Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Payroll Tax Holiday

I am, once again, completely unable to process the goings on in my own home town.   Here in Washington, there's sustained conversation about how to continue what has been called the "payroll tax holiday."   Americans, after all, don't like taxes.  Taxes are bad.  And we like holidays!  Holidays are good!  And if it's a tax holiday...well, golly!  We can take that money, which should be ours anyway, and use it to buy stuff to create jobs and get our economy moving and yadda yadda yadda.     No tax?  A holiday?  Buy stuff?  What's not to like?

Hmmm.  Let's see.

What is the "payroll tax?"  If it's a tax, it must be bad, right?   Well, let's break it down.

The payroll tax is better known as the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA.  It exists for a particular purpose.  Well, several, actually. Let's break 'em down, why don't we?

The first purpose is Social Security.   Yeah, I know, Social Security is doomed, or so we've been carefully taught.  But what Social Security actually does is pretty straightforward.    It supports those who are elderly, or unable to work, and in need of basic income to insure their survival.

I encounter those folks a couple of times a month, as I go to a nearby Baptist church, and then drive from home to home in my community delivering food for Meals on Wheels.  These are not the millionaires and scammers that Fox News will drop meaningless and unrepresentative anecdotes about.  They are people who need that check to survive.  It is light and heat for them.  It keeps them in their homes.

Social Security also supports families who have lost a wage earner.  When your husband or wife dies, leaving you without income?   It insures that your kids will have food, and you'll have a roof over your head.   It won't bring your loved one back, but it will make sure that widows and orphans are not forgotten and destitute.   If you're injured, and unable to work?   It does the same thing.  I've had friends who have lost spouses, and who've relied on Social Security to make ends meet for their kids.   It's a real thing.

The second purpose?  Medicaid.  Yeah, I know, Medicaid is terrible and we all hate it because the care is lousy and there's all this waste/fraud/abuse that, again, the media of the right wing is happy to share with us.  But when those who have nothing fall ill, it helps keep them from being frozen corpses by the roadside.   It helps get them care.   That is what it does.  As a pastor, I've seen it at work.  Could it be better?  It could be a whole lot better.  But it's something.

So here we are.  It's Advent.   It's the season before Christmas.  What are both political parties and the president talking about?

They aren't talking about insuring that those who are vulnerable are cared for and protected, the hallmark of justice in a nation since nations were first invented.

Instead, they're engaged in a political dance to see who can take the most money from our Treasury.  Specifically, they want to take it from the part set aside for widows, orphans, cripples, the elderly, and the desperately poor, so that Americans can go shopping.

Happy Holiday.