In my role as a weekly columnist, I spend an immense amount of time reading about topics of the day and doing research. Reading 25 to 30 columns in a single day is not an unusual occurence. I have my favorites like Krauthammer and Sowell. Two other favorites, Dennis Prager and Larry Elder, are also personal friends. Then there is Ben Shapiro who I have known since his days at UCLA.
I also read a tremendous number of opinion columns written by liberals. The Huffington Post can be very enlightening as well as the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. I am often fascinated how some of these pieces get published. One recent column by Bob Herbert who writes for the New York Times was so strikingly bad that I had to interrupt my wife and read it to her because it was so banal. You would have thought the column appeared in a high school newspaper, except the principal would have edited out the name-calling as inappropriate.
Occasionally, there is a column that tickles my public policy bone so much that I have to mouth off about it. E.J. Dionne, Jr., wrote this particular column in the Washington Post on Thursday, September 24, 2009. Mr. Dionne can be quite entertaining at times with his perception of how our society should be organized, but his commentary on how charity heads were reacting to proposed tax law changes sparkled in new and untold ways.
After the defeat of their attempt to insert a public option into the Senate Finance Committee health care bill, Senators Jay Rockefeller and John Kerry moved to reduce the tax deduction for charitable contributions for what Mr. Dionne calls the “well-to-do.” As a means to help pay for the cost of this new health care plan, these extremely well-to-do senators want to stick it to the successful in our society once again.
There are so many things wrong with this concept it could take a small book to define. First, Rockefeller and Kerry are actually very well-to-do. They have never actually worked; unless you include Kerry’s short term in the military and that was forty years ago. The two senators have been living off the hard-earned dollars of others, either through inheritance or marriage. The vast majority of high-income people work their tails off for the money these men want to grab for their scheme.
It’s not only high-earners they want to punish. They want to harm charities by limiting the tax deduction to charities. The operators of these charities know that if you limit the deduction from the high-earners, who provide the lion’s share of contributions, they will receive fewer donations. One might argue that the donations should be given because it is a benevolent thing to do and most people make the donations for exactly that reason. Other contributors rely on the tax deduction which is why this policy, if enacted, will diminish the receipts of the charities. I love when people who do not actually work with taxpayers claim that tax policy changes will not alter people’s behavior. Mr. Dionne should sit in my office and field the innumerable questions about the tax benefit of charitable gifts so he might achieve some sense of reality.
Mr. Dionne scolds the charity heads because he asserts they should be willing to give up their proceeds for the greater good of the proposed health care bill. Mr. Dionne states “If even groups whose very mission is public-spirited can’t take an exceedingly modest risk to extend health coverage, how can we expect anybody else to pay a little more for a moral imperative?”
He goes on to say heath reform will fail unless the mandate to buy insurance has government subsidies. Mr. Dionne misses the point that if the government has to subsidize these insurance payments, that it is really government-provided insurance. Even though it is bought through private insurance companies, it is just one more step toward government control of the health care system. There is a big difference between tax deductible insurance premiums and tax subsidies.
Most importantly, Dionne attacks such organizations as the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. These are the kind of organizations that have done decades of untold good work and have to produce actual results to continue garnering donations -- as opposed to government which gets its funds through coercion.
Mr. Dionne displays the sharp difference of values between the left and the rest of us. Dionne and his cohorts value the existence of government not only over the private sector, but also the charity sector. They believe if you get in the way of government you are harming the greater good and if charities want to protect their flow of donations, then they are just selfish bastards.
Rarely has an article more clearly defined the differences between the left and where they want to take this country and the rest of Americans. In essence he asserts that Jerry Lewis, who has contributed his time and his wealth to help millions of Americans over the past 50 years, could not possibly be as beneficial as the machinery of government. Does anyone believe that the government would have duplicated his success for the cause of muscular dystrophy? Had the government made progress on breast cancer until the founding of the Susan G. Komen Foundation?
As my friend Dennis Prager says, clarity is important. Calling the heads of charities “uncharitable” is clarity. You must decide which side you fall on – giving more money to government for some perceived benefit or trusting the charities of this country. I cannot think of a more clear choice.