Congress, stop digging

Posted: Mar 30, 2005 12:00 AM

ATLANTA (UPI) -- "Once you're in a hole, stop digging," goes the old saying. The United States keeps getting further and further in a fiscal hole due to the stifling effects of the 9-million-word tax code mess, the impending insolvency of the Social Security system, and the ever-growing budget deficit, but congressional leaders won't stop digging.

In the weeks leading up to April 15th of each year we start agonizing and complaining about collecting all the paperwork to file our tax returns, getting a firm to put it all together; we hope there are no errors so we stay out of jail, and then get stressed out over the amount we ultimately have to pay.

After tax returns are filed -- and the psychological pain stops -- filers are left with a sense of unfairness and we awe at the insanity of the code and the process. Then we get mad and prepare for it all over again next year.

We have known for decades that the Social Security structure is broken. In just 13 years the system will be insolvent as it will have to pay out more in revenues than it will receive in payroll taxes. President Bush and some congressional Republicans are addressing the certain bankruptcy but congressional Democrats and liberal special interest groups are fighting them every step of the way.

Instead of addressing the system's impending fiscal insolvency, leaders on the left want to wage a war of semantics over use of the terms "crisis" and "personal accounts." History shows us that the left will shirk responsibility by simply proposing to cut your benefits and raise your taxes.

When we elected a Republican president and a Republican majority in Congress, we thought the runaway spending spree of our money would stop. The excess spending did not stop, and it's not all associated with the war in Iraq. Mandatory entitlement spending alone currently accounts for over half of the federal budget. By the year 2015, mandatory entitlement spending will account for over 60 percent of budget outlays. The persistent overspending has caused the United States to become a net debtor nation instead of the strong net lending nation we once were.

The problems associated with the income tax code, Social Security and runaway spending are not all the problems or issues we face, but they are our biggest problems. Real solutions have been put on the table, but a surplus of status quo thinking by congressional Democrats, and a deficit of action by some congressional Republicans, is digging our fiscal hole deeper.

"Congress doesn't act unless there is a crisis," one member of Congress once told me. That axiom is growing more apparent every day. Since many in Congress want to deny that we face crises in our economic infrastructure, the public must act now to remind them. We must demand urgent action to save our economic infrastructure. We must holler until they start to follow.

Instead of reading poll numbers, Congress must start reading thousands of e-mail messages from angry voters in their districts and states. Instead of listening to their political advisers, Congress must start listening to thousands of phone calls from people who are fed up with the income tax code, the dysfunctional Social Security structure, and runaway deficit spending. Instead of focusing on partisan politics and the next election, we must force Congress to focus on not leaving this mess for the next generation.

Let's start with a few real simple and specific messages. Congress, replace the income tax code with a national sales tax modeled on the FairTax. Congress, pass legislation that includes optional personal retirement accounts for workers younger than 45 years of age using 4 percentage points of their payroll taxes. Congress, let's enact a balanced budget amendment, since you have demonstrated that you cannot control your spending addiction.

Imagine what would happen if every member of Congress received this simple message every week from thousands of voters in their districts and states. Maybe then they will begin to see the same crises that we the people face every day.

As an economic superpower we should be embarrassed that nations once part of the communist Soviet Union, such as Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia recently replaced their outdated tax systems with a single-bracket flat tax system. These formerly backward nations are all experiencing booming economies as a result.

We should be embarrassed that the small country of Chile established a system of personal retirement accounts in 1980 that has provided real retirement security for its citizens.

We should be outraged that a few municipalities and workers in certain fields, such as teachers and railroad employees, were allowed to opt out of Social Security while the majority of us suffer under the current broken system. Members of Congress should be even more embarrassed that they enjoy a personal retirement account subsidized by the taxpayers, the Thrift Savings Plan, which many of them would deny the rest of us.

If Congress is not embarrassed, maybe they have not heard us holler loud enough and often enough. Don't get mad, do something.

Herman Cain is chief executive officer of T.H.E. New Voice, Inc. and New Voters Alliance, and host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show The Bottom Line with Herman Cain. He is past chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and past chairman and chief executive office of the National Restaurant Association.