Crazy Logic

Of all the crazy propositions being thrown around in the current debt crisis talks, the tough, ‘zero tolerance’, ‘no tax increases ever’ seem craziest to me. For one thing, every cut is a cost of living increase on the people who lose a service. Another fact of life is that you have to expect the unexpected. We got government help for last year’s floods, and the Mall looks better when it’s not underwater. We can’t write inflexibility into our Constitution and expect our kids to go back on the gold standard.

This all reminds me of the magazines, like Women’s Day, I read when I was a teenager. There was an article about a housewife who decided that the weekly grocery budget for her family of four should never exceed $20.

Even in the sixties this made grocery shopping a full time job. The woman spent hours clipping coupons, and drove many miles burning the cheap gas of the good old days because Krogers was selling apples 2 cents cheaper than Star. She sent her husband to work with a peanut butter sandwich, or a cheese sandwich, on alternate days. She weighed her kid’s snacks. The kids were probably doing other kid’s homework for candy money, or majoring in home ec so they could be around food, but so help her God, she never spent more than $20. This woman had faith. She could stand on her principles. She was demented.

Even in the late sixties inflation was nibbling at her $20, forcing her to deprive her family to stay within her budget. The value of money in relation to groceries varies according to forces much larger than one thrifty woman can control, even if she is obsessed. She might be smart to spend more on the 2 for 1 pasta sale and save later, just as a homely example. Or, for the love of God, get a part-time job before the kids get rickets.

‘Money is just a form of energy’, say the New Agers, and they are twits. Money is real enough, but is not changeless in value. If you leave your baby in a burning house to save your wallet you’ll be counting your bills in jail, right? But it’s a virtue to defund fire prevention and public safety? Our children are not being hurt by cuts in education? We should let the old people end up in homeless shelters?

I don’t know what clump of sausage will come out of this mess in Washington. I’m not an economist. But even I can see that starving the government and feeding the corporations will leave citizens on the losing side.

Debt Limit

I listen to the radio while I’m driving from house to house, and I often hear callers compare the national debt to household debt. You don’t borrow more money when you already owe, you cut expenses.

Very common-sense for a household, but what would you say about a family that makes some of its children sleep in the garage and eat Spam while others live in a penthouse and go on European vacations? And the family cuts costs by taking away the Spam and feeding the garage kids cat food? And the roof is leaking but the family won’t fix it because they don’t want to borrow more money? Or stop buying cars for the penthouse kids?

What would you say? Call DCYF! That’s what you’d say!

Grow up, Congress. If we really are in a crisis it’s not fair to cut health, education and infrastructure to give more tax cuts to the rich. We’re being trickled on for sure, but it ain’t liquid gold.

Cuts Are Taxes

Yesterday I sat in my hot car with the radio on listening to the President’s speech and press conference on the pending debt limit.

I agree with some of the President’s critics that Social Security and Medicare have to be protected. There are too many people who want to raid these programs for short-term gain. The ‘privatization’ idea is scary. Who wants to find out at retirement that the stock market has crashed and there’s no income, or trade Medicare for a coupon and a booklet of private insurances that might accept you? Radical dismantling is not the way.

But we are looking at a demographic bulge, my own generation. We may have to raise the retirement age over time. I’m not totally ‘hands off Social Security’. Maybe I should be. There are so many bad faith efforts to ‘improve’ what is one of the programs that’s actually working.

Medicare will always need adjusting. You can’t say ‘hands off’ a huge community hospital and resolve not to change a thing. A program that big and complicated is organic and will need to change and improve as a natural function of serving the increasing number of Americans using it. I don’t think it’s realistic to think we can save money with cuts– Medicare would function better if it were expanded to cover more people, in fact. We can use the money more efficiently. Waste and fraud are like the dishes– you can’t just do them once, it’s a constant chore. Medicare has vast documentation of the effectiveness of medical treatments and is a first line of defense against our tax dollars being wasted on medical procedures that are ineffective or even harmful. Unfortunately, public health experts are attacked with cries of ‘rationing’ and ‘death panels’ if they publish study results that question accepted practices. A recent paper on the right age for starting routine screening mammograms in women without known risk factors made headlines– apparently no one noticed the word ‘routine’. On the other hand, lack of an affordable national health insurance option has us in such a state of insecurity it’s no wonder there’s panic.

So, that’s the ‘entitlement’ side of the debate.

The other side is taxes. Listening to the Republican vows of ‘no tax increases’ is like being back in the holy roller church. I think it’s a religious thing. How else could taxes be a terrible, disabling punishment to the rich, and cuts a bracing, fortifying tonic to the poor. Why does loose money make rich people industrious and poor people lazy? Are the rich really different from you and me?

‘Cuts’ are a tax increase. They are a regressive tax that is highest for those most in need. The tax on the poor has always been heavy, but in this economy the tax has been rising for the middle class as well.

Everyone pays sales tax. Sales tax is a higher proportion of income for low-income people. Everyone who owns property pays taxes. As the Federal government shrinks, the states have to pick up the slack, so our state taxes go up.

When public transit cuts routes and increases wait times, that’s a tax on the poor. Time is money, no more so than when you work for minimum wage. When neighborhood schools close and the scramble to get the kids out of the house in the morning gets tougher, that’s a tax. When ‘deregulation’ allows polluters to foul the air, and your kid gets asthma, and your Rite Care insurance gets cut, and you take on a second job to afford the inhalers– that’s robbery. And that example is not fiction.

It’s discouraging to hear the President use the phrase ‘lean and mean’. How about ‘thin and nasty’? That’s the state of most programs for the public good. Forget the phrase, ‘safety net’. We’re all invested in the public good.

Medicare and Social Security are the healthiest programs. They need constant adjustment, and I can understand the Democrat’s ‘hands off’ when the Republicans are itching to make those adjustments with an ax. But ‘hands off’ is not realistic.

‘No taxes’ is even crazier. I pay taxes, you pay taxes– the world will not end if the Kardashians pay taxes. If the deficit is a fire in the house, but you can’t touch the water in the swimming pool because Biff needs to do his laps in the morning, how serious is this really?

I heard a woman on the radio, a registered Republican, who said she would not mind paying more taxes if she knew the money would be used for the public good. I would not mind paying more taxes if the money went to health care, education, public safety and job creation. And if everyone paid their fair share.

When a library closes, when a park is neglected, when a bridge fails and construction workers are idle– that’s a tax. When elderly and disabled people see their benefits shrink, that’s a tax. The middle class, the low-wage workers, the poor and the people who depend on public assistance are maxed out. It’s time for the the people who have benefited most to do the right thing.