Twenty Percent, Yes. Twenty-Five Percent, No

Posted: Sep 22, 2011 12:01 AM
WASHINGTON -- It is clear from the way President Barack Obama has been talking about the federal budget recently, and about taxation since he came to office, that all the money that Americans earn belongs to the federal government. The key words in this conversation are "tax expenditures." Obama has lost a lot in tax expenditures, and he wants more of those tax expenditures back. He can spend that money, he believes, more wisely than the citizenry -- that is to say, you and me.

He has wiggled and wobbled on the nation's finances over the years. First, he spent money that he did not have. Then he threatened to raise taxes on the rich to pay for it. Then again he spent money that he did not have. Now, he is getting very serious about the budget, which means that the budget deficit is so large you do not even want to think about it. So he is back to taxing the rich again, which eventually means you and me.

Obama has announced a strategy to cut the deficit by $4.4 trillion over the next 10 years. He is going to get $1.1 trillion of it back from winding down our war effort. He accounts for another $1.2 trillion from cuts that have already been enacted; he thought we would not notice. Then there is $430 billion from lower interest payments, which he assures us are coming from lower debt payments that he says are coming. Finally, there is the federal income tax. He will have the rich pay as high a tax rate as the middle class by raising their taxes $450 billion, using the "Buffett Rule." The rule is Warren Buffett's proclamation that millionaires and billionaires pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle class.

Unfortunately, for the president, the Buffett Rule is like much else in his administration. It is a hoax. Buffett is wrong, and the president did not check Buffett's numbers or, if he did, he did not think we would check the numbers. Sources as diverse as The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press have demonstrated that millionaires and billionaires pay taxes -- as you would expect -- at a higher rate than the middle class. How could Obama, the smartest policy wonk of all, get things so wrong?

"This year," the AP reports, "households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes, payroll taxes and other taxes...." Households with incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 average 15 percent. Yet if the president and Buffett have their way, we soon shall all pay higher taxes, because millionaires and billionaires could have their wealth expropriated by the government. Though, that would not be enough to slake the federal government's thirst for our income. As The Wall Street Journal observes, "Mr. Obama could tax every billionaire in America at a 100 percent rate and it still wouldn't make a dent in the federal government deficit."

During the Johnson administration, Lyndon B. Johnson was at an airport and about to get into the wrong helicopter. An army staff sergeant ran up and redirected him: "Mr. President, that is your helicopter over there." To which the president replied, "Son they are all my helicopters." Obama suffers the same delusion. He believes all the money the citizenry earns is his money.

His government is now gorging itself on 25 percent of the gross domestic product. That is a peacetime record. Historically, in peacetime, the figure was more like 20 percent of GDP and lower. The way to budgetary solvency is not to raise taxes and take even more money out of the productive sector of the economy. It is to cut spending back to the historic level of 20 percent, freeing the private sector to grow the economy. Obama is throwing money at green projects like Solyndra, now under congressional investigation, and other farfetched schemes. It appears he cannot spend his "tax expenditures" more wisely than private investors, who create jobs that last even beyond the next fiscal budget.

It is time his opposition remind him of a historic rule for budgetary formulation: "Twenty percent, yes. Twenty-five percent, no."