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Wealthy dine on Bush's bread; working poor go hungry

Published June 1, 2003

Governments can err. Presidents do make mistakes. But the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in a different scale. Better the occasional fault of a government living in the spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifferences.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

President George W. Bush and Republican tax-cutters in Congress are frozen in the ice of their own indifference. Their hearts are cold, without the spirit of charity or even a sense of basic fairness. And they deserve to be judged harshly in the court of divine justice.

Before signing a $350-billion tax-cut package, Bush, a born-again Christian, should have asked himself this question: What would Jesus do? I think the president knows the answer. Jesus would have said, Shame on you. You have given most of the tax cuts to those Americans who need them least - wealthy investors. You have given the middle class modest tax relief. But you have thrown the working poor a few crumbs.

I don't doubt the sincerity of Bush's religious faith, but I wish he had let it guide him in shaping his latest tax-cut plan. Bush campaigned for president as a "compassionate conservative." He has governed, however, as a conservative with little compassion for low-income Americans. His compassion, it appears, flows mainly toward the wealthy individuals and corporations who bankroll his campaigns. For those at the bottom, he has offered little more than faith-based programs operated by religious groups and funded by government money.

After the president triumphantly signed the tax-cut legislation in a White House ceremony, we learned that in a last-minute revision, a House-Senate conference committee dropped a provision that would have extended the higher child tax credit to millions of low-income families, people who earn between $10,500 and $26,625. The new law increasing the child tax credit from $600 to $1,000 means that most families can look forward to a $400-per-child tax refund this year. (The wealthiest taxpayers don't benefit from the child tax credit.)

It would have cost $3.5-billion to extend the child tax credit to low-income Americans, but Republican tax-writers obviously thought that was too high a price to pay, especially if it had to be offset by smaller rate cuts on dividends and capital gains. So in a few weeks middle-class wage earners will be getting their child credit checks while low-income workers once again will get the shaft. Republican tax-cutters have devalued the lives and struggles of the working poor. Have they no sense of fairness?

The presidential sales pitch and congressional debate on this latest tax cut were dishonest from the start. I doubt if Enron executives could have done a better job of cooking the numbers to mislead the public about the cost. Don't be fooled by the price tag - $350-billion over 10 years. It's more likely to cost the treasury $800-billion. To get the lower number, the bill "sunsets" most of the tax cuts over the next two years, which means they will expire unless Congress votes to renew them. The sun is not likely to set on these tax cuts unless there is a political revolution that gives Democrats control of the White House and the Congress.

Any suggestion that Bush suffered a defeat because he got less than half a loaf of tax cuts is nonsense. He just signed into law the third-largest tax cut in U.S. history - and the third tax cut of his presidency. When it comes to cutting taxes, Bush already has put Ronald Reagan to shame. And the president and Republican congressional leaders have made it clear they're not finished. They are talking about pushing new tax cuts later this year and in 2004, an election year. Meanwhile, the country is looking at huge deficits and the need to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent when the baby boom generation starts retiring.

The Economist, a London-based magazine and hardly a liberal voice, said last week that "even the most conservative American should pause to reconsider the "economic-recovery bill' concocted by Congress and President George W. Bush," a giveaway it called "disingenuous and also something of a gamble."

It's a gamble all right - and the stakes could not be higher for future generations who will have to pay the price of Bush's fiscal irresponsibility.

Said the Economist: "In the 1980s Ronald Reagan also cut taxes - from far more draconian levels - and failed to cut spending. The result was an entrepreneurial boom but also huge deficits, which were reduced only when Bush's own father raised taxes. Bush the younger is heading down the Reagan road, with the additional huge problem of those retiring baby boomers. Unless he changes course, he could leave a terrible mess behind him."

George W. Bush change course? Forget it. Party on, my fellow Americans.

[Last modified June 1, 2003, 02:05:26]

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