President Obama has asked for a tax increase. Conservatives raised their voices in protest. Higher taxes would dampen the economy, they complain. Job creators would be silenced if the president got his way.
Those arguments aren’t new. We’ve heard them before and they may or may not hold water. The impact on the economy of a specific tax hike can legitimately be debated by reasonable people.
What is harder to dispute is the opposite question: Does the federal government, based on its performance, deserve a raise? The answer to that, according to public opinion polls and lots of other indications, is a resounding “no.”
Plenty of Americans would be fine with a tax increase if they thought the money they’re sending to Washington for federal services was being well spent. But they don’t think so and for that reason alone the president’s request will - and probably should - be rejected on Capitol Hill.
According to a recent Fox News Channel poll, nearly half of Americans believe their tax dollars are being less carefully spent now than they were five years ago. Only 14 percent said they were being more carefully handled.
In addition, the same poll shows that 60 percent of Americans think they’re getting a bad deal from Uncle Sam for the taxes they pay; only 29 percent say they’re getting a good deal.
And here’s the clincher: Only 3 percent of those surveyed say that they’re paying less than their fair share of taxes.
If the U.S. government were a private corporation, financial analysts would opine that the customers don’t believe they’re getting fair value for their dollars. In the nation’s capital, we say the voters are dissatisfied.
There’s no need to rely on polls to understand this phenomena. Last November’s midterm elections were proof enough. Advocates of big - and bigger - government were tossed out of office in droves. In their stead, advocates of less federal spending were elected - enough to change control of the House of Representatives to Republican from Democratic.
The results were widely interpreted as a rebellion against overweening debt and government run amok. Pundits proclaimed that voters wanted elected representatives who were fiscally conservative or, in other words, who favored less rather than more federal spending.
But that analysis misses a larger point. Voters were also saying that they had lost the value proposition when it came to their investment in federal programs. They no longer believed that they were getting their money’s worth and were demanding that for all they paid into the system, they wanted to get more out of it. And because they weren’t getting the service they thought they deserved, they demanded that the system shrink.
They asked: Why pay all that dough - as much as 40 percent or more of their income - for a set of services that were substandard, unneeded or both?
No one who has driven the Interstate 95 corridor on the East Coast can think that federal dollars are being well spent. The delays - and the extra tolls - are maddening.
Medicare is welcomed by seniors but the paperwork needed to cut through the system is often barely worth the torture.
Every time we turn around, Mr. Obama - the Nobel Peace laureate - is sending us into another unwinnable and incredibly expensive war. What do we get out of those?
And none of these expenditures have made much of a dent in the jobless rate while inflation continues to whittle away at the paychecks of the people who have managed to find jobs.
Voters are fed up with a government that doesn’t listen and apparently doesn’t care. They have also rejected a government that doesn’t work very well.
Mr. Obama’s vision of a benevolent government that watches over people who can’t fend for themselves is an anachronism. If he’s going to sell the idea of raising taxes on anyone - including the richest Americans - he is going to have to resuscitate the faded reputation of the central government.
He has a difficult job on his hands.
Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.