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Give The People What They Want! Taxes That Pay for Jobs, Education, Healthcare and Science

Listen up lawmakers. Doing what's right also happens to be doing what's popular.

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We can similarly resolve this country’s long-term budget woes just by acting in ways the public is clamoring for.

Polls show that Americans want less government spending and smaller deficits. To be clear, this issue has been the subject of significant fear mongering and little sound information. Deficits are not an immediate problem, as even House Speaker John Boehner recently  acknowledged, since at the moment lenders are basically  paying Uncle Sam to take their money. But deficits could become a problem down the road when interest rates rise. The key is to reduce deficits before that happens, so interest on the federal debt doesn’t eat up far more of our tax dollars.

There are few specific federal budget items that a majority of Americans agree should be cut. But according to Gallup,  58% of us favor “major cuts in military and defense spending.” Ask the question in more detail and you’ll find that the average American wants an  18% reduction in the Pentagon’s budget. That can be done  without compromising national security because we currently spend extraordinary sums on a force structure tailored to the Cold War and throngs of outdated or wasteful weapons systems -- like the problem-ridden, historically over-budget  F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that has already drained $84 billion from the U.S. Treasury, and is projected to cost  $1.5 trillion over its lifetime.

So let’s fundamentally rethink the way we conduct national security and match our armed forces to actual threats. Downsize the present American global mission and our eternal “war on terror,” bring the military’s arsenal into line with reality, and you can save around  $1 trillion over the next decade from the Pentagon budget without blinking.

Next on the list: polls show that  two-thirds of Americans want the wealthy and corporations to pay more in taxes, and a blockbuster majority of 90% wants a simpler tax code. It won’t surprise you to learn that the present tax code is a playground for the rich and their talented accountants.  Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 280 organizations (including my employer  National Priorities Project), identified 10-year budgetary savings of $2.8 trillion simply by limiting or eliminating a plethora of high-income and corporate tax loopholes.

So far, by following the people’s wisdom, we’ve managed to invest significant sums in rebuilding education, the country’s infrastructure, and energy security, while achieving long-term deficit reduction. Still, one of the biggest challenges remains.

This week, Barack Obama became the first Democratic president ever to propose lower Social Security benefits. On this, polling tells us, Americans couldn’t be clearer.  From progressives on the left  to the Tea Party on the right, nearly 90% of Americans want Medicare and Social Security benefits kept intact.

No matter what you’ve heard -- including  claims that the program is, over the long haul,  doomed -- safeguarding Social Security is easy. The system is on solid footing until  2033. Then, only simple changes are needed, like altering the payroll tax (Social Security’s dedicated funding), so it applies to all wage income instead of just your first $113,700. Most Americans don’t realize that Social Security taxes disappear on higher income.  Simply by  correcting that regressive policy and making a few other obvious tweaks, Social Security will be ship-shape in its present form into the distant future.

Now for the big ugly: Medicare. Healthcare costs are the real long-term budget-buster facing this country and on this issue Americans want it all -- benefits preserved and spending contained. In fact, there’s a way to do both.

Estimates suggest that  a third of health spending in this country is wasted in a system of uncoordinated, fee-for-service care. Some primary-care organizations have, however, bucked the trend by favoring a new “ bundled payments” model of healthcare in which doctors are paid for their overall treatment of a patient rather than one test and procedure at a time. Organizations that made such changes reduced costs by  15% to 20% without compromising quality.