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The Republicans' millionaire relief act
by ROBYN E. BLUMNER    The St. Petersburg Times
Entered into the database on Sunday, December 04th, 2005 @ 18:31:06 MST


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If you make $1-million or more, President Bush and House Republicans want to give you a very happy holiday season. They know what a burden carrying three homes and fueling eight cars must be, and they're out to lighten the load. The tax cuts being pushed by House leaders would reduce your tax bill on average by nearly $51,000.

Break out those champagne wishes and caviar dreams. The donor class is getting what it paid for.

Anyone who wonders whether there is really any difference between the Democratic and Republican parties should look at the buzz of activity in Congress just before Thanksgiving break. The season of sharing with those less fortunate took a turn in Republican hands. It's now a Leona Helmsley yacht party where $100 bills are used to light celebratory cigars while the little people serve the drinks and pay the taxes.

The $50-billion "deficit reduction" package that passed the House saves money by constraining spending for things like child support enforcement, student loans, and health care and food stamps for the working poor. It is a royal raspberry to struggling families, a vote that said, "Sorry buddy, you're on your own."

The vote was 217-215, with every Democrat voting against the measure and only 14 Republicans joining them. Meanwhile, the benefits of a $56-billion tax cut package sponsored by the House Republican leadership (a plan that wipes away every penny of that ballyhooed deficit reduction) would inure primarily to this nation's richest citizens. Under it, the top 1 percent of earners would reap about 51 percent of the tax cuts.

Among other things, the plan would extend until 2010 the capital gains and dividend tax cuts passed in 2003 and set to expire in 2008.

That original expiration date was a ruse (as is this new proposed one). It was a way to make something manifestly irresponsible look less so. Everyone knew that the president and congressional conservatives would be back to renew those cuts and eventually try to make them permanent, even if every penny had to be snatched from programs for the nation's hungry or borrowed from Asian banks.

This coldhearted trade-off between budget cuts for the poor and tax cuts for the rich - or at least its appearance - was too much even for some Republicans. The leadership responded by separating the budget and tax cut vote by a few weeks. The tax cuts will be taken up after the House reconvenes Tuesday.

I give some credit to Republicans in the Senate who put aside, for now, the investor tax cuts in exchange for a tax cut package that would provide one year's relief to millions of upper middle-class families about to be unfairly caught by the alternative minimum tax. This needs fixing, and for more than one year.

The differing versions will have to be worked out. But the Republican leadership would like all the tax cuts to pass.

I understand the need to make deficit reduction a national priority, and maybe that means slowing the growth of some of the programs that assist the working poor. But then reduce the deficit . Don't claim you're doing that and then turn around and give the savings to the Hiltons, the Gateses and the Waltons.

The administration's worst misstep has not been the Iraq war, or undermining stem cell research, or putting pillagers in charge of federal lands, or crumpling the Bill of Rights into a ball and drop-kicking it into the ocean. It has been the tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and relieve corporate America of its tax responsibilities while ballooning the deficit. This has accomplished two things that Republicans seem to relish. It has further stratified our society into haves and have nots, concentrating wealth in a way this country hasn't seen since the Gilded Age; and it has made it unlikely that we will be able to keep our promises of a social safety net.

From the founding of this nation to the year George W. Bush was elected president, we amassed a debt of $5.6-trillion. Bush is on track to nearly double it by the time he leaves office in 2009.

After this raider is through, there will not be much money left for anything helpful or progressive. We are the world's most prodigious borrower, and one day those debts will be called. When that happens, the money that goes to subsidize university education for smart and talented middle-class kids won't be there, and neither will the money that pays for school lunches for poor children. Maybe the great geysers at Yellowstone will have to be brought to you by Alka-Seltzer as a way to keep the park open.

This is not good stewardship. Republicans are choosing tax cuts for millionaires over food stamps for the needy. I do not recognize this as an American value. My country has been hijacked.