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Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Tax-cut plan raises cynicism

June 20, 2003

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The rich will get theirs. The middle class will get ours. The working poor -- well, they'll just have to wait another year, resign themselves to more empty promises of trickle down.

Cynicism long became a Washington commodity in political horse-trading over taxes and who gets what. Cynical power plays on the backs of little children, as the U.S. House's recent vote to delay by one year tax credits for America's poorest working families, expose the GOP's greatest weakness.

Its leaders talk of compassion but act out of pure avarice. And snobbery, that smug feeling that the working poor should just find a better job and stop whining about what government won't do.

The Census Bureau reported recently that the percentage of poor children dropped during the 1990s. It's no coincidence that the working poor benefited from two Clinton administration policies during that time: an increase in the minimum wage and the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Most Republicans turned into Chicken Littles, predicting gloom and doom, but the economy simply kept growing. Growing despite a modest tax hike for the richest 2 percent of Americans and a hand up, through tax and wage policies, that brought living wages to workers in low-skill jobs.

Those two policies, which the majority of Republicans rejected, coupled with welfare reform and a strong economy, did more to nudge people out of poverty than any trickle-down theory ever imagined. That rubs the GOP the wrong way.

Alabama Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus says the earned income tax credit is a scam that turns "our income tax code into a welfare system."

He's right. We should be proud of that. We are rewarding people who work with a tax code that gives back to the rich and gives a little extra to the poorest, too, because they deserve it, too.

We should be proud. The richest nation on Earth should overflow in compassion, particularly when tax and wage policies reward hard work. Particularly when the free-market system takes no pity on the under-educated, on the people who do the menial jobs and back-breaking work we all hate to do, but get paid too little to afford medical insurance, much less own a home.

Today, 40 million Americans qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In Florida, one in five children lives in poverty and one in three in a single-parent home. What does that tell you about our low-paying service economy and the strains it puts on children's well-being?

It extracts a huge social cost on American society. Our schools don't get better because the neighborhoods they serve are worse off in a tight economy. There's always money to build prisons but never enough for schools.

The political leadership's answer is ever more tax breaks for the richest because they pay most of the taxes. Well, yes, they also pay peanuts, as a percentage of their income, for housing, food and their manicured lawns.

Millionaires can sleep soundly in their mansions. This fight over the EITC isn't class warfare that seeks to punish the rich. It's about fairness.

Fairness. If that means a millionaire must give up a little of his take on the tax cut so that a family of four, with both working parents earning less than $26,000, can buy a refrigerator or fix the car, then, who would object?

Not most Americans. Not a president who, entering an election year, wisely -- some might say, cynically -- chooses to put the compassionate back in conservative.

-- Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is mmarquez@orlandosentinel.com.

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