Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

Why Obama should pay more in taxes

Apr 20, 2011 13:44 UTC

President Barack Obama wants to increase taxes on the wealthy, and surely is correct that this must be part of any serious plan to control the national debt. Consider the case of a wealthy couple who made $1.7 million in 2010, yet paid only 26.2 percent in federal income taxes — though the top rate supposedly is 35 percent, and the president says that figure should rise to 39.6 percent. The well-off couple in question is Barack and Michelle Obama, whose tax returns, just released, show they paid substantially less than the president says others should pay.

If Obama is in earnest about wanting increased taxes on the wealthy, then he should send the United States Treasury $182,998. That’s the difference between his Form 1040 Line 60 (“This is your total tax”) and what he would have owed at the higher rate (plus limits on itemized deductions) he himself advocates.

So why doesn’t he tax himself more? The Form 1040, after all, only stipulates the minimum tax an American must pay. More is always welcome. Obama should write a check to the United States Treasury for $182,998.

Wealthy people who say the rich should pay higher taxes — Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have joined Obama in declaring this — are free to tax themselves. If you believe the top rate should rise to 39.6 percent (Obama) or 50 percent (Buffett), then calculate the difference and send a check for that amount to the Treasury. Of course no one individual doing this, even a billionaire, would have much impact on the deficit. But if rich people who say they believe in higher taxes were willing to practice what they preach, this would prove their sincerity, making legislation on the point more likely.

“The most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more,” President Obama said last week about debt and taxes. So why didn’t he? The president is covered by his own definition of “fortunate,” since his proposal calls for higher taxes on individuals earning more than $200,000 or couples earning more than $250,000.

The decline of incumbency and the rise of third-party spoilers

Apr 4, 2011 19:57 UTC

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U.S. forces are fighting three costly, inconclusive wars; unemployment is 8.8 percent and the president’s new budget proposal would double the national debt in a mere 10 years. What a great moment for Barack Obama to declare for reelection.

Obama enters the 2012 race as the clear favorite. His poll numbers are weak but his public respect is solid; his money position is outstanding; even people like me, who think runaway federal borrowing is an error of historic proportions, admire the president. I can see myself pulling the lever for him in 2012, as I did in 2008.

Set aside zip code analysis and Electoral College positioning — what two leading indicators should give Obama pause? The decline of incumbency and the rise of third-party spoilers.

The federal spending controversy

Mar 9, 2011 20:00 UTC

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With another federal spending controversy brewing on Capitol Hill, recall that in his 2010 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said, “We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year.” Now it’s next year — so what happened to the $20 billion in savings? Let’s follow the bouncing budget cut.

The “$20 billion” promise was not the sort of empty verbiage that dominates the federal spending debate. How many times have you heard a politician thunder about cutting spending but not cite even one specific reduction he or she supports? A year ago, the Office of Management and Budget laid out Obama’s proposed cuts in specific detail.

Some highlights: End production of the C-17 cargo plane, $2.5 billion saved. End federal funding for local hospital construction, $338 million saved. End the Save America’s Treasures program, $30 million saved. (The new book “Triumph of the City” by Edward Glaeser of Harvard argues that programs such as this actively backfire by slowing urban rebirth.)

Obama must say ‘no’ to federal spending

Jan 26, 2011 03:58 UTC

obamaSOTU2011President Barack Obama’s conciliatory tone in his State of the Union Address was exactly what the country needs at this moment. And once again, Obama showed he is the best political orator since Ronald Reagan.

On tone and feeling – which matter a great deal in politics – the president deserves high marks. So too do members of Congress who for once behaved in a bipartisan manner, not like squabbling children.

Substance? That’s another matter.

In the address there was a lot of talk about jobs and innovation, both obviously important: but issues that no president controls. There was talk of better access to high-speed Internet and of regulatory and tax-loophole reform: not one single person opposes either. There was dream-world talk of high-speed rail and energy in the year 2035. But there were precious few specifics regarding what will be done right now to address runaway federal debt. And runaway federal debt, which suggests the U.S. future may be less bright, is a major issue holding the economy back.

China should not be our next whipping boy

Oct 28, 2010 11:00 UTC

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Here we go again.

With a sort-of withdrawal from Iraq in progress, and a scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan approaching, Washington needs a fresh adversary. How about China?

China is big and getting bigger. Its wealth and power is increasing. It’s inscrutable, whatever that means. (Just try understanding the United States.) And according to super-secret intelligence reports, China is pursuing national interest. This can’t be allowed — we’ve got to confront them!

Of course it is a standby of politics for governments to create international adversaries, in order to deflect criticism away from themselves. There’s a theory – best expressed in the great spoof Report From Iron Mountain — that while dictatorships can issue orders, democracies need enemies in order to prevent free men and women from saying, “To heck with central government.”

Why did America spend so long in Iraq?

Sep 1, 2010 18:06 UTC

Last night President Barack Obama announced “the end of our combat mission in Iraq.” This is welcome news — if years late. Yet in an address to the nation that ranged as far afield as energy policy and “the limitless possibilities of our time,” the president never got around to the essential question of this costly bloodbath:

Why did the United States spend seven years fighting in Iraq?

By the estimate of the British correspondent John Burns and New York Times London bureau chief, who was living in Baghdad when the invasion began and remained there until 2008, the war killed 4,500 Americans and wounded 35,000 of them. It also caused “tens of thousands” of Iraqi civilian deaths; cost $750 billion, nearly enough to wipe out this year’s federal deficit; and created “the anti-Americanism that would become commonplace around the world.”

That last is all too easy to overlook. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the world’s sympathy was with the United States. Everyone, including almost every Muslim, knew the 9-11 attack was heinous. Almost all nations, including nearly all Islamic nations, supported America’s counterattack in Afghanistan, which was clearly justified as self-defense.
Then we bombed and invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 monsters, killing at least 10 times as many innocent civilians as were killed here on September 11. We took huge numbers of Iraqis prisoner, and tortured or humiliated them.

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