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A Nation's Responsibility

JD Lock, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

26 July 2011


Okay.  What is it that I’m missing?  While the devil may be in the details, the concept of handling debt, as most conscientious individuals know, is a relatively easy one: cut spending while paying down the principal.  House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, however, insists on spending cuts, only, with no revenue hikes: “The solution to this crisis is not complicated: if you're spending more money than you're taking in, you need to spend less of it.”


Following President Obama’s speech Monday and the Speaker’s response, the political pundits offered their spin, clearly conveying that they’d been suckered into the politicization of each speech for lost in the smokescreen and hyperbole of this debate is the most basic fact, a fact that the Speaker, having run “a small business in Ohio” before he served in Congress, should know: Deficit reduction is not debt reduction.  While one can certainly reduce the annual deficit by spending less (a euphemism for ‘reduced benefits’), just how does one reduce the national debt without increasing revenue, especially when that debt is greater than $14 trillion and will continue to grow, just slower, with the Speaker’s “not complicated” proposal of simply spending less?  Talk about “Voodoo economics.”


Just who benefits from the Republican defiance regarding increased taxes?  Well, there are 69 million households, nearly 50% of American families, that don’t pay a cent in federal income taxes, to include 18,000 with incomes greater than $500,000 and an additional 4,000 with incomes greater than $1 million.  How about the 60% of American corporations that pay no federal taxes, to include America’s largest corporation, General Electric, and the oil giant Exxon Mobil that brought its federal tax bill on $9.9 billion in U.S. profits for 2009 and 2010 down to $39 million—a tax rate of only 0.4%—through exceptionally generous American taxpayer subsidies.  And, not to be overlooked are the icons of Wall Street, relatively the wealthiest group of Americans, who, through creative federal tax regulations are able to define obscene amounts of income as “capital gains,” thus lowering their tax rates from 35% to interesting reward for bringing the world’s economy to its knees.  Those of you who pay your fair share of taxes angered yet?  I certainly am when I reflect on the 29% federal tax rate my wife and I paid for 2010.


Perhaps the greatest mystery to me is how the Republican Party has convinced the vast majority of Americans that not closing loop holes or not allowing earlier tax cuts for the wealthy to expire somehow benefits them.  Given that the vast majority of Americans are not wealthy, do not own significant amounts of stock or work on Wall Street, how, exactly, do you benefit?


There are those who’d believe that my wife and I would be supportive of the Republican stand for so many reasons, especially given that we are, statistically at least, in the top 2% of wage earners.  However, while I’m not enthralled with the idea of paying more taxes, now is—contrary to the Republican belief—the time for shared sacrifice.  If this great nation is to ever get a realistic grip on its rising debt, it is imperative that we cut benefits and raise taxes…taxes that are guaranteed to go only against the debt.


Ultimately, both political parties are culpable in this fiasco; the Democrats for their lack of leadership and the Republicans for their exceptional, self-serving arrogance.  But, that said, there is one whose culpability is even greater and that is we, the American people, for, if there is one significant failure of this great nation, it can summed up in a single word: Responsibility.  In 1974, when I turned eighteen, the national debt was $475 billion; as of this writing, it is now $14.54 trillion…equivalent to $3.29 trillion in 1974 dollars (CPI)…and growing millions more by the minute.  During my time on watch, the national debt has increased by nearly 600%.  In contrast, looking back the equivalent number of years prior to 1974, one finds a national debt of $36 billion in 1937…equivalent to $125 billion in 1974 dollars (CPI)…an increase of only 280% over a time period that included the tail end of the Great Depression, the Second World War and much of the Cold War.  Should we not find this contrast rather alarming?


Here’s a novel idea, America.  Rather than, literally, “pass the buck,” how about if we make the sacrifices necessary to pay off the staggering debts that we accrued, rather than leaving it to our children and grandchildren to bear the burden?


Mr. Speaker, you have a problem with members of your party that you’re attempting to pass along to the American people.  Here’s a recommendation.  Rather than cower before those fair weather Tea Party members who pontificate about their patriotism and revel in wrapping themselves in the American flag, be fortified by the words of a true American patriot, Abraham Lincoln: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”  Do the right thing.  Let’s be responsible.  Let’s begin paying down our debt and let’s start doing so now!  I’m willing to do my part.  How about you?


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