MY ANNUAL BILL TO BE AN AMERICAN


After the New Hampshire primary, a friend commented that she didn’t want her taxes to go to send other people’s children to college, a comment on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan for free college education.

I was surprised and a little disappointed to hear that.  Through grants, to name one example, government is involved in education.  My taxes go to many places that are irrelevant to me.  I have no children,  I don’t eat meat, and I’m not a woman.  Should I have the right not to be taxed for public education, grazing fees on my land, and Planned Parenthood?  Of course not.  Is my friend going to vote for the other side, who will defund  Planned Parenthood and require that all rape-caused pregnancy be carried to term?   I was against the Iraq War long before it started, but my taxes went for that debacle.  I will never drive on roads in Texas again, so why should my taxes go for that?

While we are at it, we could get rid of the phrase “hard earned dollars.”  Sometimes they are, sometimes not.  In any case, the phrase is worn out.

There are things that the federal government must do, because we as people living in towns, cities and states simply cannot do them ourselves with our own resources.  We can’t clean up after a devastating natural disaster without federal help.  Yet, more than 30 Senators voted against Hurricane Sandy aid, even though many were from states that FEMA has been to many times after devastating storms.  We can’t defend ourselves against major foreign powers, and we can’t pay for medical care for the elderly or infirm.  We can’t build a national system of roads, and we can’t have a national weather service, the NIH or the CDC without the federal government.  These and so many other programs are essential to our well-being.  Live in the South?  Maybe you are glad the National Hurricane Center exists.  Government shouldn’t do everything, but there are things government can do.  And should.

People ought to save for retirement.  I did.  Sure, there are many who buy toys or travel everywhere without putting anything away and then find themselves old with no money.  I am not sure what is going to happen to them, except they will have less—but not zero—money.  We ought to make it easier to save, and we have to an extent with IRAs.  We need to do more, however, because if a senior is destitute, somebody somehow has to care for them, unless we are a different country from the one I thought we were. I had good fortune and a good job.  In the 45 years of being between 20 and 65, had I developed a significant medical problem, and I hadn’t had insurance, I would have become bankrupt.  Many have.  It doesn’t matter whether or not a person was saving money or whether the problem was their fault.  They need a safety net.  We can argue about the size of the safety net or whether people like me should receive it, just because we reached a certain age.  That is fair.  But the fact our taxes go to pay for something somebody else gets doesn’t a priori make it wrong.  That’s what elections are about.  My taxes are payment for my annual bill of being an American, and frankly, it is a great bargain.

People ought to have a healthy lifestyle, too.  Why should I pay for smokers who develop emphysema or lung cancer?  Or those who eat the wrong diet and suffer the consequences?  Or motorcyclists who have accidents and weren’t wearing helmets?  The list is endless.  I could add to it the question “Why should I pay for future cases of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy caused by football, soccer, or hockey?”  Nobody forced those people to play the game.  Many made a lot of money.  Why, I could ask, don’t they fund themselves?

What we have accomplished with our collective will and our federal government is so pervasive in our lives we don’t recognize it but take it for granted.  It isn’t; it may be removed at any time.  When FEMA was decimated under Bush, we saw what happened to New Orleans.  Bush’s response to Katrina did as much to bring down his presidency as Iraq.  Had Social Security been privatized, the recession would have bankrupted millions of people who get by on something they were never intended to get by on.  I shudder to think what will happen if Medicare is taken away.  It can be.  All it needs is a president, a Congress, and a Supreme Court willing to do it, and if one thinks that is impossible, one is unaware of reality.  I am already preparing for 2017 and 2018, when the other side is in power and the safety nets are removed.  I am counting on voters finally waking up and showing up to vote in November 2018 to take back Congress and stop the madness.  Being American voters, I may be hoping for too much.

Every time we drive on a federal highway/Interstate, we are seeing what our taxes went for.  Every time we go into a national forest or a national park, we see it. The food labels for nutrition that are so helpful are a federal law.  We ought to have point-of-origin food labels and label GMOs. The medications we take are safer, due to the FDA.  If one flies, there is the FAA, NTSB, and the TSA.  Indeed, we now have the TSA, because prior to 2001, the airlines were responsible for security, and we saw what happened.  Pilots are trained to certain standards.  Flight attendants are, too, and everything that they say was legislated.

Regulations exist to ensure there is a certain baseline of information that is given to the public.  Regulations in food safety exist because without them, we have no guarantee that each food service facility will do the right thing.  Regulations exist, because every year we see what happens without proper regulation.

Here’s my plan for who pays for college:  I would bring back the Civilian Conservation Corps and the GI Bill, make young people serve their country and then give them the education they want.  College for young people is a better investment than the Iraq War was. My downpayment for being an American was serving my country.  The annual payment is called taxes.  I get a say in what happens.  That’s my social contract.

Let’s bring it back.  It will help bring us together.

 

 

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