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Governing while incompetent
President Bush presses on with his irresponsible push for tax cuts. Plus, State Senator Brian Lees tries to shake down war protesters.

LAST WEEK, both houses of Congress passed variations on the presidentís budget proposal for next year. In February, President Bush had called for more than $726 billion in tax cuts. As we noted at the time (see "Budgeting Irresponsibly," Editorial, February 6, available online at many of the proposed cuts would flow to the wealthiest among us. The House capped the presidentís tax cuts at $550 billion; the Senate at $350 billion.

In a way, both congressional budget resolutions were a rebuke to the popular wartime president. Neither the Republican-controlled House (where the GOP enjoys a 24-vote margin) nor the Republican-controlled (by a two-vote margin) Senate rubber-stamped Bushís call for the elimination of taxes on dividends and estates, as well as further cuts to the income tax (which, as the Nation pointed out this week, will give those making more than $1 million a year an extra $90,000 in pocket change). But both branches of Congress saw fit to approve the audacious notion of passing tax cuts even as weíre facing tremendous financial burdens related to the war in Iraq and the ongoing war on terrorism. (Over the weekend, Congress passed the presidentís supplemental spending request for $79 billion to begin paying for the war.)

In US history, no president has ever before called for tax cuts during a time of war. They have called for sacrifice. And, yes, they have called for tax increases. (During the Civil War, the national income tax was imposed on the wealthiest 10 percent; during World War II, the income tax was broadened to include nearly everyone who earns a paycheck.) But no other wartime president has ever called for tax cuts. Thereís a reason for this: wars cost money. Lots of it. Paying for a war and a gargantuan tax break at the same time just doesnít add up.

The $79 billion supplemental spending request just approved by Congress will cover only troops-related costs in Iraq for the next six months. It wonít pay for any of the anticipated billions of dollars in reconstruction costs. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that next yearís budget will run a record $338 billion deficit ó or $1.82 trillion over the next decade. However, BusinessWeek reports that economists who calculate the budget to include the costs of the Iraq war and reconstruction predict the real deficit in next yearís budget as $425 to $450 billion, making that $1.82 trillion deficit over the next decade look like a bargain.

Washington Post columnist David Broder recently pointed out that Bush, in his State of the Union address, promised that "we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and to other generations." Really? What does a $450 billion and counting deficit do, if not that?

Bush is the apotheosis of politician-as-panderer. On Tuesday, he delivered a speech calling for more tax cuts to spur the economy. (Didnít he already try that once before?) Later in the week, he is scheduled to begin barnstorming for the Houseís $550 billion version of his tax cut. Meanwhile, 25 administration officials have fanned out across the country to do the same.

Bush is trying to win re-election by governing with giveaways. If he succeeds, we will pay for it for generations to come.

LAST WEEK, it was reported that Republican state senator Brian Lees of East Longmeadow would like to force anti-war protesters to pay for the cost of extra police details needed to manage their rallies. Lees has filed a bill that would call for fining protesters who block traffic $50. In addition, it would force them to pay for whatever it cost to have a police officer on duty to make the arrest, as well as related court costs. Lees had anti-war protesters in mind when he filed the bill. As he told one daily newspaper: "It is only those who do not support our troops who are going out and lying down in the middle of the roads. All the pro-war rallies have been held safely on town greens and on sidewalks, the way they should."

The bill is a ridiculous affront to the US Constitution. It would be a waste of time to detail just how ill-thought-out the measure is. But the episode leaves us with a question about Lees: if he is so uncomfortable with the practice of democratic dissent, why hasnít he moved to a country more amenable to his way of thinking? Like Cuba, for instance. Or Iran. China comes to mind. As does North Korea.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]

Issue Date: April 17 - 24, 2003
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