- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

Millions of Americans will take a last look at their income tax returns today as they drop them off at the post office and see a part of the real cost of government. But only a part of the cost. The federal income-tax return leaves out the burden of property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, state income taxes, death taxes, sin taxes, the Gore tax on your phone bill and the billions of business taxes hidden in the costs of goods and services we buy each day. And Social Security taxes cost most Americans even more than the income tax.

Government will take one-third of everything we earn this year. Our founding fathers fled Europe to escape taxation levels lower than this. The liberal pundits have helpfully urged us to pay no attention to the tax man behind the curtain. A front-page article in The Washington Post told us that taxes were very low on many Americans if you don't count the Social Security tax (and also don't count property taxes, sales taxes, etc.) This is the wonderful Marion Barry logic that once proclaimed that crime in the District of Columbia wasn't so bad if you left out the murders.

The Al Hunt/E.J. Dionne wing of the establishment media has once again opined that the Republicans should avoid talking about taxes this election year. The Reagan silver bullet, it assures us is a dud. Americans no longer mind paying taxes in Bill Clinton's America. Really?

When the Republican leaders in Congress put the abolition of the marriage-penalty tax up for a vote in the House, the Democrat leadership ordered party members to vote against this tax cut on married Americans. What happened? Forty-eight Democrats voted with the Republicans in the House to phase out the marriage-penalty tax. Those forty-eight Democrats think voters care about taxes.

Then Republicans put the abolition of the Social Security earnings test up for a vote. The earnings test was a 33 percent tax on Social Security payments for Americans between the ages of 65 and 69 who continued to work. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer introduced a bill to kill this tax 27 years ago. Keeping this tax on working older Americans was a matter of principle for Democrats whose labor union backers felt that older Americans should be forced out of the work force so jobs could open up for younger voters.

The idea of a vibrant economy creating new jobs was Reaganism, and Democrats bragged they would never let this Social Security tax lapse. When Republicans put this up for a vote in the House, every single Democrat in the House and Senate voted with the Republican party. So taxes don't matter do they, Mr. Hunt? Mr. Dionne? Not a single member of Congress voted as if he or she believed this.

Republicans have introduced new legislation to expand Individual Retirement Accounts and 40l-ks so Americans can save more for their retirement. Already Democrats in tough races such as Dennis Moore of Kansas are lined up to co-sponsor this Republican tax cut.

The Clinton/Gore budget this year did include $116 billion in tax hikes over five years. When it was put up for a vote, how many Democrats voted for the tax increases? Just one, Robert Matsui of California.

Oh, yes, Maryland, a state with a Democrat governor and state legislature just voted to abolish the death tax.

Taxes are not becoming less important in American politics. They are becoming more important. One reason is the growth of the new investor class the 48 percent of Americans who own shares of stock. In 1965 only 10 percent of Americans owned stock. A politician who called for taxing corporations could count on 90 percent of voters to be unaware of the tax. Today, however, about half of all voters see taxes and regulations on corporations as a direct attack on their savings, their retirements, and their wealth. It is harder for a politician to hide his tax hikes.

Not surprisingly, the Clinton administration tried to tax stock options, thinking they were cleverly playing the politics of hate and envy. They discovered that more than 10 percent of American families have stock options in their compensation packages. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has forced the Clinton administration to abandon its 1930s-type regulations that were keeping blue collar workers from earning stock options.

James Gilmore won Republican control of the governor's mansion and General Assembly in Virginia for the first time in history by keeping his promise to phase out the auto excise tax. Last November, taxpayers in the state of Washington voted by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent to cut their auto taxes by $1.5 billion. This spring California voters defeated an effort to roll back the requirement of a two-thirds supermajority to raise taxes despite a $30 million slash-and-burn media campaign funded by Big Labor.

And the politicians' latest money grab to tax the Internet and electronic commerce? The Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce received 50,000 e-mails. Of those, 96 percent were in favor of not taxing the Internet. Not surprisingly, a majority of commissioners voted against taxing the Internet.

Those liberals urging Republicans to drop the tax issue are like the movie villain who in the second to the last scene urges the hero to put down the gun and we'll talk.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

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