Scanning the ranks of the noble Tea Party protesters — exiles of conscience, taxed into penury without representation — it’s hard to ignore one impression:
For oppressed people, they haven’t missed many meals.
Also: Apparently they had their attentions turned to the buffet table throughout the Bush administration.
They certainly weren’t protesting when a Republican administration and Republican Congress drove up the deficit without a care in the world.
Granted, that regime had a care: “global war on terrorism,” it was. (Was it four words or one?) But the deficit? No.
Now, by George, the Tea Partiers are right. Regardless of ideology, anybody should be concerned — OK, alarmed to the point of hair loss — by the deficits facing this nation.
And so we ponder the number $900 billion.
That’s the rough cost of the principal health-coverage bills in the two chambers of Congress. President Obama and Democrats have said they will find a way to make thie initiative deficit-neutral, largely through cuts in Medicare and new fees on insurance companies that offer so-called Cadillac health plans.
Whether an income tax hike for wealthiest Americans is in the mix seems clearly in doubt after Obama’s speech to Congress. That’s unfortunate.
It should be in the mix — just as the tinkerers press on with the very cuts and economies the system needs.
Tax hikes should be pressed for one simple reason: The biggest reason we are in our current hole is tax cuts without any means of mitigating the fiscal crevice created for pure political expediency.
Citizens for Tax Justice points out that the cost of the Bush tax cuts was more than two-and-a-half times the cost of the health reforms Obama proposes. The loss of $2.1 trillion over 10 years from the Bush tax cuts includes $379 billion in interest on the national debt.
And while Obama seeks to help working Americans without insurance, the Bush tax cuts saw 52.5 percent of the benefits go to the top 5 percent of taxpayers.
For this price tag, we got . . . ? A killer recession.
We didn’t use the money to improve our infrastructure. We didn’t use it to match federalized “accountability” hyperbole for K-12 education. We didn’t treat a college education like the investment of a nation on the move. Instead we found more ways to stick college students with crippling debt.
It’s time to address the cost dimensions necessary for health care reform and to raise the money needed to pay for what we need.
This nation has missed many opportunities to raise revenue to pay off its debts. The biggest missed opportunity was when, under Ronald Reagan’s urging, Congress streamlined the income tax. It resulted in a better system with fewer loopholes. So, what did we do with the money that a better system could raise to wipe out burgeoning Reagan-era deficits? Nothing. The Gipper demanded a “revenue-neutral” plan.
Since then, except for a brief moment during the Clinton years, we have refrained from raising income taxes, trying to find arcane means of paying for what we need — like user fees, stealing from trust funds, and, of course, borrowing from the Chinese. We built a sleek, progressive revenue superhighway, then placed orange cones at its ramps to keep traffic off it.
Invest in what it takes so that Americans aren’t taking hangnails and migraines to emergency rooms? “Outrageous,” say the Tea Partiers.
What were they saying when our we were spending billions on the hospitals and general infrastructures of Iraq and Afghanistan without any means of paying for it?
By the way, the cost of those wars combined has reached an oddly familiar figure — $900 billion. That sum, advises costofwar.com, would pay the salaries of nearly 15 million elementary school teachers for one year.
Or, based on what Congress is saying, it could make sure that no American goes without health insurance.
John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. firstname.lastname@example.org.