The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 6, 2012

Anson Burlingame, guest columnist: Neither side showing much spine

By Anson Burlingame
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — As a self-proclaimed independent conservative, I agree with Robert Reich’s column (Globe, Aug. 3). Neither side in the presidential campaign has articulated bold and dramatic fiscal policies that might make a real difference in correcting America’s economic turmoil.

A year ago, the country came close to tearing itself apart, fiscally. A short-term compromise was achieved through legislation and signed into law by our president to avoid such self-destruction. And now look at us, collectively. Everyone seems to think we are four months away from a fiscal cliff, and we are totally stalemated for now on how to avoid such a calamity.

What exactly is the point of political contention right now? Whether or not to increase taxes on only the “rich” is the stalemate in Congress right now. Well folks, whether we increase taxes on only the “rich” or not, come Jan. 1, 2013, such action is a drop in our fiscal bucket and will do little or nothing to improve economic growth or reduce unemployment, in my view.

The federal government spends far too much money and/or collects too little in taxes, year in and year out and has done so for decades, by and large. How do I know that? Look at our continuing spiral in deficit spending and the accumulation of about $12 trillion in federal debt over the past 10 years of governance. There is OUR problem, right smack in our faces and it is very similar to the same problem in Western democracies in Europe today, although I believe they are currently ahead us in the magnitude of their fiscal problems.

There are two sources of that overall problem. First is that the federal government has grown far too large and assumed responsibilities, over decades, that it simply cannot fulfill, fiscally. We must learn to live with smaller government. Such sentiments are at the very heart of the tea party and such a statement will draw automatic rejection from the left in American politics.

Here is one that will draw rejection from the right. The federal government refused to take the action to collect sufficient revenues to meet demands from the American people. And the heart of that dysfunction is the eternal argument over tax rates and tax codes. Simply said, our tax codes are a mess and need to be radically changed to enable the federal government to collect the necessary revenues, transparently, for all Americans to adequately fund the federal government.

Neither political party is willing to recommend, clearly, a needed major overhaul of the tax codes. Neither political party is ready to state, unequivocally, exactly what level of funding is required each year to adequately fund the federal government as well. Well, if we cannot agree on how much money is needed then how can we ever agree on how much money to collect in revenues?

Here is a fundamental question for you, President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Sen. Claire McCaskill and whoever your GOP opponent might be in the general election. What is the bottom line number required in federal revenues for, say, fiscal year 2013 as an example? Is it $2.5 trillion, $3 trillion, $3.5 trillion or what, exactly? Who knows, as we have not passed a budget bill for three-plus years it seems!!

Establish a bipartisan agreement on that one number and rearranging the tax codes to collect that amount becomes very simple. If you want to fund the federal government via an income tax, then add up all the income paid to every American and tax it progressively to collect the needed amount, period. Stop this crazy attempt to achieve social engineering through tax collections. Tax collections should be geared to fund the federal government. Social engineering should be achieved through government spending along with defense needs and other responsibilities of our federal government.

Most household budgets are created by normal Americans by adding up income then adjusting spending to meet the income. Well, I am suggesting that our federal government should reverse that approach. Let all have their say in how much we need in revenues, then vote democratically to establish that hard, cold number. Then go get the money through taxation to achieve what we decide to achieve, democratically.

Our current House representative has rather famously said of late that he, Billy Long, is “sick of President Obama.” Well Billy, and Claire and everyone else running for office, I am sick of all of you for your failure to move our country forward, courageously and correctly, to do what is needed to resolve or at least mitigate our huge problems today. And guess what. I will know when you “get it right” when growth in gross domestic product returns to 5 percent or greater and unemployment is down to about 4 percent or less.

Until you do that through effective governance, all the rest is political blather in my view.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.