Sense Of Ownership Is Missing

What if you went to a nice restaurant and were told you could have the house special at no charge?

About half the eatery’s patrons were having to pay for their meals. You could overhear a few complaining their checks would be less costly if the restaurant operated more efficiently.

But you wouldn’t care. You weren’t having to pay a dime, so why would you care what eating out was costing other people? Let the restaurant waste money by the ton. It’s no skin off your you-know-what.

That’s about the position we Americans are in now. Those of us who are paying for our meals, so to speak, are worried about government spending. Those who don’t, not so much.

And about 50 percent aren’t on the hook – or at least don’t perceive themselves to be. Why would they care?

Roughly half of all Americans do not pay income taxes. While some are responsible for other taxes, such as those for gasoline, they don’t shell out anything for the most visible burden of supporting our government. Is it any wonder many of them don’t care about the national debt and deficit spending? It’s not their problem.

Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, billing themselves as “the 99 percent,” complain about “the 1 percent” of the wealthiest Americans. They ought to be giving the rest of us some of their cash, insist the occupiers.

But the problem isn’t 99 percent vs. 1 percent. It’s the 50 percent vs. 50 percent.

Some of those who don’t pay income taxes are retired folks who paid their dues for decades. You don’t see many of them at the “Occupy” sites, because they paid taxes long enough and in amounts large enough to have a sense of responsibility for government spending.

But a substantial number of younger people don’t pay income taxes, never have and probably never will.

It’s not the fault of many of them that they don’t earn enough to run afoul of the IRS. Millions work hard, but just can’t get ahead.

Any suggestion they ought to be forced to send at least a little money to Uncle Sam each April 15 is seen as cold-hearted. You may remember that when presidential candidate Herman Cain discovered his 9-9-9 plan would force some people to pay income taxes for the first time in their lives, he quickly amended the proposal to eliminate that unpopular idea.

But he was on the right track. Those who don’t pay income taxes but receive assistance from the government have no interest in reducing the deficit. They’re not on the hook for any of it.

So here’s an idea: Why not require that every low-income American pay at least $500 a year in income taxes? Offset that with a $500 a year grant from the government – but insist that once a year, the recipient write a check to the IRS. That might give him at least the perception of some ownership in the deficit problem.

That would add millions of voices to those now demanding Congress reduce deficit spending. Clearly, lawmakers and President Barack Obama need to feel more pressure on the subject – from folks who, as matters stand, have every reason to oppose deficit reduction.

By the way, make my steak medium-rare. As long as you’re paying …

Myer can be reached at: