The Family Experts' Take On Bush's Tax Plan
Tax-and-spend detractors revile it as a “tax cut.” President Bush prefers to call it “tax relief.” I like to think of it as a “tax rebate.”
With the projected budget surplus now approaching $6 trillion, it is clear that America's working families are over-paying their tax bills by an astonishing amount. What is the appropriate remedy when someone overpays for goods or services? A rebate. If Americans are paying more than is needed to run the government and its myriad programs, then the surplus should be returned to the hardworking folks who earned it. It's as simple as that.
America's families need and deserve a tax rebate. The government burden on working Americans is greater today than at any peacetime period in our nation's history. Save for the years of World War II, the government's share of the gross domestic product is greater than ever. The average family must work more than four months of every year just to pay the tax bill and today pays more in taxes than it does in food, housing and clothing combined. Worse, the current tax code is hostile to families, driving mothers from the home to earn second incomes and penalizing marriage.
President Bush has proposed a tax rebate package that is friendly to the ideals championed by the organizations I serve, the Family Research Council and its associated legislative arm, American Renewal. The Bush plan would strengthen our traditional American ideals of family, faith and freedom.
First, the family would be strengthened by eliminating the marriage penalty, abolishing the “death tax” on estates passed from one generation to another, and doubling the child tax credit to $1,000.
While rectifying the imbalance in the tax code that unfairly penalizes marriage, however, it is important that single-earner families not be put at a disadvantage. The tax code should not be used to encourage mothers to leave the home for the workplace by setting up financial rewards for two-earner families. The tax code should recognize the enormous economic contribution of stay-at-home moms. Many families make considerable sacrifices to allow mothers to stay at home raising and nurturing their children. This has a direct, if not always well understood benefit to the national economy. The traditional two-parent family with a mother in the home is the single best defense against childhood poverty and a host of social ills from crime and delinquency, to drug and alcohol abuse, and teenage pregnancy.
Any effort to restore balance to the tax code by eliminating the marriage penalty should extend to all families, single- as well as dual-earner. This is currently lacking in the Bush approach, which encompasses relief only for dual-earner families. An expanded congressional version of the Bush tax rebate plan sponsored by Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), among others, would eliminate the marriage tax penalty for all families in all tax brackets. This family-friendly feature should be incorporated into President Bush's plan.
The death tax is a direct attack on family businesses. Family farms and small businesses are especially vulnerable to this insidious tax. Instead of fostering saving and frugality, the death tax encourages Americans to “spend down” their estates in order to escape the clutches of the taxman. Land-rich but cash-poor family farms often have to be broken up or sold off to pay estate taxes rather than being passed on to succeeding generations. Small family businesses that hardworking Americans spent lifetimes building from scratch can be lost to this most morbid form of taxation.
Second, the Bush plan would strengthen faith by expanding the charitable tax deduction to those families that do not currently itemize and allowing charitable donations to be credited against state taxes. These initiatives would strengthen those faith-based organizations that the President seeks to call upon as allies of government in ameliorating the nation's social ills.
Third, freedom would be strengthened by across-the-board rate reductions. This would allow working Americans to keep more of the money they earn through their own labor, enterprise, ingenuity and creativity.
In the celebrated 1964 speech that launched his political career, Ronald Reagan said: “No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of its national income.” Today we are perilously close to that upper limit of taxation.
Can any people truly be said to be free when government at all levels confiscates as much as a third of the product of their labor? With federal spending running at historically high peacetime levels, and a budget surplus approaching a staggering $6 trillion, surely we can afford to maintain essential government programs while returning a mere quarter of the excess taxation to the working families that produced it.
Kenneth L. Connor is president of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based public policy organization.
- March 11-17,2001