NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 13, 2012

Santa meets the fiscal cliff

Barbara Anderson
Newburyport Daily News

---- — And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

Though St. Nicholas tried to secure the red sledge,

It just weighed too much, and went over the edge.

— Paraphrasing Clement

C. Moore, “The Night

Before Christmas”

Somehow Christmas isn’t the same this year. The colored lights brighten my upstairs windows, the little tree is on a shelf in the living room, Christmas music is playing as I address cards to family and friends I won’t see during the holidays; but something isn’t quite right.

As I work my way through my address book, I find myself wondering if the prospective card recipient voted for Obama and if he/she did, should I save the cost of the stamp? However, some of the known Obama voters are family members I can’t just ignore.

This year, my Christmas newsletter begins: “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Winter Solstice, unless as predicted by the Mayans, Dec. 21st is the end of the world as we know it, in which case, might not be too joyous. Maybe they were just referring to the election ...”

Another thing that seems “off” this year: that annoyingly naive “Peace on Earth, good will to men” greeting. There’s been peace in our own history’s part of Earth only once that I know of: the so-called Pax Romana of roughly 200 years, between 27 B.C. and 180 A.D.

The definition of Pax Romana by the Collins English Dictionary: “an uneasy peace, one imposed by a powerful state on a weaker or vanquished state.” Republicans and tea party activists: nothing to carol about here. Peace just means giving in and giving up.

Here’s an example of Pax Obama: The president wants “to ask the rich to contribute more.” Well, what happens if the rich, when asked to “contribute more,” respond “no thanks”? Does Obama say, “OK, didn’t hurt to ask.”

I’ve always preferred the version, “Peace on Earth to men of good will.” Let’s take a look at the ongoing negotiations in Washington about the “fiscal cliff”: any men of good will participating?

I would say yes, and ye will know them by these actions: They will stand firm on basic constitutional economic principles, and let the political chips fall where they may. In the end, voters will wake up and “get it,” or they won’t.

George Will postulated Sunday on “This Week” that we do have consensus in this country, that “we should have an ever-more-generous welfare state and not pay for it.” Well, dramatic as that sounds, what else explains our $16-plus trillion in national debt? Maybe Santa Claus wasn’t the best tradition on which to raise our children.

The $16 trillion will soon be $20 trillion if Obama gets his new spending. During the election, he argued for “a balanced approach” of new revenues and spending cuts; now he just wants more money. He seems to be refusing to negotiate in good faith, preferring to get the automatic tax hikes and defense spending cuts that happen automatically in January.

Incredibly, he wants Congress to give him the power to extend the debt ceiling on his own.

Neither political party is proposing many specific spending cuts. The reason for this is that suggested cuts will be demagogued by partisans from the other party. The attack ad with Paul Ryan pushing Granny over the cliff because he suggested Medicare reform was matched by Republicans who attacked Obamacare for its similar Medicare cuts.

Here is what I would do with the “fiscal cliff.” I’d note that the “Bush tax cuts” were originally passed as “temporary” — a word that annoys taxpayer activists when it’s applied to tax increases, like our 1989 state income tax rate hike that’s almost 24 years old. If the tax cuts expire, that’s just what was originally intended; so it’s not “new taxes” now. I’d earmark the entire amount for paying down the national debt, except for the payroll tax, which I’d use as intended when it was created.

It was crazy to cut the tax that is meant to fund Social Security, which is headed for bankruptcy, albeit a few years later than Medicare. Despite what some Democrats argue, Social Security is part of the ongoing deficits, since the money raised for it is spent on general government, not saved in a fictitious lock box with our names on it. I’d create the lock box now.

Also, the Alternative Minimum Tax should be indexed for inflation back to 1993, to keep another promise, made when it was created, that it would be charged only on higher incomes.

Next year, during the recession caused by higher taxes, Congress should do “tax reform,” simplifying the code, ending corporate welfare and focusing more on consumption taxes so that both higher- and lower-income Obama voters learn that there is no Santy Claus.

As for spending cuts: Go ahead with the cuts in the “fiscal cliff sequester plan,” including defense spending, but let “men of good will” make the reduction decisions.

Now, all we need are at least Three Wise Men leading the way.

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, anyhow.

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Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is the founder of Citizens for Limited Taxation.