Tuesday October 2, 2012

If the nation can get through the insanely long presidential campaign, there might be hope for some fiscal sanity, despite the prospect of another divided and partisan Congress next term.

That's because Congress and the president will be able to make sound fiscal decisions without deciding anything and attaching a vote to it -- merely by allowing a number of current ill-advised tax cuts to expire. There is hope -- or fear -- in Washington that this is likely to happen, given the stalemate.

No matter which side of the tax issue Americans find themselves on, the urgency of our need to drastically reduce annual deficits and the long-term debt has finally made it to the front burner. Both sides also agree that the economy would be handed a boost if businesses saw real progress on debt issues; they just disagree vehemently over the role tax cuts vs. tax increases should play.

The beauty of the post-election period to come is that, although Republicans and Democrats in Washington are no more likely to agree, they can take steps by taking no stand at all -- except, of course, to blame one another for the effects of the looming non-decisions.

Specifically, a host of tax cuts, some set during the Bush administration and some during the Obama administration in the hope they would stimulate the economy, are on track to expire in January unless both parties agree to extend them.


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According to a Tax Policy Center study report released this week, taxpayers across the income spectrum would face increases and the wealthiest would face the steepest increases.

About 90 percent of households would face increases with the top 20 percent of earners shouldering 60 percent of the overall cost. The report said the key reason wealthier people would pay higher increases is because of the expiration of cuts on capital gains and stock dividends.

In short, most of this would be a strong taste of what the United States needs to restore its fiscal health. We have dug ourselves into such a hole by spending without taxing that a jolt of fiscal reality might actually do us some good. And the biggest jolt going to the wealthy is exactly the right medicine -- taxing those who owe the most to Uncle Sam and who have benefited the most from our economic system.

In truth, we could do much more with modest reforms to the tax code that further promote fairness in sharing the great tax burden required to sustain a great nation. None of us should be able to shirk that responsibility, especially the wealthy and those in leadership positions. Too many of us have been doing little else for decades.