February 29, 2012

Campus Politicos Debate Taxes

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Two student groups, the Cornell Democrats and the Cornell Republicans, clashed over tax policy in a debate hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Cornell Debate Association Wednesday night, although they still reached consensus on some issues.Before the debate began, some audience members said they thought the Democrats and the Republicans would disagree over many of the issues surrounding the U.S. tax policy. “The Democrats and Republicans have fairly distinct viewpoints on tax policy, which will help make this debate engaging,” said Cristina Lara ’14, communications chair of the Roosevelt Institute, a national organization that facilitates student discourse about social problems and public policy.However, members of both the Republicans and Democrats said they were committed to finding solution to these issues.“There is a general consensus on both sides that our tax system is in serious disrepair and in need of attention –– this goes without saying,” said Tony Montgomery ’13, president of the Cornell Democrats.The moderators –– Colleen Malley ’13, vice president of operations for the Cornell Debate Association, and Michael Wodka ’13, president of the Roosevelt Institute –– asked three questions about tax policy in 10-minute cycles. Each team started with an opening statement and finished with a two minute concluding statement. At the end of the hour, the floor was opened to audience questions.Moderators first asked both sides to explain their views on the progressive tax system, in which taxes progressively increase, and how they would change it if they had the opportunity.“Progressive income tax is something we believe strongly in, as it is fundamentally necessary to America,” said Max Schechter ’14, a C.U. Democrat. “The more you make and the more you’ve been blessed, the more you have to contribute back into the system. Those who benefit from the situation as is are expected to give a little more.”Montgomery added that the majority of the tax burden cannot be placed on those who cannot afford it, such as retired Americans, working-class Americans and average middle- to lower-class Americans.The Republicans countered the progressive tax argument by saying that the best policy is a flat tax system, a tax system in which everyone pays the same tax rate regardless of his or her income.“Democrats argue for fairness and eliminating loopholes,” said Zachary Delle ’14, a member of C.U. Republicans. “The only way to do those things is to make a flat tax. Progressive taxes are designed by their nature to have loopholes.”Republican Justin Digennaro ’12 added that by the very definition of “fairness,” the progressive tax system is unfair in that it does not treat everyone equally.The moderators next asked about each side’s view of the “Buffett Rule” and taxes on capital gains. The Buffett Rule proposes that the wealthiest one percent of the population should pay taxes proportionally to their income. While each side had opposing views on the issue, there was some consensus as well.“The only way to address tax reforms is to have discussions like this and both sides can end up making concessions,” said Jessica Reif ’14, a member of C.U. Republicans.In particular, the Republicans argued for the elimination of the capital gains tax, which they said would provide incentive for wealthy sectors of the population to heavily invest their money.“Studies have shown that people with jobs are happier than those collecting unemployment benefits,” Reif said. “We need to cut the capital gains tax in order to create jobs for Americans to contribute to the economy.”While the Democrats did not oppose the need for investment, many said they still saw logic behind the Buffett Rule.“If Warren Buffet, one of the three richest men in the world, is paying less than his secretary in taxes, it doesn’t make sense,” Schechter said.Finally, the moderators asked the debaters about the role taxes should play in deficit and debt reduction.Many Democrat debaters argued that all people, regardless of their economic status, should be asked to make sacrifices. The Republican debaters said that they thought taxes should play a minimal to nonexistent role in deficit and debt reduction.This question spurred further discussion about the role of government.While the Democrats said that the government is necessary to ensure that workers are paid, the Republicans emphasized that it was not necessary for the government to act as a mediator.The debate concluded with an audience question for the Republicans. One audience member asked who the Republicans would like to be elected president in the next election. The answer was a general consensus amongst the three Republican debaters: “anyone but Obama.”

Original Author: Rachel Rabinowitz