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Here's the tax scandal every American should be outraged over

  • Americans are now paying more than twice the amount of federal taxes than we were in 1961.
  • And yet, the debt is at $20 trillion and growing because spending is out of control.
  • This should end the debate over whether JFK would favor tax cuts now.
President John Kennedy
Arnold Sachs | Archive Photos | Getty Images
President John Kennedy

There's a massive multi-trillion dollar scandal going on nationwide that would make even Bernie Madoff blush. It's a conspiracy that involves government bureaucrats, politicians from both parties, and a big chunk of the public being left in the dark. It shatters a key liberal belief and a separate example of conservative dogma.

The scandal first was uncovered earlier this week by Terry Jeffrey at CNS News when he looked at federal revenue numbers and noted that Americans are paying more than twice the amount of federal taxes they were when President John F. Kennedy first took office in 1961. Yes, that's adjusted for inflation with a jump from $4,121 per person in current dollars 56 years ago to $10,114 in 2016, according to the BLS inflation calculator.

And yes, that's per person, not per taxpaying person. We're talking more than ten grand for every one of the 323 million-plus people in the U.S.

That got me thinking about a lot of other questions, starting with: What does this mean for the tax burden for every American who actually pays federal taxes?

That's where it gets worse. In 1961 about 49 million Americans paid federal taxes. In current inflation-adjusted dollars, they paid $15,477 per taxpayer in federal taxes.

Ninety-three million Americans paid federal taxes in 2016, broadening that tax base by almost 100 percent since JFK. But the federal tax burden per taxpayer jumped to $35,053.

And now it's time to look at the political bigger picture.

There are many reasons why this is a scandal, starting with the fact that despite this tax burden reality politicians often boast about how tax rates are much lower than they were in 1961. And the next part of the scandal is the federal debt is still growing at $20 trillion and counting.

"The reason why I and some other conservatives are focusing on comparisons to Kennedy's years in office is because he was the most important Democrat to ever push for and explain the need for tax cuts."

But the biggest reason this is a scandal is that all the new taxes that are responsible for this massive jump in our costs are hidden in the fine print. We may have lower top line income tax rates than we did in 1961, but we have so many new taxes going to the federal government that it's hard to keep track.

Granted, some of those new taxes are for generally popular programs like Medicare and Medicaid which did not exist in 1961. And Social Security, also very popular with the voters, has imposed higher tax rates over the years.

But the ugly truth is that the trust funds where those new tax revenues were supposed to be placed aren't really trust funds. Money is siphoned from them every year to pay for other government spending. The federal government just grabs a lot of that supposedly protected cash and replaces it with IOU's.

That's a big reason why both Medicare and Social Security are in fiscal danger despite those higher tax revenues. In Washington that's okay. In the real world, we call that "bait and switch."

We can also call it a "cover up" because this robbing Peter to pay Paul practice masks the reality of our real federal debt. When the unfunded liabilities like Social Security and Medicare are factored in for real, our debt is calculated by some experts to total more like $200 trillion.

But like all scandals, at least this news provides some clarity. The reason why I and some other conservatives are focusing on comparisons to Kennedy's years in office is because he was the most important Democrat to ever push for and explain the need for tax cuts. And because he was a Democrat, there's been a very long-running political debate in America about the Kennedy tax cuts and their enduring lessons for us today. When Kennedy was president, he made a strong case for cutting taxes to boost the economy. And it worked.

When President Reagan proposed cutting taxes in 1981, he insisted on using JFK's arguments in the effort. Then-presidential staffers like Larry Kudlow and Art Laffer took the lead in promoting that view. Yet liberals argued that tax rates were so high during President Kennedy's day that his call to cut them was only relative, and the Democratic icon would never advocate tax cuts in 1981 or today.

That argument should end right here now that we know Americans are effectively being taxed a twice the rate they were even in JFK's time. If President Kennedy thought that citizens and the economy were struggling under too heavy a tax burden then, it's silly to think he wouldn't think the same today when the burden has now more than doubled.

This also sadly should end the long-held conservative argument that the best thing for the taxpayer is to broaden the base and get more people to share the load. Well the total number of federal taxpayers is almost twice what it was 56 years ago but those taxpayers are paying twice as much! So much for thinning out the pain.

All of this provides more clarity that the real culprit here is government spending. We're being taxed more, period. And the reason is because the government can't stop spending our money. It's spending so much, that it plays games and deceptive tricks with popular programs like Medicare and Social Security to hide and prop up that spending. And yet, our debt keeps growing.

You don't have to be a "greedy" millionaire or billionaire to be angry about that kind of taxation. The numbers don't lie, we're all being soaked for more than twice the cash our parents had to pay. And for our trouble, we're told we have a lighter tax burden than the past.

This is why we not only need tax reform, but spending reform. Any president or Congress that doesn't get to providing both is utterly worthless.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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Correction: This article was revised to correct the math on the number of years between 1961 and 2016. It is 56 years, not 46 years.