Phil: Happy New Year, my friend. All the best to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous new year.
Ethan: Why thank you, and the same to you. Any chance we’ll get a new attitude from you Republicans in 2014? Or are we in for more of the same when it comes to obstructing the government’s ability to help people?
Phil: Well if you’re proposing the creation of the federal Department of Happiness, yeah, definitely more obstruction. However, if you are willing to discuss ways to implement a more “customer friendly” government then yes, a new attitude.
Ethan: I’m definitely open. Customer service and ease in government are nowhere near what they need to be. For progressives like me, government working effectively is imperative. Give me an example of what you’re thinking.
Phil: How about this: Rather than forcing people to go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for their license, then to town hall to pay excise taxes, let’s enable people to enter town hall and walk out with both.
Ethan: Sure. However, I was thinking a little bigger. How about we turn Obamacare into Medicare? Instead of policies and premiums that each individual has to shop and pay for, let’s do a simple deduction from your paycheck and have everyone who walks into a hospital and get the care they need. It has worked efficiently and effectively for our elderly for 50 years. Why not for everyone?
Phil: You thinking bigger government? I’m shocked! Although, I am impressed that now you want to sit down and design health care in a collaborative fashion. Where was that spirit when Obamacare was stuffed down Americans throats?
Ethan: Well, when children (aka Republican U.S. senators) aren’t willing to take their medicine for the health of the nation, sometimes you have to force them to swallow some pills. But getting back on topic, we see the same simplicity with Social Security. Everyone gets a simple deduction and then, when they reach a certain age, checks simply start arriving.
Phil: Remember Medicare is paid by the employee and employer as an insurance premium. In order to work, it must be priced properly over the long run. Sure, the checks will keep coming from Washington unless, of course, China decides to call in their debt and the U.S. turns into Greece.
Ethan: Greece is a lovely country. They invented baklava! But stop scaring people about Social Security. It is solvent for at least another 20 years, and with just a few changes, it will be for another 75.
Phil: Here’s a simple idea: How about we let people invest their own money, instead of having the government involved at all?
Ethan: We tried that. It was called the first 150 years of America when over half of our elderly were impoverished. Today, that number is closer to 10 percent thanks to Social Security.
Phil: Do you really believe the baby boomers are prepared to live another 30 years or so with financial dignity when they retire? They have so little saved the demands they will place on government is just beginning.
Ethan: Raise the cap on earnings subject to Social Security tax and means test, and your problem is solved. Here’s another that you will perhaps appreciate: Instead of the thousands of pages of Dodd/Frank, we simply go back to the rules that were in place post depression. Reinstate Glass-Steagall. It was about a page long, and it completely kept our banks out of this crazy speculating that almost destroyed our country.
Phil: I do like that one.
Ethan: Here’s another. How about we get rid of all these crazy tax breaks that are designed to favor one industry over another. Just level the playing field and keep our income, sales, and property taxes clean. Then, if government wants to support an industry, they must do it through a direct payout. You want the ski lift industry to charge 5 percent less than everyone else because you think it’s important? The Legislature must vote to allocate them money instead of doing it through the back door of our tax code.
Phil: You’re suggesting free markets will serve us better. You have definitely entered 2014 with a new perspective! However, if you really want simplicity in the tax code, how about we just go to a flat income tax? Eliminate all the layers and exemptions and simply charge everyone one rate?
Ethan: Yes, but then you would hurt low and middle income people by transferring a remarkable amount of wealth to the wealthiest. Much better to simply have rates that kick in at different brackets. That way you get simplicity and you reduce the income gap.
Phil: Well, if you really want simplicity in the tax code, eliminate the income tax altogether and simply create a national consumption tax. The more you consume, the more you pay, no matter what you are consuming.
Ethan: Same problem as above. Middle-income folks will end up paying a much higher percentage of their income, and the wealthy will pay less. Unfortunately, “simplicity for simplicity’s sake” often has unintended consequences.
Phil: You mean like everyone paying for government based upon what they spend? If that happened, power in Washington would diminish. More often than not, they use their power to make things overly complex. That leads to special interests enjoying special benefits (and rewards for the politicians who get the job done for them).
Ethan: I hear you on that.
Phil: Finally, may I also suggest, in the spirit of better serving the customer, that government be open when people who work can be served? I propose that we open government some nights and weekends so people don’t lose income writing checks to the government.
Ethan: Hey now. That sounds like a willingness to expand government to better meet the needs of people. If that’s the new Republican attitude for 2014, things are definitely looking up!