Conservatives have told us over and over again that our taxes are simply too high. We pay too much. Several years back I went to see J. C. Watts speak. I’m happy to say that I didn’t have to pay that much to hear him, because he was on the tax thing. I’m paraphrasing – “When we get up in the morning we are reminded that we are paying taxes on our house. When we brush our teeth we are paying taxes on the water and toothbrush. When we kiss our spouses in the morning, there is a marriage tax. We get in our cars and there is a car tax. When we fill up with gas there is a gas tax. We are taxed to death, which, of course, bring us to the death tax.” The conservatives were standing on their feet. I’m sure that some were crying with joy that someone was feeling their pain. I felt nauseated because Mr. Watts was shoveling garbage. He was mixing recurring taxes with one-time taxes. He was mixing local, state and federal taxes all in one bag (which is a great way to get conservatives frothing at the mouth but a terrible way to move us past rhetoric and towards policy solutions).
Today our federal tax burden is less than it has been since 1950, when Harry Truman was president in. The People’s Republica of China had just been formed. The Russians had just exploded their first hydrogen bomb. GM and Ford were stable companies. That was a long time ago. Republicans would have us believe that we are paying more in federal taxes than ever. That is simply not true.
This diminished tax burden on the wealthiest has contributed to the historically low federal revenue levels we are seeing today, and in turn, to higher deficits. The Congressional Budget Office projects federal revenue in 2011 will total 14.8% of GDP—the lowest level since 1950. At the same time that the tax burden has shifted away from the wealthy, this same top income group has enjoyed massively disproportionate income gains. Between 1992 and 2007, a time in which income for the average household and top one percent grew 13% and 123%, respectively, the income for the top 400 households grew fully 399%.
The pundits and many Democrats wrote off the single-payer option from the get-go. This changed the dynamic of healthcare reform from the start. It allowed conservatives and Republicans to frame the debate as the public option equals far left position. This, of course, was not true. The far left position, the sensible position, had to do with the single-payer option in which the government handles your health insurance. Putting it another way, Medicare for all. The political insiders within the Obama White House knew this wouldn’t fly.
Back in 1995, a group of super rich folks got together and decided they had to do something about the estate tax. They simply didn’t want to pay any more. They had accumulated enormous sums of money and wanted to be a little pass on their wealth. To put it another way, they wanted to establish a class of elites who never had to work again. They hired a lobbying firm and they went to Capitol Hill. They were laughed out of Senators’ offices. They were not deterred. They refashioned their message. They cranked up campaign donations and they continue to push. Soon, they got the message right. Gradually, we heard nothing about estate tax and we began to hear about death taxes. We heard nothing about uber-wealthy families like the DuPonts or the Waltons; instead, we heard about the poor family farmers who would lose their farm under this “unfair tax.” Mainstream conservatives picked up the cause. In 2001, the dream of the Carnegies and the Waltons came true as the estate tax was temporarily repealed.
Progressives can take a lesson from the death tax crusade. Slow and steady pressure with intelligent framing is needed in order to make great changes. The single-payer system saves us an enormous amount of money. Some estimates soar to more than $350 billion per year. We roll Medicare and Medicaid and other state and federally funded health care programs into the single-payer. No extra taxes. None. Eliminate or change private health insurance forever. This industry will not die with the single payer option but will need to change to providing high-end coverage for the wealthy. Suddenly, small business does not have to worry about how they are going to cover their employees. Medium-sized businesses don’t have to worry about how much money they’re going to chip in and they don’t have to pay employees to figure out which plan works for their companies. This can free up millions, if not billions, of dollars for companies to invest in new equipment and into increasing salaries to their loyal employees. Large corporations don’t have to worry about the biggest sticking point in union negotiations — healthcare.
I wrote this last August. I hope you still find it relevant.
For the last 25 years, we, the American people, have been sold a bill of goods. The pitch, on one level, appeals to our natural sense of right and wrong. We’ve been told that we pay too much in taxes. We get taxed in the morning. We get taxed as we drive to work. We clearly get taxed on the money that we make it work. We come home and we kiss our spouse. We get hit with the marriage tax. As we make our way to the kitchen we trip over toys that we bought for our kids and of course, those toys were taxed. We get taxed morning, noon and night. Finally, when we leave this earth, we get taxed again with the death tax.
We’ve also been told that our government is not to be trusted. If you give money to the government it is almost equivalent to flushing the money down the drain. Some of our elected leaders have gone so far as to say flushing the money down the drain is actually a better use of the money. The take home lesson is our government is wasteful and we get taxed to death. Cool story. Unfortunately, reality is different than this fantasy world. This week, in my opinion, we saw clearly the result of 27 years of cutting government programs and government spending. The evidence has been all around us but we’ve refuse to see it. Our infrastructure is crumbling around us. We’ve invested almost nothing in our schools, roads, government buildings, levees and, of course, bridges.
As I’ve pointed out in my book, A Letter to America, taxes are like membership fees to an exclusive club. The United States of America is the club that we belong to. Our club used to treat us like exclusive members. If you work hard in school you were almost guaranteed a job for which you can be well-paid. You could be secure in the knowledge that you would have this job until you retire. Once we retired we had a generous pension that made all those years of work, pain and suffering, worth it. Well, like any club, when you reduce the membership fees too far, the perks that made that club special are now not affordable. Continue reading We have to do better