MADISON, Wis. – Relax, taxpayer.
While the federal tax return filing deadline is only days awaw, Tax Freedom Day is right around the corner.
April 24, according to the Tax Foundation.
So taxpayers this year, on average, will spend 114 days (excluding Leap Day) – nearly a third of their year – earning enough to pay their total tax bill.
Americans will fork over $3.3 trillion in federal taxes, the Tax Foundation notes. Collectively, American taxpayers will spend more on taxes this year than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined.
You can be sure that voters will have those tax obligations on their minds as they head to the polls this November.
In Wisconsin, taxes, spending and the $19.2 trillion national debt will be key issues in the closely watched contest between conservative U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, and liberal Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, the long-time former senator who Johnson beat in 2010.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it on Sunday, “Johnson and his Republican allies are expected to harp on Feingold’s record as a U.S. senator.”
There’s a reason for that.
As Johnson and his allies like to point out, Feingold supported more than 270 tax increases during his 18-year tenure in the Senate.
The justification for his tax-and-spend record, Feingold and his allies like to point out, is in part the former senator’s focus on combating the ever-growing national debt.
“The top of my agenda is the federal deficit, making sure that as we go forward to try to get the country moving again from an economic point of view that we don’t forget that part of that has to be a serious plan to reduce the federal deficit over the next four or five years,” then Sen.-elect Feingold said during a Nov. 9, 1992 press conference in Washington, D.C.
How’d that work out?
Well, U.S. debt climbed $10 trillion during Feingold’s tenure in the Senate.
The debt clocked in at $4.2 trillion when he arrived in January 1993, and stood at $14 trillion when he left in January 2011.
Debt has gotten no relief during Johnson’s first term in office, rising about $5 trillion over that time. But Johnson backers say at least the senator has attempted to rein in runaway spending and check soaring Obama administration spending plans.
Feingold on four separate occasions voted against a resolution proposing a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Most Democrats did in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Johnson co-sponsored a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, as well as legislation demanding dollar-for-dollar spending reductions when a president asks for an increase in the debt ceiling.
The Republican-led “Cut, Cap and Balance” bill, which Johnson supported in 2011 and Democrats almost universally hated, identified more than $1 trillion in potential savings from wasteful government programs.
“This mountain of debt and the irresponsible spending that worsens it every year now threaten the hopes and dreams of future generations. This is immoral. We must stop,” Johnson notes in an issue statement on the debt and deficit.
Feingold and his supporters have billed the liberal as some kind of progressive fiscal hawk. He did, at times, draw a line in the sand on debt-raising proposals. In 2003, Feingold authored an amendment reducing by $100 million President George W. Bush’s $726 billion, 10-year tax cut.
“We are in a war, and the budget must reflect it,” Feingold said, referring to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Feingold seemed to have a hard time saying yes to spending cuts and no to spending.
During President Barack Obama’s first years in office, Feingold was constantly ready with an affirmative vote for a litany of spending plans. He said yes to an additional $825 billion for the economic recovery package, massive spending that Feingold argued was critical in saving the U.S. economy from ruin. He was arguably one of the deciding votes for Obamacare, pegged to cost taxpayers about $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
And over his time in the Senate, Feingold supported hundreds of millions of dollars in increases for Medicaid and other social welfare programs.
“Senator Feingold hasn’t met a tax he didn’t want to raise, and he has a long record of choosing to raise taxes on hardworking Wisconsin families, rather than make the tough choices to keep government fiscally responsible,” said Pat Garrett spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
Feingold talked a good game, particularly early on.
In June 1993, Feingold said government should look at budgeting the way American families do.
“It’s a new American view, I think almost a consensus, that, why in the world can’t the government run its operation the way families have to? Because if you want something, you have to determine first that you can pay for it or you are going to go bankrupt,” Feingold told CBS’ Sunday Morning. “That central feeling, which is really a – a common-sense view, is the most powerful message coming from my constituents.”
He quickly seemed to lose track of that message.
In his first year alone, Feingold voted at least 25 times in support of higher taxes, according to a review of Congressional Quarterly vote tallies.
Feingold voted to kill an amendment to eliminate instructions to the Finance Committee for a $32 billion tax increase over five years on Social Security beneficiaries. The revenue increase was created by hiking from 50 percent to 85 percent the amount of benefits subject to tax for single recipients with incomes of more than $25,000 and couples with more than $32,000. The amendment would have cut new spending by the same amount in order to meet the same deficit-reduction targets in the resolution.
A further review of the Congressional Quarterly records found that the senator also that year voted against exempting small businesses or family farms from increased taxes on income that is reinvested in the business. The costs would have been offset by cutting discretionary spending. Feingold backed a 1994 budget reconciliation bill that raised $241 billion in revenue through tax hikes.
In 2001, Feingold voted at least 30 times to raise taxes, including voting against the adoption of a concurrent resolution to implement a 10-year budget plan calling for $1.8 trillion in tax cuts over the period, according to CQ.
Again, Feingold argued in part that such tax cuts would only expand the deficit, even as he voted for spending increases that did just that.
Two years later, the senator voted for tax increases 41 times, the review found.
Between 2007 and 2008, Feingold supported hiking taxes at least 45 times, including voting against an amendment to provide an employee payroll tax holiday over a six-month period. That time, the senator went against Obama, who traded Congress a two-year extension on the Bush-era tax cuts for the payroll tax holiday.
“Senator Feingold spent 18 years in Washington supporting big government over Wisconsin families and small businesses, and his hundreds of votes in favor of higher taxes prove it,” said Brian Reisinger, Johnson campaign spokesman. “Wisconsinites fired Senator Feingold in 2010 because he voted for policies that raised taxes and grew the government instead of growing the economy.”