Democrats need a plan. Constant Bush-bashing is fun and highly entertaining, but at as certain point we need to articulate our vision of the future. We need to come up with exactly what they would do with the reigns of power.
It's been said that each and every American born from this point forward will automatically owe over $13,000 to the Government. A figure that is certain to rise by the time that person reaches the legal age to earn a wage (15-18 depending on the state), and will never come down.
The Birth Tax is a very real and serious threat, not only to our financial health, but also to our National Security.
While reading Imperial Hubris, the excellent book profiling Osama Bin Laden, his tactics, goals and the ineffectiveness thus far or the American response, written by Michael Scheuer the former head of the CIA's special unit on Bin Laden. There are few, if any, better American experts on the al Qaeda. He states that the goal of al Qaeda is not the overthrow the United States with a single master-stroke of violence, rather Bin Ladin intends to slowly "bleed us" - draining our economy with thousands of tiny cuts, most of which will be self-inflicted, while he does very little or almost nothing except occasional precision strikes, then sit back and watche us destroy outselves. We have to gain control of our economy and budget. There is no other issue currently facing our nation that is more important than this one.
Additionally, we have a moral obligation not to leave out children and future generations saddled with a mountain of endless debt. We've made this mess, we need to act like responsible adults and clean it up ourselves, not leave it behind for the next tenent. This task is difficult, but not insurmountable. It's been done before.
During the last three years of the Clinton Presidency after five years of aggressive deficit reduction - we actually began to generate a federal surplus. There are many lessons, both positive and negative from the generally excellent work of Dr Alice Rivlin, Laura Tyson and others who crafted that landmark 1993 budget that we should take to heart.
To reach this end, Tax cuts must clearly be a tool we employ as well as revenue enhancement, spending reductions and targeted investments. The goal is to establish a balance between these methods that will allow a strong and growing economy itself to be the driving force bringing us back towards fiscal sanity, as it did in 1998. Clearly we have expenditures we can not avoid, and of course there will always be emergencies events or periods of economic downturn which will require intense deficit spending, but these should be understood for what they are - short-term measures to address finite, specific problems. Over the long-term we should always strive for balance, or better yet surpluses which would allow for actual payments against the principle of our multi-trillion dollar national debt.
The problem is of course, keeping these temporary measures from becoming permanent fixtures of the budget. I propose that legislation be crafted somewhat in the manner of the Graham, Rudman, Hollins Bill of 1987 which attempted to limit spending within the yearly budget cycle, the failed Balance Budget Amendment of 1995 and California's Prop 13. All discretionary spending and tax changes which have taken us away from the balance and surplus of 2001 should be automatically sunset (to the level that they have proportionally taken us out of balance) and either phased out or rolled-over into specific and targeted economy boosting measures, unless re-authorized by a 2/3 majority of the House and Senate. If we want to keep driving up the deficit by spending and cutting taxes - we can, but we should be sure about it.
Unlike Bill Frist's claim on Meet the Press last week that "Democrats have no ideas and want to raise your taxes" - I'm not suggesting that we simply raise taxes blindly. Far from it, I think that should be the last thing we consider. By "roll-over" I am proposing that we turn the blanket tax-cuts that were implement after 2001 by Bush and are exploding the deficit into pubic service tax credits and deductions. Credits which private citizens and industry can implement as they see fit - as long as they generate a tangible economic and public interest benefit. For example we could implement the Environmental Tax Credit that President Clinton suggested in his second term (which was blocked by Newt Gingrich - ironically the only tax cut he didn't like). (This type of Green Credit has since been implement by California and New York) The essence of that credit was intended as an offset for the refit expenses for many companies attempting to implement environment friendly processes. Another idea of this type comes from John Kerry's campaign, where he suggested that we implement a job creation tax credit for businesses who expand their American workforce.
I propose a new job creation tax credit to encourage employers to start hiring and raising wages again. This tax credit would give a 1-time break from the payroll tax for every new job and for any raise given to an existing employee. It would benefit every business, from the smallest Mom and Pop shop to the largest employer. Most importantly - it would start creating jobs now.
Maryland appears to have already implemented this idea.
A similar credit could be created for small companies to help them purchase health care plans for their employees, as well as again expanding the earned incomed tax credit for the working poor. We could even use it to help pay for public financing of political campaigns ads on radio and tv, which would undercut the leverage of lobbyists like Abramoff currently have on our legislators.
The Public Service Tax Credit is essentially a Republican and Conservative idea to lower the tax burden, implemented in a Democratic manner to help focus private spending. As many Conservatives often claim, The American people may in fact be the ones who are best knowledgeable about how they spend their own money and should retain as much of it as possible, particularly when they invest in areas that serve the public and larger good, create jobs and boost the economy. The credit should be granted whenever a private person or company Steps up to the plate and directly reduces the need for Government Spending on entitlements such as Welfare, Medicare and even School Construction and supplies.
Democrats need to get behind allowing people to make as many of these decisions as they can for themselves. Implemented correctly, a strategy such as this might also be able to reduce the need for government spending on Welfare, Medicare and public schools. People with jobs and good healthcare don't need to be taken care of by a government run system, additionally as unemployment is reduced the available pool of revenue generation widens allowing for the possibility of further cuts and credits. Done correctly, it becomes a positive feedback loop.
It's clear that at least some taxes will have to be raised outright, but I suggest again that the lessons of the Clinton era of surpluses should continue to be applied. During that time it was shown that marginally increasing taxes on the highest wage-earners was not an impedement to economic growth. Some would argue that this suggestion is simply the age old class warfare tactic of "soak the rich". I disagree. Those who have best ability to help the nation back on the right track, who have benefited in the largest amount from the America's freedom, vast resources, and the toil of some of the hardest workers in the world owe it to themselves to protect the roots of their endeavors, and owe it the nation to ensure that others will be able to continue to reap such benefits in the future by being the first in line to begin the heavy lifting. We're in a fight for the survival of our way of life, we need are starters up front and in the game, not riding the end of the bench on the sidelines.
Support the Troops: Buy Bonds! We have to face the reality that we are in the midst of a war without end. During World War II, the War effort impacted every single element of American Life. War Bonds were used to help pay for the War expense in lieu of raising taxes. Just as creating targeted credits can be used to focus our efforts, issuing goal specific bonds where the public can directly invest in those government efforts that they wish to support, be it the Space Program or better helmets and armour for our Troops around the world, protecting us by being in harms way.
There will also need to be some cuts and trims to existing programs, and naturally these will be difficult. Government can be incredibly inefficient at times, but then so can private industry. Where appropriate, government should be competitively challenged to produce high quality service to the needs of the public at a market rate, or better. If it can not meet or exceed the quality standards and cost of independent contractors - then the function and responsibilities should be transfered to those firms - with appropriate and vigorous oversight. But outsourcing and privatizing should be options, it should not be used as a one-stop fix it, a be-all end-all solution to all problems. There are cost and savings benefits as well as existing infrastructure requirements that are available to government agencies that no single private agency has the sheer size to match. In short, all reasonable solutions should be on the table, with the overriding goal of ensuring that the public is served and that their investment in government is protected and returned for the best value possible.
It's only through innovative solutions that we can break the gridlock of pork-barrell spending and completely irresponsible deficit busting tax cuts we currently find has a death-grip on our economy in order to save ourselves and our children from an America with a very dim and limited future.