- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

House Democrats are criticizing President Bush’s tax cuts through a series of demonstrative amendments that would cut the benefits to millionaires by 40 percent and designate the funds for more government spending.

Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, has offered four amendments to the three spending bills that have come before the committee. Each amendment has failed on a party-line vote, though Obey spokesman David Sirota said more like them are planned.

Mr. Obey would slash the $88,326 tax cut due to everyone who makes more than $1 million a year to $52,978. The diverted money, about $10 billion, would have been used to increase spending on education, military construction and homeland security.

“This is a very concerted effort to stop Republicans from trying to deceive Americans into wrongly believing that massive tax cuts for the wealthy elite have no corresponding cost in terms of health care, education and environmental cutbacks,” Mr. Sirota said.

Republicans say Mr. Obey’s amendments only serve to contradict Democratic complaints about the growing deficit.

“They can’t complain about deficits and offer to spend $10 billion more next year in the first three spending bills out of the box,” said John Scofield, spokesman for Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Scofield also pointed out that each of these spending bills received broad bipartisan support on the House floor, more than 410 votes each in the 435-member House — an indication that no essential programs are hurting for funds.

Pete Sepp, vice president for communications for the National Taxpayers Union, said going after the millionaires’ tax cut might be politically popular, but doesn’t make for sound policy.

According to the latest Internal Revenue Service statistics, out of the 97 million returns in 2000 showing income tax due, 239,000 came from those who reported an adjusted income of $1 million or more. Those returns paid $226 billion out of a total of $980 billion in total income taxes.

In other words, the one-fourth of 1 percent of all taxpayers are picking up 23 percent of the country’s income-tax bill.

President Bush’s across-the-board income-tax cut — which reduced the top bracket for millionaires and around 511,000 other taxpayers from 39.6 percent to 35 percent — would naturally benefit those who make the most and pay the most in taxes, Mr. Sepp said.

“The very definition of a progressive income tax is that people who make more money give over more of their money in taxes, so the reverse is also true,” Mr. Sepp said.

In one debate over an appropriations bill last week, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, stood to support Mr. Obey’s amendments. He poked fun at his family’s wealth, saying, “I made my money the old-fashioned way. I inherited it,” and urged Republicans to stop rewarding those who don’t earn the wealth they enjoy.

However, a report by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress cited Treasury Department statistics that show that 80 percent of the benefits of reducing that top tax rate would go to owners of small businesses, not inheritors of wealth.

“You can bash millionaires all you want, but the hard facts are that they have the resources to expand economic opportunities for the rest of us,” Mr. Sepp said.

Bob McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, applauded Mr. Obey’s amendments for demonstrating that the Republican tax plan is “irresponsible and unfair” and will increase the deficit.

“I think that anything that brings it home to the public that there’s no free lunch is a good thing,” Mr. McIntyre said.

Mr. Sirota said arguing about who pays how much tax misses the point of Mr. Obey’s amendments, which is to draw attention to “what this country believes is the most important use of precious resources.”

“Democrats believe that before we cut taxes for the most-well-off 1 percent of the country, we need to make sure the country is protected, that all children have health care, and that military families live in good housing,” Mr. Sirota said.

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