To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

New Observercast

The Deficit Conundrum

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BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD

President Obama mistakenly placed confidence in the “bi-partisan” deficit commission he appointed to study and make recommendations about reasonable ways to reach a balanced budget in five years. From the report released by the co-chairmen, it would seem that the work of this group was hijacked. No Democrats are pleased, but a few Republicans like it. One leader has flippantly made the best suggestion of all, observing that he might need to go into a witness protection program to escape the public wrath.

Even as a starting point for talks among the commissioners most of these ideas have little merit. We need not commit now to raising the retirement age for social security to age 70. Doing away with tax deductions for the middle class, such as health care and mortgage interest, while cutting the tax rates for high income earners and corporations is a notion dead on arrival.

While not unrelated to the deficit, reforming the tax system is a whole different issue. Likewise, just as related to deficits is the whole matter of health care costs in this country. Proposing a government-run, price-controlled system like Medicare for everybody would have been just as appropriate and highly effective in curtailing deficits. How far would that have gotten with the Republicans?

It is difficult to see the value of some of their ideas, even as points of discussion for the commission. But perhaps the shock will jar some of us out of our sense of complacency.

Perhaps it is strange to say, but Social Security is NOT the immediate problem. Some 30 or so years ago, politicians decided to put Social Security “on budget.” Social Security itself has been running a surplus for years, right up to now. Politicians wanted that Social Security surplus to offset and minimize the annual regular budget deficits they were running – so those would not look so big. They created confusion.

ALL DEFICITS during recent decades were actually much bigger, but showed up less because Social Security ran surpluses. Now it is headed for a tougher period, and the actual deficits are going to show up big – unless taxes are raised or spending cut. But Social Security is NOT the real deficit problem! Neither is Medicare, now.

A few tweaks will fix Social Security for 100 years. Make a month or so advancement in retirement age every few years. Increase salaries upon which payroll taxes [Social Security and Medicare] are levied from $106,000 by $1,000 each year for a decade or two. Increase payroll taxes by 0.1% each decade for three. As a result, Social Security is fixed for a century and Medicare can be made better by a similar increase.

But the rest of the budget is much more of a problem. The big expenditure is military. Stopping wars and reducing our presence abroad in numerous unneeded military bases would be a huge start to a manageable budget. War costs the last decade have exceeded $2 trillion – all unpaid for with tax levies. This is the 800-pound gorilla in the budget room that nobody wants to recognize.

Then we can give up all those fiscally silly and politically hypocritical ideas about cutting taxes – anyone’s taxes. All of the Bush income tax cuts must be allowed to expire now. That takes $1.8 trillion off the anticipated deficit for the next 10 years. For fiscal responsibility, that is NOW.

Third, there is a need to reduce the advantage of the rich over everybody else in present tax rates and tax dodges. In 2007 the top 1% got 24% of the income in 2007, compared with 9% in 1976. Their income grew at 10% a year from 2002 to 2007, while the middle class lost purchasing power.

That is a tax system out of control and grossly unfair to the working American. It has to be stopped. Raise tax rates, and change the rules favoring the rich over everybody else.

Next, all of our working age people need to have employment, either private or public. America cannot afford the failure of productivity from a huge segment of its population. Unproductive people not only rob the economy of any contribution, but they are a liability and a burden on the worker-producers.

Something has to be done about those in our population who do nothing productive, yet draw down the bounty of productivity from others. Those able to work, without private sector jobs, should be trained and working on infrastructure and public service jobs.

A final remedy, as a money producer and a booster to the economy, is a consumer tax on imported goods and services. That may be called a tariff, but it does not deserve its bad reputation. Starting points should be crude oil and manufactured goods. It is unrealistic to expect to maintain our high standard of living and at the same time compete with the low wage levels being paid in much of the world. Some believe that we need a major consumption tax. Rather than retail sales and gas taxes, which have no economic growth value, let’s just tax those things we import and increase domestic production and jobs at the same time.

Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.