When the Bush Administration took us to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, they decided not to pay for those wars with taxes. In fact they insisted on giving people tax breaks, including those for whom war taxes would not have affected their lifestyles. The well-understood consequence was that someone else would pay for the wars. At the time the talk was that the next generation would have to pay.
Now under the Obama Administration, many of the same Republicans and some Tea Party allies want to pay the debts created by those wars by cutting the budget. What they want to cut are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other pieces of what we call the "safety net." In other words, someone else will pay for the wars, with hunger, homelessness, illness and death. Not the next generation, but the most vulnerable.
Turn now to injured vets. Many in Congress claim we don’t have the money to provide adequate care so the injured vets will continue to pay part of the cost of the war with their bodies and minds.
In each context someone else will pay. Taxes are not the only way people pay the costs of war. They also pay with their lives and bodies, and with the wages, goods and services they are asked to forego. But however costs are paid, they will be paid by someone else.
Certainly taxes should be designed so that it doesn’t create hardship, whether to alleviate hardship or otherwise. But the stand of this group of fiscal conservatives is that no one, no corporation, none of us should pay for our common burden, except the vulnerable, except for the people on whom the costs will be an enormous hardship.
Of course it is emotionally convenient to blame the poor and the injured for their own misfortunes. But coming on the heels of the great recession and two wars that position is preposterous. And it’s only made worse by unwillingness to stimulate the economy so that the burdens would be easier.
Of course there are examples of people who game the system. But we need to understand that there are people who game the system in all walks of life and all income categories. There is no way to have a perfect system that gets all the cheats, all the tax cheats, and all the others. But we certainly can make it worse. Two wrongs don’t make a fiscal right; they just make it more damaging, destructive and unfair.
What needs to be clear is that there are no religious values reflected in insisting that the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be born only by the vulnerable, the soldiers and the next generation; there is nothing righteous about it. This taxpayer is sick and tired of the hypocritical self-righteousness of the stingiest people in Washington. This taxpayer lives up to his responsibilities.
Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.
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