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Balancing the government checkbook - Martha Carr

The Bush tax breaks of 2001 are coming up for renewal and there's a lot of debate over which ones to preserve and which ones to let expire.

At stake are the estate tax, which was eliminated; the relief from the marriage penalty and taxes for the wealthier brackets; the relief that was granted on the tax to capital gains and dividends; and the increase in the ceiling of the child credit tax.

All of this relief is set to vanish at the end of this year, unless Congress gets moving. It can send chills down our collective spines whenever we realize our family budget is connected to Congress moving swiftly. Most Democrats want to preserve the tax benefits to the lower economic brackets, and are wrangling to increase the taxes on the upper brackets.

They're using the argument that the deficit has to be paid by someone. Republicans are countering with the idea that the Great Recession is not a good time to increase taxes on anyone. Surely, there has to be one person left in Washington with a spark of creativity who can think of something else to relieve the deficit besides taking it out of the pockets of Americans who still have two dimes to rub together.

There has to be some kind of balance between providing for the lesser of us and having fewer services when there's less money. If America wants businesses to hire more people and get back to work, don't take the sliver of funds small business owners would be using to do that.

Most of us wince whenever the national discussion gets around to taxes. We don't like them and no matter what political views someone brings to the table, we're never happy about how the bill is being allocated. Let's look at it like a national checkbook, where our cousins can sign the checks, but our immediate family is the ones who make the deposits. Our cousins decided that another branch of the family tree needed special services and they made a great case for the program. We agreed to pay our fair share to help them out. However, our cousins took a closer look at our siblings and saw that our brother was making more money than the rest of us, and arbitrarily decided he should pay a higher percentage. Their argument was that the money had to come from somewhere and the brother doesn't need it for anything that the cousins deemed as essential.

The bar for what's seen as "wealthier" has been set fairly low by Washington at $250,000 for a combined income. That may sound like a lot of money, but once a budget that includes kids, a mortgage, planning for retirement, savings and all of the basic trappings is included, there's not a lot left over. There goes the vacation we knew he was planning for his family. There goes the new truck he was going to buy for his business. There goes the new job he was going to create at his store. There goes the ample reserve he was creating just in case he has a lean year or two.

But, they're correct, none of it was essential. But somewhere in there, the one who was actually making the money lost not only the right to spend most of it as he saw fit, but to enjoy the fruits of his labor. There are those who see the wealthier Americans as getting away with something as long as there's still someone in need who's not getting their problem solved. It's like they're saying that no one's going on vacation till everyone's been fed, schooled and housed. It's not enough to pay an equal percentage of income to taxes anymore. You're going to have to sacrifice more to make up the gaps for the rest of us.

Let's try a new tack. We can start to work within our means and accept that we will not be able to do all things for all people, but we'll do the best we can without asking anyone to carry any more of the burden than we are asking of ourselves. It's downright revolutionary.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.