How Do You Pay For All This Stuff? How Do You Pay For All This Stuff? How Do You Pay For All This Stuff?

Joel Marklund/Bildbyran via ZUMA

A conversation:

Q: How do you pay for all these programs?

A: Well, that’s going to be a big negotiation with a lot of people in Congress. We have more than a trillion dollars worth of what are called “tax expenditures” that both liberals and conservatives think have gotten out of hand.1 More than two-thirds of these expenditures are effectively handouts to the affluent.2 We also pay enormous subsidies to multinational corporations every year,3 including the appalling $20 billion we pay year after year to the oil and coal industries.4

There’s spending on defense that could be rationalized: even lots of Republicans agree that there’s billions in wasted earmark spending in the latest Pentagon budget.5 Kirsten Gillibrand represents Wall Street, and she thinks a tiny financial transaction fee—tenths of a cent per trade—could be a win-win by raising money and reducing the chance of another financial meltdown.6 Bernie Sanders suggests we should crack down on offshore tax havens7 and reduce the capital gains breaks that millionaires enjoy.8 Top marginal rates on the super rich have been cut in half since the Reagan era9 and Elizabeth Warren has pointed out that America was a pretty prosperous place under the higher rates of the 50s and 60s.10 There are lots of creative ideas for carbon charges that would reduce wasteful energy use and raise money for research into solar and wind and other renewable resources.11

But that’s what negotiations are all about. The press fixates on adding up a bunch of numbers in Column A and then “fact checking” whether they match another bunch in Column B. That’s pointless. Every committee in Congress is going to have its own ideas about revenue and spending, and so does the president. But elections aren’t about spreadsheets. They’re about telling people what we believe in. The hundred-page white papers and blue-pencil markups come later, after you’ve won an election. Right now, people just want to know what we’re going to fight for once we get there.

That’s it. That’s really all you need. Just repeat some version of “it’s a negotiation” until everyone finally gets tired and decides to move on.

1Congressional Budget Office: “Tax Expenditures”
2Tax Policy Center: “Who Benefits From Tax Expenditures?”
3New York Times: “Why Are Your State Tax Dollars Subsidizing Corporations?”
4Vox: “Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more than we thought”
5Citizens Against Government Waste: “2018 Congressional Pig Book Summary”
6Rolling Stone: “We Need a Financial Transactions Tax Before It’s Too Late”
7The Guardian: “Bernie Sanders warns of ‘international oligarchy’ after Paradise Papers leak”
8berniesanders.com: “Making the Wealthy, Wall Street, and Large Corporations Pay their Fair Share”
9Tax Policy Center: “Top Individual Income Tax Rate: 1946-2017”
10CNBC: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to roll back the GOP tax cuts”
11Motherboard: “Majority of US Supports a Carbon Tax and Wants to Spend the Money on Renewable Energy”