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The rich don't control Washington

Contrary to popular wisdom, the rich don't control Washington. The poor and the middle-class do.

This will surprise most Americans. We've been conditioned to believe that Washington is a den of corruption, overrun by well-paid lobbyists, and lawyers who manipulate government policies to favor the rich and corporate interests. Ordinary Americans don't stand a chance against this juggernaut.

But look at what the government actually does, and a completely different picture emerges.

Ron Haskins, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, recently presented some fascinating figures on government spending. From 1980 to 2011, yearly outlays for the 10 largest programs for the poor went from $126 billion to $626 billion in inflation adjusted dollars.

Then there are the programs aimed primarily at the middle-class. The biggest, of course, are Social Security and Medicare. Put together, all these programs accounted for almost 60 percent of total federal spending in 2011.

Meanwhile, what about the rich and well-to-do? Well, they're paying for almost all of that spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the richest fifth of Americans pay nearly 70 percent of all federal taxes.

The point is not that the rich are victims. Their lawyers and lobbyists often do secure beneficial tax breaks, subsidies and regulatory preferences. But focusing mainly on these victories distorts our picture of government.

Our problem is not that the rich have taken over government. Our problem is that politicians, on the left and right, are doling out money to everyone -- particularly the poor and middle-class. That's why our budget deficits are so huge and so intractable.

About the author

Robert Samuelson is a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of "The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence."
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I'd like to see him go to the school where I teach and tell the 94% of my students that are living in poverty that they are running the government. Maybe then he can give them some tips on how they can wear the same shirt every day with nobody noticing, or how neglect is really just independence.

Why not redistribute the grades in your class. The "A" students really don't need all of those "A's" do they? Why not distribute them to the "D" and "F" students to help them out. Would not that be more fair?

This guy is an idiot. OK, not an idiot, but someone who is controlled by the rich to say what he says. The entire system is controlled by the rich and directed in such a way that everyone else is a slave ("poor" of course.
OK, actually I think that totally immoral people are idiots.

' . . . yearly outlays for the 10 largest programs for the poor went from $126 billion to $626 billion in inflation adjusted dollars.

As what per centage of the total budget? How large, and what per cent of the total budget, is the defense budget? What per cent of the total budget is properly labelled "corporate welfare"?

" . . . the richest fifth of Americans pay nearly 70 percent of all federal taxes."

What is the income of the richest fifth, compared to that of the remaining four-fifths?

In what possibly equitable tax system is it possible for General Electric (with its 975-strong tax department) to pay $0 in federal income tax in 2010, yet a home health care aide has to pay income tax?

The tax system in the US is highly progressive. The top one percent pay more tax revenue than the bottom 95% combined (averaging a 27% income tax rate). Roughly 47% of US households pay no federal income tax (that turns out to be a zero percent income tax rate).

GE paid zero income tax because elected senators wrote laws giving tax exemptions for things like green energy. In addition, the US has the highest corporate income tax in the industrialized world. In this case, GE made the rational decision to move capital overseas and realize income outside of the US. If the US lowers the corporate income tax rate, that would encourage more capital influx, tax revenue and potential jobs. We cannot tax our way to prosperity.

Instead of looking only at the spending increase in programs for the poor, Robert Samuelson could compare it with the increases in defense spending or another major part of the budget over the same period? I haven't read his book, but it seems to me that his focus on what parts of the budget have experienced an increase is too narrow.

And rich people don't benefit when the federal government takes over the social welfare function? Are there no prisons? And the union workhouses -- are they still in operation?

LOL! The rich don't control Washington. What is guy smokin'?

the facts dude. You should take a hit...they're pretty enlightening!

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