Just As I Thought

How to pay for war

An OpEd in today’s Washington Post by William Gates Sr., the father of the richest man in the world.

Last week we saw something unprecedented in American history: a push for tax cuts targeted to the wealthy in a time of war. As U.S. jets prepared to bomb Baghdad, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) offered an amendment to the federal budget legislation accelerating the repeal of the estate tax. It is a provision that would benefit less than 2 percent of the wealthiest taxpayers. It passed by a narrow vote of 51 to 48.

There is something unseemly about Congress’s obsession with repealing the estate tax, the nation’s most equitable tax on accumulated wealth, at a time when life and death are at stake.

Today the lives of some of our citizens are at risk. Others are feeling the pain of the recession, losing their jobs, savings and security. State and local governments, facing the worst budget cuts since World War II, are laying off workers and cutting education spending, children’s health care and basic human services.

Rather than facing these problems and appropriating the money to resolve them, congressional leaders are using the diversion of war to pass a tax cut for the wealthy that would exacerbate budget shortfalls at all levels. While the public’s attention is riveted on Iraq, the Senate acts to accelerate the repeal of the progressive estate tax.

At a time when states need $70 billion in federal aid to close their deficits, federal priorities seem to be very different. Will the costs of war be paid by reductions in spending, mostly affecting our most vulnerable citizens? Will there be clear domestic economic winners and losers in the conduct of this war?
Maybe his son hasn’t given him enough cash. Regardless, when you have billions, a tax rate of 70% still leaves you with billions.

Also, from E.J. Dionne:

Congressional leaders should not exploit this moment to push narrow ideological agendas. Ramming through enormous tax cuts is not the best way to unite the country or — the phrase is on the lips of every politician — to show our support for the men and women in uniform. At a time of war, we should not feel we are witnessing a political Ponzi scheme.

The administration waited until this week to discuss what this war might cost. President Bush’s aides insisted, implausibly, that they really couldn’t know the price until hostilities began.

But once the war started, the fact that it was happening became a rationale for supporting the tax cut. House Speaker Dennis Hastert told his Republican colleagues that it was important not to embarrass the president by cutting back on his tax proposal.

Since the tax plan was losing support among moderates on the merits, Hastert had to haul out the flag. Hastert is saying that to oppose the president on anything right now — even on tax policies that have nothing to do with the war and that make less sense than ever because of the war — is somehow to oppose the war effort. If the speaker really believes that, he should just put the House on automatic pilot to ratify the president’s desires. Who needs a legislative branch?

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