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Bush's uncaring tax-cut math

WE HAVE two wars abroad. Moreover, we must rebuild a Gulf Coast region so thoroughly devastated that had the destruction come from human hostilities, we would have declared a third war. Yet President Bush pretends in a critical way as if nothing happened at all.

‘‘You bet, it’s going to cost money,’’ Bush told reporters last Friday. ‘‘But I’m confident we can handle it, and I’m confident we can handle our other priorities. It’s going to mean that we’re going to have to make sure we cut unnecessary spending. It’s going to mean we don’t do — we’ve got to maintain economic growth, and therefore we should not raise taxes.’’

Bush then hid behind a familiar prop of politicians: the common person. ‘‘Working people have had to pay a tax, in essence, by higher gasoline prices,’’ Bush said. ‘‘And we don’t need to be taking more money out of their pocket.’’

What Bush really meant was better said by White House spokesman Scott McClellan. On Sept. 8, a day after White House requests for emergency aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina soared past $62 billion, McClellan was asked, ‘‘Why does the president believe it is morally justified, why is it the right thing, to give some of the richest people on the planet a huge tax cut right now?’’

McClellan said, ‘‘It’s not a fair description.’’

The questioner persisted, ‘‘Why at this point in our history is it justified, morally right, to do this?’’

McClellan answered, ‘‘First of all, I’d have to dispute your characterization, because all Americans have received tax cuts.... We’ve made tremendous progress to keep our economy growing.’’

The questioner said, ‘‘And there’s no way to ask the richest people in America to sacrifice.’’

McClellan said, ‘‘Keeping our economy growing stronger is important to helping with the rebuilding and recovery efforts on the ground. The last thing we want to do is take more money from lower-income Americans that have been affected by this and have received significant help from those — from those tax cuts."

This game continued last Friday at a press briefing where McClellan was accompanied by White House economic policy adviser Al Hubbard. A reporter asked whether the Katrina relief efforts would make the Bush administration put aside its push to extend the massive tax cuts of the first term.

Hubbard answered: ‘‘The last thing in the world we need to be even thinking about is raising taxes. A strong economy is what is going to pay for rebuilding the affected areas.’’

In the Bush world, the math adds up very quickly. One More Warlike Cost + Permanent Tax Cuts + Spending Cuts = Working people who will have to pay more money out of their pocket for all the domestic services that will be cut.

The first way we will know that Bush cares about working people is to drop his push to make his tax cuts permanent. According to Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that studies the impact of budgetary policy on Americans, Bush and his fellow Republicans have already given away $906 billion in tax cuts since 2001. If Bush were to get all the tax cut extensions that he wants, the cost to the federal treasury, if they were to be in effect through 2015, would be $3.7 trillion without interest, $5.1 trillion with interest.

Most people know by now who gets the biggest chunk of the tax cuts. In a report last year, the center found that the average tax cut of the top 1 percent of American households was 54 times the average tax cut of for households in the middle 20 percent — $35,000 compared with $647. In 2004 alone, the 257,000 households that pull down over $1 million a year raked in $30 billion in tax cuts.

It means that the top 1 percent received 24.2 percent of the total tax cut. That working family that Bush claims to care so much about, that middle 20 percent of Americans, received only 8.9 percent of the tax cut. McClellan keeps claiming in his press briefings that all Americans receive tax cuts, but what he never says is that in Bush’s system of tax cuts, the percentage of increase in the after-tax income for the top 1 percent is more than double the increase than for the middle 20 percent.

So when Hubbard says that Katrina relief efforts are ‘‘going to come from the federal taxpayer,’’ it really means that working America will pay for it disproportionately compared with the richest of Americans. We are now fighting the equivalent of three wars. Still, the president has not asked the rich to sacrifice.

Derrick Z. Jackson’s e-mail address is

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