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Keeping my eyes on the money


Charles Fox, my grandfather, was an artist who painted houses in hard times. He was a crusty soul. The story is told that once, when asked whom he had voted for, he belted out: “Just voted my protest.”

Clement Fox, my father, was a professor who loved politics. He defined himself as a liberal Catholic and a staunch Democrat. He lived at a time, of course, when Catholics were Democrats.

I asked him once if he ever ran into a Republican politician he liked. “Nope,” he responded. “Politics is about economics and interests, and Republicans don’t represent us.”

He shared that insight long before television and really big money usurped U.S. politics and began to make a sham of our nation’s democratic claims. So my father’s words rest with me as I have watched wealth become increasingly concentrated among the relative few. In my darker moments, I see the greed and money-driven politics of both Republican and Democratic parties as having separated from most of the interests of the folks I know. Then I fall back and, for my father’s sake, want to give the Democrats another chance.

For now I am appalled by the way Republican hopeful George W. Bush is portraying himself as a candidate for “real people” while at the same time peddling a tax-cutting scheme that overwhelmingly favors the rich and super-rich.

To learn more of how Bush’s proposed tax cuts will help “the real people” or anyone else I looked in on the Washington-based Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that follows these matters.

First, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, Bush’s tax reduction package is a staggering $1.9 trillion, a figure the group sees as irresponsible and excessive. The tax cut would essentially use up all projected budget surpluses for the next 10 years, excluding surpluses in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.

And whose economic interests are being served?

According to the Citizens analysis, no less than 43 percent of all the tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent of income earners, those making more than $319,000 a year. The average tax cut for the person in this top 1 percent would be no less than $46,000 a year!

By contrast, the average Bush tax cut for the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers would be only $227 a year.

However, this is not the picture the Bush camp wishes to paint. A “fact sheet” accompanying George W. Bush’s Dec. 1, 1999, announcement of his tax plan states, “The Bush tax cuts benefit all Americans but reserve the greatest percentage reduction for the lowest income families.”

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, this statement is simply false.

The way Bush plans to achieve much of the tax cut is through reducing personal income tax marginal rates. The step looks simple enough -- until you start adding up the gains and losses. At that point you begin to wonder how gullible people can be. Or how much Madison Avenue can sell a candidate.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the Bush tax cut plan would reduce each of the current top two income tax rates, 39.6 percent and 36 percent, to 33 percent; the current 31 percent rate to 25 percent; the current 28 percent rate to 25 percent. The current 15 percent tax rate would be retained over most of its range and a new 10 percent bottom bracket would apply over about a quarter of the range of the current 15 percent bracket.

This looks innocuous and even attractive to some at the bottom. But look again at the numbers. The plan would cut total federal taxes for the lowest fifth of income earners from an average of $756 a year now to $714, a reduction of only $42 annually. Taxpayers in the middle of the income scale would see their average federal tax liability cut from $6,195 to $5,742, a reduction of $453.

All the while, those at the very top would be getting that $46,000 cut.

I keep thinking that the person who wrote this plan, along with candidate Bush, has a lot of gall. I know what Charles would say: “Protest!” Clement would insist I keep my eyes on the money. I plan to do both.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher and can be reached at tcfox@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, October 6, 2000