'Fiscal cliff' distracts from real tough choices ahead

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The Progressive rallying cry to make the rich pay “their fair share,” might make for a good sound bite, but when we look at the numbers, it’s quite clear just how uninformed many politicians are on the issue. Accounting for federal income taxes and tax credits, the richest 5 percent of Americans paid almost 30 percent of taxes in 2009. In fact, the wealthy have always paid a large percent of the overall tax burden. What’s surprising however is that the government’s total tax receipts are about the same in relation to the overall economy, regardless of tax rates.

Raising taxes on the those making over $250,000 would solve about 5 percent of the long-term budgetary mess we face, yet it has consumed 95 percent of the debate. The long-term liabilities of Medicare and Social Security, paired with unsustainable defense spending, are spiraling out of control, and instead of finding a way to curb and reduce entitlements, Congress and the White House are caught up in a political game of chicken.
 
Military spending has increased over 90 percent since 1998 as America drastically expanded its defense of other countries. The U.S. now accounts for 48 percent of the world’s military spending, expending resources to aid countries that are more than capable of defending themselves. Over the next 10 years, the Military should be able to shave close to a trillion dollars by spending less to defend these countries. This would lead to less of a burden on U.S. taxpayers, and ultimately more security for all as other nations invest in their own defense.
 
Despite the large price tag of our military, Medicare and Medicaid are the biggest drivers of long term debt in America and entitlement reform is key to avoiding the fiscal cliff and long-term fiscal disaster. Conservatives and Progressives are starting to come together to support certain cost cutting measures like competitive bidding to replace some of Medicare’s administered prices—a plan originally tendered by Rep. Paul Ryan and recently endorsed by Zeke Emanuel and others at the Center for American Progress.
 
Raising the retirement age is another policy that must be thoroughly examined and seriously considered. Changing the age for collecting full Social Security retirement benefits gradually from 65 to 67 over a 22-year period that began in 2000 doesn't solve the problem — it merely draws it out over the next decade. This plan only reduces future liabilities and fails to affect the current deficit.

If we want to get serious about entitlement reform and preserve some benefits for future generations, we have to make tough decisions today. If we can reach $600-800 billion in savings through reforms and cuts, not cheap budgetary tricks, it will make for a good first step towards restructuring the system into a sustainable model.

As we inch closer to the cliff, it's becoming clear that both sides will have to sacrifice and compromise for the greater good of our country and economy. At the end of the day, the deficit is so large that there aren’t even enough rich people to tax to raise enough to balance the budget. Instead of arguing about a tax hike for the wealthy, let’s put the politics aside and focus on meaningful solutions like cutting spending and reforming entitlements.

Moroney is the director of communications at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.