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Words from Winterbilt

What do you want?

Shannon Bohrer

(4/2013) I was watching the news on television as the host, a former congressman, was lamenting about the inability of both parties to work together. The host cited several historical examples of cooperation between the parties. One of the examples was President Regan and Speaker Tip OíNeil and another was President Clinton and the Republican Congress, of which this former congressman was a member. He gave several examples of legislation that was enacted through cooperation. He added that when you are in congress and you want to work with the other side, you arrange a meeting and the very first thing you say is, "What do you want?" This reminded me of what someone once said about communication: "First, you seek to understand, then you seek to be understood." I consider this very good advice. However, understanding what someone wants is very different from what they are willing to cut.

My immediate impression was that this news host simply listed why congress cannot work together. If compromise is defined as both sides getting what they want, then compromise would occur on a regular basis in congress, as it has for many years. I am going to go out on a limb and speculate that when two sides are negotiating with the intent of both sides gaining something, it will cost money. This working together strategy worked for some time, as evidenced by our debt and deficits. However, our current problem is that, since we have spent too much, we now have to be very careful about what we spend. Instead of asking, "What do you want?" maybe we should be asking, "What are you willing to give up?"

The question of why canít congress reduce spending is commonly asked and yet the answer is simple. It has been widely reported that Congress has been bought and paid for by special interest groups; large industries and businesses, as well as the very wealthy. The importance of this should not be understated. Money is needed to run a reelection campaign, so those running depend on their special interest groups to donate. Without donations, they might not be reelected. Think of it this way: you are rich and you represent a business or industry that can benefit from congressional influence and legislation. If donating funds to specific members of congress would benefit your position, why wouldnít you do it? Congress and special interest groups have a symbiotic relationship, both depending on each other. It is actually very logical.

I should note that not all industry and/or businesses have influence in congress. In my opinion, small business owners, self-employed craftsman, and saddle and harness makers are not very influential in congress. These industries and businesses are of insufficient size to influence congress, basically meaning they canít contribute enough money. Two other groups that have limited influence include the very young that do not vote and the very poor that are unable to contribute to campaigns.

Because of the special interest and influence in congress, there are two significant problems that we face. The first is that congress is incapable of cutting anything of significance, and the second is the monstrous stream of revenue needed to simply run the government. Of course, this stream of revenue, from the politicianís perspective, includes money for elections.

As for the first issue, both political sides donít want to be the party that cuts anything out of the budget, because this could result in fewer votes for themselves and fewer donations to their elections. If one party receives funds from industries A and B, it not only wonít want to hurt them with cuts, but it also wants to reward them with extra tax breaks, benefits etc. Parties donít want to cut anything that makes them look bad. Therefore, even when congress is supposed to be cutting, they canít help but spend. There were eight corporate subsidies in the fiscal cliff bill this past January. Yes, passing a bill to keep us from going over the cliff because we have spent too much Ė contained eight corporate subsidies, one of which was for Goldman Sachs. Itís true, look it up. Even the emergency aid package for Hurricane Sandy relief had multiple funding for other industries. Not only can congress not cut, but they canít stop spending when they are cutting.

As for the second problem, that of having enough revenue to run the government, the revenue sources have been shrinking for some time. It has been reported that almost half of the population does not pay federal income tax. Forty five percent of all taxpayers earn less than $30,000 per year and they make up 80 percent of the families that donít pay federal income tax. The other 20 percent that does not pay federal income tax includes 7,000 millionairesó Millionaires that have probably received special tax breaks for their donations. Businesses and industries have also had their taxes reduced. According to one study, on any given year about forty percent of large businesses donít pay any federal income tax and many of them receive specific industry/business special tax breaks.

Since almost half the population, 7,000 millionaires, and 40 percent of businesses donít pay taxes, there are not that many of us left to pay the bills. Therefore, I would implore you that if you are still working and paying taxes, please continue to do so. Since there are so few of us to pay the bills, we need all that are able. Besides, as "good" as it is right now, what will happen when things get bad?

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer