Stop picking winners and losers in the debt debate

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A handful of oil industry executives stood before Congress last week to defend $20 billion in tax breaks their companies will receive over the next 10 years.

Several of the largest and wealthiest corporations in the world argued that it would be unfair to single out their industry to help balance the federal budget.

And you know, they are right. It would be unfair to punish any single industry, and it would also be ineffective.

Even if the five biggest companies lost their $20 billion tax break, it would only solve 1/200th of our 10-year debt problem.

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Which leads us to the barber-shop solution to our red-ink crisis: You don’t get a haircut, you get them all cut.

Meaning, of course, that the sacrifice should be spread as evenly as possible or we will be deadlocked on picking winners and losers forever.

The sound you will hear from Washington over the next couple of months will instead be of politicians trying to “win” the deficit war.

This will soon reach a fever pitch as the U.S. Treasury scrambles to meet our obligations without raising the national debt.

We are assured of seeing a frightening game of chicken as political parties try to make themselves look good before the 2012 elections.

Republicans will protest long and hard against anyone ever paying higher taxes ever again, even as the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that individual Americans are paying the lowest share of their income for taxes since 1958 — 23.6 percent in the first quarter.

We paid 27 percent of income for all federal, state and local taxes for three fairly prosperous decades between 1970 and 2000.

Yet we keep on cutting taxes even as we drown in red ink, most recently last fall when Congress gave working Americans a 1 percent Social Security tax cut, which added a cool $100 billion to this year’s deficit.

However, even if we raised taxes to 27 percent again, that would pay for only one-third of this year’s $1.5 trillion deficit.

Democrats, meanwhile, will keep complaining that we cannot possibly reduce billions in government entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, despite evidence that today’s senior citizens are far better off than they have been at any time in our nation’s history.

Which leads us back to the haircut.

Let’s reject the idea that there will be winners and losers in this debate. We have a national crisis, and we need a national solution.

We’re not sure of the number, but let’s call it the 1 percent solution.

How far would a 1 percent cut in all government programs, coupled with a 1 percent reduction in tax breaks, go toward solving this problem?

Military. Oil companies. Schools. Social Security. Medicaid and Medicare. Hedge-fund managers. Veterans. NASA. Agriculture. Everything, across the board.

Everybody pays a little more and everyone gets a little less. We all put a shoulder to the wheel; we all lose a bit of what we have or what we receive from government.

We are a country living beyond our means, a country unfortunately addicted to undertaxing and overspending.

It’s time we all admitted that to ourselves — and did something about it.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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