Budget debate’s center tilts to left
Robert Reich, San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, May 1, 2011
In my view, even the president doesn’t go nearly far enough in the direction most Americans would approve. His plan doesn’t really increase taxes on the rich. It merely ends the Bush tax windfalls for the wealthy – which were originally designed to be ended in 2010 in any event – and closes a few loopholes.
But if we’re in a budget crisis, why shouldn’t we go back to the tax rates we had 30 years ago, which required the rich to pay much higher shares of their incomes? One of the great scandals of our age is how concentrated income and wealth have become. The top 1 percent now gets twice the share of national income it took home 30 years ago.
If the super-rich paid taxes at the same rates they did three decades ago, they’d contribute $350 billion more per year than they do now – amounting to trillions more over the next decade. That’s enough to ensure that every young American is healthy and well educated and that the nation’s infrastructure is up to world-class standards.
If Americans understood how much they’re paying for defense and how little they’re getting, they’d demand a defense budget at least 25 percent smaller than it is today.
I’d wager that if Americans also knew that the Ryan plan would channel hundreds of billions of their Medicare dollars into the pockets of private for-profit heath insurers, more would be against it.
If people knew that two-thirds of Ryan’s budget cuts would come from programs serving lower- and moderate-income Americans while more than 70 percent of the savings would fund tax cuts for the rich, even more would oppose it.
And if they knew that combining the tax cuts for the rich with the budget-cuts plan would produce almost no deficit reduction at all, just about everyone would be against it. The plan is little more than a giant transfer from the less advantaged to the super advantaged.
Finally, the president’s proposed budget – which, again, is considered the extreme liberal end of the field – doesn’t begin to remedy the scandal of the nation’s schools in poor and middle-class communities. Most teachers in these schools are paid less than $50,000 a year, and classrooms are crammed.
According to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 78 percent of Americans oppose cutting spending on Medicare as a way to reduce the budget deficit. Meanwhile, raising taxes on the wealthy is supported by 72 percent. That includes 68 percent of independents. Even a majority of registered Republicans – 54 percent – say taxes should be raised on the rich. A majority of Republicans!
The Ryan Republican plan shouldn’t be considered one side of a great debate. It shouldn’t be considered at all. Americans of all political persuasions – including a large percentage of registered Republicans – don’t want it.