The Biden Principle

This post is a product of a couple of comments on the Patch blog. One asked something along the lines of “don’t I care for the poor.” The other “that he’d be happy to pay more taxes if it meant the safety net would be wider.”

The right often jumps back with a response along the lines of the safety net is big enough and of course I care for the poor. Republicans contribute more overall than Democrats to charity.

We can take Vice President Joe Biden as an example. His tax returns are notorious for documenting little in the way of charitable giving. In 2011 Biden had close to $400,000 in income and $5,350 in donations. By the way, if you want to see how you might rank there are tables at the bottom of this 2011 article you can use to compare your contributions against the others who file taxes in our country.

It dawned on me, as intuitive as it is to push back on the usual rhetoric with a standard reply, that we need to have a different discussion. It seems the left and the right have a fundamental difference in our approach to what constitutes generousity. Biden must represent the side of the argument which says as long as he’s paying taxes, “it’s in there.” He’s paying his version of a United Way donation with that tax bill. He doesn’t have to contribute anything more.

Think of it like I was taught to consider tithing. Theoretically if I pop 10% of my income for the church, I shouldn’t have to worry about being nickled and dimed. (Such a lost concept by the way. Now they just assume I can afford it and always come for more.) The plan was to offer a biblical share and then assume the church would manage the donation for the greater good.

Others, though, prefer to direct a donation to a group most likely to provide good works in the manner of one’s own priorities. I’d say that’s what all those generous Republicans are doing. Why trust the government to distribute funds in the cause of the greater good when government constantly makes decisions contrary to my own goals?

So what we’re fighting about here is the same reason we always argue. We battle over who gets to choose the winners and losers. Under our current method of the government assuming the responsibility for a safety net, our tithes end up in Caeser’s hands along with the taxes collected to build roads.

In my experience every time taxes are used to benefit society’s neediest there are hurdles in place for the organizations who want to gain access to that money. Want federal funds to provide health care to a community? You need to provide birth control and abortions. Want great highways with federal money? You have to set a speed limit within federal guidelines.

What if we all bowed to the concept of raising taxes but stopped giving to churches who support the poor and to homeless shelters and to NGOs who build libraries in Guatemala. What hurdles would go up for those organizations to get access to government funding? How many new layers of expensive bureaucracy would be required to support the new method of distribution and chip away at those bottom lines and the amount actually used to benefit the needy? Right now there are strict guidelines as to what amount of total revenue must make its way to the service line in order to stay a legitimate 501(c)3 organization. Those requirements don’t exist for government.

Plus, the one comment was almost chiding me for being stingy because I didn’t want to pay more in taxes. I replied that he was allowing himself to feel glorified by his magnanimity. It is as though he wouldn’t support the poor unless he was made to do so by law. Of course that didn’t go over well, but what I’d like to continue in the argument is that he’s actually abdicating his personal responsibility to the poor by assigning that to the government. Jesus said, “the poor will always be with you.” I can’t imagine that will change because the government picks up more tax money and redistributes it.

Between supporting extended family members, charitable contributions like United Way, church, and taxes including various fees and property taxes, more than 60% of our family income goes out already. Now it’s a generous income, and I’m certainly well fed (oh, gosh, and I know I just opened myself to the comment I played above regarding magnaminity) but please consider my question: How much am I supposed to give before it’s considered my fair share?

In the end this argument is over whether or not I’m a lioness free to roam the savanna or if I will be locked in a cage. Whether I’m able to determine by my own priorities in how my money will be spent or if I must abdicate that responsibility to what one might perceive as a benevolent government when in fact it is always choosing winners and losers.

And yes. I’ll fight for that.


  1. Anonymous says:

    “In my experience every time taxes are used to benefit society’s neediest there are hurdles in place for the organizations who want to gain access to that money. Want federal funds to provide health care to a community? You need to provide birth control and abortions.”

    Or under a conservative President: Want federal funds to provide health care to a community? You CANNOT provide birth control or abortions.

    Or under the Church: “You want bread or access to health care? Embrace Jesus as your lord and savior and condemn homosexuality.”

  2. the guidlines to remain a 501(c)(3) organization have not been strictly enforced for a long time. neither have the other 501 organizations been audited by the feds on a regular or continuing basis. this subject has been part of my legal practice. the good ones are well known and the bad ones hide behind the corporate shield.

  3. It’s too bad we can’t have this discussion as real people. I’m going to have to dismiss your position for lack of sincerity.

  4. Randy in Richmond says:

    So an abortion on demand is healthcare. If one believes that there’s really no need for further discussion. And I really see no need to have a discussion with someone who cannot even dream up a faux name.

  5. The Lorax says:

    Can we not debate abortion?

    I think the anonymous commentor is correct.

    I’m not sure I agree with you entirely here, Cindy, but I respect your position and it makes logical sense. Just not my philosophy.

    Government funds have strings attached. But so do personal donations often. That’s why we have hospitals and buildings and parks named after people. That’s why the rich and powerful donate so much to politicians.

    Unfortunately, this is a philosophy that only works when *some* people utilize it and as a supplement to tax dollars already going to good causes. Funding would be so scattershot for important projects, and wouldn’t be prioritized.

    Can we argue government is inefficient? Sure. But so is any organization. Ever deal with a nonprofit that is trying where and how to spend its money? It’s a cluster****.

    Bureaucracy is a fact of life and part of the calculus of having a systems that attempts to serve everyone the best it can. I’m all in favor of cleaning up bureaucracy.

    But then again, private insurance companies spend 25% on overhead whereas medicare spends 2%. Government usually isn’t as inefficient as people like to pretend.

  6. Randy in Richmond says:

    While there are a minute number of private healthcare companies whose overhead is 25 to 30% the “overall industry-wide average is quite a bit lower — 11 to 12 percent.” And
    the Urban Institute says the “overhead for Medicare ranges from 3.6 percent to 5 percent.”

  7. The Lorax says:

    Okay, I’ll take your cherry-picked facts. Still say 11.5 to 4.5 is a huge difference. Were you going to refute my point?

  8. Randy in Richmond says:

    I agree with some of your points but overall government at all levels is inefficient. And I have little desire to debate abortion but when it is used (misused) by someone in their discourse, I will respond as I feel necessary.

    I agree with Cindy’s theme. As a general rule what she is saying is that those on the left and those on the right both want to solve society’s issues. The difference is that traditionally the left wants to accomplish this with other people’s money–predominantly those who have been successful. The battle is over where that line is drawn in the sand, or as Cindy says, who gets to choose the winners and losers. This is what defines the upcoming November election.

  9. J. Strupp says:

    That may be the “traditional” difference between left and right but that hasn’t been the reality over the last 30 years. That’s just political rhetoric. Liberals bought into and have implemented the idea that if you give the successful people in this country more money, they will solve society’s problems. It’s called Reaganomics and both sides have been running this playbook ever since it was invented. Clinton cut taxes for successful people in the 90’s. Many Democrats in Congress went along with cuts on capital gains in the early 2000’s. Obama laced his ARRA with tax cuts for successful folks. These were all implemented with the belief that the job creators would be the answer to society’s woes. Here are some of the results:

    In addition, corporate profits have surged again, yet we have averaged lower GDP growth since 1980 than between the years 1945-80. Productivity has remained high, yet unemployment has averaged higher from 1980-present than from 1945-1980 and real wage growth for lower and middle class citizens hasn’t kept up with productivity gains or inflation. Child poverty is over 20% in this country. Incarcerations are at the highest levels ever.
    In short, there is no evidence to support the notion that the left is using (or wants to use) successful people’s money to solve society’s problems. Instead, they’ve been accomplices to the largest wealth transfer since the Gilded Age with little or nothing to show for it.

  10. Randy in Richmond says:

    You left out that upon being elected Clinton raised taxes in 1993. From 1993 to 1997 the economy grew at 3.3% a year–okay but not exceptional considering the cold war had just ended, energy was extremely low (oil in the teens per barrel), the explosion of the internet, and a strong real estate market. But it only took off after the Republican controlled Congress passed a tax cut in 1997 that Clinton briefly resisted but did sign. The reduction in Capital Gains taxes caused business investment to take off and from 1997 to the end of Clinton’s term the economy grew at a rate of 4.4% (a 33% increase) –after the Republican Congress passed the tax cuts. He still brags about the economy when he left office.

    Also from 1997 to 2000 employment increased by 11.5 million jobs, which is roughly comparable to the job growth in the preceding ‘four’-year period. Real wages grew at 6.5 percent, which is much stronger than the 0.8 percent growth of the preceding 4 years. Yes, there was a Democratic President but the Republican controlled Congress made it happen–and sure, Democrats voted for it too.

    You state child poverty is over 20%–in 1973 it was 22%. I’m not sure of your point. But I stand by my statement that Democrats want to tax more than Republicans in general and they want to tax the successful even more.

  11. J. Strupp says:

    So you cherry picked a 4 year window during a huge debt driven tech bubble (1997-2000) to disprove my point that average GDP growth, real wages and unemployment were better before we installed Reaganomics over 30 years ago??? Sorry, but I don’t get it at all.

    And then ignored my point that all of these lucrative tax preferences for the successful since 1980, by EITHER party, have failed to produce higher average GDP growth, lower average unemployment, higher real wage OR better share of productivity growth for working class than in pre-Reaganomic years when top end tax rates were significantly higher. You also ignored my point that our current tax environment has been engineered to provide all the advantages in the world for corporate America and the successful to cure the woes of society above (despite rhetoric to the contrary). The jury’s in, Randy, what you see today wasn’t how it was supposed to go. The working class has done everything that corporate America and successful Americans have told them to do in order to promote growth, employment and higher wages. What we got was a financial sector ballooned to over double its size, three debt bubbles, the last one ending with a financial crisis, and flat lined growth for everyone but the top. It’s time for liberals and Democrats to stop believing this scheme and start channeling Roosevelt. It’s no coincidence that every time we try this top-down nonsense, it blows up in our faces and we have to take the punch bowl away.

  12. I thought, J. Strupp, that Randy in Richmond articulated a change in presidential leadership that you’d missed.

  13. Randy in Richmond says:

    I didn’t cherrypick the years I chose. I used the example of a Democratic President’s term that reflected a tax increase and a tax cut and showed the results of each. The reason I picked Clinton–he’s your example.

    Also I lived those years as a business owner. Economics are just like the weather–nobody’s good at predicting either very well because what came before doesn’t always repeat itself and the reasons it went the way it did are highly subjective. But one thing we do know is that both occur in cycles that we are pretty much subject to regardless.

    Democrats channeled Roosvelt for over 40 years until we got to the Carter years of turning down thermostats, buying gas at unbeforseen prices in long lines on odd or even days, 15% mortages, 24% interest on credit cards, 12% inflation, high unemployment, etc. Thank God for Reagan.

  14. J. Strupp says:

    Agreed Randy, after the longest, most stable economic expansion in American history, we elected Carter. 🙂

    Who’s predicting? Rising income inequality, real wage stagnation, higher average unemployment and lower growth all stem from the 1980’s. The same time period in which we were told that supply-side economics would be the cure to all of the above. It’s time put this dog to rest and do something that benefits middle and lower class America.

  15. J. Strupp says:

    And this is how President Romney tax plan is going to help the working class:

    By redistributing even more income up the food chain via massive tax cuts for rich people and blowing a $360 billion hole in tax revenues at the same time. The Republican Party doesn’t even have to pretend that top-end tax cuts,”trickle down” to the working class anymore. They can just steal money for their buddies right out in the open while we talk about chicken restaurants.

  16. Randy in Richmond says:

    Sure, we know an economic report from the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, about 3 months out from an election that will turn on the economy, is surely going to be objective. Within the first few paragraphs is this statement:
    “We do not score Governor Romney’s plan directly”.

    This report is equivalent to the annual hurricane prediction we get every year in August from the National Weather Service–and part of their research actually involves real science.

  17. J. Strupp says:

    “We do not score Governor Romney’s plan directly”.

    So what? What false assumptions is the TPC making? Romney has said that he would offset the $360 billion in revenue shortfalls from tax cuts by broadening the tax base/closing tax loopholes. To date, he has named a grand total of zero loopholes that he’d close.

    The assumptions that the TPC makes are entirely reasonable in my opinion.

  18. Oh Randy. You do earn your keep around here.

  19. Randy in Richmond says:

    The same organization did the same thing in 2008 just before the election and surprise–they chose the Obama plan over the McCain plan. One of their conclusions then was that Obama’s plan would add $3.3 trillion to our National Debt over 10 years. They weren’t close–it’s already risen $5.28 trillion in only 3 years 7 months.

    And you’re right-they are assumptions.

  20. J. Strupp says:

    I’m not sure what’s so controversial here. Romney thought they were O.K. a few months ago.

    So, again, what’s controversial?

    Romney favors regressive tax cuts predominantly for rich people.

    Romney plans to pay for these tax cuts, predominantly for rich people, by broadening the tax base and closing loopholes.

    Romney has named zero loopholes or tax deductions, which would offset these tax cuts.

    TPC is just doing the math and showing its work.

    I’m more than willing to read data that Romney or a conservative think tank puts forward which indicates that Romney is actually trying to make Fed. income taxes less regressive and specifically names deductions/loopholes that Romney would eliminate or close to pay for them.

    If you see something, please let me know.

  21. J. Strupp, did you you say TPC didn’t score the Romney plan but are using old numbers to manage their argument?

  22. J. Strupp says:

    No. I said Romney had no problem with the TPC a few months ago when they analyzed Rick Perry’s tax plan and Romney’s people issued a statement reading, “Objective, Third-Party Analysis Showed Governor Perry’s Plan Would Raise Taxes On Millions Of American Families”

  23. Oh, that’s right. It was Randy in Richmond who brought up that detail. 🙂

  24. Randy in Richmond says:

    Speaking of Vice Presidents, my first reaction is David Petraeus would be an excellent choice.