Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Congress should support the President's budget...

For the first time that I can remember we have a budget proposal that prioritizes the health and prosperity of the majority of our population. It provides for the basic, long-term necessities of a viable nation instead of catering to the selfish, shortsighted demands of manipulative industry groups.

It emphasizes medical care at a reasonable cost that doesn't hold individuals hostage to jobs or locations they would be better off leaving because they are afflicted with a pre-existing condition, a cause for denial of coverage elsewhere. Nor will the President's budget extort businesses with ever escalating costs. It puts patients ahead of profits and removes the incentives for unnecessary diagnostics and drugs. It will control costs through bargaining leverage over hospitals, diagnostic labs, and pharmaceutical companies; and with the education and preventive care that for-profit private insurers dismiss because while such measures offer long-term return on investment, they cut into short-term profits. And it will cut costs through electronic recordkeeping, something that more cost conscious businesses, like airlines, car-rental agencies, and hotels, did a long time ago, but the medical industry lagged because they seem to prefer the resistance to scrutiny that muddled paper records provide.

It emphasizes energy policy that will foster a burgeoning industry to create clean electricity generating capacity without destroying our remaining pristine landscapes. If we are smart about it, we could put millions of people to work building the machines that will harness abundant solar energy and implementing energy efficiency retrofits to our homes and commercial buildings. Such retrofits will eliminate the shameful and expensive waste that we have tolerated for so long and eliminate the necessity to build coal-fired power plants. Many efficiency estimates indicate we could reduce energy consumption in our homes and commercial buildings by more than 60% at lower cost than building new power plants to meet demand that will otherwise grow. And the budget provides a long overdue cap-and-trade pricing mechanism for costly and destructive greenhouse gas emissions that will impose on energy providers the true cost of their negligence if they decline to invest in clean alternatives.

And it emphasizes education. Without a good, old-fashioned education -- my eighty year old mother can whip me on a geography or grammar quiz any day -- without the ability to perform basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, our population will slip into a dark malaise of incompetence and declining productivity. We will witness a Dark Age in our own time. How about a Renaissance instead? How about an American Age of Enlightenment? It's within our grasp, but not if we don't avidly read history to avoid repeating our mistakes, appreciate the importance of science and admire its practitioners, and find inspiration in the legacy of fine art that our planet's civilizations have sacrificed so much to bequeath us. We don't all need PhD's, but we all can share the power of knowledge and enlightenment if we take the trouble and expense to educate our children and show them the potential that's only a book or two (or Internet click) away.

The President's opposition will tell you that this budget is a tax and spend boondoggle. That it will generate intolerable, crushing debt. But they didn't talk about debt when the prior administration passed Medicare Part D for prescription drugs, a debt inflating welfare program for pharmaceutical companies and boondoggle if ever there was one. And the opposition didn't worry about crushing debt when they inflated the defense budget with useless weapons systems that did nothing to protect our soldiers overseas but made the politicians' campaign contributors very happy. And they didn't tell you when they passed a tax cut that benefited an affluent minority that our national debt would skyrocket to unprecedented levels (along with their campaign coffers and revolving door job offers).

Well, there is a solution for the debt: we ask the affluent to acknowledge the sacrifices of our less prosperous citizens who provided the secure, fertile environment and the generous opportunities from which they have profited almost exclusively for the last twenty-five years. We ask them to give with the same enthusiasm as they take. We ask them to pay more taxes. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. And the times of broadest prosperity in this country have been when our income taxes were highest:

"By 1936 the lowest tax rate had reached 4 percent and the top rate was up to 79 percent. ... Even before the United States entered the Second World War, increasing defense spending and the need for monies to support the opponents of Axis aggression led to the passage in 1940 of two tax laws that increased individual and corporate taxes, which were followed by another tax hike in 1941. By the end of the war the nature of the income tax had been fundamentally altered. Reductions in exemption levels meant that taxpayers with taxable incomes of only $500 faced a bottom tax rate of 23 percent, while taxpayers with incomes over $1 million faced a top rate of 94 percent. ... the maximum tax rate in 1954 remained at 87 percent of taxable income. ... The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which enjoyed strong bi-partisan support in the Congress, represented a fundamental shift in the course of federal income tax policy. Championed in principle for many years by then-Congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY) and then-Senator Bill Roth (R- DE), it featured a 25 percent reduction in individual tax brackets, phased in over 3 years, and indexed for inflation thereafter. This brought the top tax bracket down to 50 percent. ... the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which brought the top statutory tax rate down from 50 percent to 28 percent while the corporate tax rate was reduced from 50 percent to 35 percent." (History of the U.S. Tax System)

So, contrary to what the President's shrill opposition would have you believe, the country can survive higher taxes. And it's notable that following Reagan's tax cuts we slipped into a deep recession which, to cover yawning budget gaps, he and his successor retreated from the "trickle down theory" with tax increases -- back up to around 40%. It's also notable that at about the same time as taxes were cut by Reagan, wealth became increasingly concentrated in the top few percentiles of the population while real wages of the middle class were flat or declining.
President Obama is offering vision and leadership that can and will put us right, but only if we find the faith and the courage to accept the bitter medicine that's required to cure our ills. In the end, the affluent may be humbled a bit, but the vast majority will be proud of what this nation can accomplish if we reject false promises and stand up to empty rhetoric. We (the people) can do this, but we all must speak up. Your congressmen will listen if you tell them in no uncertain terms what you expect. Contact your representative now: Congress.org

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