I really didn't want to write another article about the debt ceiling, deficit reduction and the inability of anyone in Washington to get even the tiniest thing done. Then again, you probably didn't want to read another article about the debt ceiling, deficit reduction, etc. Nonetheless, here we are: me writing -- and you reading -- yet another piece about what might turn out to be America's last gasp as the world's economic leader. Things are so bollixed up, so hyper-partisan in D.C., that Democrats and Republicans refuse to agree with one another about anything for fear that . . . for fear that what? That they'll offend Grover Norquist or the brothers Koch? That they'll lose votes in 2012? You tell me, because by now, I just don't know. (The vast majority of Republicans have at one time or another signed on to Mr. Norquist's "Tax Protection Pledge," in which one promises, under penalty of God knows what, to "Oppose any and all efforts to increase marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.")
As I write this, Speaker Boehner isn't answering the president's telephone calls. Rather, he is making damn sure everyone knows that if the debt ceiling isn't raised and all economic hell breaks loose, it's the president's fault. That's just peachy Mr. Speaker; maybe you and your party will be able to sleep better at night because of that knowledge. But just between you, me and the rest of the planet, your lack of culpability or blameworthiness isn't going to ease the economic catastrophe that is lurking just around the corner.
What scares, surprises and hurts the most, I believe, is how relatively complacent the American public has been throughout this entire nightmare. Where are the mass protests? Why haven't hundreds of thousands of American citizens massed on the Capitol Mall or made their way through the corridors of Congress, barking, begging, beseeching the paladins of power to quit posturing and actually do something positive -- come to an agreement that will preserve, protect and defend the United States of America? And where oh where are the ideas and proposals? Ideas and proposals about solving our long-term budgetary woes that won't place the lion's share of responsibility on the backs and shoulders of America's under- and middle-class. Up to this point, it seems that most everyone in D.C. is far more wary of upsetting the captains of industry than righting the economic ship of state. I thought we were supposed to be in this together . . .
Have we lost our minds? Where is the outrage? I mean, here we are, on the very brink of default, cutting Social Security and Medicare . . . and for what? So that Google can keep paying its current 2.4% effective tax rate? So that GE, a company that received a $140 billion bailout en route to worldwide 2010 profits of $14 billion can not only keep on paying no taxes at all, but receive a $3.2 billion tax credit? (By the way, it should be noted that GE's CEO, Jeffrey R. Immelt, serves as the head of President Obama's "Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.")
Back in the day, every Post Office in America had the James Montgomery Flagg poster of Uncle Sam pointing his finger and proclaiming "I Want YOU For the U.S. Army." Seems to me that what we need now, more than ever are not a "few good men," but a "few good ideas." To wit, permit me to present a handful of them; ideas as to how we might drastically cut spending, free up hundreds of billions for creating jobs, and thus save our economic backside:
- First and foremost, in order to save upwards of $2 trillion over the next decade, declare victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bring our troops home.
- Let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire -- regardless of how much it offends the hyper-rich. That's easily $1 trillion over the next decade.
- Let Medicare negotiate the price of drugs the same way the VA and private insurance companies do. The savings here are even more than $1 trillion over the next ten years.
- Require the rich to pay the same percentage of their income toward Social Security and Medicare as the poor and middle class. Not a higher percentage -- just the same as the rest of us.
- Impose the same alternative minimum tax on giant corporations that we mere mortals pay.
- Reduce military spending to, say 40% of the world's total (It is currently 48%), which would still leave us spending 4 times as much as any other country on the planet.
- Eliminate the long-term capital gains tax break -- that which permits someone like Warren Buffett to pay a lower rate than his secretary. This particular tax break benefits only a tiny percentage of people in America -- the hyper-rich.
- Legalize marijuana and then, as with alcohol, tax the daylights out of sales. Not only would this raise an incredible amount of revenue; it would drastically cut the cost of keeping hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders in prison as well as the ancillary state and local costs of policing, trying and convicting.
- Eliminate the corporate "tax repatriation," by which companies can bring back their profits back from overseas without having to pay tax on them. According to American tax law as presently constructed, companies can avoid paying taxes so long as they keep their profits overseas. In theory, whenever that money comes back home, they are liable for paying taxes on it. One writer called this a "gigantic global IRA." In 2004, with much corporate prodding -- and aided by lots of campaign contributions -- Congress gave corporations a "one-time" tax holiday, arguing that the money brought back home -- now tax-free -- would be used to create jobs. Instead of paying 35%-40% on their profits, corporations paid not quite 5%. Well, the money did come streaming back to America, but it wasn't used to create jobs as promised. Rather, it was turned mostly into executive bonuses. It seems that part of the current debt ceiling debate involves a renewal of the corporate "tax holiday." By not renewing it, America could recoup nearly $1 trillion over the next decade.
It seems to me that just as Uncle Sam needed a few good men during wartime, America needs a few good ideas right now -- ideas that can get the public charged up, involved and not taking the coming crisis sitting down. If you have any ideas as to where we could make cuts or increase revenues, please share them with me, with your representative, or your senators; write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Don't just sit there; don't permit a bunch of posturing political hacks to sell out America for the sake of placating their corporate underwriters.
Wake up America! Civilization Calls . . .
©2011 Kurt F. Stone