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Yes, raising taxes affects people!

In mid 2013, with the debate raging over spending associated with the “fiscal stimulus” program under the newly-elected President Obama and with Republicans (despite their complicity in the spending excesses of President Bush) waxing eloquent about fiscal restraint, Diane Rehm hosted a discussion on her show about budget priorities and the choices to be made.

One of her guests was former Congressman Vin Weber, of Minnesota, who, at one point, made the (seemingly) non-controversial assertion that any choice we make about what to spend and not to spend was going to have an adverse effect on someone.  Ms. Rehm’s response so enraged me that I literally started yelling at the radio, which probably worried the other drivers on I-95, where I was listening to the show from the car.

There was no way for me to weigh in during the show.  But there was also no way I could restrain myself from launching a missive her way once I had the time and opportunity to do so.  This was the result; I never heard back from her…

14 May 2013

It is a rare thing for me to hear something on your show that so incenses me I start yelling at the radio.  Nonetheless, it happened Tuesday while I was listening to the show about the federal budget choices we are facing. Alas I was in the car at the time, and not in a position to do more than yell at an inanimate object, but I feel I can’t just let it pass.

Vin Weber had just made the point that any choice we make was going to adversely affect someone when you (Diane) asked, in a rather plaintive way,

But can’t we just raise taxes?

The implication — the only possible interpretation of that — is that you believe that raising taxes doesn’t affect anyone. That tax money is free.  That it magically appears in the government’s account without disappearing from anywhere else.

I know you are frustrated with Republicans.  But, if you want to know why Republicans seem so obstinate about this, I can tell you: it’s because they continuously face exactly that attitude:

Raising taxes doesn’t affect anyone! It’s just free money that we can use to solve all our problems! Give us more!

Get a clue! Taking money out of someone’s pocket by taxing them has exactly the same effect as cutting their salary or raising their mortgage payment or increasing the cost of their groceries. It makes them poorer. It means there is less money for them to pump back into the economy by spending it at the hardware store or at the movies or at the gas station or on someone to cut the grass.

You think people are under-taxed? Here’s a data point: ever since I graduated from college and got my first job as a new Second-Lieutenant in the Air Force, and continuously after that throughout the 4 years of government service and 25 years of my career so far in private industry, the single biggest monthly expense I have had is my federal income tax. When I was living in the Silicon Valley, where housing prices are notoriously outrageous, my mortgage came in only third on my list of monthly expenses — the first two were federal income tax and state of California income tax. Social Security taxes were fourth.

So, 3 of my top 4 monthly expenses were taxes. I can tell you, that had an effect.

And it still does.

I am not in the camp of, “No new revenue ever”. I sympathize with the Republicans who look at the history of budget debates and conclude that raising revenue before cutting spending leads, inevitably, to spending never being cut because it makes the problem seem not so bad.  But I expect, and would support, paying more in taxes if I thought that it was really going to be spent to dig us out of the hole we are in, rather than being a down payment on digging the hole deeper.

It galls me, however, when people like you and the politicians and policy plotters you have on your show — typically Democrats and trustworthy liberals — speak and act as if what they are asking for will not cause pain. It does cause pain. Tax money is not free — it comes with a cost.

© Copyright 2013, Augustus P. Lowell

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