In the political season, a vote by a congressman can mean very different things.
Saturday, Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, took great pleasure in voting for what he calls a middle-class tax cut.But Cook's Democratic challenger in the 2nd District race, Lily Eskelsen, says Cook broke at least two promises in that vote and, like other Republicans, placed baby boomer Social Security at risk by opening the door to future raids on the retirement fund.
Cook voted for HR4579, the GOP-sponsored Taxpayer Relief Act. The $80 billion in tax cuts are not a surety. The Senate may not pass it in the three weeks left in Congress and President Clinton threatens a veto if it does.
"As a lifetime advocate of tax reform and tax simplification, I'm delighted to see that Congress mingled tax simplification with tax cuts," Cook said after the vote.
What? asks Eskelsen.
"It is outrageous that a man who only days ago pledged his support for taking Social Security off-budget would then turn around and vote for this bill that does exactly the opposite," she said.
Cook first voted against an amendment to protect 100 percent of the Social Security Trust Funds by taking them off-budget, charges Eskelsen.
Then in a separate vote voted for the tax-cut bill, which also puts 90 percent of the budget surplus (that Clinton wants earmarked for Social Security) in a separate account.
Cook says according to House staff figures, the tax cuts will allow each Utah taxpayer to save an average of $570 a year, a total statewide savings of $488 million annually. He added that 325,047 Utahns would benefit from the bill the House passed this weekend.
(Ironically, last week a committee of Utah legislators was told that the federal tax cut bill would result in an additional $17 million to Utahns' state income tax payments. That's because the state income tax is based on the federal taxable income, and more deductions and credits on that taxable income leaves more income for the state to tax.)
"I'm pleased to see marriage penalty tax relief," Cook said. "I have more two-income families in my district than any other part of the state. For two years they've been telling me they want this tax relief."
"Usually it's three strikes and you're out," says Eskelsen. "But Merrill Cook has a remarkable fourth strike on his voting record with Social Security. It's painfully clear that he's not making the best decisions for the future. We have to prioritize spending, and I will honor the commitment to protect Social Security first."
Cook is unfazed. "These middle-income tax cuts also lower tax penalties on people who save, reduce death taxes and provide tax relief for senior citizens (by allowing them to work more at a paying job before their Social Security check is reduced), education and child care," Cook said.