The United States by all accounts is deep in debt and something has to give. Our Government needs more income and/or fewer expenses; either that or a lot more credit cards from China. Americans need to pay more for what we get, or get by on getting less. But who should pay more, and who should receive less? It’s a question that goes to the heart of being an American. How should our nation bear its burdens? Politicians have a rote answer to that in times like these; we should do so through “shared sacrifice”. But what is actually meant by that? Cut the caloric intake of an overweight individual and most would call that a diet. Cut the caloric intake of someone severely malnourished and starvation becomes a more accurate description. Each has given up some food, but is their sacrifice equal?
The Republican position during the fiscal cliff negotiations is not only discredited by the 2012 election results, it is also disingenuous, not to mention morally degenerate, given their preference for how our burdens should be shouldered. They want all Americans to ante up “some skin in the game” of fighting deficits; whether through liposuction or amputation is of secondary concern. What matters is making “the numbers add up”. Split the baby down the middle and call it a reasonable compromise. The hardship that Republicans insist must fall heavily on many of our nations most vulnerable citizens is, in reality, of the G.O.P.s own doing. The last Republican President inherited a healthy budget surplus.
George W. Bush’s tax cuts were always designed to be temporary. Bush argued throughout the 2000 Presidential campaign that the government was hoarding way too large a surplus, and that much of it should be given back to tax payers in the form of a temporary tax cut. Polling at the time showed most Americans disagreed with Bush’s tax proposal. Even then it was viewed as a giveaway to the rich and reckless fiscal policy. Americans wanted more of the surplus Bush inherited from Clinton to be used to shore up Social Security than what Bush was willing to allocate for that purpose
Though he ultimately won the presidency with a controversial “assist” from the Supreme Court, no one disputes that George Bush lost the popular vote in the 2000 election to Al Gore. Bush was not Americans first choice for President. Those Bush tax cuts only became law because his running mate Dick Cheney was put in place to cast a tie breaking vote in the Senate to secure them.
The irony here is thick. In 2000 Polls showed that Americans opposed Bush’s tax plans, and Al Gore actually got more votes, but Bush still forced his tax plan through a Senate that was bitterly divided along partisan lines. This year Obama campaigned for reelection pledging to allow the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans to expire, as originally intended, on all income over $250,000. Polls show that the electorate supports the Presidents position, and Obama received over 4 million votes more than his Republican opponent. So naturally the Republicans in Congress now offer Mitt Romney’s campaign platform as their so called compromise.
On one hand Republicans argue that “painful cuts” must be made to entitlement spending because, even if Bush’s tax cuts for the rich are allowed to expire, the trillion dollars in revenue that would generate still falls short of stanching the red ink of future deficits. Then Republicans turn around and advocate a plan that brings in 20% less in actual revenue than the lapsed Bush tax cuts on the wealthy by themselves would raise. That’s an additional 200 Billion dollar shortfall. Do you know what 200 Billion could pay for? When all is said and done its close to an even trade – Republicans say let the rich keep those dollars and offset that cost by raising the age of Medicare to 67 in order to balance the ledger.
There are many differences between the wealthiest Americans and most of their fellow citizens, but the ability to plan for a comfortable retirement and the means to afford quality health care are prominent among the advantages the wealthy typically enjoy. Medicare was created to address Senior Poverty, specifically the inability of aging Americans to afford health insurance in their retirement years, when their incomes typically are most limited. Many Americans may be living longer today than when Medicare was first established, but millions of us are becoming poor sooner.
There is no such thing as reliable employment for life any longer. Pensions are going the way of wind up watches, and few of us are earning gold ones, wind up or not, from grateful employers anymore. Pink slips are far more likely, especially for workers over 50 with seniority generated higher wages and benefits pinned like a bullseye to their chests tempting managers looking to fatten their bottom line. Corporate profits are at record highs, in no small part due to that mercenary mind set. It is a rapidly shrinking percentage of older Americans who can count on retiring from a well paid job when age 65 rolls around, with or without an employer provided pension. It’s increasingly more common for late middle age Americans to burn through their retirement savings while struggling to stay afloat during the decade before they finally qualify for Social Security and Medicare.
Yet Republicans want to push back Medicare eligibility by an additional two years, and if they had their way they would repeal the Affordable Care Act also, making insurance even more expensive for those who do not yet qualify for Medicare. Allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to finally expire is the least the wealthiest Americans can do for their fellow countrymen and women now, after well over a decade of sustained and dramatic income growth within their ranks during a time when real income for the vast majority of Americans has stagnated or fallen.
That doesn’t qualify as a sacrifice, it is merely justice no longer delayed. Only after those cuts are allowed to expire as originally intended should negotiations begin on what burdens each of us as Americans are reasonably in a position to now bear, in order to put our nation’s finances on sounder footing.