- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Last week John Kerry’s new economic adviser, Roger Altman, a former Bill Clinton Treasury bureaucrat, announced, “We will get to the right of George Bush on fiscal issues.” This statement was made only a few days after Sen. John Kerry proposed a tax plan to supposedly cut taxes for 95 percent of families with incomes under $200,000 a year.

Is John Kerry suddenly a Ronald Reagan tax-cutter who wants to ease the strangling government burden on the middle class? Has this tiger really changed his 20-year stripes?

Well, no actually. First of all, his claim “my tax plan only raises taxes on those with incomes over $200,000” has been proven false before. Remember? This was almost precisely Bill Clinton’s campaign gambit that sounded so enticing and fooled so many voters in 1992. No sooner was Mr. Clinton sworn into office than he tossed over the side his middle-class tax cut and instead raised taxes on millions of the nonrich who receive Social Security benefits or happen to drive a car, or use electricity for that matter (remember the infamous Btu tax?). When liberals say they only want to “tax the rich” what is sometimes lost in translation is that they define “rich” as anyone who has a job.

Conservative author Ann Coulter said it best. When liberals promise to “only tax the rich, they are about as convincing as the alcoholic who says that ‘I will only drink on the weekends.’ ”

But back to Mr. Kerry. Can he be trusted on taxes?

Why listen to Mr. Kerry’s tax promises, when you can do a Google search and find Mr. Kerry’s actual tax record? He has voted to raise taxes on the middle-class dozens of times in the Senate. He voted against all of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts. That isn’t a very taxpayer-friendly voting record.

In fact, let’s be very specific. Mr. Kerry had a chance to cut taxes for people who make less than $200,000 just last year. By choosing not to do so, Mr. Kerry voted to deny meaningful tax relief for the voters he is pursuing.

Using Treasury Department data from the Internal Revenue Service, I recently found the average middle-class family would pay $1,933 more in federal income taxes this year if Mr. Kerry had carried the day and the Bush tax cut had been voted down. There would be no child credit; no reduction in the income tax rates; and no elimination of the marriage penalty tax.

Now to someone like John Kerry who was born into, and then married into, a life of privilege, who owns at last count four mansions, and has a trust fund in the hundreds of millions of dollars, $1,933 a year is probably chump change. But to working people, $1,900 a year is real money. This is the equivalent of taking away the family summer vacation or paying an extra two months on the mortgage (unless you live in a mansion that looks like what the Kerry-Heinz family owns).

If you own stocks, Mr. Kerry really plans to sock it to you. Here he does not even bother to camouflage his plans. The Kerry tax scheme openly promises to raise the death-tax rate, the capital-gains tax rate, and the dividend tax rate. He would raise the capital-gains tax from 15 percent to 20 percent and the dividend tax from 15 percent to 35 percent.

When President Bush cut these taxes on stock ownership, the stock market immediately soared 15 percent. Repealing this tax cut will necessarily mean stock values will fall as the after-tax return falls. This alone could reduce household wealth of the half of American families who own stocks by $1.5 trillion. So the Kerry plan cuts Americans’ incomes and wealth holdings.

All this puts Mr. Kerry to the left of even his former governor, and previous Democratic presidential wannabe, Michael Dukakis. Mr. Dukakis memorably told Americans: “I will only raise your taxes as a last resort.” Mr. Kerry, effectively says: “I will raise your taxes as a first resort, a middle resort, and a last resort.”

Mr. Kerry says he wants to help raise the incomes of the working poor. Again, his actual voting record suggests otherwise. If John Kerry had his way in the Senate and the Bush tax cut had been voted down, today taxes would be due from roughly 2 million low-income working Americans (about twice the population of Idaho) who don’t pay income taxes this year.

When Mr. Kerry voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, he voted to deny 109 million Americans $1.5 trillion of tax relief over the next 10 years. This is a rich country, but there aren’t 109 million rich people in the 50 states. In fact, I estimate, based on Tax Foundation data that if Mr. Kerry had his way, the average family of four would pay $15,440 over the next decade.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign would squeal in protest over these numbers. Mr. Kerry wants to only repeal the tax cuts for the rich, they would say, not the middle class and the working poor. But every time Mr. Kerry has had the opportunity to cut taxes on these families, he has voted “no.”

The Kerry campaign also says the central economic focus of a President Kerry would be creating jobs. That is a fine and worthy aim. But how? His tax plan explicitly promises to raise income taxes on all those in the highest income tax bracket. The highest tax rate would rise from 35 percent to 40 percent.

The problem here is that 2 in 3 of these people — the evil rich — are owners of small- and medium-sized businesses. And businesses are what create jobs. So how will raising taxes on job creators, create jobs? This is like eating a hot fudge Sundae to lose weight.

Americans want a simpler, less maddening IRS tax code. But the Kerry plan would make it more complicated.

By reinstating the marriage penalty and restoring the death tax permanently, the Kerry tax proposal would add greatly to the tax code’s complexity. By raising income tax rates roughly 5 percentage points on everyone and calling for more than doubling the dividend tax, he sends us back toward punitive double and triple taxation of saving and investment income.

In many ways then, the Kerry Tax is “the anti-flat tax.” It gives us higher tax rates, more IRS complexity, and requires several million more families to file IRS 1040 returns every year.

Mr. Kerry can certainly count on the votes of IRS agents, tax lawyers, accountants and psychiatrists.

But Mr. Kerry can’t win the White House with these voters. He needs to make financially strapped middle-income Americans believe he cares more about their economic predicament and anxieties than George Bush does.

To pull that off Mr. Kerry, must run from his record, rather than on it. He and the Democrats would need to engage in a great act of economic deception and deceit.

When people lie blatantly, they want you to suspend disbelief. They seem ask: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own two eyes?” Mr. Kerry asks taxpayers a similar question: “Who are you going to believe, me or my actual voting record?”

When Mr. Kerry says he wants to be a fiscal conservative and cut taxes of working people, voters must recall Ronald Reagan’s wise words: “Trust but verify.” If Mr. Kerry fools us with seductive rhetoric, as Bill Clinton did 12 years ago, we should not say, “Shame on him.” We should say: “Shame on us.”

Stephen Moore is economics correspondent for Human Events and president of the Club for Growth.


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