President Obama has declined to outline a second term agenda. He doesn't say what he would do about the fiscal cliff that looms in just a couple of months. He hasn't addressed the glaring challenge of an aging population and entitlement spending that is careening toward insolvency. (On the contrary, he has significantly hastened the emergency by piling on new entitlement spending.) He hasn't proposed policies to improve the economy. He promises nothing more on Iran than to maintain ineffective sanctions.
We can glean this much: He'd like to hire 100,000 new teachers and he wants to raise taxes on "millionaires and billionaires." That's a flimsy agenda for a great nation. Does it even make sense?
Let's start with the teachers. This may be an old-fashioned idea, but shouldn't states and localities decide how many teachers they need? Isn't it just possible that Bangor, Me. might need fewer teachers and Yuma, Ariz. might need more?
We've been hiring greater numbers of teachers for decades now, casting our ballots for candidates who promise that a vote for more teachers is a vote for a better future. In the process, we dramatically reduced class sizes and boosted the power of the teachers' unions. As education reformer Jay Greene points out, in 1970 public schools employed one teacher for every 22.3 students. By 2012, the public schools employed one teacher for every 15.2 students. Yet student achievement has remained stubbornly flat during that period. The best evidence suggests that teacher quality, not class size, is the best guarantor of student success. And those goals may be in conflict. When you hire more teachers, there's less money available to offer higher salaries to better teachers.
So Obama's 100,000 new teachers proposal is at once an affront to federalism, a sop to the unions, and a waste of precious resources that could be better used to actually improve public education.
The second part of the president's plan is to force "millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share" of taxes. First: a translation. When Obama refers to millionaires and billionaires, he's talking about those earning $200,000 per year for an individual or $250,000 per year for a couple. That's the actual proposal. So if you are in that income group, congratulations, you're a millionaire or billionaire!
The president doesn't really pretend that raising taxes on the "rich" will make much of a dent in our trillion-dollar deficits or our $16 trillion national debt. Increasing taxes on those earning above $200,000 would raise .07 trillion over the next decade. But the president's own projections foresee $6.4 trillion in new debt over that time period. That's probably a gross underestimate, assuming as it does 4 percent growth in the economy. The Congressional Budget Estimate forecasts $10 trillion in deficits over the same period.
Obama doesn't really pretend, or not very energetically, that raising taxes on "the rich" is a deficit reduction measure. He promotes it as "fairness" and circulates the flatly outrageous fiction that the wealthy pay less than their secretaries. Romney attempted to correct this at the second debate by promising "the top 5 percent will continue to pay 60 percent of income taxes." A nation in which the top 1 percent earns 23.5 percent of national income but pays 40 percent of income taxes is not suffering from a lack of progressivity.
In 2008, then Senator Obama told Charlie Gibson that he'd support raising the capital gains tax despite the clear evidence that reducing the rate under Clinton had led to increased revenue from the rich to the Treasury. Treasury shmeasury, he just likes to raise taxes.
So Obama wants more of the taxpayers' money. Beyond hiring those teachers, what else would he spend it on? More wind, solar and biofuel energy? Other than making Al Gore a multimillionaire and enriching a few other big Obama donors, what has that investment done for us? The Department of Energy boasts that it has spent $34.7 billion on green technologies, creating nearly 60,000 jobs. Great. Columnist Deroy Murdock did the math: that's $578,333 in taxpayer funds for each job. And those "green" firms propped up by Obama keep going bankrupt. Solyndra, Ener1, Aptera Motors, Beacon Power — the list goes on. So it's a total loss for the taxpayers. Meanwhile, the price of gasoline approaches $4.00 a gallon.
If you had loaned your adult child $10,000 and he returned a year later asking for another $10,000, you'd want to know how he spent the first tranche, right? You'd want some assurance you weren't sending good money after bad.
It's a reasonable caution in all circumstances.
To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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