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A tax receipt at last?

It looks like the U.S. government may be well on its way toward issuing each taxpayer an itemized receipt. As I've said before, this is a really good idea.

A bipartisan bill to establish a tax receipt has been introduced in the House, following a similar move last month in the Senate. Tennessee Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper offers a sample (pdf) of what the receipt would look like.

I wish Cooper's receipt broke down more of the budget lines into subcategories. It'd be good, for instance, for taxpayers to know how much of their spending on ground transportation goes to highways, as opposed to railroads and mass transit. (I'd also like a footnote pointing out that we routinely spend our income taxes on highways even as conservatives repeat the false line that gas taxes cover them, but that's probably too much to wish for in a bipartisan proposal.)

If the extra lines of numbers pushed the receipt past the page break, they could always eliminate the separate bit at the bottom with the numbers about the national debt. That chunk of scary boldface type takes what's otherwise a nonpartisan service and gives it an political slant: We should be informed about where our tax dollars go, because the government spends way too much money. Stop the madness!

Actually, we should be informed about where our tax dollars go because we deserve to know, and because it's good for democracy. But the bill wouldn't have Republican names on it without a spoonful of ideology to help the public service go down, and I'm mostly just glad this thing might get done.

In the meantime, the White House website has a nifty online tool that will generate a 2010 income tax receipt for you. But the problem isn't that people who tend to visit government websites can't figure out where their tax dollars go--the information has long been readily available to anyone who wants to know. The real problem is that most taxpayers are far less proactive about informing themselves.

Passing a bill that sends a receipt--even an imperfect one--to each one of us would be a huge step forward. I'm convinced that our conversation about government spending would be far healthier if all taxpayers earning $50,000 a year knew that when someone says we spend too much of their money on, say, Community Development Block Grants, we're not talking about hundreds of their dollars.

We're talking about $17. If you think that's too much to spend toward funding locally controlled efforts to do things like put roofs over people's heads, we'll have to agree to disagree. But an itemized tax receipt would at least help us start with the facts.

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A more informative tax receipt

would itemize by how much is spent per taxpayer.

With close to 50% of Americans paying no federal taxes, this itemized tax receipt gives the false impression that very little is spent on these programs.

Not sure I understand your

Not sure I understand your point. The whole receipt is premised on spending per taxpayer; its numbers are all based on how much an individual taxpayer pays. The PDF I linked to is just a sample for someone who happens to make exactly $50k.

per capita federal spending now equals $14,000.

$56,000 in federal spending for a family of four.

It still isn't about $17

What a surprise, Steven. I responded to your post, and you deleted it. I had thought more of you than that. Do you really have such problems when people point out the poor stewardship embedded in your position? It isn't about the $17. It's about the ministry. You accommodate more tax and less ministry. I won't follow that path with you. I challenge you to restore my post.

I didn't delete any real

I didn't delete any real comments on purpose. We've been getting a lot of spam comments, and it's possible I accidentally deleted a real comment along with the dozens of shoe ads and the like. If so, my apologies. Unfortunately, if that's what happened, the comment no longer exists--I can't restore it.

By the way, it's a lot easier to avoid this possibility--and to have your comments post immediately instead of waiting for moderation--if you register with the site and log in before commenting, instead of commenting anonymously.

As for your point, I'm not sure I understand it. Are you saying taxes and ministry are a zero-sum game? Or that ministry is just as well or better situated to systematically invest in struggling communities? Or that subsidizing housing for poor folks shouldn't be a priority, ministry should? I think each of those is a nonstarter, but maybe you mean something different?

Hogwash

Steve, I'm calling you on this one.  My follow-up this morning (to which you responded) is the first time I have ever commented on Christian Century without logging in.  My original comment under your post appeared as usual with my normal login, CARadke.  I have had little regard for your blatantly politically driven perspectives, which appear to govern your life and attitudes to the exclusion of Christian service.  Now you stoop to deleting legitimate posts and making believe that it didn't happen.  Shame on you.  btw, blogs like this are database driven.  Minor modifications are tracked and preserved.  Comments are virtually indelilble.  I think you're chicken.  You don't want my post, so you're hiding from it.

Taxes versus giving is not a "zero sum game."  It is worse than that.  Far worse.  It is true that every dollar taken in tax is a dollar that cannot find its way into an offering plate, and that by itself is a tragedy.  But giving through UMCOR (or other agency of your choice) generates at least two benefits that your tax-and-spend mindset never will, even with a "receipt."  First, far more of the money will actually reach those in need.  Government agencies have never been efficient in delivering aid, and they are not any getting better.  The Obamacratic promises of the incredible expanding government payroll certainly won't help that situation, either.  UMCOR, on the other hand, delivers every single penny of my designated gifts to the relief project, whether I give $17 or hundreds or thousands.  Second, and far, far more importantly, UMCOR can actually say "God bless you."  They can engage in ministry and treat it like ministry.  Government programs cannot do that (at least not without being sued by the ACLU or other anti-God organizations).

There are additional incidental benefits, like spending money that actually exists instead of further mortaging our children's future.  VP Biden provides such an incredibly shameful example of this.  Although he is a millionaire, he gives almost none of his own money to charity.  His tight fist explains part of why he has more money than I do.  He is remarkably generous with our tax dollars, though, including revenues that won't be collected for years to come (and perhaps never will at the rate we're going right now).  His benevolence with my tax dollars explains another part of why he has more money than I do.

There are social problems with your approach, too.  Government programs have always generated a sense of entitlement.  If you have any doubt about this, it is worth pointing out that "entitlement" is a major, formal part of the very CDBG program that you deem so laudible.  It is expressly drafted into the applicable legislation, regulations, and guidance.  On the other hand, Christian ministry produces a community of grace.  Perhaps you feel that entitlement is better than grace.  On that we cannot simply "agree to disagree."  Grace in all things is essential if we are sincere about this being a Christian century.

You can serve only one master, Steve.  You seem sincere in believing that God's work can be done better through Washington than through the church, but that makes you a servant of tax and spend instead of give and serve.  Our dollars say "In God we trust," while your posts say "In tax we trust."  You appear to be a faithful servant of the Obamacratic political machine.  Long-time Democrats don't think like you.  Republicans obviously don't, either.  I can't and won't put my faith in the next tax dollar.  It is a sad, sad thing that so many people in the church do, and itis too bad that you seem to be one of them.

Hi CARadke,I'm aware that

Hi CARadke,

I'm aware that blogs are database driven. I run the one that drives this one. I didn't knowingly delete your comment, and I don't have any access to comments once they're deleted. If for some reason you think I'm lying about one or both of these things, there's not a lot I can do about that.

Thank You CARadke

Thank You CARadke. I've enjoyed reading your comments. They are always well thought out, sensible and exemplify Christian values. If only Christian Century had the sense to add you as a contributor, they would gain some credibility as not just another George Soros funded liberal website.

Modern Theo-political Liberals Can't Handle The Truth

CARadke, you are right on the mark.  I am a health care provider who accepts Medicaid and I am seeing patients who are well into familial dysfunction that spans over 4 generations, not coincidentally corresponding temporally to the "war on poverty."  It's hard for me to think that Jesus would look at what we've done to "help" the poor over the past 40+ years and say "yeah, do more of that." 

What's happened is tragic.  These social programs may have been well-intended at first, but they have made poverty just comfortable enough to destroy ambition and they have served to provide a reliable voting bloc for certain politicians.  They have destroyed the traditional family unit, especially in the minority community, by replacing the father with a government check.

If anyone is truly interested in doing something about poverty--as opposed to co-opting other people's money via taxes under the guise of being charitable and compassionate--then they need to reduce unwed parenthood (instead of being an apologist for it) and restore the original hedge against poverty: the traditional family unit.  Yet, modern theo-political liberals have done just the opposite, having helped destroy the family with wrong-headed social policies.  And their solution?  More of the same.  It's insane.  We've made people so dependent that it's virtually impossible to make needed changes without causing severe pain.  But that pain will be nothing compared to the pain we'll experience if we continue along our current course. 

A great resource regarding the poor in America is Marvin Olasky's "The Tragedy of American Compassion."  This book gives historical background and suggests that when government got involved the churches not only reduced their involvement but actually lobbied for government to do their God-appointed duty.  

There was a time when there

There was a time when there was no Social Security, Medicare, or other help.  Your parents came to live with you or you moved into their home to take care of them.  If that wasn't possible, there was always the Poor Farm, which was exactly wjhat the name implies.  There were flophouses where you could buy a bed for the night.  I have friends who remember sharing a can of soup every night for supper and going without heat in the winter.  Their single mothers were waitresses and nurse's aides.  The church did not do a darn thing to help them out.  I recall Christmas when I was in second grade.  One church donated toys left from a rummage sale which I received and for which I was grateful.  My parents were angry and ashamed for the basket of food left at our door, though. 

My mother had serious health problems and a number of botched surgeries because she had lived with a ruptured apppendix for about 10 years.  There were four small children and after another doctor finally repaired the damage from the first doctor.  The first already had a bill collector at our door.  My parents were very proud, my dad always worked, and they always paid their bills.

If we intend to educate the next generation of children, I wish people would consider what happens to a child in a classroom when they have had nothing to eat or have been up half the night working or babysitting.  These are situations way beyond what churches and other religious organiztions are capable of doing very much about.

I am treasurer for our local food pantry and a coalition Christmas project.  Many people are very generous.  The need for assistance with heating and utility bills is enormous.  In order to deliver needed assistance without discrimination takes the government.

Thank you for providing a forum for a variety of opinions.

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