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Thursday, October 04, 2007

America is Not at War, America is at the Mall

A proposal to raise taxes to help to pay for the war:

The Iraq money pit, by James P. McGovern, Boston Globe: I recently came across a photo of a handwritten sign in a US military facility in Ramadi, Iraq. The sign read, "America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall."

The sign reflects a perception among many US soldiers and their families that the American people are not sharing in their sacrifice. It is a perception grounded in reality..., who is really sacrificing? Certainly not members of Congress. We will not wake up tomorrow in harm's way in Baghdad or Fallujah. ...

I propose we change this dynamic by raising taxes on nearly every American in order to pay for the war in Iraq. ...

It is reasonable to assume that the cost will approach $800 billion by the time Bush leaves office. I will soon introduce legislation to impose a "surtax" to begin paying for future war costs that have not been budgeted and paid for by existing federal revenues. This war surtax is modeled on similar surtaxes imposed during World War II and the Vietnam War to cover war costs. ...

My surtax proposal is not an additional tax on income; rather, it is a tax on tax liability.

For example, if a low-income taxpayer owes $100 in taxes, he would be subject to an additional 2 percent surtax of $2. Wealthy taxpayers would pay a higher percentage. Corporations, trusts, and estates would also be subject to the surtax.

Needless to say, this idea of a surtax makes my colleagues - Democrat and Republican - exceedingly nervous. No politician likes to talk about raising taxes. But somebody, someday, somewhere will pay the hundreds of billions we have borrowed so far for this war.

My conservative colleagues will argue that we should cut spending to cover the costs. That's nice rhetoric, but it's not real. Are we going to eliminate the entire departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services? Or how about eliminating all funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Energy, Interior, Treasury, the EPA, and NASA combined? That's what it would take to fund just one year of the Iraq war.

Some of my fellow antiwar liberals believe that since the war in Iraq is wrong, they do not want to pay for it. But isn't it also wrong to force future generations to pay for it?

I voted against the war in Iraq. I have consistently fought to bring the war to an immediate end and to bring our troops home. I believe it is the worst political, military, and diplomatic tragedy in our history.

But to force our children to pay for that tragedy would only compound it. The war in Iraq has been this generation's mistake. It should not be the next generation's burden.

We have an opportunity to say to our soldiers and their families that we are in this together; that their fellow citizens are also sacrificing just a little bit.

That's a message worth sending.

While it's certainly true that someone will have to pay for the war at some point - somebody, someday, somewhere will have to give up something to pay the bills - raising taxes right now is not good short-run economic policy given the current weakness in the economy. Driving the economy into a recession would show sacrifice, but that's not the best way to show our support.

It's not good politics either. If a bill was passed raising taxes, and George Bush actually signed it only to have the economy then sink into a recession due to the housing slump or other causes, the political fallout would be large (The WSJ is already claiming that the belief that Democrats will raise taxes is making businesses hesitant to invest and contributing to the current weakness). Thus, while good long-run budget policy does require a plan to pay for expenditures, the political gain from raising taxes now seems small relative to the potential political and economic downside.

I am not objecting to implementing reality-based long-run budget policy, but the mistake was cutting taxes with a war on and the economy relatively strong. We shouldn't compound that error by now raising taxes just as the economy is showing signs of weakness. We will need to pay for this war, and I understand the underlying political point being made through a proposal which has no realistic chance of passage. But even if it did have a chance to pass, now is not the time to put the brakes on the economy.


And please drop this argument:

My surtax proposal is not an additional tax on income; rather, it is a tax on tax liability. For example, if a low-income taxpayer owes $100 in taxes, he would be subject to an additional 2 percent surtax of $2.

That's just an accounting gimmick that invites ridicule from the opposition. This raises taxes, so just say that directly. If the person earns $1,000 and the tax is 10% (=$100), then with the surcharge the tax on income is 10.2% or $102. The $2 comes out of income one way or the other and calling it a tax on a tax doesn't change that.

    Posted by on Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 01:08 AM in Budget Deficit, Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics, Taxes | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (58)

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