Questions for Republicans

Cats woke me up at 3:30am and before I could get back to sleep, I had a thought: What are the limits to Republican refusal to raise taxes? The GOP candidates for President were asked recently if they would accept a deficit deal that came with $10 of spending cuts for every $1 of tax increases and they all said no even thought that’s a really good deal.  It seems the Republicans are dead set on never raising taxes again no matter how good the deal is.

So, in an effort to get it out of my system, and maybe get some sleep, here are some questions to help plumb the depths test the limits of Republican/Tea Party resolve, suitable for use at town hall meetings, candidate forums, or debates:

Would you be willing to raise taxes if each dollar in revenue was matched by $20 in spending cuts? $100 in spending cuts? What if you were asked to raise taxes by exactly $1 and spending cuts were $1billion? What if that single dollar had to be paid by a rich person?

Would you vote for a tax increase if it meant we could avoid death panels? Would you vote for a tax increase if it meant ending abortion? Would you vote for a tax increase if it meant we could send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification?

If you are at a town hall meeting, I think I would recommend framing this as checking to make sure they are still committed to Republican Principles.

On a similar note, here’s a question specifically for Rick Perry that the President could use if the Gov would deign to participate in a debate. If the Texas economy is in such good shape, why did we need to keep $6billion in the rainy day fund for next go-round?

I tried to think of similar questions for Democrats to test their commitment to their principles, but apparently they don’t have any.

A few thoughts on Cigarette butts

Because of some recent news stories, I’ve been thinking about cigarette butts today. I’ve never been a smoker, but I spent a lot of time, mostly during Basic Training and AIT with the US Army, picking up discarded cigarette butts.

Early this year, a homeless man accidentally started a fire because his cook fire got away from him and burned the wooded area he was in. “He should know better than to have an open fire in the middle of a drought,” they said and he was charged with felonies. More recently, a woman accidentally started a fire because of an improperly discarded cigarette. If anything, the drought is worse now, but should she “know better” than to toss fire around? No, it’s “just an accident,” they say and no charges are filed.

Today in the Statesman, there was a letter to the editor about the plastic bag ban. The letter writer, James Jones said, “If you keep the ban, don’t stop there. Let’s do those nasty plastic diapers next, then the awful cigarette butts, then Styrofoam takeout containers.” Actually, let’s put cigarettes at the top of that list, even above the plastic bags. Plastic bags are great for used cat litter. There are no good uses for used cigarette butts. So let’s take Mr. Jones’ 5cents per bag proposal and apply it to cigarettes (on top of the existing taxes) but instead of splitting the proceeds, put them all toward litter clean-up, or wildfire operations, or even Stop-Smoking programs. But please, let’s not continue to let these vandals get away with wantonly tossing fire around.

Lending Money to Sam

Scott Burns in the Austin American-Statesman today. Go read that and then come back to get the rest of the story. Or if you’d rather not, Burns asks if you would be willing to lend money to some guy named Sam who regularly spends quite a bit more than he takes in and has built up quite a large debt. However, his credit is so good that the lenders give him a sweet deal: interest-only payments and even that is at an unheard of 3% APR (averaged across his entire debt portfolio). He has some upcoming obligations to his parents and his wife’s parents that he made some time ago and are about to come due. They look to be pretty extensive.

Some other interesting information on Sam: He has a long credit history and a really good record of staying current. Yes, the current situation is not sustainable in the long run, but it works in the short term, and he’s doing some really good things with the money.  Sam also has a lot more earning potential than his current income. Several years ago, he and his wife were able to work things out to where they not only balanced their budget, they had a surplus.

Up to this point, I really have no concerns with loaning Sam more money. Yeah, he’s got problems, but he’s just proved that he can be responsible and if it comes right down to it, he can bring in more income. All he has to do is ask.

But then things started to get weird. Sam had been complaining for years that his wife was a spendthrift. Boy did he complain. Nevermind that Sam wasn’t shy about spending money on things he liked, but he had a point that they were building up some pretty good debt. But right about the time that he and the Mrs. got things worked out for that annual surplus, Sam started going a little crazy. He could have paid back some of that debt he’d been complaining about. He could have at least put the money back in the savings account he’d set up for his parents and in-laws. But he didn’t. Instead, he took a pay cut. Sam reasoned that if he had more money than he needed to pay for his current budget, he should give some of his income back. Sam has always been pretty generous, but it was really strange to me, with all the complaining that he did about the family debt, and even having to sock money away for mom and dad, that when he had the chance to pay it back, he didn’t take it.

Sam went downhill from there. He got attacked, and went on an expensive quest for retribution. Okay, I can kind of understand that. Then he picked a fight with someone else who had been a problem before but,  as it turns out was no threat anymore. Sam made up his own rationalizations for picking a second expensive fight. He started spying on his kids. He started beating up the neighbors and claiming that it was okay because he didn’t really hurt them. “I mean, there’ s no permanent damage, so that’s okay, right?”

Recently things have gotten very bad. Sam still complains bitterly about his wife’s spending (never his own) and the debt they’ve been racking up and insisting that she cut back, but absolutely refusing to even think about asking for a raise. He refuses to get a second job, or start a business, or even readjust things so that he has a bigger take-home pay. He’s even gone so far as to threaten not to pay even the paltry interest payments on the debt they already have. Yes, he does have to borrow to be able to make the payments, but he’s putting the family at risk of having to pay higher interest. With as much debt as they’ve built up, that’s just crazy talk. Sam’s gone off the deep end and his wife isn’t strong-willed enough to stand up to him.

The profligate spending doesn’t bother me as much as his irrational attempts to cut it. He’s even talking about kicking some of his kids out on the street and letting some of them go hungry, just so he can avoid asking his boss for a raise, all the while ranting about how his wife wants to burden their kids with a mountain of debt. Sam talks big about his debt, but if he were really serious about not leaving mountains of debt to the next generation, he would be more open to increasing income. His current stance is hypocritical and short-sighted. In my book, that equals either crazy or stupid.

Sunday Morning

It’s really frustrating for me sometimes to listen to conservative pundits on the Sunday morning shows. George Will (on This Week with Christiane Amanpour), who I have mentioned before, for the ‘leventy-eth time today trotted out his argument that the Stimulus has failed and that we should try something different. Never mind that the exact same facts and reasoning apply to the Bush Tax Cuts. No, that would mean increasing taxes on the rich job creators. When we’re in the middle of a recession, the worst thing you can do is discourage the job creators, or so says Will. I’ve talked about that before, too.

And on Meet the Press, a Republican Strategist (whose name I forget but I see him all the time on these shows) pushed one of my buttons by talking about leaving debt to our children. If you aren’t willing to let the Bush Tax Cuts expire, or worse yet, were in favor of them at the time, then don’t talk to me about leaving debt to our children. Because I know you don’t mean it. We have $14.3 trillion in debt right now,  about half of which was racked up in the Bush Administration. We could have paid some of it down, or at least been able to pay for more of Bush’s wars with that surplus we frittered away with the Bush Tax Cuts. So don’t give me this “burdening our children” schtick.

Of Grass and Federal Budgets

First, some background. My wife is unabashedly liberal. She has spent most of her adult life working for and advocating for the homeless and other of our less fortunate neighbors. She and I recently bought a house. Our area has been going through a drought and water restrictions are in place. We’re on track for one of the hottest and driest years on record, and the reservoirs that supply our water are draining like a bathtub. Inflows into those reservoirs are at record-setting lows.

So, our yard, like most in our area, is having some trouble, but because we have some shade trees, some areas are doing pretty well, while along the edges, we have patches of brown. So I suggested that perhaps it might be a good idea to make some adjustments to our watering schedule, cutting back on the water going to some zones and increasing in areas that are not doing so well. It’s a similar argument to what the Democrats say about taxes: let’s take away from those who are doing really well and then do more for those who are struggling. Or at least, let the wealthy share in the sacrifice that the rest of the yard is making.

One could make a similar argument about food. In the US, our problem is obesity. In Somalia, people are starving do death. Wouldn’t it be great if we could even things out a bit? My liberal wife has expressed sympathy with the above tax argument and I expect she would have similar feelings toward the feast/famine argument.

So, I was surprised by her response to my watering proposal. My wife, the liberal, adopted and applied the Republican Tax Response(TM) to our yard: “I don’t think, in the middle of a drought, that we should be cutting back on any areas of the yard, especially not the areas that are doing well.” She didn’t call my proposal “job-killing” which I was glad of.

And I, unfortunately, emulated the President and said, Okay whatever you want dear. But in my case, it’s only grass. Nobody else’s livelihood is riding on how good my lawn looks or whether the edges die.  At least she didn’t threaten not to pay the water bill.