With a slow economic recovery looming over families in Maryland and all across America, the debate over the continuation of the Bush tax cuts has boiled to the surface. As essential programs struggle to survive on decreased revenue in a time of increasing need, newly elected tea party conservatives stubbornly refuse any reform that would increase government revenues. We two — a director of a nonprofit that advocates for working families and a wealthy beneficiary of the Bush tax cuts — are united in our understanding that those tax cuts were a mistake that helped lead us to our current budget crisis. They should be repealed immediately.
Ten years ago this week, President George W. Bush signed a bill that cut taxes for the wealthy to the lowest level since before World War II. This bill and a subsequent bill in 2003 are estimated to have cut revenues by $1.35 trillion over 10 years — revenue that could have paid for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; rebuilt roads, bridges and schools across America; and helped alleviate some of our exploding budget deficit.
The Bush tax cuts have proven totally ineffective for Maryland's families. Maryland's official unemployment rate in June 2001 was 4 percent. Today, the seasonally adjusted rate is 6.8 percent. Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent then, while today it is hovering around 9 percent. Ten years of experience has proved that these tax cuts for the wealthy have only hurt working families.
On Capitol Hill, there lurks the infamous Ryan plan, a budget as craven in its priorities as it is devoid of economic foresight. It proposes cutting taxes for the wealthy while slashing medical care for the poor and elderly, and it assumes that by adhering to the conservative doctrine of lower taxes for rich people, we will generate enough growth to compensate for lost revenue. But history has taught us otherwise. The Bush tax cuts were supposed to give us the same growth that Rep. Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman, now promises, but a decade after their passage, we are still living with the heavy deficits engendered by such cuts.
Budgets symbolize our values, and the Ryan budget illustrates how out of touch the GOP's values have become. As they robotically advocate for the same policies that turned budget surpluses into deficits, it is clear to both of us that Congress is not being fiscally responsible. When they cut taxes for the most fortunate, lawmakers consent to greater debt and decreased revenue. When they turn away revenue from the wealthy, they are spending your money on rich donors and friends. Eventually, this fiscal and moral crisis will be paid for by working people through higher taxes or painful budget cuts.
At this crucial moment, Congress should invest in a budget that creates jobs rather than slashing vital programs that millions of Americans rely upon. Congress can get serious about our budget and raise much-needed revenue by passing Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Fairness in Taxation Act, which taxes those who can most afford it. In short, this would ensure the continued solvency of our federal government. Such a measure would restore a sense of balance to the federal government's budget and enable Congress to save our strained social safety net.
In this time of great need, neither the affluent nor the less well-off can afford for Congress to continue to turn down tax dollars from the wealthiest among us. Everyone must pay their fair share to ensure our children can prosper. Our budgets must reflect our fundamental values by funding essential programs, investing in our physical and human infrastructure, and paying down debt. What we need now are budgets and taxes that are fair to all Americans, regardless of wealth.
Rion Dennis is executive director of Progressive Maryland. Roger Rath, an investment advisor and philanthropist, is a member of Responsible Wealth.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun