Due to consistent political failure and inter-party brinksmanship in Washington, more Americans have become politically active in the last several years. Regardless of political views, it is undeniable that the conservative TEA Party and the liberal Occupy Wall Street protests are bringing much-needed attention to changing Washington. Pundits and politicians have denigrated and cheered both movements. Despite their differences in proposed solutions, however, at a closer look these protests have a common theme: the federal government has failed citizens, and it has done so as a result of corruption, bribery and collusion between those who can afford influence and those who want to be bought.
Just last month, Congress couldn’t overlook differences to decrease spending by a mere three percent. With national unemployment averaging 9%, the unemployment rates of those aged 16-24 well into the double-digits and the national debt having passed $15 trillion (equivalent to 97 IPads per American), it’s almost surprising we haven’t seen Greece-style riots. And while politicians fiddle, a large portion of the Debt-Paying Generation (those ages 5-30 who will shoulder the costs of high government spending) has little hope of paying off debt, buying a first home, or even gaining workforce skills in the near future.
Despite the rhetoric of a dividedWashington, the fact is that both parties are pushing off hard decisions about the debt, entitlement reform and tax reform for the purpose of re-election. While this may be great for the approximately 470 Washington jobs up for grabs next November, it is little solace for the American people.
As such, we propose the formation of the Occupy Debt Party. Instead of going after Wall Street executives or the federal government exclusively, the TEA Party and Occupy participants should work together to push for policies that will provide jobs, balance the budget and return power to the people. We set forth the following policies to achieve these goals:
First, eliminate loopholes in the tax code, lower rates and broaden the base. Most federal loopholes are unfair to the politically disconnected and should be eliminated. Lowering rates would grow our economy, decrease unemployment and increase government revenues.
Secondly, take out all federal subsidies to private industries. Much of this is welfare for the wealthy— for example, 70% of farm subsidies go to the biggest 10% biggest farmers— and all of it is inefficient, such as billions in ethanol subsidies. Companies should earn customers through hard work and quality of product, not by buying and selling political favors.
Third, liberals and conservatives should come together to support auditing the Defense Department and cut all extra spending. We suspect this could equal 15% or more of current base military spending, or almost $265 per American.
Decentralize the American education system by eliminating the Department of Education and all associated programs. In addition to preventing tens of billions of inefficient spending every year, doing this will put authority over education back in the hands of state and local government where it belongs. As American students fall further behind their international counterparts, it is crucial to give states flexibility to implement policies best suited to their students, rather than forcing schools to toe the line toWashington demands.
While it would only save around $47 million annually, Congress must lead by example in saving money; therefore, all Members of Congress should cut their pay in half until the unemployment rate drops to 6 percent.
Finally, two of the major drivers of our long-term debt, Social Security and Medicare, must be reformed. This should be started by cutting out fraud and waste (including $48 billion in improper Medicare payments, according to the Government Accountability Office, or $60 billion according to a 2009 CBS report), means-testing the programs, and raising the retirement age for both. The government has lied to the American people for decades about the “promise” of Social Security and Medicare. The longer the lie continues, the worse the pain will be later. Better to spread the pain among the retired, the middle-aged and the young than to have the programs implode down the road.
With despair growing as unemployment and high debt continue, Americans must remember that we live in a Democratic Republic. This means the 99% can vote in far greater numbers than the corrupt members of the 1%. We can allow ourselves to be split by colluding special interests and politicians, or we can work together. To quote Jon Stewart, “We hear every… day… how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every…day…The only place we don’t is [in Washington] or on cable TV.”
Dustin Siggins is formerly a policy and politics blogger, and is co-authoring a book on the “Debt-Paying Generation” with William Beach of The Heritage Foundation.