Saturday, February 26, 2011

Individual, not Social Responsibility

The GOP philosophy is one of personal responsibility alone, not social responsibility. Any program or policy which interferes with taking care of one's own is something which must be eliminated. Conservatives also want to cut the part of government that helps its citizens, because that violates individual responsibility and therefore is against their "moral" code.
Thus there has been massive deregulation, repeated efforts to eliminate government agencies with oversight responsibilities, lower taxes on the rich and on corporations, lower capital gains taxes, while simultaneously spending has been slashed on programs which assist the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly. Heating assistance programs are set to be cut in half at the same time as millions of Americans are still out of work.

A major goal of the GOP is to dismantle Social Security with its 2.6 trillion in assets, in favor of private retirement accounts (disabled need not apply). Wall Street stands to make billions in profits if workers are forced to go to private financial establishments for their retirement accounts. Last December's tax cut deal lowered payroll taxes for Social Security by two percent, with the shortfall in trust fund contributions to be made up from general revenue. Up until this deal, Social Security contributed not one dime to the national debt; instead, the trust fund was made up entirely of contributions from earned wages.

Social Security is not an entitlement program; it is funded by earnings. It has been the most successful federal program ever, and has been instrumental in almost eliminating poverty among seniors and the disabled. Social Security has a surplus which is currently projected to last another 26 years, after which income from payroll taxes would be enough to fund four-fifths of its obligations for another 47 years. A rise in the ceiling at which payroll taxes are taken out of income would easily take care of funding Social Security for generations to come.

This assumes, of course, that conservatives do not make permanent the temporary two percent payroll tax cut (don't raise taxes!) while eliminating the portion currently coming from general revenues. Or conservatives may attempt to fund Social Security entirely out of general revenues, taking over the trust fund (which is made up of treasury bonds) and subjecting retirees to increasing cuts in benefits and rising retirement ages. These tactics are likely to be attempted because Social Security is viewed as an entitlement, rather than an earned benefit, and this goes against the conservative philosophy of personal responsibility.

The conservative philosophy explains why so many corporations now pay zero federal taxes. It explains why the EPA, IRS, SEC, HUD, the Department of Education, the Labor department, as well as other agencies are under attack. It explains the deregulation fervor. It is why some conservatives want to eliminate minimum wage standards and child labor laws. It explains why public unions are under attack (Wisconsin did not have a deficit until Gov. Walker and the legislature slashed corporate taxes two weeks after taking office). It is also why conservatives do not like Medicare and are adamantly opposed to the recently passed Health Care bill. It is why they were opposed to the stimulus bill (though they certainly took advantage of its provisions to bring home the bacon).

The wealthy have co-opted the Tea Party movement. The billionaire Koch brothers were busy bankrolling Tea Party candidates in the last election, and are currently busing in Tea Partiers to demonstrate against public unions in Wisconsin. Conservatives are using the Tea Party's desire for government fiscal responsibility to slash "social" spending. Yet at the same time they are slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, thus reducing government revenues. If deficits really mattered to conservatives, their actions would be radically different.

There is plenty of money in America; it is at the top. The top one percent has more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent. Middle class wages have been flat for 30 years, while the cost of living for most basic household necessities have gone up considerably, and wealth has floated to the top. This fits the conservative way of life, but not the American way of life. The conservative philosophy does not include social responsibility.

It is past time to question the motives of our representatives and future candidates, be they self-proclaimed Democrats, Republicans, or Tea Partiers.

Wisconsin's budget shortfall of $137 million was not caused by the tax cuts that Gov. Walker and the Republican legislature pushed through two weeks after the election. Those tax cuts, which total $140 million, will affect the next budget cycle.

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