The Crisis on Withering Heights
Where is the revenue coming from to help reduce the tidal waves of red ink during the massive deficit spending by Washington to bolster Wall Street greed, stimulate the economy and rescue homeowners?
The scale of federal deficit is witnessed by the new frequency with which the dollar word "trillions" is used in the news media. An adjustment of major proportions is needed. It was only ten years ago when economists projected out the Clinton?s budgetary surpluses as "as far as the eye can see." They were scurrying to figure out how this surprising surplus was going to affect the U.S. Treasury bond market. How quaint!
So, who is going to have to pay more into the Treasury? Not the oil and gas industry whose advertised protests against removing unjustified tax breaks are saturating the radio and television stations. Not the real estate or defense industries. Certainly not the financial industry.
How about the very wealthy? Well Barack Obama is letting George W. "red-ink" Bush?s tax cuts expire. So people earning over $250,000 a year will pay more. Mr. Obama plans to give 95% of the taxpayers some tax relief. Granted the Federal Reserve is printing money big time now, in order to spend it fast.
The right-wing, commercially-funded Think-Tank establishment wants tax cuts across the board. And the Cato Institute’s fellows are also defending foreign tax havens! But most corporatists still want an even bigger military budget which already devours fifty percent of the entire federal government?s discretionary budget. Their faith is that future economic growth will dissipate deficits whose purpose ironically is to promote growth
On Capitol Hill?better described as Withering Heights during the past decade?there is little interest or fortitude to confront the revenue question. Who or what can you tax more to make a difference on the massive deficits?
For starters, close the "tax gap" which is defined as the difference between taxes owed and taxes actually paid. This amount is estimated to be $290 billion every year by the IRS. Several thousand more IRS tax collectors will pay for themselves many times over and help preserve some public sense of fairness by those Americans who regularly do pay their taxes.
This figure of $290 billion does not include the huge tax shelters and offshore tax havens harboring trillions of dollars from U.S. corporations and very wealthy Americans who do not wish to share onshore tax responsibilities. Some members of Congress, notably Senator Byron Dorgan, want legislation to bring back some revenues from these tax escapees.
Another huge source of revenue, with very little if any fallout on the average taxpayer, would be a Wall Street sales tax on speculative derivatives (not stocks or bonds). With an estimated $500 trillion traded in such bets on bets or bets on debts last year, a 1/10th of 1% sales tax could bring in $500 billion yearly.
Consumers pay sales taxes in most states of 5 to 7 percent on necessities, while Wall Street?s casino gamblers buy trillions of dollars in derivatives and pay no sales tax. Unfair! Also such a transaction tax will help tamp down wild and destabilizing speculation, which has already pushed our economy to its knees.
A carbon tax would be another important source of revenue to keep the deficit lower and provide incentives to shift faster to energy efficiency and renewable energy such as various kinds of solar and geothermal.
There are other activities that our society as a whole would rather see diminished that can be subjected to increasing taxes. These could include the addictive and gambling industries and anti-social behavior such as corporate crime and fraud. Note that companies do not hesitate imposing "penalties" on consumers for far lesser infractions of their private, one-sided, fine print credit card and other form contracts.
Of course another $300 billion could come to the Treasury if Congress just restored the tax rates on corporate profits that were paid in the relatively prosperous nineteen sixties.
Then there is the reasonable argument that if taxes on "unearned income" — that is dividends and capital gains on investments?should never be lower than the tax on "earned income" by human labor. Well, today, taxes on the former — capital gains and dividends?can be half the rate as income taxes on work. Bringing them closer together could raise more revenue or bring down worker taxes in the process.
With huge deficits coming on like fiscal tornados for future repayment, Congress and President Obama have to face the music and stop dodging the question as to when they are going to be paid for and by whom?
Otherwise bankrupt corporate capitalism may be on its way to bankrupting its savior: Washington socialism!
RALPH NADER is a consumer advocate and three-time presidential candidate.