When it comes down to it, it’s with surprisingly little debate or complaint that the general populace submit to the payment of taxes.
There is a seemingly never-ending stream of tax protestors that try to circumvent the tax code by all matter of arguments, and their failed efforts and explanations are regularly outlined in indictments and press releases from the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service.
But what is rarer -- or even nonexistent -- is the lack of complaint from my generation about the cost of paying for the Social Security and Medicare benefits, benefits that none of us are ever likely to receive. Both those programs, along with Medicaid, are pay-as-you-go programs, meaning that present taxes are supposed to pay for present benefits.
According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2005, more than 85 percent of Social Security payroll taxes went to pay current retiree benefits. And just as important to note, Medicare and Medicaid costs represent about 75 percent of the projected spending increase for retirees over the next 20 years.
The simple fact is that some taxes are going to have to be raised and some spending is going to have to be cut. Common sense says that a combination of increasing eligibility ages (to 70) and curbing payments to wealthier retirees is the largest part of the solution. But Washington, after all of President Bush’s social security talk in early 2005, is no longer admitting that any problem at all exists.
The main arguments against taking any action seem to fall into two categories. One is the reasoning that there’s some sort of complicit agreement that the baby boomer generation paid to support the retiring generation of today, and accordingly, the workers of the future should pay to support them. But that’s a debt that’s every bit or worrisome and burdensome as the nation’s supposed out-of-control love affair with credit cards. And it’s a debt that I read very few self-help articles on how to combat.
The other line of (erroneous) thinking is that the trust funds for the programs have been tapped by Congress and the White House for other spending needs, when the reality is that the problem is much, much largely than that. Besides, what is needed are solutions to the problem -- and arguments that are based more in economics than philosophies.
Tax Freedom Day fell on April 30 this year -- Monday -- two days later than 2006, according to the Tax Foundation's annual calculation using federal data on income and taxes. The day marks the calendar date by which Americans have worked enough days to pay off the federal and state taxes they will pay. The foundation calculates the date by dividing the total tax collections by the nation's income and then converting that percentage into days worked. This year, the percentage fell at 32.7 percent -- meaning that counting from January 1, it would take until April 30 before a worker begins to "take home" their earnings.
In 2007, Americans will work 79 days to afford their federal taxes and 41 more days to afford state and local taxes.
Tax Freedom Day is a good way to communicate and understand the price of a civilized society, as Oliver Wendell Holmes might have put it. What’s troubling is the endless reports put out by pundits (who speak in generalities) and think tanks (who speak in technicalities). What’s needed in the presidential race for 2008 is a sense of urgency again in talking about the problems of entitlement benefits, minus any attempts at fear-mongering, and with some common sense solutions laid out in a language everyone can understand.
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