Reactions to this week's dealmaking


I'm wondering if permanently preserving the Bush tax cuts for 99 percent of the people is a good thing? The country is in collective denial, refusing to take responsibility for the two wars we've waged for the last 10 years. It was the height of fiscal mismanagement to cut taxes and go to war at the same time. In my mind, the issue of taxes has been demagogued.

As a nation, we need to pay for these wars by the across-the-board sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts, not only for our fiscal bottom line, but for our moral health. I can understand how some can see progress in this "fiscal cliff" tax compromise, but it is a fool's compromise that further separates us from our fiscal and moral responsibility.


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Now that the threshold for the alternative minimum tax has been raised and indexed to inflation, can we please do the same to the threshold for taxing Social Security?

In 1984, taxing the "wealthy" meant that if Social Security plus all other income exceeded $25,000 (or $32,000 married), then Social Security benefits started to become taxable. Those thresholds have not changed, since they were not indexed to inflation. By 2018, it is projected that 43 percent of retirees will be subject to taxes on their Social Security benefits. It is a double tax, since the Social Security payroll deduction is an after-tax deduction.

To show how extremely low this threshold has become, compare it with the 2012 household poverty threshold of $11,170.

It is time to prioritize an update to Social Security taxability in a manner similar to the AMT fix. For a start: If Social Security plus all other income exceeds $400,000 (or $450,000 married), then Social Security benefits start to become taxable.


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I'm pretty sure some folks will be complaining about the increase in FICA payroll deductions. Republicans like to call it a payroll tax, but that's not true.

In reality, these deductions are a federally mandated savings account. Way back during the Roosevelt years, Democrats figured that it would be a great idea to make it mandatory for workers to put a percentage of their incomes into a savings account, so that the workers eventually would have a monthly pension to keep them from becoming a burden on their families or society.

Republicans were not too keen on this idea -- they said people should have the right to save or not save for their own retirements, and that this was infringing on these choices. That's what they said, but what they meant but couldn't say was that it was OK for the government to put workers' money in savings for them, but that they did not like the fact that companies would have to match those contributions dollar for dollar. In their mind, that was just plain old socialism.

I guess you can give it any name you want, but one thing still rings true after all these years: The system works; it's never missed a payment in all this time, and it has a surplus of around $2.7 trillion.

The FICA deduction will rise from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent (where it was a couple of years ago). To put this in perspective, if you gross $600 a week, your weekly deduction would go up $12, or $1.71 a day, about the price of that donut and coffee you stopped for this morning.

How many of us really would or could contribute voluntarily to such a fund? When you're struggling to get by day to day, saving for your old age is hardly at the top of your list of priorities. So instead of whining when you see that FICA increase on your pay stub, just smile and be glad you've got a pension in your future. Also keep stopping for coffee and a doughnut -- every little bit helps the economy. Think of yourself as a patriot.


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Ignore the trash talk of recent commentary


Minnesotans reading Amity Shlaes' ill-informed column on public unions ("The great public union divide," Dec. 27) might wonder whether her claims describe anything in Minnesota. The short answer is no.

Very few government employees in Minnesota make $484,000 a year, and they are not unionized.

The government does not pay the salary of union leaders; the unions do.

Disagreements between "essential employees" (e.g. security workers) and management are not settled by unions extorting huge gobs of money from the government, but by the processes of mediation and arbitration.

What Shlaes is doing is the common conservative stunt of turning to nonunion workers and saying that because unionized workers have comparatively decent wages, benefits and job security and nonunion workers don't, the solution is for nonunion workers to help conservatives make union workers as miserable as they are. The actual solution is for nonunion workers to unionize for better conditions and self-respect.


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Pressure to change is applied inconsistently


The NCAA has made life miserable for the "Fighting Sioux" of the University of North Dakota, but casts a blind eye and deaf ear on the Florida State Seminoles. During the Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois there was a constant Native American chant, along with Native American clothing, horse and battle dress, and hatchet chops. What hypocrisy! The NCAA, like much of government, has too much unaccountable power.