As a new year begins and a new Congress comes on the stage promising reform, fiscal accountability and a return to conservative principles, I’ve got to remind us all to stay focused on the big picture. Too often, our attention is diverted from the real and weighty issues that determine the future of our country, our liberty and our prosperity. Like the illusionist who diverts our attention from what is really going on, the political powers that be, along with the dominant media and political pundits, direct our attention to whatever is being billed as the major political battle of the day. But more often than not, those battles are being waged over what amounts to minutia or only minor differences in policy when compared to what I consider to be the big picture.
A CASE IN POINT
The recent battle over extending the Bush tax cuts is a good case in point. Both Democrats and Republicans decried each other’s position as disastrous, ruinous, or downright evil. Both told their supporters that they were here to save them from the other party. Conservative commentators told us that the Democrats would destroy the economy and crush us under an unbearable burden of increased taxation. When the dust settled and the Republicans claimed victory, conservative leaders engaged in an orgy of self congratulation patting themselves on the back for ushering in the new age of conservatism that will save the country from the liberals. The casual observer would think it is now safe to go back to sleep confident that small government, low taxes, Tea Party Republicans are in charge now and all will be well.
But was the extending of the Bush tax cuts the epic struggle for our economic survival that it was billed to be? Or was it a distraction that diverted our attention from the big picture?
During that debate we were inundated with plenty of minutia from political pundits and talking heads discussing whether the Bush tax cuts increased GDP, decreased federal revenues, or increased the federal deficit and by what percentage of GDP adjusted for inflation as based on CBO projections for the year 2018 and how that will effect couples filing jointly with 2.3 children and a medical insurance co-payment of . . . . . blah, blah, blah, ad infinitum, insert endless stream of baffling BS here.
Ultimately, there were really only two relevant questions; 1) How much of our personal income is being taken for the cost of government and; 2) Exactly how much did the Bush tax cuts reduce that burden for the average American? With that in mind, I set out looking for answers and found the following.
What is known as the ‘Bush tax cuts’ is actually a collection of various changes in federal tax laws, rates, rules, etc, assembled into two different bills passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2001 and 2003. To see exactly how much these tax cuts directly affected our lives and our standard, the following gives a sampling of what percentage of gross income the average American paid in taxation (local, state and federal combined) during the last 10 years.
2000 32.98% Last year of Clinton Presidency
2004 28.53% First year Bush tax cuts were fully implemented
2006 31.16% Last year of Republican controlled Congress
2008 28.99% Last year of Bush Presidency
2010 26.89% Current rate under Obama and Democrats
TOTAL COST OF GOVERNMENT
The actual cost of government is considerably higher as it takes into account total spending, fees (not counted as taxes) and the cost of complying with government regulations. According to Americans for Tax Reform (www.costofgovernmentday.com), in the last decade, Cost of Government Day, the day at which Americans stop working to pay for the cost of government and start keeping what they earn, has fallen on:
2000 June 29 Last year of Clinton Presidency
2004 July 10 First year Bush tax cuts were fully implemented
2006 July 10 Last year of Republican controlled Congress
2008 July 16 Last year of Bush Presidency
2010 Aug 19 Current Cost of Government Day
According to the above, while taxes may have gone down by as much as 3% during the time of the Bush tax cuts, the cost of government went up. In other words, our standard of living didn’t really change, but we did acquire a lot of new debt, over $4trillion during the Bush Presidency.
First of all, the battle over extending the Bush tax cuts was not really about lowering taxes, it was about maintaining the current level of taxation. And it wasn’t a battle over the whole 3% that those tax cuts appear to have represented, seeing as Democrats already planned to retain most of those cuts. The ‘Great Battle’ was over one element of the Bush tax cuts that was directed at individuals earning over $200,000 per year. To win this ‘Great Victory,’ Republicans acquiesced to nearly $1 trillion in new spending (i.e. debt), $313 billion of which their own budget point man concedes is unnecessary. By the way, all of this was done to gain only a two year extension, after which time we’ll be watching this movie all over again.
While everyone was paying attention to the Republican versus Democrat battle being waged over extending that one element of the tax cuts, we were all successfully distracted from looking at the big picture – the fact that regardless of which party is in power, over half of all that we produce continues to be devoured by the government behemoth (63% currently and about 52% under Bush and the Republican Congress).
It isn’t that the extending of the tax cuts doesn’t matter. It’s that issues like this often manage to distract us and cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture. Our party of preference wins the battle of the day and we all go back to our homes singing the victory, oblivious to the fact that taxpayers continue to lose the war as the establishment maintains the status quo.
THE BIG PICTURE
In 2011, let’s not get distracted by the minutia offered up by party leaders, political pundits and the 6 o’clock news. Let’s stay focused on the big picture – the weighty issues of life, liberty, property, the clear limits placed on government by the U.S. Constitution, the 63% of all our income that is being consumed by government, the $3.5 trillion per year being spent by the federal government and $1.2 trillion per year in new debt that is being heaped on the backs of the next generation.
If the Republicans in Congress want to claim to represent Tea Partiers, Constitutionalists and traditional conservatives, they need to step up to the plate and wage a real war to rein in out of control spending and put the federal government back in its Constitutionally prescribed box.
In 2011, the big picture is the fact that the Republican controlled House of the 112th Congress has it within their power to rein in most of the federal government’s un-Constitutional activities (by defunding them), end deficit spending and balance the budget. You see, Article I, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution states that “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” In other words, the federal government cannot, and will not, spend a penny more than what the controlling party in the House (the Republicans) decides it will spend.
Now you may be thinking “Oh my, the Democrats would scream bloody murder – there would be gridlock – the government could shut down.” Yes! You’re catching on! That’s exactly the idea and it’s exactly what the framers of our Constitution intended. They intended for the people’s direct representatives (the House) to be able to hold the rest of the government in check by holding the purse strings and thereby be able to “compel the Senate to agree to a reasonable measure, by withholding supplies till the measure is consented to,” as James Iredell argues in connection with the Constitution ratification debates. As for a “reasonable measure,” I think balancing the budget and denying funding for any activity or agency not clearly authorized under the U.S. Constitution is quite reasonable. The next reasonable measure that I would like to see, is to get the total cost of government (local, state and federal) back to its 1910 level of 5% of income as opposed to the current 63%.
If, in the coming two years, under a Republican controlled House, even one un-Constitutional program receives funding or one dollar is added to the deficit, or Cost of Government Day comes any later than January 19 (as it did in 1910), it will not be because Republicans are powerless. It will not be because of ‘the big bad liberals.’ It will be because the Republicans in the House want it that way. The only other possible explanation would be that we the people have elected to high office weak-kneed, limp-wristed, panty-waists who are afraid of a fight. No, I didn’t call the Republicans panty-waists, I said we’re going to give them two years to show us whether they are or not.
A CALL FOR TRUE GRIT
With the remake of one of my favorite movies in mind, True Grit, I have to ask, where are the national leaders with grit? Men who without fear for their popularity or political careers, will stand up to the criminal violators of our Constitution, take the reins in their teeth and a gun in each hand and charge at the oppressing oligarchs who seek to tax us into oblivion.
Oh for a handful of national leaders with True Grit!