- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

Many liberal Democrats who have denounced President Bush's tax cuts as a giveaway to the rich voted for a bill in 1986 that reduced the rate paid by the wealthiest Americans much more than Mr. Bush's plan would.
Since Congress passed the across-the-board, 10-year income-tax-cut plan in 2001, Democrats have been attacking Mr. Bush for lowering the top rate to 35 percent from 38.6 percent for people earning more than $200,000 a year. Many of the president's fiercest Democratic critics, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, have called for freezing the top rate where it is.
But 16 years ago many of these same Democrats enthusiastically voted for a bill signed by President Reagan that sharply cut taxes, including the top marginal income-tax rate, which fell to 28 percent from nearly 50 percent. The top rate after the enactment of the 1986 reform bill was seven percentage points below the 35 percent top tax rate that Mr. Bush wants to implement this year. The president's plan also seeks to reduce the tax rates for middle- to low-income workers.
Mr. Kennedy, along with Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, were among liberal Democrats who voted for Mr. Reagan's plan on final passage on Sept. 25, 1986.
Now, however, these same Democrats say that Mr. Bush's 35 percent tax rate for those in the highest income bracket would enrich the wealthy at the expense of lower- and middle-income Americans.
"The main bulk of [Bushs] tax cuts are for the wealthiest Americans," Mr. Harkin said last month, calling the tax cuts "a direct frontal assault on the middle class of America."
Mr. Bush's supporters say that such attacks on the president's proposed tax cut are hypocritical at best.
"It is hypocritical of these people to argue that taking the top rate down to 35 percent is a monstrosity, after voting for a much lower income tax rate in '86," said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative organization that advocates lower taxes.
Other Republicans say the switch underscores how far the Democrats have moved away from the political mainstream of the country on tax policy especially after they voted to raise the top federal tax rate under President Clinton to nearly 40 percent.
"What's going on here is that this is further evidence of the leftward march of the Democratic Party, because 15 years ago even they acknowledged that taking 40 percent of someone's earnings was confiscatory, but today it feels about right to them," said Ed Gillespie, a political consultant and adviser to the Bush administration.
"The Democratic Party has become more liberal in its views about governing and the level of taxation," he said.
But some of the Democrats who voted for Mr. Reagan's 28 percent rate dispute Mr. Gillespie's claims. Times have changed and the nation's problems have become larger and more costly, they say.
"There were different circumstances then. You are talking about a tax policy 16 years ago," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for Mr. Harkin.
"Right now we are facing a recession, the country is ready to go to war, we have spiraling deficits and a misguided tax plan that cuts taxes on dividends for the wealthiest Americans," Mr. Burton said.
Jim Manley, Mr. Kennedy's press secretary, said, "There's no similarities at all between the two plans.
"The 1986 tax reform act was revenue-neutral, it was true tax reform. It reduced tax rates, but it also eliminated loopholes and other provisions that the wealthy were taking advantage of.
"The current tax bill is not revenue-neutral and is skewed heavily toward the wealthy, and there is no attempt to eliminate loopholes and tax shelters."
Neither spokesmen was willing to say whether the two senators would support Mr. Bush's lower rate if other deductions, credits and loopholes could be removed from the tax code.
Even so, Mr. Norquist believes that Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Harkin and their Democratic colleagues will have another chance to vote for a 28 percent top tax rate.
"Don't forget: They voted for the tax cut in 1986 after their party had been trounced by Reagan in the 1984 presidential elections. They will look more kindly on a 28 percent top rate after the 2004 Bush landslide," he said.

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