Blame the voters for government shutdown

The poorly informed “common sense” talk radio and music dj’s are in full “throw the bums out” mode when it comes to the state government shutdown here in Minnesota. It’s all about blaming the politicians instead of those who put them there. And nobody’s even mentioning the root of the problem: the “no new taxes” pledge.

Both DFL Governor Mark Dayton and the Republicans are doing what they were elected to do. Dayton was elected to raise taxes on the rich (by fewer than 50 percent of Minnesotans). Republicans were given control of both houses of the Legislature because voters fell for the “no new taxes” pledge. Thanks, Tea Party (and your Big Oil and Republican enablers).

“No new taxes” is a nationwide movement, and it’s hamstrung dozens of state governments. It’s been pushed by national organizations like Americans for Tax Reform, led by Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist, and state organizations like the Taxpayers’ League of Minnesota, formerly led by David Strom and currently by Phil Krinkie.

Put simply: “No new tax” is a ruse.

It sounds good to “common sense” voters: Limit politicians from taxing, which will force them to cut spending.

To understand the reality apparently requires uncommon sense, which we need a lot more of in the U.S.A.

In Minnesota, “no new taxes” has actually meant increased fees (licenses, user fees, park permits, etc.), increased property taxes, a shift of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class, and a redistribution of wealth from lower earners to higher earners. The Department of Revenue — even under Republican Gov. Pawlenty — said the rich in Minnesota pay less on the dollar than the middle class when you figure in the entire tax burden.

“No new taxes” means higher taxes for the middle class because neither party has the courage to cut spending enough to make a dent in the state’s total tax bill — just like at the federal level, where the spending cuts amount to a fraction of a percent of the federal budget. In D.C., no one will touch defense or Medicare. It St. Paul, no one will touch education, roads, or public safety (cops and courts). In both cases, the poor (health and human services) bear the brunt of spending cuts because politicians exaggerate their share of the budget.

Politicians are supposed to do two things: tax and spend. The very idea of a pledge not to perform one of government’s core duties means compromise is off the table. The equivalent would be the Democrats saying “no cuts in spending.” If you sign a pledge that you won’t increase/decrease taxes or spending, any “compromise” you make is not worthy of the name.

For Democrats, taxing and spending are both on the table, as they should be. For Republicans, only one.

“No new taxes” means we can’t even change the revenue formula to raise taxes in one area and cut them in another, keeping the total bill the same. To the pledge signers, that would be a “new tax.”

That means we can’t increase taxes on those who can afford it while cutting them on the majority, even if the total budget does not increase. “No new taxes” is not in the interest of the middle class or the poor. Why can’t Democrats make that case?

It’s beyond me why the middle class doesn’t vote their economic interests. I get why the Republican establishment has a love affair with the rich. It’s who they are. What I don’t get is why the poor and middle class base goes along with it.

Actually, I do:

1.) Because they lack the “uncommon sense” to realize they’ve been taken for a ride.

2.) Because the Republican Party has convinced poor and middle class “values voters” (Evangelical Christian, Catholic and otherwise) that the party that’s “right” on abortion, homosexuality, etc., must also be right on economic policy, foreign policy, environment, taxing and spending, etc.

Uncommon sense demonstrates how laughable the connection is between “Christian values” and right-wing capitalist values. Those who have actually read the Bible (as opposed to most Christians, who haven’t) know that it does not provide justification for laissez-faire capitalism, free market fundamentalism, uncontrolled resource destruction, or an interventionist foreign policy.

But the “common sense” of the Republican base tells them that the party that’s right about so-called “family values” must be right about everything else.

“Uncommon sense” also tells us that the Republican establishment doesn’t want to make abortion illegal, because that would destroy the primary political motivation of a huge segment of their base.

So what’s the solution to the gridlock, given the realities of “the pledge”? Assuming few or no Republicans break the pledge, I think Dayton should give in and tell the voters “That’s what you get for falling for the ruse.” He and the Democrats should make the simple case against the pledge, say “See, we’re the ones who ended up comproming (capitulating)” and see what happens in the next election.

Here’s the key, though: Force the Republicans to cut more than Democrats’ pet projects. Make them cut eduction, highways, parks, hunting and fishing programs, and public safety. Then we’ll see how the average Minnesotan like the newer smaller government.

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