Tax Cuts for Greedy Bastards

by Molly Ivins

SF Chronicle, 2/14/1

Austin, Texas

Let me apologize. It's not as though I didn't know that this is Defense Spending Week and that all of us in the media are supposed to follow the new Bush administrations lead and speak of nothing but defense.

But here I am, out of step again, still stuck on Tax Cut, which was last week's assigned topic. I believe no one has sufficiently celebrated our new treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill.

Last week, O'Neill was front and center on the chat shows, giving select interviews, pushing that dandy Bush tax cut. In the immortal words of the Prince of Darkness, columnist Robert Novak, "This is about income redistribution."

How true it is. This tax cut is beautifully designed and carefully crafted to redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich. But O'Neill does not like people who point this out. He is firm on this; he suspects us of populism.

"I don't believe this society should still be operating with a robber baron premise as the basis for how we discuss public policy," he told the Washington Post. "I think it is really corrosive to have this argument about the rich and the poor. It's not worthy of where we are in our development as a country."

O'Neill made $59 million last year as the CEO of Alcoa, the giant aluminum company, so he is in tune with the average Bubba-and we can safely assume that he speaks for us all.

I am particularly fond of the O'Neillian argument that anyone who points out that this tax cut redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich is guilty of class warfare.

Passing a tax cut that gives 42.5 percent of the cut to the wealthiest 1 percent of the citizens is, in fact, class warfare.

One cannot even make the pathetic argument that since the rich pay more in taxes, they should get a bigger cut, as though the principle of progressive taxation were a foreign concept. The top 1 percent of taxpayers pays 21 percent of all federal taxes but will get 43 percent of the tax cut. If you do the math, that is more than twice their share.

I am so sorry that O'Neill is upset by people who refer to the corporate aristocracy in this country as "robber barons." That is rude, isn't it?

Personally, I prefer to call them greedy bastards, and to point out that there is absolutely no limit to their insatiable greed. In 1990, the average pay of a CEO was 80 times that of the average worker. By 1999, it was 485 times that of the average worker.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, under the Bush plan, 12 million lower-and moderate-income families, supporting 24 million children, get absolutely nothing out of this tax cut.

Here's the Catch-22: 74 percent of American taxpayers pay more in payroll taxes (such as Social Security) than they do in income taxes. A $26,000-a-year couple with two kids would have their income tax liability eliminated, thus saving exactly $20, but they would still be paying $2,689 in payroll taxes.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a noted organ of class warfare, a middle management couple with two kids making $180,000 a year would get a $2,000 tax break. The $18,000-a-year worker with a wife and two kids would get nothing.

This is unfair, unjust and wrong. It is class warfare waged by the robber baron rich against everybody else. It stinks.


Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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