The Two Faces of Clinton
Backstabbing the Poor
Bubba to Bush—Watt's New?
Democracy for Sale
Wife Power

The Two Faces of Clinton
Fond Farewell

No number of fawning stories about what a great guy Clinton has turned out to be can disguise the truly cynical nature of his presidency. One example, which came to light last week, tells it all: In 1993, in his first official act as president, Clinton issued an executive order barring lobbying for five years by his top aides of any agency in which they had served. The order was meant as a dramatic symbol to demonstrate the high ethical tone Clinton was setting for his administration.

Between Christmas Day and New Year's 2001, Clinton revoked the order, which also barred senior aides from ever lobbying on behalf of a foreign government. "The main policies underlying the executive order no longer apply when there is a change of parties at the White House," said Beth Nolan, White House counsel, in explaining the revocation. "Because special access is no longer a concern, the special measures contained in the executive order are no longer necessary." Whatever that means.

Meredith McGehee of Common Cause saw it differently: "Now he's repealed it just in time for all these guys to cash in."

Backstabbing the Poor
Death and Taxes

Repeal of the estate tax was passed by both houses of Congress last year and vetoed by Clinton. This time around, repeal will be welcomed by Bush, who has promised to get rid of the tax. In its current form, the tax affects less than 2 percent of estates (i.e., those worth more than $675,000). Over 90 percent of the tax has been collected from individuals who, when they died, had annual incomes of nearly $200,000. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, half of the estate tax was paid by the wealthiest one out of every 1000 people who died. It's a tax on the very, very rich—people like the Bush clan.

Repeal of the estate tax carries with it little-noticed ramifications for charities. The tax has long been thought to provide an incentive to the rich to donate. Its repeal would mean a loss of $1 billion a year in charitable gifts, according to one study by the Treasury Department. Other studies put the loss at $2 billion. Why the new president wants to crimp charity when his administration clearly plans to place greater emphasis on charitable giving is hard to figure. Bush promises to set up an office in the White House for so-called "faith-based action" to encourage churches to more actively engage in taking over social-welfare projects, drug treatment, day care, etc.

In 1999 Americans donated over $190 billion to charity, an increase of 41 percent since 1995. Households and individuals accounted for 85 percent of the giving. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of those with incomes over $100,000 gave money. But what is surprising is how much of the money was given by people who didn't have much: elderly single women and African Americans. Amazingly, half of the households with incomes below $10,000 made charitable contributions.

Charitable funds go to a variety of recipients, including foundations, schools and universities, human services, and environmental groups. But the biggest chunk, some $77 billion, goes to churches. With repeal of the estate tax, all this charitable giving, including donations to the churches, will decline because the incentive for the rich to pay will be gone. So who will make up the difference? If the rich give less, it will have to come from the middle and lower-middle classes. In short, the cost of the new social-welfare system is most likely to be borne by those who will need its services. In the end, one can only hope that the poor won't have to finance the poor. But it should be remembered that the model for social welfare espoused by many conservatives is Victorian England. The world of Charles Dickens is their goal.

Bubba to Bush—Watt's New?

During the Clinton administration, stewardship of the environment meant moving away from government ownership and dexterous management of the public domain to a mixed private-public system relying on such things as user fees. It must be remembered that, despite last week's hype of Clinton's order to save the forests, he backed different plans to increase the cutting of timber in native woodlands and permitted, for the first time, the sale of Alaskan North Slope oil to Asia.

Clinton made a feeble attempt to reform the old mining act that permits companies to excavate for gold on public lands for as little as $5 an acre. He took politically opportunistic steps to win environmental votes, such as one just before the 1996 election to create a national monument to protect the southern Utah moonscape. Of course, he didn't say that making a site a national monument necessarily stops industry from drilling for oil or mining coal under it. His administration never could screw up the nerve to release a report on the dangers of dioxins. So the idea that Clinton and Gore were big-time environmentalists is not true. Thus, it's not so much that Bush will change anything. As the two key appointments of Gale Norton to Interior and Christine Todd Whitman to EPA make clear, he'll speed up the process that is already under way.

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