20 September 2011

Americans and Taxes

So Obama finally released his jobs plan. Here are the basics. Lots of tax cuts, mostly for small businesses, and a good amount of spending on things like schools and infrastructure. Sure to be gripe-inducing on both sides, but ultimately it looks like a winner. That said, all that matters in this bill is the part at the end indicating it will be fully paid for by whatever fiscal plan results from the debt reduction super committee's meetings and hearings, which Obama says must include revenue increases, which Republicans say they will oppose at any cost. And the American Jobs Act becomes yet another footnote to an issue as old as America itself: taxation.

I know you don't want a history lesson, so suffice it to say our founding fathers were against the idea of taxation without representation. Not taxation of any kind. Sure, some had views from the fringes of the spectrum. Some of whom would probably fit in today. (I'm picturing Joe "You Lie!" Wilson in a powdered wig.) And most saw taxes as strictly a state, not federal, issue. But, as a whole, the framers viewed the ability of a country to determine and carry out its own system of taxation as a noble and necessary component of independence. 

Times have certainly changed. Our founding fathers would probably have a hard time recognizing things like the federal income tax or the power of the Federal Reserve. They also probably wouldn't be familiar with the concept of off-shore accounts or the clout held by modern corporations. But this is the world in which we live and with which we must deal. America's tax policy should reflect these modern realities in order to provide the most effective, efficient, and equitable system of taxation for our citizens and corporations. We need to look forward, not back, in order to make America economically stronger.

As much as I disagree with the Tea Party's message of revisionist history, I also find myself at odds with Obama's partisan tactic of frequently singling out millionaires and private-jet owners. He is above this. While he should try to fire up the base and appear tough, he should also avoid appearing divisive. This approach will offend and alienate those whose contributions our nation's coffers sorely need. However, he is right- the tax code needs to be reformed in part so that more of the wealthiest citizens and corporations in this country truly pay their fair share. Those with the ability to help have the responsibility to help. There is nothing un-American about that. And if certain citizens or corporations try to resist paying their fair share, they should be called out for it. But it should be from a position of civic duty and not as a dictate from the masses.

The tax code is one part of this economic mess that both parties may have some level of agreement on. It is far too complex, indefensibly bogged down with redundancies and unnecessary loopholes. Members of both parties recognize this important fact and it seems like a rare opportunity for compromise, and on the economy no less. This is what Obama should be focusing on. His bill is a step in the right direction, but he needs to actually sink his teeth into something long-term and systemic in order to take down our long term debt and revenue problems.

If Obama truly wants to reach the pantheon of great presidents, he will find a way to bridge the gap between the super-rich and influential and the rest of the country instead of widening it. The help of every American is needed right now. A significant and symbolic way for the president to get this message across is to push for lasting reform of the tax code.

Read my lips: No new (posts about) taxes.