Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

William B. Bradshaw Headshot

Learning to Say, 'We Can't Afford That'

Posted: Updated:

I am officially retired from having a regularly paid job and have been for a number of years. Like most retired people, I live on a fixed income: retirement benefits and Social Security. I no longer have the luxury of working a few extra hours or taking on an extra project to make a little more money. I have to live on what I receive from my fixed income. Yes, occasionally those benefits are adjusted to reflect the changes in the cost of living, but those increases seldom keep up with inflation. Yet, everyone wants more money from me.

The federal government is running huge deficits and wants to raise taxes. The popular cry is to raise taxes on the wealthy, but anyone with any understanding of mathematics knows quite well that raising taxes only on the wealthy will not put the government in the black. To wipeout the deficit, all of us will have to pay more taxes.

But it's not just the federal government. The states have to balance their budgets, so they want more money from me. The county also wants more money from me. With the value of most real estate having gone down in recent years and, therefore, the assessed value of real estate also having gone down, I would expect my real estate taxes to go down. But not so! The county governments and the various entities that receive county tax dollars have gotten around that problem by raising the tax rates, so they still expect me to pay more money to them.

Most towns and cities want more money. And some districts in larger cities are charging special taxes in those specific areas. Sometimes governments charge extra taxes to make up for the tax incentives they have awarded large companies to build in their areas. The gas company and the electric company want more. My church wants more. Oil companies certainly want more. Even my homeowners' association in our condominium subdivision wants more money from me.

So everyone wants more money from me! But what about me? I also want more money; no, I need more money to pay for what everyone else wants, expects, or demands I give to them. So what am I supposed to do.? Where am I to come up with this extra money?

About the only thing I can do is to cut my expenses. But at my age, I don't have many extra expenses to cut. I suppose I could sell my house and move into an apartment. Or I could sell my car and rely on my children, when they are in town, to take me places. Oh, I am sure I could find some way to cut my expenses a little bit. But, come on, how much am I expected to sacrifice for everyone else?

How about all of those governments, agencies, and organizations cutting some of their expenses instead of my having to cut my expenses so they can spend more. It may create some hardships for them, but it seems fair to me that I should not be the only one expected to make some sacrifices. And I can assure you that what I am saying holds true with the great, great majority of retired people -- certainly those living on set incomes.

Contrary to much public opinion -- or political posturing -- I do not think the so-called sequestration (cutting expenses across the board for the federal government) is all that bad. We as a country -- and as individuals -- cannot keep going as we have been. The federal government cannot just keep spending more money than it has and expect the country to survive over the long haul. It has been my experience that the federal government pretty much sets the example for the rest of the country. If the federal government would set the trend for living within its means, perhaps there would be a trickle-down effect and other levels of governments, agencies, and organizations would begin to be like-minded, and perhaps we as individuals would be able to do the same thing.

It is true that if the various levels of government cut their expenditures, some worthwhile and desirable programs may have to be taken down a notch, postponed, or eliminated. But we as families and individuals can't do everything we want. When we rear our children and help with our grandchildren, we periodically have to say, "We just can't afford that." And as retired adults, we sometimes would like to do something, but we have to say, "We just can't afford that."

This may seem far too practical for today's complex society, but it seems to me that it is time for politicians to realize that we just cannot afford many of their favorite projects, as worthy as some of them may be. I know that they are afraid of offending their constituents and not getting re-elected, but it might just be that a politician's willingness to say no to some things in order to support the real necessities might earn him/her some votes. And would it be so awful, on the other hand, to lose an election if such a loss came about as the result of standing firm on some basic principles one really believes in?

The United States House and Senate go from one crisis to another trying to figure out how to come up with enough money to keep the government going. Perhaps they should spend more time in saying, "We're sorry, but right now we just can't afford that!"