Berkley Bedell: Taxing according to ability to pay could revitalize the nation

The following op-ed by former Iowa Congressman Berkley Bedell appeared in June 25, 2012 edition of the Des Moines Register:

In 1936, when I was 15 years old, I started making fishing tackle in my home with $50 saved from my newspaper delivery route. When my son, Tom, sold the business a few years ago, it was by far the largest, most successful fishing tackle manufacturing business in the nation.

That business was successful primarily because we recognized a basic rule of business and for almost every organization. It is: Revenue matters.

Revenue matters to the family whose breadwinner has just lost his or her job or has had to accept a pay cut.

It matters to the restaurant owner who has seen his or her sales and revenue decline, and, indeed, it matters to the government that proposes to cut back on the education of our youth and the lives of our retirees because of a lack of revenue.

I lived during the period following World War II, sometimes called “the Great Prosperity” — when our top income tax rate was 91 percent, compared to today’s 35 percent rate; when the income of the top 1 percent was between 6 percent and 9 percent of total income, compared to today’s approximately 24 percent.

If we would reinstate those midcentury income tax rates, the Congressional Research Service estimates that it would double our income tax revenue. We could reduce the deficit and stop talking about cutting back on Social Security, Medicare, education, food stamps and our national infrastructure.

I served in the U.S. Congress in a time of bipartisanship where we worked together for the good of the nation and when corporate America and the rich did not control the airwaves and elections with their massive political contributions.

Now as the Bush temporary tax cut, directed primarily at the wealthy, is due to expire, a false debate is going on in Congress as to whether the tax cut should be allowed to expire for the approximately top 2 percent of our taxpayers — or should we cut back on programs for our people and the nation.

Few people realize that this debate is for show only.

All but 13 Republicans in the whole Congress have signed a written pledge that they will not increase any taxes or close any loopholes without cutting taxes somewhere else. Both Iowa Republican congressmen have signed such a pledge. Sen. Chuck Grassley is one of the 13 Republican members who have not signed.

A debate serves little purpose if one side has already pledged not to change its position.

Fortunately, we live in a democracy where we can vote. This fall, corporate America and the wealthy will be flooding the airwaves with political ads promoting continued tax cuts for the wealthy and program cuts for the people.

If others feel as I do that this is not the kind of nation we want, we had better get out to vote and replace today’s tea party Republicans with legislators who will consider the arguments without tying themselves to pledges to the rich.

Because of what I have witnessed in my 90 years on this planet, I have written a book titled “Revenue Matters.” It is unfortunate that most of those tea party Republicans were not around during the Great Prosperity to see what we can do as a nation if we just tax ourselves according to our ability to pay, use the revenues to put our people to work and build the nation we are capable of building.

I hope people will read my book and consider my beliefs before they vote. Thank God we live in a democracy.

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