My skepticism regarding the believability of government promises rises commensurate with the number of applications I receive for membership in AARP.Translation: I’m not quite as gullible as in my younger days. My skepticism is not without foundation, however. It applies even at the local level of government, let alone Washington.
Ten years ago, our town promised to repave my street, where the potholes were expanding to the size of crop circles. At one time there were 16 holes, and I was tempted to create two more and begin charging admission to miniature golf. Anyone care to guess how many holes there are now?
Which is why I cringe a bit when Republican presidential candidate John McCain answers with a succinct “no” when asked if he would raise taxes should he win the White House. Really?
Last month he sort of shocked the Sunday morning cadre of talking heads, as well as conservatives and anti-tax groups, when he declared that he didn’t want tax increases, but that doesn’t mean that anything is “off the table,” when asked about the possibility of raising payroll taxes for Social Security.
The Arizona senator’s opposition to raising taxes has often served as his campaign mantra on the road to the November election. Since his payroll tax statement, McCain’s aides have been backpedaling faster than a veterinarian in Jurassic Park. One spokesman assured taxpayers that the senator “has a clear and demonstrated record of opposing tax increases.”
Both McCain and Obama have agreed that the funding formula for Social Security needs to be revamped for the program to remain viable in the future. Obama has called for imposing a new payroll tax on incomes above $250,000. McCain, on the other hand, has offered no specific proposal for Social Security, other than to say that if elected, he would try to work out details with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
McCain’s spokesman later went one better and said, “There is no imaginable circumstance where he could raise taxes.”
Didn’t we see this movie 20 years ago, when George H.W. Bush uttered his oft-repeated “Read my lips” about not raising taxes? But staring at a massive budget deficit, he sort of, well, went back on his promise, and is still reviled in some circles for it.
It’s not as if there aren’t alternatives to increase revenue. We could start with a recent Government Accountability Office report that found that over 1.6 million businesses owed more than $58 billion in unpaid federal payroll taxes, including interest and penalties, as of last September. The auditor general also suggested developing procedures for filing tax liens on a more timely basis and assessing penalties to hold parties personally liable for not remitting the payroll taxes they withhold.
There’s little doubt that tax platforms will remain one of the chief debating points as we head into November. How much it will cost us remains up for debate — if you’ll pardon the pun.
I’ll be busy awaiting the repaving truck.
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