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January 15, 2003

End of Tax Cut Politics

On yesterday's CNN Inside Politics, Bill Schneider outlined why Bush's plan is going over like a lead baloon (here's the transcript):

SCHNEIDER: Republicans rely on the fact that tax resentment has been high in this country for decades. Back in 1962, that's 40 years ago, 48 percent of Americans said they thought their federal income taxes were too high. In the mid 1960s, that number shot up to a majority and it stayed high for decades. As recently as April, 2001, nearly two-thirds of Americans said their federal income taxes were too high.

And now? Look what's happened. Down, way down. Now, only 47 percent of Americans say their taxes are too high. That's the lowest figure in more than 40 years. Why is tax resentment suddenly dropped? It's not because the tax burden is so much lower. Figures from Citizens for Tax Justice show that the average American's tax burden has declined only slightly over the past decade.

More likely, it's because of 9/11. Americans want government to make them safe. So fewer people are complaining about the amount they pay in taxes. Do American suddenly love taxes? No, you can't say that. Forty-seven percent still say their federal income taxes are too high, but 51 percent say they're not. this is the first time since 1949, the beginning of the cold war, that a majority of Americans have said their income taxes are not too high.

Now, I grant that 911 no doubt played a role in making people willing to recognize they need to pay for what government provides, but I think Schneider is falling into dangerous territory when he cites the fact that average tax burdens have fallen only slightly. As I've argued, the expansion of child tax credits in 1997 and 2001 has eliminated income taxes for almost a majority of families-- a trap the GOP has created for themselves as they find they can't go back to the tax cut well to politically rope in those folks. As Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review bemoaned in 2001, conservatives "take people off the tax rolls and fund social programs, heedless of the long-run political consequences of making government services seem free of charge." This of course ignores the burden of payroll taxes, but the basic truth here should give progressives more confidence in just opposing this tax cut and calling for more spending on health care and other public goods.

The majority of Americans don't feel overtaxed, but they sure as hell aren't happy with our health care system. That's where opposition to Bush needs to be, not just cute minor tax plan alternatives.

Posted by Nathan at January 15, 2003 09:35 AM

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