Use my tax break for debt relief

Perhaps it is the eggnog, and what goes with it, but I am going to wander into something today I know little about, and — for most of my life — have cared little about: money.

The president recently made a deal with Republicans to keep the tax cuts that were enacted June 7, 2001, by a Republican Congress. The original tax-cut legislation set an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2010.

Three months later, on Sept. 11, 2001, the world changed. First the wars, then the economy crashed. The wars alone have a cumulative $1.12 trillion cost, the Congressional Research Service reported Sept. 2, not to mention the nearly 6,000 Americans who have died and tens of thousands who have been wounded.

But this is not about whether we should be at war. That decision was made a long time ago. This is about the cost of those wars and everything else the government pays for.

My point is the national debt (which the government incurs when it spends more than it collects in taxes, fees, licenses, etc.) didn’t hit $1 trillion until 1982. It lingered in the $5 trillion area for the last years of the Clinton administration, passed $6 trillion in 2002, hit $10 trillion in 2008, neared $12 trillion in 2009 and is now at $13.5 trillion.

This is not to assign blame on President George W. Bush, on whose watch the rapid climb began, or on President Barack Obama, on whose watch it has escalated. It is a bipartisan effort. I just don’t understand why — in the face of this horrid debt — Washington would continue tax cuts that were supposed to expire.

If the goal is to prime the economic pump, as the experts say it will, why hasn’t it worked so far? But like I said, I’m not a money guy.

Columnist Rich Lowry, a Republican spinner, chided Democrats in his Thursday Op-Ed column. “For them,” he said, “letting people — especially rich people — keep their income is a favor granted by a government that has a presumptive right to their earnings.”

And Rush Limbaugh was on a tirade all week about aid to the unemployed, which will be extended to the jobless just as El Rushbo will keep the generous tax breaks he enjoys for his running off at the mouth.

One thing we can agree on is that Democrats and Republicans disagree on what matters. And, Rich and Rush, the list of what matters is long, but mostly good: defense, health care for the poor and old, infrastructure, food safety, crop subsidies, medical research, education grants and so on. It’s the price you pay to live in a pretty great country, not perfect but pretty darn good.

What I don’t understand, though, is how can we pay for all the things we want and justify tax breaks now that were supposed to die and would be better left to die? And that was before the wars, before the economy shattered and before the national debt doubled. I’m not a money guy, but I’d rather forego my tax break and start paying down the debt. OK, fire away.

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This column was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on Dec. 12, 2010.

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