People often ask me why I am a Republican and it is an interesting question. I grew up in a single parent home as my father died when I was four. He left behind a widow with five children with the oldest being six. To say that life was a struggle is an understatement. My mother worked all sorts of jobs. We lived for many of those years in federal housing projects in the Pittsburgh area. All of the boys got jobs as soon as we could and I had a paper route from the time I was 10 years old till I was 16. The small amount of money earned went to the family budget. But the one constant in that family was my mother telling us that we could be whatever we wanted in life. There were two keys to achieving those goals, hard work and education. For that reason she mandated that after dinner we sit at the kitchen table for two hours each night and to homework. She would tell us that we could look at our brother, twiddle our thumbs or whatever else we desired but we were not leaving that table. We all found it better to just study.
My first real job was bussing tables at the Red Bull Inn in Carnegie. The owner was a guy named Lou Fleck who I had caddied for at Chartiers Country Club. It was an eye opening experience. I had been there a few months when Mr. Fleck asked me how it was going. I told him it was fine. He asked me how I was doing on tips. I had a blank look on my face and said I did not get any tips. He went into a rage. He called all the waitresses to the back of the restaurant and asked them why they were not giving the two bus boys a share of the tips. Apparently they were supposed to give us a portion and they just decided not to do it. I learned a valuable lesson in that job, people will take advantage of you if you don’t know what you are worth and what you are supposed to be getting for your work.
Pittsburgh was a Democrat town in the 1960s and still is to a large extent. It was a union town dominated by the United Steel Workers. Every summer I would come home from college and work at one of the steel mills. My first summer was at Union Electric Steel. It was a contract year and so another summer guy, a student at Duke University, and he suggested we go to a union meeting since we were forced to join the union. He stood up in the meeting and suggested that the new contract go after things like increased health benefits instead of just wage increases. We were summarily invited to leave the meeting.
The next summer I worked at J&L Steel on the Southside of Pittsburgh. I worked in the Open Hearth department and it was brutally hard work. As the third helper one of my jobs was to shovel the breasts. That meant after they tapped the heat I had to go right up to the door of the furnace and pull the gravel off the kept the molten steel from spilling out. This gravel had congealed and my job was to then shovel it into a wheelbarrow and get it dumped out of the way. In the Open Hearth department the incentive pay had been frozen at 47% at the end of the Second World War. Over the years the other departments had their incentive pay reduced to 16%. The larger number was not justified and created an inequity within the mill and a lot of anger between departments. I should also point out that everyone got two checks, one for their base pay and a second for incentive pay. The company wanted to reduce the incentive pay to 16% and to also pay everyone with one check with the two amounts notated on the stub. The result was a wildcat strike. They were refusing to reduce their incentive pay even though they were not producing at the rates that moved it to that point years before and they were adamant they should not get just one check. Turns out many of the wives did not know about the second check and this was their walking around and drinking money. They stayed out three weeks and I eventually got called back after two weeks to the Coke department on the other side of the river.
My third summer was at U.S. Steel Clairton Works. It was a Coke works and one of the largest in the world. I was working a coke wharf on the midnight shift. When I got to work I noticed that three light bulbs were burned out and so I did what any reasonable person would do, I went and got three bulbs and replaced them. I was reported for doing this by the Larry Car driver (it was the equipment that caught the hot coke, quenched it and dropped it on the wharf for cooling and sorting) and summarily sent home as discipline. That was an electrician’s job and even thought they only worked the day shift I was not allowed to do it per union rules. The foreman was sympathetic but bound by the rules and so home I went.
What I began to realize is the union leadership was not interested in maintaining the financial health of the mills, just extracting as much as possible from them in pay and benefits. They were willing to sacrifice the long-term jobs of the members or a few more pennies that year. Most of the steel mills are long gone from Pittsburgh these days because they could not compete in the market place with steel from Japan and Germany.
In college I realized what my mother had actually been teaching us. Nobody owed us anything and we had to earn what we wanted in life. There was a pathway to do that but if we stood around waiting for someone to give it to us we would have a long wait. She made sure we were prepared for life and everyone succeeded in life. She made sure we could all read by the time we went to first grade and that gave us all a huge advantage in life.
So I go back to the basic question of why I became a Republican. It is because I strongly believe it is the responsibility of the individuals to take care of themselves. We all make decisions in life and this leads to consequences. Today we have all sorts of groups of people bemoaning that they should be taken care of by the government. I am all for giving a helping hand but not forever. I have become a bit of a hardliner on these types of issues. I will support giving you a second chance but if you fail to take advantage of that opportunity it is on you and not anyone else.
Today as I look at our nation I see the many problems that we face. In my opinion the single major issue that nobody wants to completely face is the mounting debt we are accumulating. It will reach a point where it will be unsustainable and begin taking too much from the federal budget to pay the interest. Government has grown way to big and needs to be significantly reduced. Reagan created the Department of Education and in reality it is a bunch of bureaucrats thinking up things to do with their time. I would close it down and give all that back to the states. Exactly what does the Department of Commerce really do? Besides pretending they promote trade there is not much I can see that they are really doing that benefits the average American. I am sure department employees can all make the case of how important their job really is but in the scope of things is it really necessary.
I am sure that you and I could walk into any federal agency, spend about six months, and then pare back the work force by 20% and there would not be a noticeable drop in productivity of the agency. I would also start decentralizing these departments and move them out of Washington. I remember the screaming and yelling when Robert Byrd forced the FBI to move the fingerprint section from DC to Clarksburg, WV in the early 1990s.. In DC it was an entry-level job for most and the turnover averaged about 50% every two years. Once it was moved that turn over rate dropped to less than 5% and the managers who were forced to move would not return if begged. They live ten minutes from work and the cost of housing is significantly less. In reality they got big raises just from the reduced cost of living. So lets apply that lesson and move some of government out of DC.
Why is the Department of Agriculture here? Move it to Omaha, NE. Why is Transportation here? Move it to St. Louis in the middle of the country. Move NASA to be near the Cape in Florida. You have to keep State and Defense in DC. Then create a cabinet building out of all the empty space you now have. Give each Secretary a floor where all of his/her political appointees can gather and be close so they won’t feel isolated and when you make these grand moves you could probably reduce the work force significantly.
I had to laugh when Trump said he might not fill all of the Schedule C jobs because he did not think they were all needed. That is a business like approach to government that has long been needed. Normally we just fill them because they are there and nobody asks if we really need the Assistant to the Assistant to the Assistant Secretary.
I look at tax reform and know that we need to do it. I liked that Trump said he would propose a plan but would have to work with Congress to get the final product. That is exactly how it works. Congress will have to negotiate with the Administration and hopefully put together a plan that has bipartisan support. Our last tax reform was 1986. At that time we reduced a lot of deductions and created two brackets, 15% and 28%. It was revenue neutral. Over the years we got a 31%, 33%, 35% and then a 39% bracket to feed the government’s unending demand for more money for more spending. I am not against a progressive tax system. But skewing it so far to one side is not the answer in my opinion. When you have no skin in the game you don’t really care about how the government spend the money. My daughters never worried about the cost of clothes until I handed them a set amount of money and said that was their budget. Suddenly Marshalls and TJ Maxx looked a lot better than Macys and Nordstrom.
In tax reform we need to reduce the corporate rate to be competitive with the rest of the world. The liberals on the far left see this as a talking point as they demonize corporations. President Obama acknowledged this and wanted to reduce it to 24%. It would help solve the corporate movements to overseas headquarters. I am willing to get back to two brackets and that means giving up deductions to make it revenue neutral. I would give up the mortgage interest deduction. It only benefits those making high incomes and buying expensive houses. Only 26% of people itemize and claim this deduction so it is not benefitting the majority of people. I don’t think you should remove the state and local tax deduction. Why should I pay taxes on money I am never going to get because another tax entity took it from me? I would consider giving up the charitable deduction but realize that will not happen because the universities on the left and churches on the right will oppose it and that coalition will block any change on that issue. Carried interest should be taxed as ordinary income. The only people benefitting from this are hedge fund operators.
Bernie Sanders and his ilk go around saying dividends and capital gains should be taxed as ordinary income. That would end up being a real disaster and stifle investment in the economy. When a person invests in something they put their money at risk and the reward is a potential gain that receives some favorable tax treatment for taking the risk. If you lose you don’t get to deduct it from your taxes, only to deduct losses from gains. What would happen is the wealthy in this nation would pull money out of the market causing them to drop precipitously. The middle-class have most of their money in the market in the form of qualified dollars in retirement plans. If the market tanked because the wealthy were able to pull out quickly they would be the ones suffering as their retirement plans go south again. But that is not the talking point for Sanders and his allies. They just love to rant about the “rich” and income inequity. It sounds good on the stump but in effect taxing those two forms of income would hurt the middle class.
So I come back to the basic question: Why did I become a Republican? Simply put it is because I believe individuals are responsible for themselves. Government certainly has a role to play in our society but it should be limited and not oppressive. I have no problem with paying my taxes but those taxes should not become so skewed that what we have now is the top 1% of earners in the nation earned 19% of the income and paid 37% of the income taxes. Those same 1% paid more than the bottom 90% of taxpayers. We should be demanding equality in our nation but not at the expense of someone else. In other words, nobody should be given and advantage by some law. We should all be treated equally and over time our society will ensure that we are all equal. As a Republican I believe in smaller government and more personal responsibility.