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Kevin Phillips's Morning Edition Commentary
on Bush's Tax-Cut Proposals

Originally broadcast February 12, 2001

BOB EDWARDS, host: President Bush is acting on his campaign promise to cut taxes. Commentator Kevin Phillips says plans to eliminate the Federal inheritance tax are ill conceived and, considering the president lost the popular vote during the election, illegitimate.

PHILLIPS: Although President less than a month, George W. Bush has already achieved a historic first. He has become the first President elected without carrying the popular vote to propose a far-reaching, giant tax-cut bill on behalf of his supporters and his big campaign contributors.

None of the three previous Presidents elected without a popular-vote margin -- John Quincy Adams, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison -- had the temerity to try anything like this kind of revenue reduction.

It hasn't bothered Bush, though. It hasn't stopped him that a majority of Americans cast their vote for the two candidates, Al Gore and Ralph Nader, who mocked his tax package. Indeed, both did more than oppose it. They argued, rightly, that it was a massive giveaway, and that 30-40% of the dollar benefits went to the top 1% of US taxpayers, to just 1 million families.

This, then, is an illegitimate tax bill for two reasons. The first is that a president selected in Bush's manner has no mandate or standing to undertake such far-reaching legislation. The second illegitimacy, which would tar this legislation even if it was offered by a president with a full claim to office, is the extent of revenue that it gives away -- not at first, but as its $1.6 trillion dollars worth of provisions unfold over the next decade. That's more than a trillion dollars that future Congresses could spend on debt reduction, on payroll tax reductions, social security, education or prescription-drug coverage. Instead, these dollars will be spent by recipients, in considerable measure, on hundred-thousand-dollar cars, five-million-dollar homes, and ten-million-dollar financial speculations.

Indeed, one of the biggest individual tax giveaways is particularly ironic. Here, I'm talking about the Bush proposal to phase out the federal inheritance tax, which in earlier days owed much of its introduction to a pair of Republican presidents -- picked by voters, not by a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision -- whose names were Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

To now end the inheritance tax, as opposed to increasing its exemption to two or three million dollars, threatens a cost not only in billions of dollars but in the weakening of American democracy.

In the wake of the American Revolution George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many others were agreed that US law would, and did, end the British legal provisions that allowed the great landed estates to descend intact from generation to generation. The new United States would not, they said, have an "aristocracy of inheritance."

The Bush tax bill raises exactly that prospect. It threatens to perpetuate the 8-trillion-dollar wealth buildup of the 1990's, through a new aristocracy of inheritance, on a scale that Washington and Jefferson could never have imagined. For such a proposal to come from a president who owes his own office to inheritance, rather than popular election, is the crowning illegitimacy of them all.

EDWARDS: The comments of Kevin Phillips, whose newest book is The Cousins' Wars : Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo- America.

Reproduced courtesy of National Public Radio. The Kevin Phillips commentary originally aired on the February 12th Morning Edition.