So here is the conundrum in a nutshell (by the way, if you think “conundrum” has something to do with birth control, stop reading this column now and consult your favorite dictionary). A British friend of mine put it succinctly — “If you want our medical coverage in the States, you have to pay for it like we do.” And the problem is that you don’t want to pay for it. The problem, dear reader, is even greater. It’s not just that we don’t want to pay for better health care. We want ALL the perks the government can give us without paying for them. We want the benefits of socialism and the low taxes of conservatism. Our politicians, bless their insecure hearts, are spooked. They want to be re-elected, not ride the subway to a boring 9-to-5 job like most of us. So how do they satisfy that which is economically impossible to satisfy? They lie.
Show me a politician who has told the voters the truth, that you can’t have benefits without paying for it, and I’ll show you an unemployed politician. Both Republicans and Democrats lie to survive (although some enjoy it more than others). Lying about taxes is the only truly non-partisan fact in America.
Republicans believe that no tax increase can ever be justified. You want a Republican to have a heart attack, mention a tax increase. President George H. W. Bush once said, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” And then the recession hit and Bush 41 changed his mind. He lost re-election and currently resides in the deepest circle of the Republican version of Dante’s Inferno.
The mixed signals sent out by voters are mirrored in the current debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling. Our government has already incurred the debt, but there is a debate over whether to pay the bills. Really?
Republicans would like you to believe that if you cut taxes, revenues will increase. That bears repeating. Cut taxes — INCREASE the money coming into the government. And as a bonus, Santa will bring you some nice toys when he comes down your chimney on Christmas Eve. Despite the fact that their fanciful theory has been consistently disproven, many Republicans steadfastly cling to their belief. When pushed to the wall, some Republicans will admit that low taxes means cutting the safety net. But usually they explain it away by saying, it’s the other folks that need the safety net, not you who are hardworking and pay your taxes. Praise be your self-reliance and work ethic.
Be aware. The self-reliant among you likely will not be the direct beneficiary of a Republican tax cut. While you are worthy, you are not the most worthy. The most worthy are the wealthiest among us — better known in Republican circles as “the job creators.” If the wealthy keep more of their money, benefits will eventually trickle down to you. While you might think that sales of yachts go up when tax cuts go to the wealthy, in reality the affluent among us are staying up nights figuring out how to create jobs for you. It follows logically then, at least to Republicans, that the feds should get rid of the inheritance tax. In this way, the sons and daughters of the wealthy can continue the good works of their wealthy parents.
Republicans like to call the inheritance tax, “the death tax.” Unless you have approximately $5 million lying around when you kick it, your heirs will not be affected by the federal inheritance tax. Republicans like to skip over this fact. Instead they conjure up visions of poor farmers not being able to hand over the land to their heirs who are eagerly waiting for the opportunity to milk the cows and tend to the sheep and pigs. If you point out these inequities to Republicans, they are likely to accuse you of waging class warfare.
The Democrats are not immune to their own dishonesty when it comes to taxes. You might think that Democrats would argue that a strong safety net must be paid for by all of us. But scratch a Democratic proposal and you find that it will be paid for by the wealthiest 1 percent. The problem is that although the wealthiest 1 percent might pay less than their fair share, they are still only 1 percent of the country. You can argue, as progressive Democrats do in supporting Medicare for all, that eliminating the inefficiency of the old system will save money. The problem is that you’d probably have more luck waiting for Godot than waiting for efficiency to become the gold standard in government. Democrats also believe that they can save money by putting a scalpel to our defense budget in much the same way that Republicans want to slash the safety net. In fact, if we ever had a truly bi-partisan government with both Republicans and Democrats cutting their favorite areas of waste, we likely would have no federal budget at all (I can hear the anarchists among us cheering).
Beware of the whiff of tax reform in the air. “Reform” means different things to both parties. The word “reform” in itself is fraught with meaning. “Reform” means to make changes in order to improve something. Have you ever heard of anyone back in the day going to reform school and coming out a better person?