It seems like every time I listen to a politician talk I always come away with more questions than answers. Take President Obama’s nationally televised speech this week on the debt ceiling crisis. The President spoke to the nation for about 15 minutes but I still don’t have a clue as to what he is proposing to do about our debt crisis. In fact, all I know is that he wants a “balanced” approach to meeting our fiscal woes. Clearly, his pollsters have indicated to him that independent voters crave “balanced” approaches to problems – but I digress. What follows are several questions I had after listening to the President.
First and foremost, Obama spent a good amount of time lamenting the deficiencies of the tax code. He talked about credits, subsidies, and loopholes that allow the very rich to avoid paying their “fair” share in taxes. Now, there is no doubt that the income tax code is in need of a total revamping, but the question is why did Obama wait for a crisis to take an inflexible stand on raising taxes? He has been president for two and one-half years and he was a senator for three years before that. Why didn’t he propose changes to the tax code in all that time that would have closed loopholes and eliminated special breaks for politically connected hot shots? Could it be this is all just political rhetoric to arouse his base going into an election year?
Speaking of the rich paying their “fair” share of taxes, naturally the President harped on this class warfare theme repeatedly. Fair is a very subjective word. Chances are good that what the President considers fair I don’t. By “fair” does Obama believe the rich should pay the same percent of income in taxes as everybody else? Or does he believe they should pay an amount equivalent to the amount of government services they use? In either case they don’t. I did a little research and found that the rich actually pay most of the federal income taxes in America. For instance, the richest 10 percent of taxpayers pay 70 percent of all taxes. Could it be I misunderstood the President? Perhaps he meant that the rich already pay more than their “fair” share of taxes and deserve a tax cut?
But I suppose the position of Obama’s that I can’t understand the most is his insistence that without raising the debt limit the U.S. Government would be in default. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center there would be enough revenue per month to pay the interest on the debt, social security, Medicare and Medicaid and unemployment benefits. If we ended the wars we could use the $31.7 billion earmarked for the military industrial complex (defense venders) for military pay, veteran’s benefits, IRS refunds, and welfare. Under this scenario, our debt obligations are met thus avoiding default, vital services are provided to the American people, and only the massive bureaucracy which has become Washington will shut down. I think this sounds like a great deal.
At the end of the day, politicians are puzzling and the current occupant of the White House is no exception. They talk and talk and talk and produce more questions than answers. It is amazing that with all the talk in Washington over the debt ceiling no one has mentioned how presidents and Congresses for decades have been ignoring what is already the law of the land. Section 7 of Public Law 95-435 passed by the 95th Congress and signed into law by President Carter requires a federal balanced budget. Perhaps if this question were asked of Washington a long time ago we wouldn’t be in the financial mess we find ourselves in today.
Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina