Averting the Fiscal Cliff: Retired Postal Worker Shames One Percent

Last night when I was watching the news, there was a short segment about a 84-year old retired postal worker who is helping the government solve its debt problems by sending $50 of his postal pension to the government each month along with the revenue he gets from collecting aluminum cans.

Mr. Garcia, the retired postal worker, is also a veteran and is acting on his sense of public duty. I tend to agree with his wife of 59 years in thinking that he is a little crazy, but the story also made me sad. My partner, who I have been with for almost 30 years, is a recent retiree of the U.S. Postal Service, so I know how small the postal pension can be. The post office wasn't unionized until 1970. So it is likely that Mr. Garcia spent at least half of his working life in a nonunionized environment -- a fact that is most likely reflected in his pension and social security benefits.

But retired postal workers are never short on ingenuity. My partner, Barbara, suggested that the government should charge people five dollars to take a whack with a sledge hammer on an old car with dollar signs painted on it and call it "Make a Dent in the Deficit." She told me that she could solve all the government's problems, but no one ever listens to her. I write about Barbara in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.

It's time to listen to our retired postal workers. And Mr. Garcia, by sending his donation to the Treasury Department every month, is telling us something. He says it is about service, but he is putting the one percent of the country to shame. Millionaires and billionaires are the ones who should be helping the country pay down its debt.

Speaking of public servants, let's start with our representatives. Your basic senator (who does not have an extra leadership position such as Speaker of the House, etc.), earns $174,000 per year. And this is salary alone, not accounting for benefits, allowances, or retirement.

Let's do the math.

In making the point that Mr. Garcia's monthly contribution to the government (which over the years has amounted to slightly more than $3,000) is a veritable drop in the bucket to the U.S. national debt, CNN reported that paying down the debt would take a $50,000 contribution from every U.S. citizen.

There are an estimated 315.1 million people living in the United States.

The federal deficit is 16 trillion dollars and climbing.

Therefore the debt could be paid by each of the approximately 3.151 million people in the one percent paying the government an estimated five million dollars.

Everything is relative and this five million dollars may be less of a percentage to members of the one percent than Mr. Garcia's contribution of three thousand dollars to date.

The U.S. Treasury Department has been taking contributions toward the national debt since 1961. The largest single donation, made in 1992, was $3.5 million. Most contributions have been under $100 dollars.

The contributions haven't made a dent in the national debt -- but just think of the possibilities.
One person could take the lead. A single U.S. Senator (or former U.S. Senator) could do the right thing and pay 20 percent of his income to the government toward closing the debt crisis. This 20 percent is based on a rough estimate of Mr. Garcia's monthly contribution.

Rick Santorum could step up. The news segment about Mr. Garcia included a quote from a priest talking about sacrifice.

It is time for right wing politicians to put their money where their mouths are.

They say they are religious -- and they use this as an excuse to discriminate against others. Gay marriage comes to mind. But sacrifice is a virtue. And surely it is less of a sacrifice for highly paid politicians to pay their share than for the poor to go without food stamps -- a program that could be cut substantially.

And since this would be a voluntary contribution -- Republican politicians would not be breaking Grover Norquist's pledge of not raising taxes. And speaking of taxes, perhaps the one percent could start by donating the millions that they received since the start of the Bush-era tax cuts over a decade ago.

This way, they could be inspired by Mr. Garcia's story of generosity and sacrifice -- rather than be ashamed of themselves.

You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.

For more by Janet Mason, click here.