The nation’s 400 richest people have more combined wealth than the 80 million American households that comprise the heart of the middle class plus every American with less. Wealth is more concentrated in a few hands than ever before.
Those who have reaped most of the recent economic gains must share the sacrifice if we are to fix the federal budget deficit fairly. Many are willing to do their part to make America strong.
Four factors have ballooned the deficit. We fought two wars without paying for them. Instead, we cut federal taxes. The big entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) are growing rapidly and projected to run long-term deficits. And the recession reduced tax revenues, while prompting new stimulus spending.
To fix the deficit, we must reduce the growth in entitlement programs. Cuts should focus on higher-income beneficiaries, while sparing the benefits of modest income working families and the poor.
Measures to restrain ballooning health care costs are critical. Last year’s Affordable Care Act includes pilot programs to replace insurance incentives for expensive treatments with incentives for cost effective care. But more is needed.
Rolling back tax cuts for high-income taxpayers is necessary and fair. One hundred thousand American troops serve overseas and 6,000 have died. Is it really unreasonable to ask those who can afford it to help pay for the wars by giving up their tax cuts?
America will be strongest if we reduce the deficit in ways that keep wealth and opportunity in many hands.
(Hassebrook is executive director for the Center for Rural Affairs.)