For the week of September 30 thru October 6, 1998  

Masterstroke or mugging?

Tax cut! That’s to middle-aged ears what shouts of "Party!" are to college students. Unfortunately, both may produce a morning-after headache and regret.

The U.S. House of Representatives just voted along party lines to give Americans an $80 billion tax cut. It’s no reason to celebrate. The tax cut is neither fair nor wise. It is the most brazen kind of election-year politics.

The money will come from a budget surplus that is solely the result of overpayments for Social Security. If the bill succeeds in the Senate, Congress will give back money that was paid specifically to build up Social Security funds and to make sure the program is solvent as a wave of Baby Boomers surges into retirement.

Instead of making sure the nation’s retirement nest egg gets every last cent of the overpayments, the House voted—nearly along party lines--to take 10 percent of the money and deal out some very popular tax reductions. They range from abolishing the marriage penalty to implementing a full deduction for health insurance costs for the self-employed. Many of the proposed reductions are fair. The diversion of funds is not.

It’s an easy way to get Congress off the hook. By diverting money from Social Security, Congress won’t have to increase taxes somewhere else in order to reduce them in another. This will keep the PACs and industry lobbyists from cutting off donations to those all-important campaign war chests.

The plan is ingenious: Buy votes with voters’ own money.

The House is like a mugger who steals a fat wallet and tells the victim it’s OK because the stolen money will be spent on gifts. The mugger promises the victim that he will receive a nice gift.

Given a choice, the victim would rather not get mugged.

Idaho’s two Republican representatives split on the bill. Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth voted against the mugging. She’s running for re-election against challenger Democrat Dan Williams.

Congressman Mike Crapo voted for the mugging, arguing that $80 billion is only 10 percent of the surplus and that protecting 90 percent for Social Security was good enough. That’s like arguing that the victim should be grateful because the mugger took $10 and left $90. Crapo is running for an open seat in the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Mauk, who criticized Crapo’s vote.

We agree with Chenoweth and with President Bill Clinton who has promised to veto the bill if it gets through the Senate. This is one for the red stamp.

Voting for the tax cut just a month before the election was a cynical thing to do. Of course, it could be a masterstroke—if voters let candidates like Crapo get away with it.


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