The Truth about Taxes

Americans are worried about the staggering size of the national debt—so worried that a lot of us rejoiced to hear President Clinton take a tough line about cutting the deficit. As anyone who has ever balanced a household budget knows, the only way to get out of the red is to cut spending to match income. But when the president unveiled his economic plan, something didn't add up: Spending cuts are there all right . . . at least measures labeled as spending cuts. But on closer examination it appears that many of the "cuts" are really tax increases. The prime example is the tax increase on Social Security benefits—$21 billion worth. It's listed in the president's budget as a spending cut. Then there's a proposal to extend certain customs fees that were scheduled to expire. The fee extension is labeled a spending cut. The budget plan calls for the Food and Drug Administration to levy fees on drug companies when it tests medicines. This fee increase is billed as a spending cut. Altogether, half the president's spending cuts are actually tax or fee increases. Real cuts are made only in defense, along with a little fat sliced off here and there—things like subsidies to honey-bee keepers and mohair producers. But beyond that, most measures listed as "cuts" are really increased fees or taxes. Is this really the president who talked tough about facing reality? About tackling the deficit head-on? He himself is being remarkably skittish about the facts in his budget proposal. Since tax increases are unpopular, some of them are being palmed off as spending cuts. This kind of double-talk is exactly what makes Americans so cynical about politics. Government officials are notorious for resorting to euphemisms to dress up unpopular proposals. For example, the last time the Senate voted itself a pay hike, Senators defended it as a "pay equalization" measure. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't permit cities to build garbage dumps; it calls them "resource recovery parks." And in some jurisdictions people don't spend time in jail any more; they're in a "long-term structured environment." Euphemisms like these are bad enough when they merely clutter up the language; they're even worse when they are used to mislead. "Spending cut" is not simply a euphemism for "tax increase"; the two phrases have completely contrary meanings. When Americans talk around the kitchen table, a spending cut means the government stops giving away so much money. A tax increase means the government takes money by coercion from its citizens. I'm troubled when I see national leaders playing fast and loose with language. There is nothing that so undermines our political life, that so erodes trust in public officials. The Bible calls on us to make our yea be yea and our nay, nay. So as the debate rages over the budget, don't be hoodwinked by politicians who equivocate by misnaming tax increases as spending cuts. Let them know the time has come for frank talk about the deficit. If the patient is sick, tell him straight out what he needs, and don't feed him sugar pills. It's a matter of moral courage.


Chuck Colson


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