Wed, May

The Strangest Take on the “Fiscal Cliff” You’ll Ever Read

ALPERN AT LARGE - The post-election politics have given way to a new round of political double-speak and rhetoric, with new talk from both political parties of how “we must work together in a bipartisan fashion to avoid the fiscal cliff” while virtually in the same breath spouting off how neither side will give in without some key compromise from the other side.
 The Dems demand the rich pay more, the Repubs demand entitlement reform…but neither side recognizes (or at least articulates) the missing answer:
This “Fiscal Cliff” need not be an obstacle but rather an opportunity!
As for the polls—and we just looooove those polls, don’t we—a recent Rasmussen poll showed a small majority (57%) of likely voters favor raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year. 
My, my, my…don’t we all get brave promoting how we should spend other people’s money, don’t we?
Of course, an even greater majority (67%) in that poll think that more will be needed to close the budget deficit, which means that Americans fortunately aren’t just into spending one group’s money and realize we’ve got an even bigger problem than one which can be fixed with an “eat the rich” approach, although the 19% who thought that taxing the wealthy alone would take care of the problem is a minority to be feared.
Furthermore, a recent Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll reveals a 51%-38% conclusion among 1000 adults that we will be unable to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of the New Year when the Bush-era tax cuts end, and that 53%-29% would blame the Republicans in Congress for failure to reach an agreement.
Needless to say, this sets off a host of partisan finger-pointing by Democrats who claim this last election is a mandate for the GOP to “clean up its act and face the music”.  Unfortunately, the reality is not so simple because the election was also a mandate for more of the same:  a GOP House, a Democratic Senate and Barack Obama as President.
In other words, both sides need to figure out when to get over their big, bad partisan selves and figure out where their message is right, and where their message is wrong.  
So when Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claims that GOP offers to close loopholes aren’t enough, and that there should be no compromise in having the rich pay their fair share, there’s room to both praise and despise her partisan rhetoric because it’s divisive and shows her to be as ineffective a leader as GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
It’s a darned shame that both political parties chose to keep Pelosi and McConnell as their minority leaders, because it’s likely to continue the desire of Americans to keep these failed leaders in their minority position, but it’s the fault of their own parties and the Democratic and Republican partisans who still believe they can own the country.
But it’s also a darned shame that we keep thinking that it has to be one side must WIN and the other LOSE—which is really the partisan problem that’s got us into this mess.  Too often Republicans think that the other side has too many who are just greedy and lazy losers and takers who don’t want to work, and too often Democrats think that the other side has too many who are just greedy and lazy rich creeps who don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes.
Neither side has recognized the virtues of both shared sacrifice (the kind of cohesion that got this country through World War Two and 9/11), and neither side has recognized the virtues of paying taxes when iron-clad steps are taken to show that we’re spending better—and that more taxes means investing in a winning cause.
For example, our annual deficit remains at $1.2-$1.6 trillion (depending on the source), so that if we raise taxes on the wealthy (and I’m not sure that a person making $250,000 in L.A., Silicon Valley or New York City is as “wealthy” as a person making that much in Dallas or Denver) and bring in $100 billion, the math isn’t enough without really BIG spending cuts.
The Congressional Budget Office is especially focused on how we need to cut healthcare spending (LINK: http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/medicare/266955-cbo-federal-healthcare-costs-skyrocketing).  Medicare costs are 4.7% of GDP spending this year, much higher than the 40-year average of just 2.7%, and will be up to 6.3% of GDP spending by 2020 at our current rate.  Medicaid is pretty high up there as well, and it’s no secret that Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in the Golden State) costs are killing both red and blue states’ budgets.
Democrats usually trust the public sector to do the cost-cutting, while Republicans usually trust the private sector to do that, but probably we need a mixture of both—presuming each side can get over their aforementioned big, bad partisan selves.  And it also means that in our budget battles we need to stop demonizing the poor, the middle-class…or even the rich.
So how do we get to a place where even the eeeeeevil rich are willing to tax themselves?
One, stop presuming the rich had or have it easy.  In this country, most millionaires got to their financial goals through risk, exhaustive 60-80 hour work weeks, saving, investing and delayed gratification for decades.  They live in a self-controlled manner that keeps them rich and avoids being poor (the majority of lotto winners, on the other hand, usually live it up and end up bankrupt sooner than most of us realize).  Very, very few were born into, or married into, wealth.
Two, stop dehumanizing the rich, who are as human and prone to feelings as the rest of us.  They put on their pants one leg at a time like the rest of us, and probably focus on the amount, and not the percent, of their income they have to pay for taxes.  It may be politically cute to say “corporations aren’t people”, but the corporate leaders I’ve seen and met do not look like computers or androids.  Some might act inhuman and deserve a punch in the nose…but they still have feelings.
Three, stop asking the rich (or wealthy, or fortunate, or whatever) to pay alone for the debt of our society.  Yes, they can and should pay more because that’s how the math works, but making our tax rates too lopsided causes blowback—because the wealthy do most of the hiring of the private sect, and we can’t force them to hire if they see what they view as their hard-earned wealth arbitrarily confiscated by others who won’t and don’t have to pay THEIR fair share as well.
So…what does this have to do with the “fiscal cliff”?  EVERYTHING!
We can raise taxes on the wealthy, but we MUST raise taxes on EVERYONE, either with a small percentage income tax hike or a sales tax (I like the latter, because it’s unavoidable and it encourages us all to buy American).  Cuts MUST be made on ALL portions of government—no sacred cows, and only the most sick and elderly among us should be spared from entitlement cuts.
And there’s still room for growth and infrastructure spending projects if the spending is more appropriately and transparently spent than the 2009 Stimulus Package, and with a bipartisan stamp of approval to those projects.  
Which means that EVERYONE has to pay their fair share, including YOU who are reading this.  
Which means that the concepts of shared economic sacrifice and dedication to country aren’t silly words to be taken lightly, because it is the civilian counterpart to the brave men and women of our military who have risked and given their lives for our future.
Which means that the Grover Norquist concept of “no new taxes no matter what” has to be dropped as quickly and thoroughly as the concept of “don’t touch entitlement spending no matter what”.  The American people know better and, by and large, tolerate neither concept.
Which means that both sides in Washington need to recognize the bipartisan mandate of a House GOP, Senate Democratic and re-elected President that the mixed-party electorate chose in 2012.  
Which means that the “fiscal cliff” need not be anything bad at all, provided we do the right thing not for anyone political party but for the future and prosperity of our children, grandchildren and the enduring United States of America.
There need not be any “fiscal cliff” in 2013 if President Obama, House Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid compromise with each other or the American people…only a golden opportunity to really pull this nation out of our economic doldrums and risk causing a second Great Depression.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 
Vol 10 Issue 93
Pub: Nov 20, 2012

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