The Republican Congress, with great flourish, has enacted what President Trump terms his “massive tax cut.” There has been plenty printed about it and all its hidden benefits for the wealthy. This column is not to rehash all that, but it is provoked by the underlying assumption that reducing taxes is a good thing.
I asked my 16-year-old son Aaron about the tax bill and he replied that he didn’t quite get it. Then he said, “Taxes are a good thing. That’s how we pay for all we have.”
Well, that’s how it used to be, anyway. America has become a great nation because it always kept its eyes on the future, willingly sacrificing now to benefit future generations. Here’s a few examples. America was founded by men willing to give their wealth and lives for freedom. In the 19th Century, Congress established the Donation Land Claims Act and similar legislation, providing free land for those willing to work it and build the nation’s wealth.
Congress also created and funded the Land Grant Colleges, funding an education to benefit the nation’s future, and after World War II the G.I. Bill, providing educational opportunities for those who had sacrificed to protect our nation and the world from the threat of fascism. And a national highway bill provided jobs and transportation improvements that stimulated economic growth.
It was taxes, incidentally, that paid for those G.I. benefits and all the rest, and that investment was repaid many times over by the enriched lives and prosperity of the beneficiaries. In many ways, it was these investments that made America the wealthy nation it is today.
These and countless other examples tell of a more-or-less constant American ethic: sacrifice today for the benefit of future generations.
But, I’m sad to write, it’s no longer that way. No, today in America a “me first” vision prevails and the Republican Party, now dominating Congress and the presidency, and its “massive tax cut” vision, is its latest manifestation.
Social analysts are debating how this shift came about, but the clear result has been that taxes — what we pay for all the good things that we have — was an early victim of the shift. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president primarily on his personality, not his policies. But one policy he did push was cutting taxes. And that started us down a federal path of cutting income, not cutting spending, and running up deficits.
Since the 1980s, tax has become a major political wedge issue, with Republicans pushing a vision of “keep your money” and Democrats advocating increased government services and increased income to pay for them. And, not coincidentally, the federal debt has increased greatly and continues to increase.
And we shouldn’t focus only on the federal budget. Washington citizens had to sue to force the state legislature to adequately fund basic education, and the legislature still has not met the mandate. Why? Well, with the “no new taxes” ethic dominating the political front, one can hardly be surprised.
What has happened, and continues with this Republican tax cut enactment, can be neatly summed in an expression I recently picked up somewhere: grandparents stealing from their grandchildren.
The new tax bill is filled with “I want it now” provisions. It eliminates the mandate that everyone have health insurance, allowing people to not pay insurance upfront but then fall back on the public system when they have health issues. It allows oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Why? Because the Alaska congressional delegation was in a “we want ours now” mood.
No longer are Americans willing to pay today for what we want today. Rather, our government borrows huge sums, trusting that our children and their children will be willing and able to pay off those debts. This is irresponsible of our nation’s political leadership and, more important, it’s just not right!
What I want, with little real hope for success, I suppose, is a rekindling of that lost American ethic of community planning and spending with an eye to the future — paying and investing now to benefit our grandchildren, not burden them.
George Walter is the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s environmental program manager, and is a member of The Olympian’s 2017 Board of Contributors. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.