A version of this column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST
Are you willing to spend $2,675 a month to support the federal government? Would you choose to invest $32,100 every year to pay for the services Washington provides for you?
That's the principal question the voters will decide in this election cycle, and the one challenge that could win the White House for Mitt Romney.
Unfortunately, his compulsively cautious campaign hasn’t yet raised the issue with appropriate force and clarity, leaving the current debate on economic issues unfocused and indecisive. The Republican candidate and his advisers should recalibrate their pitch to concentrate on the most obvious and immediate threat to the restoration of prosperity: the hideous specter of runaway federal spending.
The daunting figures cited above aren’t speculative, and they don’t raise the sobering prospect of punishing burdens at some dimly glimpsed moment of the future. The numbers—$2,675 a month that must be paid or borrowed for every household in the nation, the equivalent of $32,100 per year—represent current reality. In June the Treasury Department released figures on federal spending for May that showed the government blowing through $305.3 billion, with more than 40 percent of the total borrowed against our children’s future. What’s more, May hardly stands out as a uniquely costly month: in the first 8 months of fiscal year 2012, the feds have perpetrated average monthly spending of more than $301 billion.
Where do the politicians and the bureaucrats hope to get this money? For the vast majority of U.S. households—nearly 70 percent—a contribution of more than $32,000 a year represents the majority of their annual income. How many Americans would choose to contribute more than half of what they earn to Washington, D.C., all the while carrying additional tax burdens to sustain state and local governments?
The question becomes even more painful in light of the current distribution of the income-tax burden. With nearly half of all households paying nothing in federal income tax, that makes the burden for taxpaying families more like $5,000 a month, or $60,000 a year—well above the mean figure for total income of American households. In other words, if policymakers distributed the cost of spending equally among all taxpayers, many families would need to send all their money to Washington, with nothing left for food, shelter, or basic survival.