It Would Be Squandered
When it comes to progressive priorities, Donald Trump has a point.
At about the forty-five minute mark in the first presidential debate of 2016, a telling exchange occurred:
Trump: “We have a country that needs new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools, new hospitals. And we don't have the money, because it's been squandered on so many of your ideas.”
Clinton: “Maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years.”
Trump: “It would have been squandered too, believe me”
Reporters and pundits eagerly responded, “that sounds like an admission! Trump doesn’t pay federal income taxes. This is why he won’t release his tax returns!” I don’t know what Donald Trump’s effective tax rate is. That is between him, his lawyers, and the IRS. If he agrees to release detailed tax returns as every modern presidential candidate has, we’ll know the truth.
Until then, I don’t see this as an admission, but as an indictment - an indictment of a government that spends too much, taxes too much, wastes too much, and then has the audacity to demand even more.
This is Hillary’s “you didn’t build that!” moment. It seems every progressive has one.
If Trump hasn’t paid federal income taxes, then, yes, every hardworking taxpayer should be outraged that that his “smart” accounting has left us to pick up the tab. But we should be doubly outraged that so much of our tax dollars are squandered in Washington D.C. Donald Trump has a point.
2016 is a record-breaking year for government revenues, and so was 2015, 2014, and 2013. The federal government has never taken in as much money as it currently does. But, look around, we have hardly anything to show for it.
In 2009, the economy was in recession. Newly-elected President Obama signed into law the the federal “stimulus” - $787 billion of “investment in infrastructure” that would supposedly go toward “building and repairing roads and bridges”. Obama always loves to talk about one bridge in particular - San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Someone had to have told Obama it wasn’t financed by the federal government or even the State of California. The cost of building the Golden Gate Bridge was $27 million, which amounts to $1.5 billion today. So the president hyped a seventy-five-year-old icon, financed by local taxpayers with bonds issued by the Bank of America, to make the case for a bill that would cost 786 times more and deliver exactly 0 public works projects of the same scale. Because that isn’t what big government does!
The Obama administration spent well over $1.5 billion in the Bay Area though. $535 million went to a single company, Solyndra, that went belly-up in less than a year. That is what big government does. It makes a terrible investment for political purposes and blows millions. Talk about money squandered!
Maybe Donald Trump was trying to turn the tables on progressives by bringing up their favorite canard - roads, bridges, airports, and infrastructure. He seems to beg a very important question: Washington politicians always talk about roads and bridges, infrastructure projects, but when it comes to their priorities, they spend all of the money elsewhere.
Hiding behind small government to advocate bigger and bigger government? That is the audacity of progressivism. Because whether it’s Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders, the sentiment is always the same. They all tout their “roads and bridges” to justify the enormous cost of government, an enormous cost borne by taxpayers and the next generation of workers.
Transportation accounts for less than 4% of the federal budget. It’s a state and local responsibility, like the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet progressives insist that high-income earners “pay their fair share” or, in Warren’s admonition, “a big hunk” in order to cover the cost of everything for which they continuously clamor. You see, the reason the successful have to “pay it forward” is that they didn’t build their fortune, the government did. “Maybe you had a teacher” or “you moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for” or you simply benefited from protection against “marauding bands”, one way or another, you owe Uncle Sam for your success. Hillary was just reminding Trump of his part in this progressive social contract.
It’s telling that they always bring it back to roads and bridges. After all, transportation is supposed to be managed and funded by local and state governments. And it’s not like conservatives think the government shouldn’t build and maintain roads. What we object to is the grotesque waste and inefficiency inherent in public-works projects and just about everything else Washington touches these days.
The federal government spent $4.2 trillion this year. Health care for children, the poor, and the elderly receives the most funding at $1.05 trillion (27.4%). Social Security is the largest single expenditure at $1.28 trillion (33.3%). Then comes defense (16%) and finally, safety net programs (10%) and interest payments accounted for 6% of the federal budget at $229 billion.
Actually, the government has been spending less since Republicans took control of Congress in 2010 and used debt limit deadlines to force fiscal sobriety. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the progressive caterwaul about roads and bridges has everything to do with this dynamic. They want to take the reins off, get back in the driver’s seat, and step on the gas!
This should serve as a potent reminder of the progressive vision for America’s future. They want more America, a lot more. I am sympathetic to calls for higher revenue in order to pay down the national debt, which at $19 trillion is pushing us toward an inestimable debt crisis the likes of which the world has never seen. In fact, I’m all for higher revenues if they come from higher incomes. The American taxpayer might be sympathetic to patriotic calls to help pay down our enormous debt before we go bankrupt. But make no mistake, Obama, Clinton, Warren, and the Democrats have no interest in paying down the national debt. They want more, they need more, because they’re promising a government that does even more than it is currently failing to do. They think deficit spending is great, and they want to turn the United States, a country of 300 million, into the largest, most generous welfare state ever conceived.
The top 16% of taxpayers account for 80% of tax revenue. We have an extremely redistributive government as it is, but, pressed by socialist Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, Hillary is pledging to tilt the playing field even more. Starting with a surtax on all incomes over $5 million to supposedly pay for making college tuition-free for families making less than $125,000 a year, Hillary Clinton’s agenda calls for the largest tax increases in forty years. Again, with a $19 trillion debt, we need more revenue - we aren’t going to cut or grow our way out of it. But, again, she wouldn’t pay off our debt. She’d add to the national debt and still spend every single dime of any new revenue on her pet projects. It would be squandered.
And I have no doubt that she would say it’s “for education”, “healthcare,” and, of course, “roads and bridges.” But Americans shouldn’t be fooled. “Shovel-ready” won’t be as shovel-ready as we’re promised. And subsidizing tuition and health insurance actually increases the cost of both. If we acquiesce, we couldn’t be the least bit surprised if they all pop up to demand another “big hunk” to pay for some new utopian fantasy. Whether or not Donald Trump pays for it, it will be squandered.
We all have a right to be outraged that progressives in D.C. have had more money than ever before and they can’t even fund the most basic functions of government. Every dollar that is wasted is another that can’t go toward necessary improvements like the ones Donald Trump is calling for. This is why we don’t trust progressives. They spin a yarn about paying our fair share while funneling the money through corrupt, unaccountable bureaucracies. When it comes to how Washington spends taxpayer money, Donald Trump definitely has a point. Moreover, Donald Trump has a message. And perhaps that is why Hillary and her brethren, some Republicans included, are in a defensive crouch.
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