Voting: You Gotta Pay to Play

Michael Youssef

5/19/2011 3:03:00 PM - Michael Youssef
It's a week until payday, and the budget is tight. The family wants to eat out, so you pile everyone in the car and head for McDonald's. Near the entrance, a man holds a cardboard sign: "Homeless and hungry—Please help."

Your kids tug at your sleeves and say, "Won't you help that man?"

So you offer to treat the man to a burger and fries.

"Oh, thank you!" he says. "But I have a better idea! Let's get in your car. I'll show you a great place to eat."

So you and your family, along with the man, get in your car. He directs you to a pricey lobster restaurant, The Crimson Crustacean. After you're seated, the man tells the waitress, "We'll all have New York steak and lobster tail. Nothing but the best for my friends!"

You stammer, "But— but—"

The man points to you and adds, "And my generous friend here gets the bill."

Now, that's just crazy, isn't it? You'd never let someone take advantage of you . . . or would you? Actually, you do. We all do. It's happening to all of us who pay taxes.

According to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, 51 percent of American households pay no federal income tax. They may pay some taxes on gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol—and they pay their Social Security contributions. But the majority of Americans do not pay any of the taxes that fund our national priorities—national defense, homeland security, welfare, education, foreign aid, and so forth.

This is an alarming trend. In 2007, 38 percent of households paid no income tax. In 2008, 49 percent. Today, 51 percent. And tomorrow . . . ?

There is a quotation often misattributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, but actually penned in 1951 by an American named Elmer Peterson: "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largesse out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result that the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship."

This prediction is being fulfilled in our own time. On Monday, May 16, 2011, the federal debt climbed above the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling. The debt is growing at a rate of $3.9 billion per day—and we face $100 trillion in unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities as waves of Baby Boomers hit retirement age. At this rate, in just ten years, all federal tax revenue will go to paying the costs of these "entitlement" programs, leaving nothing for national defense or any other priorities.

America is drowning in debt. Taxpayers are demanding fiscal responsibility—but our leaders won't listen. What's the solution? This may sound like a radical idea, but our fiscal emergency demands radical intervention: Only those who pay taxes should be allowed to vote. Only those with "skin in the game" should be allowed to choose our representatives.

Is this idea constitutional? Absolutely! The portions of the Constitution that deal with suffrage are the 14th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th Amendments. Read them. You'll see that my idea is constitutionally sound. Such a proposal would force our spendaholic government to listen to the voice of the taxpayers—the people who pay Uncle Sam's bills.

Who, then, would get to vote? Every bona fide stakeholder: Current taxpayers. Those who have paid income taxes in the past (including retirees who no longer pay income taxes). And I would also include veterans and members of the armed forces—whether or not they pay taxes, they literally have their own "skin in the game."

Some critics would say that this idea is an attack on the poor. Nonsense. I would disallow the non-taxpaying rich from voting as well—and from buying influence through lobbying. There are more non-taxpaying rich Americans than you might suppose—such as L.A. Dodgers owner Frank H. McCourt Jr., a multimillionaire who paid no federal or state income taxes from 2003 to 2008, according to the Los Angeles Times.

There are those who would argue that everyone should have a right to vote—it's only fair! But is it fair for one group of citizens to vote to take the private property of other citizens? Is it fair for the beggar to vote himself a steak and lobster dinner at his neighbor's expense?

Instead of viewing my suggestion as taking the vote away from "the poor," let's reframe the question this way: Why does our tax system permit more than half of all Americans to pay no taxes? Shouldn't the tax burden be spread more equally across the population? Even a tax bite of as little as $100 a year might motivate them to elect more fiscally responsible leaders.

To those who still think this idea is unfair, let me pose this question: Are you seriously telling me that 51 percent of Americans are poverty-stricken? Almost 90 percent of American households subscribe to cable or dish TV services. If they can afford hundreds of dollars per year for entertainment, they can certainly afford to become shareholders in our republic.

One of our founding fathers, Samuel Adams, said, "Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote . . . that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country." Adams reminds us that voting is more than a right. It's a responsibility.

Steak and lobster? Or burgers and fries? Those who pay the bills should have the final say.