The logic always has seemed inconsistent. Most members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, favored tax rebates this year as a stimulus to the sagging economy. The idea, apparently self-evident to all, was that the best way to boost the economy was to put money back into the hands of the people, who could spend it as they wished, rather than leaving it in the hands of government.
Yet when it comes to reversing the tax cuts President Bush pushed into law five years ago, that reasoning seems to fly away.
Those tax cuts are set to expire in 2010. But allowing them to expire would be the same as supporting a tax increase. That would pull money away from the people, who could have spent it as they wished, and give it to government, instead. By any logic, it would have the opposite effect of a rebate on a struggling economy. Worse, a tax increase would continually pull money from people, whereas a rebate is a one-time stimulus.
Critics will argue that the wealthy ought to pay more taxes. That makes a nice election-year slogan, which may be effective among casual voters who don't read editorial pages or study issues carefully. The truth is the wealthy already pay most of the taxes in the United States. Statistics from the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service show the top 1 percent of earners account for 35 percent of all income tax receipts, while the top 5 percent account for more than half the total. The bottom 75 percent of taxpayers, and that is a lot of people, pay only about 15 percent of the total.
And, of course, the wealthiest Americans are the ones who invest and use their wealth to create jobs for everyone else.
But there is a larger concern about the Bush tax cuts. Automatic expiration dates allow lawmakers to escape accountability. If they allow the cuts to expire in 2010, they would allow a tax hike without ever having to cast a public vote. At the least, your member of Congress should have to stand up and explain his or her vote on the matter, one way or another.
President Bush made his tax cuts an issue this week as he marked the fifth anniversary of their enactment. Republicans hope to make the cuts a campaign issue. At a time when people are scraping together money just to fill their gas tanks, the idea of forcing them to pay more simply doesn't make sense.