OK. Just for the hell of it, let’s go after the debt and the deficit the Republican way. No new taxes. All through cutbacks. And I’ll confine my quibbles to a few parenthetical asides.
To begin, then: We’re broke! We can’t afford any more taxes! (Well, America’s 400 wealthiest taxpayers certainly can. In 1955, according to the Campaign for America’s Future, the country’s 400 wealthiest taxpayers had an average income of $13.3 million, in 2008 dollars, and paid 51.2 percent of that in federal income taxes. In 2008, according to IRS calculations, they had an average income of $270.5 million and paid 18 percent of that in federal income taxes. And in 1955, by the way, we could afford to pave roads.)
Republicans’ concern over the growth of government is moral as well as fiscal. To quote the House Republican “road map” that accompanied the release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, “Americans were known and admired everywhere for their hopeful determination to assume responsibility for the quality of their own lives; to rely on their own work and initiative. … But over time, Americans have been lured into viewing government …as their main source of support; they have been drawn toward depending on the public sector for growing shares of their material and personal well-being. The trend drains individual initiative and personal responsibility.”
To remedy this, House Republicans passed a budget that chiefly increases the opportunities for initiative and responsibility available to seniors by reducing their dependence on Medicare and Medicaid (which devotes two-thirds of its funding to nursing-home care). By converting Medicare from a guarantee of payment for medical care to a voucher to purchase insurance, the Congressional Budget Office calculated, the share of medical bills that seniors would have to pay themselves would rise from 25 percent to 68 percent.
Republicans are right to aim big if they mean to reduce the deficit through cuts alone. By most measures, seniors are the major spongers on taxpayers, chiefly through their insistence on not working productively once they hit 65, 78, 92 or whatever. But for the sake of argument, suppose we don’t want to put that burden on our mothers, fathers, grandparents and ourselves. Where else can we identify a comparably large group of drainers of the public till?
Happily, the Tax Foundation — a conservative Washington-based think tank — has, however unintentionally, provided the answer. In 2007, the foundation published a survey of 2005 federal spending in each state and compared that with each state’s contribution in federal taxes. In other words, the foundation identified the states that sponge off the federal government and those that subsidize it. The welfare-queen states and the responsible, producing states, as it were.
The list, alas, hasn’t been updated — in part, no doubt, because conservatives didn’t like what it revealed: that those states that got more back from our government than they paid in were overwhelmingly Republican. The 10 biggest net recipients of taxpayers’ largess were, in order, New Mexico, Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, South Dakota, Kentucky and Virginia. The 10 states that paid in the most and got back the least were New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Illinois, Delaware, California, New York and Colorado.
Now, that list surely has changed since the middle of the last decade — Virginia has probably gotten richer and paid in more; Nevada has surely gotten poorer and paid in less. But today’s rankings are probably much the same, unless farming and manufacturing suddenly pay more than finance and high-tech. Even allowing for cyclical variations and political transformations, it’s patently clear that the states that drain the government also constitute the Republicans’ electoral base, while those that produce the wealth constitute the Democrats’. Far from strengthening our moral character, the red states plunge us into the slough of dependency.
If we’re really serious, then, about reducing the deficit entirely through cutbacks, the solution is clear: Cut off these slacker states. As we can’t very well expect them to support legislating an end to their slothful dependence on our sugar-daddy subsidies, the only real solution is to reduce them to vassal status, strip them of their congressional and electoral college representation, and compel them to pay what they owe America’s producing class. If need be — we can’t just go on passing the debt to the next generation — by force.
Take taxes off the table and it’s either the South (and kindred sponger states) or the seniors. I say the South. It’s time for bold choices. What don’t you understand? We’re broke!
Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of American Prospect and a Washington Post columnist.