- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 10, 2004

“Restoring progressivity” to the federal income-tax code was the first goal identified in retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s Families First Tax Reform, which he unveiled last week. Mr. Clark promised to “shift the tax burden” to those “with the most to spare.” As a recent IRS report revealed, however, the nation’s income-tax system already is quite progressive.

The top 1 percent, while earning 20.8 percent of income in 2000, paid more than 37 percent of total federal income taxes. The top 10 percent paid 67 percent of income taxes on 46 percent of total income. That is the definition of progressivity. Indeed, half the nation’s taxpayers paid less than 4 percent of income taxes in 2001. Given that a married couple with two children earning $40,000 in 2003 will owe the IRS less than $50 in income taxes, Mr. Clark should understand the simple concept of progressivity.

Of course, Mr. Clark has no intention of “restoring progressivity.” What he clearly wishes to do is to make the nation’s indisputably progressive tax system much steeper. An apt description for such a plan is class warfare. The retired general undoubtedly hopes that his politicized arithmetic will pay huge electoral dividends, even as he seeks to virtually triple the top tax rate on stock dividends from 15 percent to 44.6 percent.

The scheme is simple: Maximize the number of people who would qualify for tax relief, while minimizing the number of people required to pay for it, thus maintaining ostensible revenue neutrality.

Mr. Clark’s plan would effectively raise the tax-free income level of two-parent-two-child families from today’s $40,000 to $50,000, expecting to fold millions of quintessentially middle-class voters into the Democratic column. Similarly sized families earning $85,000 per year would receive a tax cut of nearly $1,000. Promising income-tax relief to all taxpayers with children earning up to $100,000, Mr. Clark reckons that the typical family with children will receive a tax cut of about $1,500. More than 30 million families would see their taxes cut. In his seemingly unending quest for votes, he also promises “tax relief” to another 15 million families that either already pay no income taxes or receive substantial “refunds” through the widely abused earned-income tax credit program.

As part of his 10-year, $1.1 trillion tax increase, Mr. Clark previously pledged to raise the top income-tax rate to 39.6 percent from the current top rate of 35 percent, which happens to be 7 percentage points higher than the top rate established by the 1986 bipartisan reform effort. Now he will be raising the top rate by another 5 percentage points, to 44.6 percent. Mr. Clark pledges that the latest rate increase will apply to only the top 0.1 percent of tax filers. In his lexicon, they have “the most to spare.” In reality, they have the most to invest.

Mr. Clark is exposing his “Old Democrat” biases. History shows that class envy doesn’t play well in American politics, except perhaps in Democratic primaries.



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