Each of the three major religions in this country, and no doubt many of the lesser-known religions, have within their doctrines a command for man to care for the poor and less fortunate among us. Historically, houses of worship also have been places where those in need could go for solace.
However, in recent decades the government has taken on an increasing role in such endeavors, so much so that many Americans might be feeling their taxes fulfill their scriptural obligations to the needy. We’re certainly not qualified to judge the correctness of that attitude, but we do applaud efforts to provide aid, outside of government, to those who need it.
That’s why we were heartened last week to read about a tax cut that even the biggest tax-and-spend fans should be able to get behind, and most of them did.
The bill, passed on a 408-13 vote in the House of Representatives, provides tax breaks for charitable giving. Many of the breaks favor those who currently can’t take a deduction for charitable contributions because they don’t itemize deductions on their tax returns. The bill’s proponents estimate it could encourage $45 billion to $50 billion in additional donations over 10 years. That’s quite a bit of help for those most in need in our nation. But as with all tax cuts, the familiar refrain of “How will we pay for it,” came from some Democrats. They worry the deductions will add to the deficit future generations will be called on to pay.
“For every tax cut we give today, it goes on the deficit, and your kids and your grandkids are going to pay for it,” said Rep. Jerry Kleczka, D-Wis.
How noble of him. Too bad he and his fellow lawmakers don’t have such concerns about their pet programs or the billions of dollars in pork Congress hands out each year.
This bill is a good thing because it affirms the idea that charity should be privately, not publicly, funded. Giving folks a tax break for donations will show the government wants them to shoulder more of the load when it comes to aiding the needy. That’s a step in the right direction of getting government out of the charity business altogether. We’re hard pressed to see where it is within the legitimate duties of government at any level to take care of its citizens with direct handouts.
The desire to help others with money from the public treasury is not new. When Davy Crockett was in Congress, a bill came up that would provide a stipend to a former naval officer’s widow who had fallen on hard times after the death of her husband. Supported by many on the floor, the bill was expected to pass easily — until Crockett spoke in opposition. The transcript of his speech is too long to reprint here, but it boiled down to this: “We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.” Only a few members voted for the stipend.
Crockett’s words held to the original intent of the Founding Fathers that government should be limited to its essential duties. The U.S. Constitution is the blueprint of that government and spells out those duties.
Since government is not specifically charged with caring for those down on their luck, it’s up to other parts of our society to do so. This bill makes it a little easier for individuals to do that.