More Politics

Another political question, so don’t click past the cut if you don’t care.

So there are a lot of questions marks about how the federal government will spend our tax dollars. I’ve seen a lot of people talking or complaining or worrying about their personal pet cat and whether or not it retains its full level of funding.

Most of you know that I’m a fiscal conservative. So, what I’m going to suggest we do here is have whoever wants to respond tell us one thing that the federal government should spend money on and at what level. To make this easier, please limit each response to one pet cat so that it will generate its own thread, and rather than placing a specific level of funding, just simply say either: significantly increase, significantly decrease, or stay about the same.

The point of all of this is to think where we can, in fact, cut federal spending. There is no doubt that we have to. We cannot, we simply cannot, continue to raise taxes. Any economist will tell you that there’s a point where the tax rate is so high that overall revenues will fall. This is not a huge number, actually, and this is part of the problem that California faces as it slides into, effectively, bankruptcy. If we cannot increase revenues, then we have to decrease spending because we cannot continue our blithe deficit spending. Right now, I believe we pay something like $160billion per year simply on interest. That, even at the federal level, is serious money. So, something has to be done.

I’m going to give you two pet cats to start the discussion off with.

Pet Cat 1: The Military
Funding: At least the same, preferably a significant increase
Why: The first, and most important thing to know about humanity is that peace is the exception, not the norm. If you have ever heard someone suggest that if only we could return to those peaceful days when humans lived in harmony before countries and money and civilization and technology, you should immediately dismiss that idea as having any validity. Humans, at whatever civilization, are a competitive and warlike species. Debate whether that is a good thing or not at your leisure, but never let a desire for peace blind oneself to that reality.

Peace requires two to tango, actually it requires all to tango. If only one possible party wishes to not have peace, then there is no peace. If a country, or an organization, or a person wishes to declare war on the United States, then it, he, or she can and can do great harm. The only way to end a war is to convince the foe to stop fighting. The best, the absolute best, way to convince a foe to stop fighting is to convince him that starting the fight in the first place is a bad idea. This does not mean he *will* not declare war on you, however, so you must retain your strength. And if someone does start a fight, it is best to have the power to end it quickly.

I’ve seen people throw out the idea that America has brought all of this upon itself, and that many people only want to attack America because of our faults. That if we were to stop meddling, they would leave us alone. Hogwash. I am not at all going to try to justify all of America’s activities, but that idea is still hogwash. The reason why is that the United States is a rich and powerful nation. If you are rich, people envy you. On the national level, one only has to look at the recent discussion on tax rates for the wealthy to see Americans envious of those more well off. On the international stage, read some UN resolutions. As long as we are a rich nation, people will want to attack or threaten us to get what we have.

And we cannot assume that we can use that wealth in any other way to eliminate or truly lessen that threat. Kipling was absolutely correct, if you pay Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane. The only way that England was able to withstand the Scandinavian incursions in the 900s was to dramatically increase its military expenditures. It’s just as true 1100 years later and if we reduce our expenditures much farther, we will no longer be able to properly defend against the Danes.

I’ve seen the suggestion that we are overextended, that we should not have carriers in every ocean, that we should withdraw back to North America. This is unwise for two reasons. One, the idea that America can isolate itself behind the two oceans has never really been true, and we proved that in 1917 and 1941. The increase in communication and transportation technology means that is more, not less, true than at those points.

If isolation is not possible, and it is not, then we have to consider where to involve ourselves. For a variety of reasons, strategic, moral, and economic, we should answer this question: “As broadly as possible.” Strategically speaking, it behooves us to fight any battles on enemies’ turf, morally speaking it behooves us to have a force capable of defending the rights of people and assisting in emergencies everywhere, and economically speaking it behooves us to defend and be ready to defend our investments around the world, especially since the United States economy was global in nature starting, oh, around 1783.

For us to have a strong military, and for the reasons I have stated and others I believe we should, we need to have this funded by the federal government. Indeed, the Constitution specifically says that the federal government is responsible for our military. No single state can support the expense of developing top-flight weapons and one of our great advantages is the cohesion and training of individual units within the military, cohesion and training that would be harmed were the primary military forces be raised at the state level.

In summary, the military is needed, despite our best wishes, and it is needed at a global level. The only way this can be done is through the federal government. I would love to see vast changes in the way that the military spends its money, but that is a different argument.

*****

Pet Cat 2: The IRS
Funding: Significantly less
Why: This actually is a two-part discussion and starts with the tax code. I have for some time felt that the best taxation method is a graduated flat tax. I get that flat taxes tend to be regressive, and I get that exceptions can be a good thing, but our tax code is way too complicated. You have to have serious training simply to understand portions of it, and the IRS is huge in part because of the need to audit so many people. If one is untrained in the tax code, one simply cannot understand all of its ins and outs, no matter how smart or educated you are. I dislike taxes in general, but can accept that they are necessary to pay. TANSTAAFL and all that. However, I think that it is the responsibility of the government that if it is going to require us to pay them, that it should provide a readily understandable method to do so.

Overall I think our government has gotten too bloated, too unwieldy, too bureaucratic. We spend billions to prevent any abuse of the system when, often times, such abuses amount in the millions. One of the best ways to cut federal expenditures is to make various portions of the bureaucracy more efficient. If everyone could actually understand their taxes, and could easily pay the proper amount, the IRS would only need to focus on those people who are actually trying to evade paying their proper share, not the average American who makes a mistake.

*****

So there you go. What are your pet cats? Why should the federal government pay for them? How much? Remember, we cannot continue to pay for everything at the level that we currently do. What are we going to cut and keep?

18 thoughts on “More Politics”

  1. Health Care: Significant increase

    A society is judged by how it treats its weaker members. The cost of basic medical care is ugly enough, but catastrophic medical care is crippling to middle class families. These are the same middle class families that PAY taxes, Spend money on Things that build the economy, and try to save money for retirement.

    When something happens, cancer, accident, whatever, they can no longer do any of that. They are then going bankrupt and making the economic situation worse for other people too.

    1. Actually I can think of a very inexpensive long term solution to this problem. This solution is quite contrary to my typical thinking about how government should work, but it’s a clear resolution to the Health Care Costs issue:

      Pass Federal Legislation that denies the ability of Private Health Insurance Companies to be operated as For-Profit Businesses. Secondarily, require those same businesses to adhere legally to the Hippocratic Oath.

    2. My question is why should this be the responsibility of the federal government?

      I can think of four things that would eliminate most of the problem without involving the federal government near as much.

      One, reduce taxes at the federal level by, say, 5% (pick a number). Have most (say 4% of salary) of that amount withheld by the state governments from paychecks as a medical spending fund as is often done with many companies as a benefit already. You get to spend that money as you see fit for any medical expenses for you or a family member, be it co-pays, prescriptions, preventative care, whatever. If the total amount gets to $50,000, the state stops withholding any money from your paycheck. Also, a person is allowed to go in the red, though if they do the withholding is increased to 10% of their salary. In other words, they can always spend money on health care, even if they don’t have it at that time, but they do have to catch up.

      Two, have the state governments retain the extra amount as a fund to assist anyone with a SSN who has catastrophic health issues that total more than $50,000.

      Three, introduce tort reform specifically relating to malpractice law. Currently, insurance companies charge us more because they have to cover malpractice risks, and charge doctors more because they have to cover higher risks per procedure, and then charge us more because…, well, you see the circle. As long as insurance companies are allowed to play with both the costs of procedures and the costs of risks, medical prices will spiral upwards.

      Four, and shockingly I kind of agree with Vels here, change how we view insurance completely. In today’s society, insurance is just as required as electricity, gas, and other utilities. It is not an option. Hence, insurance companies should be run similarly to the hybrid public/private utility companies.

      All of these things are done at the state level. You might say that this simply changes the perspective, and that’s true, but it does several things. One, tort reform will lower costs. Two, treating insurance companies as utilities will also lower costs. Three, everyone is covered. Four, if the system needs to be tweaked, then it can be much more easily at the state level than at the federal.

      1. I disagree with a lot of this. States can’t handle this, because they don’t want to. No level of the government gives a damn about the basic people these days. I see no reason why giving it to the state makes any damn difference then giving it to the federal government. Explain to me how states are any less corrupt or inefficient? (remembering that I live in kansas, where I know damn good and well my “elected” officials give a damn only for the businesses and their profits, because why else would they still give tax incentives to businesses that are actively laying people off?)

        And tort reform, that prevents significant lawsuit? Why do we need to give doctors a saftey blanket for gross negligence? If I am in a car accident, because I am drunk, I go to jail an my life is ruined. If a Doctor kills my son because he has been drinking on the job, the hospitals protect him. Odds are good he won’t even lose his liscence and they don’t go to jail. The hospitals need to be MORE accountable rather then less. Mabey then they would bother to actually staff properly instead of looking to profit instead. (Were you aware that Wesley Medical center here in town is a for profit institution?)

        And won’t treating insurance companies as utilities Increase monopolies rather then decrease them? Right now, our one electric company gets away with raising money regularily by increasing our costs, using the excuse that people are concerving energy so they need to raise rates. The water bills went up for the same reason. So because we are using less water and energy, being fiscally smart, the State (the agency you want to put in charge of all this) allowed them to raise rates so we don’t save any money.

  2. I can’t give a specific opinion as I do not have a cat in this dog fight. I just sleep with an American airman. I don’t live in the country (but I can see it from my village).

    IF I was an American I would recommend following the advice of one of the two recent commissions that looked into this very complicated problem.

    One thought is to look at the size of the problem, look where the money is spent and start to reduce somewhat proportionally. IMHO every American citizen should take one day’s time of entertainment (what is that 2 to 4 hours per day) and study this chart.

    http://www.wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/

    Oh and don’t forget your state and local situation too.

    Good luck cousins. You have important heavy lifting to do.

    1. You have a dog in the hunt too, of course. Without a strong American military, you’ll have to invest more of your money into your armed forces, and without a strong economy down south, your economy will suffer.

      1. I’m painfully aware that when America sneezes we catch a cold (though that changed a lot in the most recent recession). The point I’m making, and I think it applies across the board, is that the citizens of USA need to answer your question and make the hard decisions to trim the budget.

        When others tell somewhat how to solve a difficult problems it usually harms a relationship rather than building the relationship.

  3. I’m kind of amused that there is nothing behind your cut and the entirety of the discussion is upfront. Are you suggesting that everyone should be interested?

  4. Pet Cat: Community Services Block Grant

    You have probably never heard of this particular pet cat, but CSBG funds local community action agencies. These agencies administer the energy assistance that helps people in poverty pay their energy bills (especially families with elderly or young children). They also do life skills training, food assistance, Head Start, Family Literacy, Tax assistance, and more.

    Poverty is not a sexy issue, but alleviating the effects of poverty is what community action does. So what, you say? Well, considering that impoverished areas have lower graduation rates, higher crime, are a larger burden on the health care system because of poor nutrition (ever try to grocery shop in an impoverished neighborhood?) and substandard housing…it becomes a benefit to the entire community to reduce poverty.

    Head Start helps kids come to school ready to learn. Community Services Block Grant allows community action to do a needs assessment in the community and develop local programs specifically designed to fit in that community. If your community’s problem is a high school dropout rate, Community Action Agencies have the flexibility to work with the school system to develop program that help encourage kids to stay in school.

    So, when President Obama identified Community Action as an area he’d be willing to cut, I was pretty upset. My job isn’t paid for through CSBG…but what is means is that he’s willing to balance the budget on the backs of our poorest citizens.

    In order to qualify for a CSBG project you have to earn less than 125% of the federal poverty guideline. That’s $22,050 for a family of 4.

    1. The cut off must be higher then that. They put my daughter in Head Start, when we were making around 30k a year back five years or so ago. That or they have more guidelines then just income mabey?

      1. Head start is not technically a CSBG program so the guidelines may be different. It is simply another one of the programs typically (but not always) run by Community Action Agencies. They are related however, in that many families who are at the federal poverty guideline are referred to family assistance from Head Start so it’s an important gateway program for us to work with entire families on self sufficiency.

  5. Your premise is flawed, and there are counter-examples.

    The US pays less per capita in taxation than most nations, for individuals and for corporations.

    Sorry: I don’t buy the premise: it can be discussed and debated, but it can’t be taken as doctrine.

    1. I’m not sure what you mean by “premise.” Are you saying that you feel that we can dramatically increase taxation and that we have significantly more money available to the federal government? Or are you saying that there are no real limits to federal spending capability in general?

      I’m going to assume the first, and follow up on taxation. You say that we have a fairly low per capita level of taxation, and that is true. However, my response is to ask what happens when taxes are raised? How are other, more highly taxed, economies doing? Are they increasing or decreasing? There is no doubt that we are currently in the worst economic situation since the 1970s. Taxes, as a whole, are a drain on an economy, how would increasing that drain improve our economy?

      1. Pretty much all Western nations have higher taxes than we do. Some are doing OK, some are not.

        It’s not the taxes.

        How could it help? Currently the US Government is subsidizing corporations at insane rates, and performing mixed capitalism/socialism: capitalism on the way up, socialism when they fail.

        Government also has the power to move money from some sectors to others. That’s not always bad: sometimes it is pretty good.

        These are excellent debates to have, and there is a lot to discuss. If you start with the premise that taxes can’t be raised without disaster, and that doing so is always and without fail a bad thing: you are asserting as absolute something which is far less so.

  6. My pet cat is somewhat related to your cat #2, and it’s a cross-border cat, too. It’s my perception that it’s not so much that people hate higher taxes. What they hate is paying higher taxes for government waste and inefficiency. The IRS examples you cite are perfect examples of this. I think much of the skepticism over health care reform is that we’ve seen the government screw up too many programs that SHOULD be great. (I won’t get into the health care debate here, but I think that’s where the crux of the true opposition (as opposed to the “He’s not from my party so he’s eeeevil” opposition) lies.)

    Somewhere along the way, “civil servant” lost the “servant” part of its meaning and turned too often into “cushy government job for life interpreting arcane and differing regulations.” And the people who should be paid the most, for the good they do society, are often paid the least.

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