Guest columnist: Shared sacrifice – including from top 2 percent -- needed on debt
The Campaign to Fix the Debt has made headlines across the state in recent weeks, and it’s no surprise. With Erskine Bowles steering the ship, Govs. Jim Hunt and Jim Holshouser on board and an op-ed from Hugh McColl and Robert Ingram popping up in newspapers around the state -- including this one -- what’s not to love?
I agree with them, too. A bipartisan solution to our fiscal crisis would be fantastic. Everyone agrees we ought to fix our debt and deficit problem, all while avoiding the fiscal cliff. That’s a no-brainer.
But the real question facing Congress right now is who. Specifically, who will pay to fix the debt?
Should the entire burden of our debt be hoisted upon the shoulders of the middle class? Or are we going to also ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share?
On that politically hot question Fix the Debt is noticeably silent. They say it’s not their place to put forward a specific plan. They say they simply want to encourage Congress to work together to come up with a solution. That is a convenient answer, but it’s not entirely true.
The truth is that Fix the Debt isn’t silent at all. The leaders of Fix the Debt, including more than 70 corporate CEOs, list their “core principles” on the campaign’s website. Those principles include: “reform Medicare and Medicaid,” “strengthen Social Security,” “pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues.” That’s right. Fix the Debt suggests fixing our debt by lowering taxes.
If you don’t understand politico-speak, those principles are all euphemisms for shifting the burden from the rich to the middle class. It’s also eerily similar to Mitt Romney’s campaign platform. And didn't Romney lose a recent election, in which this question of "who pays" was front and center?
Last week, Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans outlined their first fiscal cliff proposal. In a letter to the president, Boehner mentions Erskine Bowles’ plan by name. House Republicans even use Fix the Debt’s term “pro-growth tax reform.” So if Fix the Debt is the Boehner-Romney plan, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t include a proposal to end the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent.
Ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans will generate nearly $1 trillion in new revenue over 10 years. It will have no effect on 97 percent of small businesses and it takes us back to the top marginal tax rate during the booming '90s.
According to the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of Americans agree we should raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. It was a central issue of the presidential campaign and Barack Obama won.
Ending the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent alone won’t solve all our problems, but it is a sensible and essential element that must be included in any fiscal cliff compromise.
Throughout this debate the American people have agreed on the essential framework of a deal. There should be shared sacrifice and we should take a balanced approach.
President Obama has already reduced spending by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. If we cut any more, then it will be police, firefighters, veterans, teachers and students on financial aid who will feel the pain.
If we cut entitlements, then seniors, the disabled and the working poor will get hit.
If we slash our investments in infrastructure, we'll lose thousands of construction jobs while allowing our roads and bridges to crumble even further.
If we eliminate deductions like the home mortgage interest deduction, then those struggling to stay in their homes will be asked to pay even more.
Yes, everyone should share in the sacrifice, but if we don’t ask the top 2 percent to pay a bit more in taxes, then how exactly are they sacrificing? If the bottom 98 percent are asked to shoulder the entire load, then how is that a balanced approach?
Any deficit proposal that does not ask the wealthiest among us to do more is -- by definition -- unbalanced. Unfortunately, the Campaign to Fix the Debt does not acknowledge this reality.
Our economy is too fragile to take this issue lightly. The devil is in the details and it’s time that Congress gets to work. What we need right now are reality-based solutions, not cheerleaders. I’ve got one idea -- end the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent.
Justin Guillory is research and communications director for Progress North Carolina Action.