John Dykstra ’13 - Increasing income taxes on the poor stirred a heated discussion Tuesday evening that engaged students, faculty, and Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita ’92.
Rokita returned to his Alma Mater to honor the late Dr. Edward McLean and to provide a lecture about the increasing American debt. He targeted mandatory spending as the driving cause of our nation’s debt.
“We have to ask ourselves as a country who we are going to be,” Rokita said. “We have always been a country that put its future ahead of ourselves and I want to know if we are still that. We can call [this time] as Reagan called it, ‘a time for choosing.’ We have to choose who we want to be. Are we going to be a people that puts the government ahead of us in terms of decisions we make for individuals because we think they can do it better or are we going to be a nation that puts individuals ahead of government? It is an open question – who we are going to be and how we are going to go about doing it.”
Rokita opened his lecture by playing a clip from his Congressional hearing about the late Dr. McLean from last Friday. Ian McLean, the son of Dr. Edward McLean, expressed his appreciation succeeding Rokita’s lecture and felt the honorary special orders hearing about the late Dr. McLean represented his father “very well.”
Here is link for video of Rokita’s Congressional salute to Dr. McLean.
“The debate represented my father very well; the concern for the future of the country and the preservation of liberty represented him very well,” McLean said. “One of the nice things about my dad is that he was exactly the way he was at home the way Representative Rokita described him in public. And my father liked truth and true solutions more than he liked solutions that certain groups require.”
Rokita presented McLean’s family with the speech he made during the special orders address as it appears on Congressional record.
Rokita suggested reforming Medicare into a “contribution structure” rather than “defined benefit, fee-for-service structure” and increasing the age to receive social security according to the normal age retirement.
“Let’s compare today to the last time that our debt equaled one hundred percent of our GDP, which was in World War II,” Rokita said. “Why can’t this debt situation be solved? Number one, World War II was a one-time event. One way or another we knew the war was likely going to end and the debt we were encoring would be paid back. The drivers of our debt today are not one-time events; they are continuing government programs that really don’t have any intention of stopping.”
“Forty-seven percent of our debt is owned by foreign nations, the largest of which being China. So you can see why the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff had said that terrorism is not the main threat to our National Security. The main threat is our debt.”
Rokita’s audience gave mixed reviews to his solutions. A debate took place between Professor of Economics Frank Howland and Rokita which expanded to debates within the audience.
“I thought Rep. Todd Rokita’s presentation was great as a non-partisan presentation of the national debt being an issue that is continuing to define every aspect of US politics,” Philip Robin’13 said. “However, I think the ‘talk politics’ concept he presented for bringing change was very much wishful thinking. I understand that in order for anything to happen public pressure needs to occur, but generally the majority of the people are unconcerned with the problems of tomorrow and are too distracted or reluctant to really engage the problem. His solution of reorganizing Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security were much more feasible, but congressmen are naturally adverse to cutting things and risking accusations of not bringing benefits by their constituencies.”
Professor Howland questioned Rokita on whether he supported raising taxes on lower income families. Howland disagreed with two specific aspects of Rokita’s solutions.
“One was he seemed to think that he wasn’t advocating to raise taxes on poor people, but I think that was clearly wrong because he said that about 50 percent of the population does not pay taxes and that 50 percent of the population is overwhelming people on the low end of the income scale,” Howland said. “And if he wants more people to pay income taxes, it is going to be those people.
“The other part of the disagreement was a more philosophical one and less of an empirical one, and that was: should we raise taxes on the rest of us? He thinks that people are already paying their fair share; I think that they could pay more.”
Professor of Political Science Alexandra Hoerl praised the discussion.
“I think that being able to model this sort of interaction and being able to talk to an elected official and being able to engage is an important lesson for students. Hopefully this is a behavior that they will emulate; but, I think it was nice to see dialogue between the professors and Congressman Rokita: to watch a disagreement be played out and then resolved—things of that nature.”
Howland also found the debate useful to Wabash students.
“I think it is useful,” he said. “I’m very glad that students talked to (Rokita) and I am glad that they listened to him. I wish more students were here because he raised some important political issues and because he is a Wabash grad. I’m glad he came and I’m glad he opened it up; he wanted to hear from students—that is a good thing.”