Two weeks ago, we asked readers for suggestions on cutting the $13.7 trillion federal debt, and shared some initial ideas with you.
Since then, the stream of fiscal feedback has turned into a gusher.
Hundreds of you offered your 2 cents on fixing a multitrillion-dollar problem. Some were terse; some extremely detailed and multipronged. So, like the presidential commission studying our debt crisis, we decided one take wasn't enough.
We parsed the whimsical (require all lending institutions to forgive credit card, mortgage and auto loan late interest payments), the wishful thinking (legalize marijuana was a popular proposal) and what we're fairly sure would qualify as the illegal (conscript hardened drug dealers to serve two-year terms with the military in the toughest war zones).
Here, grouped within broader categories, are some recurring themes:
Target the wealthy
First, acknowledge that the debt belongs to me. I am 70 years old and moderately wealthy. During my voting years, I allowed unfunded entitlements, two unfunded wars, and continued deficit spending year after year from both parties. But, I am one who benefited from these years of cowardly political conduct. … Therefore, my solution: I would like to see some form of a "net worth" tax. Those who benefited the most from the gutless actions of the politicians we elected would pay the most to reduce our debt.
John Rensch, Treasure Island
I interact with many homeowners, quite a few of whom would commonly be referred to as "well off." Why are these folks getting Social Security and Medicare? They obviously have a good income and can afford their own insurance.
Thomas A. Woolford, Beverly Hills
Eliminate the Bush tax reduction for those earning more than $250,000 a year, or $300,000 or $350,000. Raise taxes because we are the least taxed people in a developed country, and do whatever else is necessary to get our fiscal house in order. Just once I'd like to hear a politician with enough guts to say, "I'm going to do all of the above and more — and I fully expect to be out of a job in the next election — but IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO." But then I expected to see the Bucs in the Super Bowl, also.
Rich Stetsky, Seminole
A means test for recipients of Social Security benefits. I do not see why this could not be seriously explored. For example, I am sure that Bill and Melinda Gates would not miss their $2,000-plus in monthly benefits. Pro-rate the payout based upon sustained income. A person with $1 million in yearly income receives 50 percent or less of the maximum benefit, etc.
Dennis Kircher, Largo
Pull out of foreign wars and pull back on foreign aid
STOP THE WARS. To anyone even mildly well informed, it is more than evident that the wars we are fighting in (Iraq and) Afghanistan and our involvement in countries such as Somalia and Pakistan are accomplishing nothing other than generating hatred for our country. There is no goal to be achieved, no potential victory in sight, and nothing has been or will be gained. We are pouring billions of dollars into these countries that we could better use at home, and the day the last American soldier finally leaves or gets thrown out, they will simply revert to their old culture of autocratic rule.
Rolf Sulzberger, Sun City Center
Stop sending money to places like Pakistan just to pay them off. Or places that have had money sent for many years and are still in the same boat as they were when they asked for help. They will never change.
Laura Venlet, Clearwater
Stop the two unfunded wars — bring the troops TOTALLY home. Stop all foreign aid except in the case of disasters. No more propped-up economies. Take care of our own first.
Rick & Vicki Grunwald, Brooksville
Stop bribing other countries to be our friend.
Larry Leonard, Seffner
Keep jobs in America … for Americans
Corporate taxes should be reduced using a sliding scale that considers how many "American taxpayers" are on a corporation's payroll. Reduced corporate taxes would give more incentive to grow their business, hire more workers and build more plants in the U.S. There even may be a few corporations that pay almost no corporate taxes if they employ thousands, but that tax reduction should be offset by the income tax paid by the employees. Also, if jobs are outsourced and workers laid off, their corporate tax rate would go up.
Charles Pancrazio, St. Petersburg
How do we get out of this mess? It's called a market fee. Foreign manufacturers would be charged a market access fee based on the difference between the foreign workers' pay and the American workers' pay multiplied by the number of man hours in the product. This is simple to assess and calculate. … Enforcement will cost the taxpayers little, because we will let American manufacturers sue the foreign manufacturers for draconian penalties. No one will dare cheat. … The stage is set for the recapitalization of America. Trade war? We already lost. This does not exclude anyone from this market but only ensures they pay a fair fee to take advantage of the market.
William John Wallace, Tampa
The undocumented worker (should be) replaced by one documented worker who is unemployed and drawing unemployment. (If documented workers refuse the jobs, their benefit checks stop.) The undocumented worker is then transported back to their country of origin with a warrant for the amount it costs us taxpayers for their transportation back. In the event they return, this will be in the system.
Rosalie Schollenberger, Largo
If Americans boycott one foreign product every month, it will allow American business to gain strength in the consumer market.
Richard Gentile, Citrus Park
Revamp income taxes
Passage of the Fair Tax. … There are many things to like about the Fair Tax, but some of the highlights include the ability to raise the tax rate yearly if the government does not take in enough taxes, but to also lower the tax rate if it takes in more than it needs to cover the budget. It is a spending-based tax, so if you are a good saver, you will pay less taxes than the big spenders, and keep more of what you earn. And there would be no need to hide money offshore to avoid paying taxes.
Bob Baker, Brandon
Our tax system is way out of "fairness" to the average working citizen in America. We can give everyone tax relief and at the same time raise enough money for the government to pay off its debts. How? By charging a flat 5 percent tax to everybody. This would include "everyone" whether you make $500 or $5 million a year. It would also include every business. No more tax breaks, because the tax rate would be low enough. No more complicated income tax returns to muddle over. No interest deductions, no medical deductions — none. Every penny you get would be charged the 5 percent tax rate. This would also include government checks, pensions, retirement, etc. No more "free" rides.
Faye Kinney, Brandon
Tax religious organizations for all property and businesses other than the house of worship, for example: TV and radio stations, book publishers, among others. If the media activities move into the house of worship, tax them.
Bob Bucklin, Lake Bernadette
Make Congress live like the rest of us
We need to reduce the benefits of the U.S. senators and congressmen/women starting with their cushy pensions, their salaries (and their assistants' salaries), their gym memberships, and take away their health insurance, at least until they start working together to come up with a plan for all Americans.
Nancy Clark Bloomer, Redington Shores
Stop pay increases for federal employees, with the exception of the military. The number of federal employees making more than $150,000 per year has escalated within the past few years. They are slated to get a 1.4 percent pay increase next year. … Members of Congress should be subject to the same retirement plans and health care plans as the rest of the American people.
Martha Hickey, Clearwater
Overhaul health care/Medicare
We will also have to make tough choices on health care. Will fewer people get health care if Medicare is eliminated? Certainly, but no one should expect this to be easy. If you really want to control health costs, give people an incentive to save. No one would care how much groceries cost if they had grocery insurance. The same concept applies to health care. Allow people to have a financial interest in how they are treated and health care will change overnight.
Byron Hood, Clearwater
Medicare and Medicaid programs need to be expanded to include more cost-effective preventative and therapeutic treatments in over-the-counter natural products: vitamins, supplements, herbs, etc. Since the start of the current recession, there has already been an 8 percent increase in retail purchases of natural products. These dietary supplements cost a fraction of the price of prescription drugs, and many have been shown to be effective for a large variety of health conditions and diseases.
Frank Starr, Tampa
Make those who are getting money for illegal Medicare and Medicaid payment pay it back and fine them a lot of money. Make it highly unprofitable for anyone to steal from the government.
Albert A. Toth Jr., Pinellas Park
Tort reform is essential to Medicaid/Medicare providers to continue to stay in the program. All are concerned (about) lawsuits and they guard against this by overtesting, overtreating, keeping many dependent and alive far longer than they want to stay alive. Just ask someone in a nursing home or an elderly patient in the hospital. I know, personally, that many strongly object to the continued therapies, tests and even surgeries.
Mary MacKenzie, Pinellas Park
Raise gas taxes aggressively
I would not stop at raising the gas tax 15 cents. This country has the cheapest gasoline in the industrialized world. The result is no national energy policy and lagging behind other countries in developing renewable energy sources. Raise the gas tax 15 cents per year for 10 years, and we would still have a lower gas tax than some other countries. I know people will say that this is not a good time because of the economy. If we wait for a good time, it will never happen. … If we continue to avoid a financial pain, we will never make progress.
Robert Foote, Bradenton
Tax increase on gas. While I generally do not support tax increases, this is one that I favor. Many drive on the highway like it's the Indy 500. … This causes more accidents, as well as fuel consumption at a time when we need to save our energy and reduce air pollution. A 15-cents-per-gallon increase means that you pay more only for what you actually consume. Considering the number of vehicles on our highways, this might bring in more revenue that could fund projects like the high-speed rail.
Carl E. Graham, Largo
Impose a federal lottery
Besides the state lotteries, why not a federal lottery game where a maximum fixed amount (let's say $20 million) would be given to the jackpot winner(s) each drawing, and the lottery profit each time would go to the "Save America Fund"? The federal lottery winnings amount would be federally tax exempt for U.S. citizens only, but the winner would have to pay the respective state income tax due out of the winning amount. … Use the funds to pay down the loans to foreign countries first.
Mary L. Erkens, Clearwater
Start a national federal lottery:
a. Sell tickets at every post office.
b. Drawings would be held twice weekly.
c. Winnings would be taxed (federal 10 percent and state 5 percent), if winners are U.S. citizens; 50 percent if they are not U.S. citizens.
Don G. Heichman, New Port Richey