Honest look ahead

Thanks very much for Diane Mastrull's excellent article "Planning to maintain the Taussig mission" (Monday). It's so refreshing to see an organization, especially a family-owned organization such as Untours, a travel-planning business, deal honestly with the impending mortality of a founder. I love the unflinching, unsentimental, and yet kind discussion by those facing family succession and Hal Taussig's mortality. So many of us would be well-served to follow this example of leadership, both in business and in our own lives and families.

Joy Bergey, Flourtown

Crumbs or huge tax increase?

In 2003, the Democrats and their lapdogs in the media labeled the Bush tax cuts as nothing more than giveaways to the rich. They said the middle class would be left with the crumbs. But the middle class also received substantial cuts.

Fast-forward to 2012. The Democrats, along with their media poodles, are now caterwauling about the Republicans' wanting to impose a "huge" tax increase on the middle class in order to keep the high-end tax cuts.

So which is it, crumbs to the middle class or a huge tax increase to them? It can't be both.

Democrats fought the '03 tax cuts, including those for the middle class, and insisted that they end in 2010 in order to get the minimum number of Democrat votes to pass the measure. Even with the tax cuts, the budget was almost balanced in 2007. Then Democrats took over Congress and went on a spending binge that continues today.

Fran Steffler, Philadelphia, fsteffler@aol.com

Social Security and the deficit

Charles Krauthammer states that the assertion of Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) that Social Security is solvent and "does not add a penny to our deficit" is "absurd" ("Cliff-diving with Obama," Monday).

Krauthammer says, "Social Security adds $165 billion to this year's deficit." His proof is a quote from the Office of Management and Budget, which said the Social Security trust fund IOUs "do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits."

Social Security took in more money than it paid out in benefits as recently as 2010. But over the years, the federal government has borrowed money from the trust fund, and replaced the funds with IOUs. The repayment of these same IOUs is what added $165 billion to this year's deficit.

To say that Social Security is at fault because it collects debts owed to it misrepresents the facts.

John Warner, Blackwood

Don't blame gerrymandering

I respectfully disagree with Jan C. Ting's suggestion that Republican control of the House results primarily from gerrymandering ("Elected despite the voters," Tuesday).

The principal issue is not gerrymandering, but the underlying system of geographic districts, which punishes parties (like the Democrats) whose vote tends to be concentrated in urban areas, and rewards those (like the Republicans) whose vote is more spread out. Even were districts drawn impartially, this system would still favor Republican candidates. In a similar way, the Electoral College, which uses a statewide "winner take all" system, rewards candidates - like President Obama - who win a number of states narrowly and lose others more decisively.

If we are to have fairer elections, we need to consider our overall election system, and not merely one part of it.

Michael A. Livingston, professor of law, Rutgers-Camden School of Law, Cheltenham, weissliv@comcast.net

Politics of the fiscal cliff

President Obama's summary rejection of House Speaker John Boehner's realistic proposal to reduce the deficit and national debt suggests he really wants us to go over the fiscal cliff, giving him another opportunity to label Republicans as obstructionists ("Ideas from both parties to skirt cliff," Tuesday).

The president's plan would increase spending by hundreds of billions, despite the government's already being $16 trillion in debt, and comes with a vague promise to reduce spending later if the GOP agrees to increased tax rates for higher earners. To paraphrase J. Wellington Wimpy, "I will gladly reduce spending Tuesday for a tax hike today."

The GOP plan includes tax reform, which includes eliminating some deductions; Medicare and other health savings; and spending cuts, for a total of $2.2 trillion. The White House dismissed it as an "unbalanced effort," whatever that means.

Instead of leading, the president is still in campaign mode, more interested in casting the GOP in a negative light than solving our financial mess.

Nick O'Dell, Phoenixville, nickodell16@yahoo.com

Casey wrong on payroll taxes

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is demonstrating again that he was lucky that the Republicans did not choose a reasonable alternative to run in last month's election. Proposing that the reduced payroll tax be extended is wrong ("Ideas from both parties to skirt cliff," Tuesday). Casey says the tax break is a "proven strategy that we know creates jobs." Where is the proof? We should not set tax policy based on slogans. We need facts, and certainly when those taxes affect Social Security.

Perhaps Casey is not keeping up on the financial integrity of Social Security. Perhaps he has not heard of the need to reduce benefits, modify the retirement age, or change the method of calculating cost-of-living adjustments.

It will be impossible to protect the Social Security payments of present and future recipients without making some of these changes. Perhaps Casey would consider including some cost-saving measures along with his proposal for an extension of the rate reduction. This would be the best approach to implement a "proven strategy that we know creates jobs" and to provide support for Social Security beneficiaries.

Michael E. Bail, Norristown, michaelbail@me.com

GOP and the gay community

The seemingly impossible has happened. A Republican representative of a rural district in central Pennsylvania, who describes himself as a conservative and a Christian, has become the first openly gay member of the state legislature ("GOP lawmaker in Pa. says he's gay," Dec. 2). Mike Fleck's decision to come out will likely have lasting implications for the party he represents. I hope his announcement will also highlight the presence of a largely ignored demographic: gay men and women who lean right.

Despite his opposition to gay marriage, exit polls reveal that Mitt Romney was supported by almost a quarter of voters who identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Believe it or not, there are people within the LGBT community who appreciate the importance of fiscal responsibility, tough national security, and the creation of innovative jobs, not just those considered green.

Until the next election cycle, the GOP has the opportunity to broaden its base by improving its standing among gay Americans. With Fleck as an example, party leaders who are more accepting of gays will inevitably emerge. Until that time, Republicans would be smart to embrace this important faction that can help them win elections.

Ryan Navarro, Altoona, navarrr@juniata.edu