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Give Tax and Spend a Chance

| April 15, 2016

infrastructure tax and spend plans

Infrastructure doesn’t fix itself. (gothamruins)

By Isaiah J. Poole

This time of year, a whole lot of Americans are feeling taxed enough already.

But the astonishing momentum of Bernie Sanders’s presidential candidacy reveals something else: Millions of taxpayers are willing to entertain the idea that some of us aren’t taxed enough, and that it’s hurting the rest of us.


Sanders has propelled his race against Hillary Clinton on a platform that would ramp up government investment — in infrastructure, education, health care, research, and social services — while boosting taxes on the wealthiest Americans and big business to cover the cost.

Clinton’s own vision is less ambitious, but it’s also a far cry from “the era of big government is over” days of her husband’s administration.

The old conservative epithet against “tax-and-spend liberals” hasn’t completely lost its sting, says Jacob Hacker, a political science professor at Yale University who pushed the idea of a public option for health insurance during the Affordable Care Act debate. But “we are moving toward the point where we can have an active discussion” about why “you need an activist government to secure prosperity.”

Hacker’s latest book, with Paul Pierson of the University of California at Berkeley, isAmerican Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.

Hacker and Pierson argue that it was “the strong thumb” of a largely progressive-oriented government, in tandem with “the nimble fingers of the market,” that created the broad prosperity of the post-World War II era. Conservative ideologues and corporate leaders then severed that partnership.

other-wordsAnti-government activism replaced the virtuous cycle of shared prosperity that existed into the 1970s with a new cycle that’s reached its apogee in today’s radical Republican-run Congress: Make government unworkable. Attack government as unworkable. Win over angry voters. Repeat.

But in today’s mad politics, growing numbers of voters seem to have gotten wise to the routine and how it’s been rigged against them. Some are gravitating toward Donald Trump, as Hacker puts it, out of “the need to put a strong man who you know is not with the program in Washington in charge.”

Sanders has the opposite vision. He’s looking to spark a people-powered reordering of what government can do, with the biggest wealth-holders paying the share of taxes that they did when America’s thriving middle class and thriving corporate sector were, together, the envy of the world.

That vision is embodied in the People’s Budget, a document produced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus as an alternative to the House Republican budget.

It’s based on the premise that America can break out of its slow-growth economic malaise through a $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan that would create more than 3 million jobs, increased spending on green energy research and development, and universal access to quality education from preschool through college.

“There are two messages that come out of the progressive budget,” Hacker said. One is that “we can actually increase investment if we don’t cut taxes further on the wealthy.” The other is that “if we got tougher with the modern robber barons in the health care and finance and energy industries, we could actually achieve substantial savings without cutting necessary spending.”

Unfortunately, the People’s Budget won’t get close to a majority vote in Congress — and that’s if it gets a vote at all in the dysfunctional Republican House.

Yet together with the debate provoked by the Sanders campaign, Hacker says, it shows that now “we have a little bit more of an opening for the kind of conversation we should’ve had 20 or 30 years ago, when we were trashing government and abandoning all of these long-term investments that are essential to our prosperity.”

Isaiah J. PooleIsaiah J. Poole is the editor of OurFuture.org, the website of the Campaign for America’s Future. Previously he worked for 25 years in media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington, covering presidential politics to pop culture. He is a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

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10 Responses for “Give Tax and Spend a Chance”

  1. Veteran says:

    Tax the rich and businesses more and people will get laid off and companies will move overseas. Great idea Bernie.

  2. Paul Pasternak says:

    It seems to me that taxes have been cut to the bone for the wealthy and businesses, and they responded by moving their factories overseas and laying off American workers. Save us, Bernie.

  3. Sherry says:

    Our companies have ALREADY laid off millions and moved their jobs “off shore” while stashing those massive profits in secret “off shore accounts” to completely avoid paying taxes to ANY country. Check out the “tip of the ice burg” called the Panama Papers! How’s that workin’ for ya? Thanks Republican Billionaires!!!

  4. Outsider says:

    Why is it that after seven years of trillion dollar deficits this was not done before? Part of the answer is that a lot of money was diverted to Obamacare, which is now floundering in red ink. It will not last much longer. Now that Obama got what he WANTED, the Democrats are only now getting around to what is NEEDED, declaring an emergency. And why is government spending referred to as “investments?” It’s just a ruse to fool the ignorant. I will say it again as maybe someone will understand it: the country is operating at huge deficits, financed at very low rates on very short term notes. When the notes come due in a few months, they are rolling them into new short term notes at very low rates, and financing more deficit spending at low rates. At some point, inflation will exceed the interest rates and in order to get entities to continue to purchase our debt the rates will have to rise above inflation. It is very similar to an individual getting a 0% introductory rate on a credit card, then charging it up to the maximum, and then transferring the balance to another credit card with a very low rate, while obtaining yet another one at the introductory rate. Well, what happens when that low rate expires, and maybe the no payment option goes away as well? You end up with a huge balance, a high interest rate, and a monthly payment you cannot afford. In 2014 the country paid $420 billion in interest on the national debt, at an average rate of 2.5%. Historically, 5% is not out of the question, so the interest on the what is now short term debt will have to go up, and before you know it we can be at a trillion dollars in debt servicing costs. The result will be massive tax increases, cuts in services, or a combination of both. Remember, this great economy we are supposedly experiencing is being financed on the backs of future generations; the credit card bill has yet to arrive in the mail.

  5. Layla says:

    Sherry, this scandal is not limited to the gop. This entire Congress needs to go.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Millions of taxpayers are willing to entertain the idea that some of us aren’t taxed enough, and that it’s hurting the rest of us.”

    The premise of this is IMO wrong. As most if not the VAST majority of Bernie supporters do NOT pay INCOME tax. They like most all other Ds socialists want others to PAY not themselves. They are the first to cry when a tax cut actually gos to those PAYING taxes. It is NOT that the federal government doesnt take enough in its that it SPENDS way way to much. And.

  7. scoff the cuff says:

    Article of opinion, not news.
    Anyway …
    The better thing yet proposed is the “Fair Tax” (yes, my opinion). Let’s do it. And in a few short years, we’ll find it good to own our own earnings, without beholding to politicians.

  8. Dave says:

    It is time for the law to tax the rich and leave us poor and middle class hard working tax paying citizens alone. What pisses me off is when you have worked hard for 30+ years and retire only to be taxed to death all while the rich folks are hiding their monies under some scam in the tax loop holes of the IRS. I wish I knew where and what these loop holes are.

  9. Dave says:

    And, the whole congress needs to go if they have served more than 12 years in office. As long as these life long congressmen and women are handing around America will die on the vine as these rich Congress do gooders get rich.

  10. Sherry says:

    Layla and Dave.. . I agree. . . we certainly need term limits for Congress. I’ve actually gone to Washington on several occasions and met with representatives from both parties. Some of them are senile/completely incompetent, yet they are voted in again and again. Twelve years total, in the House and Senate is quite enough!

    Also, massive political campaign finance reform is critically needed. . . for example, the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision must be over turned in order to help stop the legal bribery of our political leaders.

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