Pay your taxes, Tea Party

William Witwer

The Tea Party, the intensely conservative populist movement that has so captivated the mainstream media’s attention, was recently surveyed in a CBS/New York Times poll. This national political organization (yes, I am aware that distinctions must be drawn between the local Tea Parties and the national Tea Party) has been instrumental in forcing Republican lawmakers (most notably John McCain, on immigration) to shift their stances on particular policies to more conservative positions in order to help their primary chances. According to the poll, more than 90 percent of the Tea Partiers surveyed think that this country is headed in the wrong direction, and they want to change that by focusing on reducing the size of the government, especially the amount of government spending.

Almost 75 percent of those who favor smaller government said they would rather have it than the domestic programs from which spending would be cut. Except not really: “In follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security: the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on ‘waste.'” Well I can tell you one thing right now: a significant cut of Medicare or Social Security would not be payed for by cutting all of the porkbarrel spending in the entire budget.

The waste of government dollars, as frustrating as some of the examples are (see the several Bridges to Nowhere that have been built), is not a large part of what the federal government spends its money on. It is foolish to think 1) that preventing such spending would pay for most of Medicare of Social Security and 2) that we are even capable of stopping it in a large way. While the image of the politician fighting wasteful spending is reassuring and politically viable, the reality is that most politicians do not do this consistently. Come election time, every senator publicly emphasizes how much money they brought directly to his or her home state; every representative brags in commercials about how much bacon he or she brought to his constituents.

So a focus on reducing “waste” is both impractical and unnecessary: plus, what exactly constitutes waste is a subjective determination, as there is not a tremendous amount of blatant Bridge-to-Nowhere type abuse hidden amid the folds of the Congressional Budget. Which leaves these Tea Partiers, who want both to reduce the size of government and to keep the two biggest government programs intact, in a bit of a jam because many of them do not believe in paying taxes. And taxes, however irritating, are how governments pay for things.

While the above statement might seem a bit too obvious, I feel that most of the Tea Party needs to be reminded of this fact. The tax laws are set up so that the rich are taxed at much higher rates, because, duh, they have more to give. Kant would say they have an ethical obligation to pay theses higher rates (at least I think so).

President Obama and the Democrat-controlled legislature have lowered taxes for the average family and raised them for the rich, which makes sense politically and, in my opinion, economically as well. The question of whether or not we should pay taxes should be a moot point: in order to have a government, it needs to be financed. Unfortunately, such a conflict has not faded away: we have a rabid anti-tax movement in this country, helped in many ways by the angry anti-government rhetoric of organizations such as the Tea Party.

Those against paying their taxes are most often those who have more money, and thus reject their taxes not out of principle, but out of selfish want of more resources. From the beginning of the New York Times article displaying the survey’s results states, “Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class.”

So the fight over how to pay for government should move beyond the foolish focus on waste (not to mention the not-so-fringe anti-tax attitude) to a debate about what our tax money should be spent on. If it was me, I would cut defense spending heavily and invest in infrastructure and public institutions: roads, libraries, police stations, fire stations, art museums, etc. Unfortunately, much of the general public forgets that taxes pay for those, too.