WASHINGTON, D.C., FEBRUARY 9—President George W. Bush and his Cabinet spent the week unpacking the trunk of proposals they lugged to the White House.
Taxes: Bush sent his 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut plan to an enthusiastic Congress. Under the Bush scheme, the existing five tax brackets would be cut to four, and today’s rates of 15 to 39.6 percent would drop to 10 percent to 33 percent. The president wants to expand child care credits, repeal the estate tax, and ease the marriage penalty. The White House claims the average tax cut for a family of four under the president’s plan would be $1600 a year.
Bush says he wants the tax cuts made retroactive to January 1, which he believes would help stave off the looming recession. “We need tax relief now,” Bush said. “In fact, we need tax relief yesterday.”
Critics say the tax cut’s promise of relief for all is a mirage. An analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington public interest group, states the bottom 40 percent of tax filers would receive just four percent of the cuts. The average reduction for this group would be $115. The bottom 60 percent of filers would receive a mere 13 percent of the tax cuts, receiving an average of $227 each. The bottom 80 percent of taxpayers would receive only 29 percent of the tax cuts.
By contrast, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would receive 43 percent of the total tax cuts, receiving an average tax cut of $46,000 each. The top five percent of filers would garner a little more than half of the tax cuts.
Others point out abolition of the estate tax, which Clinton vetoed last year, would reward only the very rich. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research argues: “Two-thirds of this tax is paid by the richest two-tenths of 1 percent of all taxpayers.”
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, says: “About 12 million low- and moderate-income families with children—nearly one in every three U.S. families—would not receive any assistance from the tax provisions that President Bush is likely to send to Congress on February 8. An estimated 24 million children under age 18—one in every three children—live in these families.”
Mexican Trucks: Ten days before the president’s trip to Mexico, the Bush administration announced it was reversing Clinton policy and, adhering to a NAFTA ruling, would allow Mexican trucks to haul goods throughout the U.S. Mexican drivers make one quarter as much as American drivers, reports The New York Times which makes unions fear the loss of jobs. In addition, questions have been raised about the safety of Mexican trucks. More than 40 percent of the rigs have failed U.S. inspections at the border.
Patients’ Bill of Rights: In a letter to congressional leaders, Bush endorsed the patient’s limited right to sue managed-care insurance carriers in certain instances. Congress should establish a “reasonable cap on damages,” he said, but didn’t specify what that limit should be. Bush objected to the bipartisan bill sponsored by senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy. That legislation allows some lawsuits in federal court, others in state court, and has no cap on damages.
Federal Communications Commission: In his first public pronouncements since taking office, Michael Powell, the new chairman of the FCC and son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, provided a glimpse of administration policy in the telecommunications area when he enthusiastically supported deregulation as “a critical ingredient for facilitating competition.” The new Republican chairman indicated he wasn’t worried about soaring cable TV rates, and didn’t care about the so-called digital divide—the disparity between rich and poor in gaining access to computers and the Internet. He also said he was skeptical about requiring telecom giants like AOL Time Warner to open their wires to competing carriers.
AIDS: In a mix-up Wednesday, the Bush administration first announced the closing of the White House office on AIDS and race relations, created by Clinton; then, amidst a firestorm of criticism, the new regime changed its mind, promising to keep the office open. “We’re concerned about AIDS inside our White House, make no mistake about it,” Bush declared.
Airlines Strike: In hopes of fending off a strike, Bush waded into what could become a nightmare dispute between unions and major airlines. The government doesn’t want a repeat of the 1996 strike that shut down most commercial air traffic. He’s urging the two parties to come to an agreement quickly. “The president’s got some opportunities if they are unable to do so,” Bush said. “I will explore all options.”
These could include setting up a Presidential Emergency Board, which could postpone a strike for 60-day cooling-off period.
John Ashcroft Watch: In his first interview, the attorney general said his top goals were to step up gun prosecutions, pump up the war on drugs, end racial profiling, and combat discrimination in voting and housing—all of which he proposes to do as the White House reportedly gets set to cut the Justice Department budget by $1 billion.
He questioned Clinton’s pardoning of Marc Rich, telling Larry King, “A pardon should be reserved for a situation where there is a manifest sense of injustice.” He added, “The American people are troubled whenever they think a pardon would be associated with political support or financial support.” Ashcroft also said Clinton in part was responsible for the increase in pot smoking during the 1990s because, although he first claimed not to have inhaled, he later told MTV he would take a drag “if I could. I tried before.” About which Ashcroft said, “I think that sends the wrong signal.”
The top lawman promised to take another look at hate crimes. As a senator, he opposed legislation that would have expanded hate crime statutes to cover sexual minorities.