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Whose ox is being sacred?


Sen. Mark Pryor learns quickly and wrongly. Because Arkansas just elected an extreme conservative to join Pryor, the senior senator has decided to go mean himself. This is probably bad politics — surely no one thinks Arkansas needs two John Boozmans — and it is certainly bad service to Pryor's constituents, or "sacred cows" as he's taken to calling them.

In a speech to the Little Rock Rotary Club, Pryor said that the government was giving too much help to needy Americans and should be cutting spending instead.

"We have to take a hard look at entitlement programs, including the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security, and admit that we cannot bring our spending into balance," he said. "There is no easy way out. Everything must be on the table."

Everything, that is, except tax increases, which are one way to reduce deficits but which were forcefully absent from Pryor's speech. A slight tax increase on high earnings would easily eliminate any Social Security deficit, while maintaining the slender lifeline that Social Security provides for the needy elderly. And most elderly are needy.

"Reformers" like Pryor — eager to have at the old, the poor and the sick — are egged on by the deceptively named National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, appointed by President Obama in a serious lapse of judgment. The co-chairs of the commission are the far-right Alan Simpson and the not-quite-so-far right Erskine Bowles. Liberals and moderates were shut out of leadership positions, so it's unsurprising that the commission's deficit-reduction plan relies on cuts in public services to pay for two-thirds of its proposed reduction, and on increased revenues (tax increases or elimination of tax loopholes) for only one-third of the reduction. Who are the sacred cows here?

Contrary to the propaganda of the Chamber of Commerce and the delusions of the Tea Party, the USA is not a high-tax country, but one of the least-taxed among developed nations. In 2008, total federal, state and local taxes in the United States were 26.2 percent of gross domestic product. Of 28 nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation, only Turkey (23.5 percent) and Mexico (20.4 percent) had lower taxes. Most of the countries had much higher taxes than the U.S. They take seriously the protection of their citizens from hunger and disease. Tax breaks for the rich they don't consider sacred.

Although an Arkansas Times representative didn't see a picture of Abraham Lincoln on a recent visit to Republican State Headquarters ­— and reported the apparent omission last month — a headquarters spokesman insists Lincoln's picture is there. Possibly Loy Mauch was standing in front of it.

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