The March 22, 2013 Real Time with Bill Maher made a powerful point: self-identified Republicans, including those who call themselves Tea Party, are IMPERATIVELY certain that the answer to America’s woes is to slash government spending. But when you ask them to name specific cuts, they pretty much come up with bupkus.
This is what happens when people are insulated in the Fox echo chamber. They have had “must cut government spending” as a mantra, repeated hundreds of times a day, and they’ve bought in. But none of these people have any real idea about what to cut, other than “wasteful government spending”.
What do Americans Mean by “Wasteful Government Spending”?
The Huffington Post reported a few days ago on a poll asking Americans to explain in their own words what they mean by the phrase “wasteful government spending.” The survey accepted up to two responses per person. The results look like this:
Where Can We Actually Cut Spending?
First, we HAVE to understand that the only part of the budget that can be cut (discretionary spending) is only about a third of the total budget. The Office of Management & Budget has publicly available information about the federal budget.
Just looking at the discretionary spending it breaks down like this:
So what the heck is “mandatory spending”? Mandatory spending is largely made up of earned-benefit or entitlement programs, and the spending for those programs is determined by eligibility rules rather than the appropriations process, and is built into law. Here’s the breakdown:
Okay, the Teapublican says, we can’t cut any of that stuff, except government operating costs, international affairs, and let’s kick science outta there. That’s 12% of the discretionary spending!
But let’s relate that back to the TOTAL budget.
When we look at TOTAL government spending, the stuff people are willing to cut is 3% of our total spending. Does ANYONE think that 3¢ out of every dollar is going to do much? Just the interest on America’s current debt is 7% of all government spending.
How Do We Foot The Bill?
Let’s look at the other side of the ledger, revenues. Total federal tax revenues in fiscal year 2013 are projected to be $2.9 trillion.
Comparing Income to Outgo
In fiscal year 2011, the federal government spent $3.73 trillion. Even if you can’t balance a checkbook, most of us can manage grade school subtraction:
INCOME: $2.9 trillion
OUTGO: -$3.73 trillion
NEGATIVE $830 billion
That 3% spending people are willing to cut? It amounts to $25 billion. Oops! Honey, we are $805 billion overdrawn!
How Do We Solve The Problem?
The answer does not lie in slashing spending, simply because there’s not much room for spending cuts.
There’s certainly no doubt at all that there is government waste that could be cut. We should definitely tighten up on expensive military boondoggles as well as trimming fat everywhere we can. That’s just good management. But there aren’t enough cuts possible to make up $805 billion.
The only possible answer to reduce the deficit is to raise revenues somewhere. Why are we, the people, paying half the federal income out of our pockets? Just consider the top ten corporations that not only didn’t pay taxes, they scored huge tax credits:
- General Motors income tax expense: -$34.83 billion
- Bank of America income tax expense: -$1.12 billion
- Caesars Entertainment (casino) income tax expense: -$871 million
- Ameren (utility holding company) income tax expense: -$680 million
- D.R. Horton (home builder) income tax expense: -$673 million
- Verizon Communications income tax expense: -$660 million
- Lear (auto parts manufacturing) income tax expense: -$638 million
- AMR (parent of American Airlines) income tax expense: -$569 million
- J.C. Penney income tax expense: -$551 million
- Alpha Natural Resources (metal and coal mining) income tax expense: -$550 million
Worse, by using loopholes and offshoring revenues, a lot of companies are raking in millions while paying a tiny fraction of what they should actually pay in taxes. Alternet’s Bill Buchheit used that data to compile his list of the biggest corporate tax dodgers:
- General Electric: The worst tax record over five years, with $81 billion in profits and a $3 billion refund.
- Boeing: In addition to receiving a refund despite $21.5 billion in profits, the company ranked high in job cutting, underfunded pensions, and contractor misconduct.
- Exxon Mobil: Made by far the largest profits in the group, but paid less than 1% in U.S. taxes, and yet received oil subsidies along with their tax breaks. Unabashedly reports a 2012 “theoretical tax” of over $27 billion, almost 90% of its total income tax expense. The company was also near the top in contractor misconduct.
- Verizon: Second worst tax record, with a refund despite $48 billion in profits.
- Kraft Foods: Received a refund from the public despite $13.5 billion in profits. Also a leading job-cutter.
- Citigroup: One of the five big banks who are estimated to get a bailout/refund from the American public amounting to three cents from every tax dollar.
- Dow Chemical: Received a refund despite almost $10 billion in profits.
- IBM: Paid less than 3% in taxes while ranking as one of the leading job cutters, and near the top in contractor misconduct.
- Chevron: In addition to a meager 4.3% tax rate and a share of oil subsidies, the company has been the main beneficiary of tax-exempt government bonds.
- FedEx: The company paid less than 5% in federal taxes while relying on the publicly-funded Post Office to deliver thirty percent of its ground packages.
- Honeywell: Less than 6% in taxes, a leading job cutter, near the top in instances of contractor misconduct, and run by the “Fix the Debt” CEO with the largest pension fund.
- Apple: Where to begin? Avoiding federal taxes, avoiding state taxes, hiding overseas earnings, engaging in intellectual property schemes, using the “Double Irish” to transfer profits from Europe to Bermuda, and underpaying its store workers despite conducting most of its product and research development in the United States.
- Pfizer: One of the leaders in stockpiling untaxed profits overseas, and right behind Merck in contractor misconduct dollars.
- Google: A master at the “Double Irish” revenue shift to Bermuda tax havens, while using tax loopholes to bring a lot of the money back to the U.S. without paying taxes on it. Recognized as one of the world’s biggest tax avoiders.
- Microsoft: Named as one of the biggest offshore hoarders while using tax strategies to bring much of their untaxed money back to the U.S., where it also avoids state taxes.
Big corporations and the ultra rich need to pay more taxes. It’s time that these businesses and wealthy individuals starting contributing their share to the country that made them great.