Maybe this cartoon will have a happy ending after all

Friday, January 4, 2013

Maybe you feel the same way I do in the wake of recent developments in our nation's capital.

I feel like I'm in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. The Roadrunner has pushed me off the cliff, but I'm suspended in mid-air. It's too far to climb back up, and if I fall it will hurt.

Besides that, I can see that the Roadrunner has already pushed the anvil over the cliff, and it's going to squash me, one way or the other.

But this is no cartoon.

In real life, we're headed for more of the same. I don't want to muck up your happy new year, but the near future for our federal officials means the bickering will continue and their political future will be far more important than our real-life present.

In all of the folderol over the now infamous fiscal cliff, one bit of political maneuvering stands out. For me, it is the best example of government at its worst.

Among the major concerns in all of this has been taxes: how much, who and when. At stake have been cuts in payroll taxes that were aimed at stimulating consumerism at a time when would-be spenders were scared to death about their financial future. That's not a good recipe for the nation's financial stability.

So, the Great Minds of Washington decided to cut the amount of taxes paid by every wage earner into the Social Security system. The cut, by nearly one-third, meant that when the "temporary" tax cuts ended, those same wage earners would face a payroll tax increase of nearly 50 percent for their Social Security contributions. That is exactly what has happened. So every dollar earned by an American worker since midnight of New Year's Eve costs an additional two cents in payroll taxes, just for Social Security.

But think about that for a minute. Please.

When George W. Bush was still president, the powers that be in Washington thought one of the best ways to get out of a deepening recession was to cut the Social Security tax.

I know I'm getting old and forgetful, but my memory tells me that before the recession we were being told by Some Pretty Important Big Shots that funding for future Social Security benefits was crapping out. Woe is us, those Big Shots said. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

So, naturally, it seemed -- in Washington -- like a perfectly good idea to adjust payroll taxes so Americans would have more money to spend and boost the economy. And the adjustment of choice was to CUT the tax that funds the Social Security system.

I've seen several estimates of how much money never reached the Social Security system as a result of that payroll tax cut. All of them were billions and billions of dollars.

Now I ask you, Mr. and Mrs. Commonsense Reader. Does cutting a tax to pay for the federal government's largest entitlement in order to stimulate consumer spending by the very workers whose contributions keep Social Security afloat make sense to you?

But that's what we did.

And so here we are trying to put up barriers -- or at least a few warning signs -- that are supposed to keep us from jumping over a financial cliff that refuses to go away, like a sticky booger.

Folks, we don't have to jump. If our Big Shots in Washington continue to march to one political party's drummer or the other without ever hearing the kid playing the fife, we will be pushed -- shoved -- over the cliff.

And that anvil will squish me, you and everyone we know and love.

Happy New Year.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: