Tax cuts

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(Host) Commentator Jay Parini has been reflecting on the recent middle class tax cuts enacted by congress.

(Parini) The U.S. Congress has recently made some provisional tax cuts permanent for the middle class – a gesture sure to warm the hearts of American voters, who love their tax cuts. The problem is, of course, that these tax cuts will add 146 billion dollars of debt to our already massive federal deficit, a vast deficit that only three years ago was a vast surplus.

At the same time, the congress refused to extend a child tax credit for families earning less than eleven thousand dollars a year. That would have added an extra a mere three billion or so over five years. If we’re going to increase the debt for something, why not at least for the neediest among us?

What amazes me is that the American public refuses to hold congress accountable for adding so substantially to the federal deficit in a move that many – myself among them – regard as simply pandering to the country in advance of a national election.

Let’s be frank about what is happening: This is simply a tax shift.

The money we save on federal taxes will be, as it has in the past, shifted to local and state taxes, and to taxes on various items at the cash register. These tax cuts hurt the average American – the middle class American – more than they hurt the wealthy American because such taxes are blatantly regressive. If, for example, you pay ten cents of tax on a dollar of something you buy, the rich guy who has just been given a huge tax break on his federal income tax pays the same ten cents on the dollar as the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, who have not just been given a huge windfall from the Feds.

Once again, the politicians are playing mind-games with us, giving us something with one hand which they know is being taken away by the other. On top of which, the deficit is growing to a point where, down the road, the government will have no choice but to slash healthcare programs, social security benefits, and grants to schools. The old and sick, the young and the poor, will suffer. Don’t they always? And who benefits really? The politicians who keep their jobs, and the rich, who seem always to prosper.

Meanwhile, two hundred billion dollars have already been spent on a war in Iraq that promises to be a sinkhole, not only for future tax dollars but for American and Iraqi lives. Americans deserve better than that. They deserve honest accountability, not another tax relief illusion.

This is Jay Parini, in Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College. He spoke from studios at Middlebury.

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