Tax Cuts of the Unkind Kind

George W. Bush has caught himself on his own fishing hook by casting for votes with the lure of big tax cuts.

His proposal of a $1.3 trillion tax cut was made during the spring primaries to fend off a challenge from Steve Forbes. Now that he's the candidate, Mr. Bush is stuck with this huge plan, even though polls show voters put a lower priority on tax cuts than many other issues.

And Al Gore, who's not one to side with the rich and powerful unless they're funding his campaign, repeatedly claimed during Tuesday night's debate that the Bush tax cut greatly favors only 1 percent of taxpayers.

Such a sound-bite summary of the Bush plan doesn't do it justice, nor does Gore's rhetorical flourish help create a thoughtful campaign discussion about adjusting the US tax code.

Both men's tax plans have weak spots, and it will be up to Congress next year to sort them out - if the plans are ever laid on the table. The next Congress will influence taxes more than the next president.

Still, Gore's decision to sing a "soak the rich" refrain may serve to make voters think harder about the "fairness" of taxes in voting for a senator or congressman.

Up to a point, economists can help explain the effects of certain taxes on society. Will, for instance, a lower income tax on the nation's wealthiest increase capital investment or lead to conspicuous consumption?

It's up to Congress to take it from there.

Under the Bush plan, the middle class will receive far more income tax relief proportional to their income than the rich. But the top 1 percent of income-earners would receive more than 20 percent of the total tax cut. In the end, more of the income tax burden falls on the rich. But they end up keeping far more money.

Is that fair? Probably. But a huge tax cut must be weighed against a need to pay down the national debt and avoid overheating the economy.

The Bush plan needs a fairer airing, even if it may never fly.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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