Tony Blankley, an articulate spokesman for conservative causes, argues in a Washington Times column today that we shouldn’t raise taxes on “the rich” (his words) because that, alone, won’t solve our fiscal problems. That’s like saying we shouldn’t encourage fat people to exercise because that, alone, wouldn’t make up for all the burgers, fries, and ice cream they eat.
It’s not an either-or proposition, however much conservatives like Blankley suggest otherwise. It’s about making fair choices.
After noting the trillions of dollars in looming federal deficits and unfunded liabilities in the coming decades that are driven largely by major entitlement programs, Blankley writes: “And now consider the paltry amount of money we could get from taxing ‘the rich,’ as analyzed by economist Walter Williams: ‘If Congress imposed a 100 percent tax, taking all earnings above $250,000 per year, it would yield … $1.4 trillion.’”
No, by themselves, tax increases on “the rich” won’t restore fiscal sanity, just like exercise alone won’t give an over-eater a 32-inch waist. The more we raise taxes, however, the less we have to cut spending. The less we must cut spending, the more we can protect programs that help the poorest among us.
We should cut spending in fair and equitable ways, eliminating subsidies to those who don’t need them while modernizing programs to account for important social change. Once we’ve done that, we should turn to the tax side, raising taxes first on those who are best positioned to pay more.
So, for instance, Blankley is right to think we can adjust the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to account for longer life expectancy. He’s even more right to think we should limit agricultural subsidies, which have long amounted to welfare payments for well-to-do farmers.
But, he’s wrong to support a proposal – very popular in conservative circles – to turn Medicaid into a block grant, ending the federal guarantee of health care for the poor. He’s wrong, more generally, to support a budget plan from the House Republican Study Committee that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ president, Robert Greenstein, said would require “the most severe cuts in programs for the poor in the nation’s history.”
Blankley would protect the most well-to-do among us. If we asked those well-off Americans to pay a bit more, however, we wouldn’t have to decimate programs that serve those on the other end of the income scale.
It’s about making fair choices.
Lawrence J. Haas is former Communications Director to Vice President Gore and, before that, to the White House Office of Management and Budget. He's now a public affairs consultant who writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs, including fiscal policy.
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