Kamikaze Tax-Cut Votes

IT'S difficult to comment seriously about all the tax-cut bills Republicans are rushing through Congress. They know full well most of these measures face a sure veto by a Democratic president, especially a lame-duck one.

Scoring political points as a pre-election campaign ploy is not proper governance. Tax law requires deliberation and consensusmaking, based on long-held principles of fairness, efficiency, and simplicity. Most of the debate in Congress has been yelling, mainly at the cameras.

And pandering to the self-interests of only certain voters a few months before an election - without any hope of real results - shows a wrong-headed sense of leadership.

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If Republicans want Americans to vote for their candidates because they will cut taxes, then let them spell out the details in campaign platforms and stump speeches, not in kamikaze votes in Congress doomed to defeat.

And if George W. Bush wants the label of "compassionate conservative" to stick, he should question whether the tax-cut bills are really progressive in providing a better break for the less-well-off.

Yes, tax cuts are deserved in these revenue-surplus years, but not until more of the national debt is paid off.

The only word to describe these GOP tax-cutting ploys is mischief. Here, for example, is an exuberant Senate Majority Leader Lott speaking Tuesday after a number of Democrats voted with Republicans to pass a bill on the so-called marriage-penalty tax: "Don't you love to do that? Don't you love it ... when you can get over there and stir it on their side of the aisle?"

Democratic leaders, aware of rising public sentiment against certain levies such as the inheritance tax, were not much better in just countering the GOP bills with ones that had less bite. And they are just as prone to arranging kamikaze-like votes on social programs as Republicans are on tax cuts.

A longer, less-partisan debate is needed in an off-election year to fully understand the economic impact of tax cuts and the incentives they provide in social behavior.

Taxes are not just the price of civilization, they are an act of creating the kind of society we want to build. Lawmakers shouldn't cater to individual desires for cuts, but balance all the difficult issues around any tax.

Right now, the best place for that debate is on the campaign trail.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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