Ruth Bass: Relax on tax, focus on peace, cheer

Monday January 7, 2013


‘There you go again.’ Ronald Reagan sprinkled his presidential years with that phrase, said in his incredible actor’s voice successfully - over and over - disarming a feisty opponent in a debate, a pushy reporter or an obstreperous politician.

This time around, it’s not meant to be disarming. It’s you being led to believe you should shriek about an increase in your payroll taxes. News stories make it sound like some kind of subversive attack on people who have jobs - and their employers. You may, they trumpet, pay less income tax this year, but you are giving the feds extra money on another front.

Two things about this: First, the payroll tax was temporarily cut at a time when the federal government was trying to make finances easier for not only employees but for their bosses as well. The economy was in trouble, and this was one of the Band-Aids. It was a way to hope people would spend that extra and give things a boost. Second, the payroll tax is your future.

It’s for Social Security, part of your pay check going into the pot from which you’ll get a monthly payment when you reach whatever ends up being the official retirement age.

And your boss is putting in a matching amount. The weird thing is not that the payroll tax is going back to its regular level.

The oddity is that it was cut in the first place, given the fact that everyone keeps worrying about whether Social Security is going to run out of money or not. So, there you go again, listening to politicians who are trying to make every tax sound like something the Wicked Witch of the West has invented as a way of trapping Dorothy.

More and more, one might think, Washington is filled with a passel of fake wizards hiding behind thick curtains. The payroll tax is now back at 12.4 percent, divided between employer and employee.

Anyone lucky enough to make more than $113,700 a year will reach a point where their paycheck gets a little bounce. After that threshold, the government no longer collects a payroll tax. It’s interesting that the high-enders get off the hook while many people making less pay the whole year.

In any case, the government estimates that having the payroll tax return to its regular level might cost lots of workers an extra $1,000. If you see the glass as half full, you’ll remember instead that you didn’t pay that money in 2011 and 2012. It was a mini tax furlough - and now the furlough is over.


The taxes we should worry about more are the ones spent for defense. It is hard to make sense of a budget that puts 60 percent of its money into defense and only six percent into education.

Even worse, a meager 1 percent goes into the Environmental Protection Agency, and it’s our perpetual attack on the environment that is likely to do the planet in. Ever since the $600 toilet seat scandal leaked out of the Pentagon, Americans have been at least dimly aware that some fat might exist in that department.

It’s also possible that some outmoded gidgets and gizmos of destruction are still being coddled. In any case, Congress actually wanted, last year, to give the Department of Defense more money than it asked for. So something is awry there. On top of that, having a military expense larger than that of all our " friends" put together implies that we are afraid of everyone. Perhaps, as a recent letter to the editor pointed out, it’s time to spend a little more cash on peace, including disarmament.

We could wave carrots and sticks on that front. Oh, there I go again.

Ruth Bass is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond. Her web site is _www.ruthbass.com_ (


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