Underfunding government

Last March, my wife and I were identity thefted.  In other words, somebody filed for a sizeable tax refund, using our name and identity.  We reported it, refiled our taxes, provided enough information that hopefully they caught the guy.  We were told that we would not be able to e-file.  In fact, we won’t be able to e-file for the next five years.  Annoying, but okay, we’ll do it the old-fashioned way.  No big deal.  So we filled out the tax form, sent it in, and should get a refund, though not as lucrative as the refund our thief got, the slimeball.  The IRS told us to be patient, that it could take a few months to get our refund.  Should expect it sometime in September or October.  It’s now February.  Still haven’t gotten it.  We’re going to be filing our taxes in the next week or so, despite the fact that we still haven’t gotten last year’s taxes dealt with.  But the IRS keeps losing budget.  They’re undermanned.  We need to be patient–that’s what the woman told me last week when I called in, after waiting on hold for two hours and twenty five minutes.

Big story last week–Rachel Maddow had it, so did NBC, so did Salon.  The VA takes basically forever to process veterans’ disability claims.  I don’t mean weeks; I mean years.  Right now it takes an average of two years for the Veterans Administration to process a disability claim.  They’re transitioning to a paper-less system, they say. The new system is kinda buggy.  Plus, you know, budget cuts.  Don’t have enough people to do the job.

Gun control’s a big issue right now, and there’s talk of having a national database of gun owners–that you’d have to register any new gun purchases.  That national database would be administered by ATF–the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.  But if that legislation were to pass, the ATF isn’t sure how they’d be able to do it.  They’ve had a hiring freeze since, like, 1985.  Keep losing budget.  They haven’t even had a director for seven years.

Have a friend who’s an acquisitions officer for Hill Air Force Base.  He says that his job is essentially impossible.  His job is to get officers the things they need to do their jobs.  He can’t do it, though, because of budget cuts.  He has no idea what will happen if and when the sequester hits.  Shoot himself, he said wryly.

Love Rachel Maddow’s new book, Drift.  I know, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, big lefty, biased source, I know the arguments.  But her book is brilliant, thoroughly researched, and without a discernible political agenda.  But the stuff about our nuclear arsenal has the power to keep me up at night, I’ll tell you.  Keeping tabs on our nuclear missiles up there in North Dakota is a rotten job.  The guys who do it are undertrained, poorly paid, and unmotivated.  There just isn’t money for something like that–nuclear security.

Oh, also embassy security. Because when you read the report about Benghazi, one thing jumps out at you–the security there was inadequate.  Still is.  Not surprising–about half of all current US embassies have inadequate security details. Budget cuts.

Without actually running, you know, numbers, let’s look at this sensibly.  The United States spends more on defense than any other nation on earth.  In fact, if you add up the amount spent on defense by the next seventeen nations combined, we still spend more.  Plus, you know, we have a country to run.  We don’t have the kind of social safety net that our European allies have, but we do have big entitlement programs, plus environmental protection, plus federally maintained roads and bridges, plus education assistance, plus border controls and immigration policies, plus a federal justice system, with all those judges and courtrooms and, I don’t know, bailiffs.  National parks.  Air traffic controllers.  Plus plus plus.

Conservatives say they want ‘smaller government.’  Fine.  They also don’t trust the federal government to do much of anything very well.  Plus, they hate taxes.  Hate hate hate taxes.  And the result is that the federal government actually does screw up a lot, filled, as it is, with underpaid, overworked employees constantly being told they have to do more and more with less and less.  In what must be the dispiriting atmosphere in which half the elected officials in government think you shouldn’t even exist, or your job shouldn’t.

But the collection of taxes is an essential government function.  Caring for our veterans: essential.  Providing security for diplomats abroad, completely essential.  Guarding and maintaining nuclear missiles?  OMG.  Is there a word beyond essential?

And they want to cut?  Seriously, more cuts?

I know this isn’t popular.  But it’s time we faced a central reality.  We Americans are seriously undertaxed.  Our government is being compromised by the un-American selfishness of opposing tax increases.  I’m sorry that this is sort of a rant.  And I can think of some golf courses in Guam that could go, if you want to talk about cutting military spending.  But the real problem is not spending.  It’s not.  It’s undertaxation.

So let me meet my conservative friends half-way.  Let’s have a serious conversation about government.  Let’s agree to increase funding for essential functions, even if that means raising taxes.  And sure, maybe there’s a little fat still to trim. I doubt there’s much, though.

But let’s start with the VA.  I’ll make a serious proposal. Let’s increase funding in the VA sufficient to hire enough claims processors.  The goal–to cut the time to process a disability claim from two years to, say, a week.  And here’s how we fund it.  With a tax increase.  Whaddya say?


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