Where is the Democrats' tax-cut alternative?

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Democratic leaders in Congress have produced impressive charts showing that President Bush's tax cut may cost $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years and that the anticipated surplus of $2.7 trillion wouldn't be enough to pay for the cuts, debt reduction and projected spending increases. They may be right in their calculations -- some economists warn that Bush's plan could bring back the era of deficits. But where is the Democrats' alternative plan, the one that would deliver a more balanced package of benefits, help low-income families and guard against overspending? With an even split in the Senate, Democrats are missing a good chance to influence the outcome.

Bush wants Americans to believe that his tax cut plan, which was submitted to Congress Thursday, is aimed at benefiting the ordinary working family. And he insists that the proposal, which he pegs at $1.6 trillion, is needed to stimulate the flagging economy. In fact, as economists have said from the beginning, it wouldn't do much of either. Millions of families in low-income brackets would get nothing because they earn too little to pay taxes. And the economic impact the cuts are supposed to deliver would materialize too late. The clear beneficiaries remain the top 1 percent of wage earners.

The president's winning argument is that the "average" family would get a $1,600 tax cut. He does not say that 80 percent of American families fall below that income average. For a family of four earning $26,000 a year -- well above the $17,500 poverty level -- Bush's plan means a tax break of just $20. It wouldn't do anything to ease the family's $2,600 Social Security payroll tax. Three out of four families pay more Social Security tax than income tax. For them, a meaningful tax cut would be one that would provide substantial credit toward Social Security contributions.

Bush's proposal to repeal the estate tax is just as tilted toward the rich as his income tax cut. It would benefit only 2 percent of estates. Reforming the tax to protect small businesses and farms would be a more equitable solution.

Republican fiscal moderates, including the critically placed Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and William M. Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, say they will not allow the tax-cutting process to become a free-for-all for greedy corporate and special interests. It's a pledge the Democrats themselves should endorse.

President Reagan left important legacies, but the spiraling deficits that followed his sweeping tax cuts will not be well regarded by history. Bush, an admirer of the former president, should learn from Reagan's mistakes as well as his victories. But without an alternative plan from Democrats, Bush will have a harder time resisting his own right wing.

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