lives, who never had any run-ins with the law but instead went to school and worked hard to earn good grades. Young people who know only American life, and just want to pursue their DREAM of becoming productive, tax paying American Citizens?
None of this is radical, just common sense ideas to get America back to a position of financial strength. But nearly every single Republican member of Congress has signed the “Americans for Tax Reform” (ATR) pledge, which prohibits them from ever voting for any tax increase. “No tax increases” sounds nice, but the devil is in the details. The ATR considers letting any of the Bush tax cuts expire is a “tax increase”. They consider cracking down on Cayman Islands tax evaders a “tax increase”. They consider eliminating tax loopholes that rewards companies that ship jobs overseas a “tax increase”. They even consider ending subsidies for multi-billion oil companies a “tax increase”. They can call it whatever the heck they want, we call it “tax fairness”, and common sense solutions.
So no, Republicans in Congress won’t vote for these common sense solutions. If you want the Ryan Budget with more tax cuts for the wealthy and 30 years before we ever balance the budget, vote for Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, Jonathon Paton, Martha McSally, and Gabby Saucedo Mercer. If you want common sense solutions that will fix our deficits and protect Social Security and Medicare while protecting and strengthening our middle class, then vote for President Barack Obama, Richard Carmona for the U.S. Senate, Ann Kirkpatrick in CD1, Ron Barber in CD2, and Raul Grijalva in CD3. Because it’s past time to do some nation building at home.