Fixing Budget Deficit Means Both Tax Hikes and Spending Cuts

Politicians are being dishonest when they say there is no revenue problem, only a spending problem.

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OK, this is the day everyone hates. You have to pay your taxes. Who wants to write that check? Nobody, probably.

The truth, however, is that Rep. Paul Ryan, the Tea Party, and most politicians are not being honest when they tell us there is no revenue problem, only a spending problem.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

The Associated Press reports today that an IRS analysis tells us that 45 percent of Americans will pay no federal income taxes for 2010. Plus, the 400 Americans with the highest adjusted gross incomes averaged $345 million for the year. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992. Wow, and they need another tax break?!

This confirms the Warren Buffett line that his secretary pays a higher percentage of her income in taxes than he does.

But here is our problem: We cannot come close to dealing with this deficit unless we both cut spending and raise revenue. We certainly won’t accomplish anything unless we deal with the tax problem and reform our tax code.

I firmly believe that every American who works or gets income should pay something in federal taxes. Even if it is a small amount. This by itself won’t do much to dent the deficit, but it would be important as a symbol that everyone is in this together. Second, and most important, the gap between rich and poor and the middle class is widening in this country. Those who earn over a million dollars did not deserve an average tax cut of $120,000 under George Bush; they certainly don’t need that raised to $200,000 under the Ryan plan. [Vote now: Should Ryan's budget plan become law?]

We need to recognize that the richest 2 percent of Americans should pay more, but we also need to make this tax system make sense. How can you have a society where nearly half the income earners pay no income taxes, due to deductions, loopholes, and special deals? 

I am not arguing that struggling families should be hit with a whooping tax bill, but, rather, that our politicians should be honest with the American people. If you are fighting two wars, you have to pay for them. If you have to save the car companies and our financial institutions, you have to pay, at least initially. If you are going to provide Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, bridges, roads, and air traffic controllers, for that matter, you have to have the revenue. [Read Robert Schlesinger: Where did the national debt come from?]

It is just plain dishonest to put forth a budget and a plan that says “we have no revenue problem.” That is modern snake oil. It is time that we dealt with our tax problem, otherwise we won’t really be dealing with our deficit at all.

  • Read Schlesinger: Where did the national debt come from?
  • Vote now: Should Ryan's budget plan become law?
  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.