Column: Future generations will be paying for those tax-cut checks

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 12, 2003

&uot;We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress has passed and President George W. Bush has signed into law the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.&uot;

&045;U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, July 2003

Like millions of other families, we got a bribe in the mail last week. Our share came to $1,200 &045; $400 for each child. The check alone, with its proclamation of itself as &uot;tax relief&uot; wasn’t enough, however. Before the check showed up, we got a letter with the words above, telling us exactly whom to thank for this windfall.

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Now I suspect that describing what is officially known as a &uot;tax rebate&uot; as a &uot;bribe&uot; will be too harsh for many readers. Nonetheless, I don’t see a difference between this money &045; signed, sealed and delivered by President Bush and his allies &045; and the cash people used to get paid by party &uot;bosses&uot; to vote for certain candidates.

Two years ago we got a letter with similar language and another bribe (or &uot;tax rebate&uot;), the result of a plan by politicians to provide tax cuts for wealthy Americans and rebates to families with children. The main difference is that back then the government had money &uot;in the bank&uot; to cover the checks they sent out. The check I cashed last week is actually money the government is borrowing. The reversal of fortune, of course, results from a stagnant economy and increased government spending on the military and domestic security in a post-9-11 society.

Two years ago, we gave the rebate to Habitat for Humanity and some other groups that help people. But this time we plan to spend the money on our children. Like many other families, we will be using our bribe to pay for school clothes, classroom supplies, musical instrument rentals and purchases, and fees for extracurricular activities. We may spend some of it on a trip to the Minnesota History Center and the Science Center in St. Paul (it would be fitting if we came across an exhibit on corruption in politics, but I’m not holding my breath). I’m guessing that the scheduling of the bribe’s arrival is no accident, showing up right around the time that families are heading to stores for their annual before-school shopping sprees or going on the final family trip for the summer.

And while the use of the money to pay for things that our kids need or will enjoy takes some of the sting of the bribe away, there’s another more practical reason for spending the money on them: They’ll be the ones paying it back 20 years from now. What we call tax relief for us will turn into a tax burden for the next couple of generations. The politicians who created the &uot;Jobs Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act&uot; will be retired or dead when the bills come due for the borrowing binge we’re currently in. So the kids in school today will be the taxpayers who will have to repay the several hundred billion more dollars we’re adding to the trillion-dollar national debt this year.

Will most American families recognize this bribe for what it really is, a brazen attempt to buy support for the Bush administration? I don’t know. I suspect they won’t. After all, the comment made by the Roman writer Juvenal nearly two thousand years ago is still accurate today. The only two things the people are concerned about, he wrote, are bread and circuses. Back then, as the Roman Republic was being transformed into an Empire, he observed that most citizens didn’t seem to care that they were losing hard-won rights. They were distracted, often on purpose, by their leaders, with games and handouts.

With the bribe from the U.S. Treasury in our pockets, we’ve gotten a pretty big chunk of bread. It won’t last long &045; getting ready for school gets more expensive every year, but it’s enough &uot;bread&uot; to get our attention. We don’t have to look far for circuses, either. If citizens aren’t entertained by the high tech weaponry of the U.S. military, seen in action on Fox News, then perhaps the government’s attempts to protect marriage from homosexuals will suffice. Anything that keeps us from paying attention to what the Bush administration is really up to &045; acting like a bully around the globe, dismantling Depression-era reforms of social programs and the workplace, and restricting freedom in the name of security &045; will be enough.

(David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.)