Federal Taxes, Spending and Justice

The national debate about the federal budget is about expectations and  priorities.  Americans expect a lot from their government (more than they have been willing to pay for) and politicians have incurred on our behalf huge amounts of debt to meet these
expectations.   Some say that the problem is excessive spending and others say it is inadequate revenue, especially taxes.  If politics is the art of compromise, hopefully the matter will be solved by a combination of spending cuts and increased taxes.  The idea of increasing taxes has been considered political suicide by many in Congress and the White House the last twenty years, but our leaders have to demonstrate courage and integrity by explaining to people that what they expect can no longer be paid for by borrowing.

In Washington and in our nation at large a philosophical debate is taking place about social vision and the role of government.  One side at its extreme believes the role of the federal government should be to provide national security, and for everything else the free market system works best.  The other side believes government’s job is to moderate the greed of capitalism, to provide a social safety net and to protect people economically as well as militarily.  My preference is a social vision with a government that stands for the needs of the people, not the wants of the powerful and rich.  It seems to me the latter folks have had their way with our government long enough.

On the side of spending cuts, costs must be reduced in Medicare and Medicaid.  Government provided health care in Canada and Britain does not provide care at any expense.  We cannot write a blank check to nursing homes, hospitals, specialists, drug and insurance companies.  Negotiating such cost reductions will of course be a nightmare, but better that the government does it on behalf of the citizens, rather than leaving everyone to their own devices in the jungle of private health insurance.  Also the emphasis of our health care system should be as much on prevention as treatment.  My primary care physician is enthusiastic about 12 hours of walking a week as a means of improving people’s health.  If everyone followed this simple strategy (substituting exercise for television watching) we might solve our health-care crisis.

Another area of waste is the Defense budget, which contains much government largesse to military-industrial contractors.  For years we have spent too much on weapons systems that are no longer needed and too much on unnecessary wars (which, until recently, were never included in the budget, but just added to the national debt). Our foreign policy has been too dependent on war as a means of America’s leadership and as a showcase for American arms dealers.   Terrorism should be dealt with by police and intelligence operatives, not by putting armies into battle.  The cost to the young men and women in our armed services and to the taxpayer is too much.

There is indeed plenty of room for spending efficiencies and budget cuts, but not at the expense of weaker members of society, the children, the poor, disabled and elderly.  For all those who say America is founded on Judeo-Christian principles, consider these words from the Bible:

Luke 4:16-21. And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and as was his custom, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read… “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD… Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Ps. 140:12. I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor.

Is. 25:4.  For you have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress.

(For many more scripture quotes on the topic of the Bible and the poor you might check out the following website:  http://www.zompist.com/meetthepoor.html)

Because the budget deficit is so large, the Congress and President in the end must face the shortage of income.  Part of the federal deficit has been caused by the Bush era tax cuts, which have been extended for two years.  The proportion of tax revenues to GDP is at a 60 year low.  Tax rates on higher incomes are at low levels historically: 35% on income above $373,000 a year (married filing jointly) in 2010.  Yet from 1932 to 1980 the top tax rates on income above $250,000 ranged from 59% to 94%.  In 1980 the rate was 70%.  Under Bill Clinton who managed to balance the federal budget the top tax rate was 45%. (Source: Wikipedia article on Federal Income Taxes).   The argument that increasing taxes on the wealthy retards economic growth does not hold water, since the periods of highest taxes were also the periods of highest growth in the Gross Domestic Product.  Also doubtful is the argument that increasing taxes on those making more than $250,000 will hurt small business and job growth.  Only 2% of small businesses reported business income in 2009 of more than $200,000 a year (http://www.factcheck.org).    Additionally, much of the growth of wealth comes from investment income, which is subject to lower rates of taxation.  George Bush reduced the rate on capital gains tax to 15%.

The tax code itself is riddled with “pork” doled out to gain favor with influential voters.  That is another huge challenge, which would take great political courage (or another financial collapse) before it would be attempted.   But the interests of fairness require the tax code be simplified.  I can only hope and pray that fiscal sanity will be restored to our federal government.  I believe that people in general will listen to a message of belt-tightening if measures are seen to be just, so that everyone is contributing to the good of America.  “Those to whom much is given will have to give much in return” (Luke 12:48).

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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2 Responses to Federal Taxes, Spending and Justice

  1. Janet Davies says:

    I enjoyed reading your views, John. I would like to specifically add that we need to address the issue that the Department of Defense is not audited as are other governmental departments. Of course, there are covert operations which must be hidden, but from what I have been reading, there is such a disarray that a proper audit is impossible. That to me is very scary! I think Eisenhower was right when he warned us of the military/industrial complex.
    Janet D.

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