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As President Bush and Congress packed up to take the rest of the month off, he suggested that he’s interested in proposing another corporate tax cut.
Bush also said he would veto the highly popular bipartisan bill reauthorizing the children’s health program. He said he opposes a 5-cent-per-gallon increase in gasoline taxes to set up a trust fund to repair thousands of crumbling bridges in the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse. He shrugged off the nation’s mortgage woes, indicating the market will take care of the credit crunch and the escalating rate of foreclosures.
Bush is clearly not intending to run for any elective office, ever again.
Supporters may cheer his refusal to be dispirited by low polls, a war that is going badly, a world full of foreigners who distrust him, an uncertain economy and a plummeting stock market. But a lot more people — six out of 10 Americans — are unnerved by his unfettered optimism.
In a pre-vacation press conference, Bush extolled the economy, saying his tax cuts expanded the economy by $1.9 trillion. He did not say that he is adding $1.4 billion a day to the national debt, which now totals nearly $9 trillion, up from $5.6 trillion when Bush took office.
Bush said that in the past four years the nation has added 8.3 million jobs.
He did not say that the number of persons unemployed by job loss is increasing and the number of unemployed workers not actively looking for work has increased because they believe there are no jobs available for them at their skill or salary level.
Asked about falling house prices and the mortgage market, which is sinking some huge firms, Bush said that he is opposed to any kind of bailout for lenders or homeowners struggling to hold onto their homes. He said those who lose their homes should be given “empathy” and that the federal government should make sure that those getting mortgages are financially literate and know what they are signing.
Asked then if Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be permitted to buy mortgages beyond their current limits or play a role to revive the mortgage-finance business, Bush said Congress should reform those two institutions first and then he’d think about it. That was essentially a “no.”
But then, asked if corporations are not already making enough money, he confirmed that he is interested in the idea of cutting corporate tax rates if the U.S. tax structure “makes it harder for businesses to compete” globally. He acknowledged that changing the tax code is not easy, but was still considering the proposal.
And then he said that he opposes a bill pending in Congress to close a loophole that now enables many of the nation’s richest people — managers of private-equity and hedge funds and real estate partnerships who earn millions a year through so-called “carried interest” — to pay much lower taxes than normal wage earners pay.
Such a loophole was put in place to accommodate business partnerships, he said, adding, “We’re very, very hesitant about trying to target one aspect of limited partnerships for fear of the spillover it’ll have in affecting small-business growth. And we don’t support that.”
In other words, yes, some multimillionaires do not have to pay the same tax rates as other people, but even though that’s not fair, that’s the way it is.
With the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and a budget from Congress still far away, Bush is vowing to veto spending bills that he does not like. For example, he repeatedly has said he opposes expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, already passed by both the House and the Senate.
The popular SCHIP program provides health care for low-income children.
Democrats have called the bill the “crown jewel” of their agenda, and 18 Republican senators voted for it, seeking to finance $35 billion for it over five years with higher tobacco taxes.
The new spending in Bush’s $2.9 trillion proposed budget would go mainly for the war in Iraq and the military, veterans affairs, foreign affairs and homeland security. Critics charge Bush’s plan would cut Medicare, Medicaid, energy-efficiency development, education, medical research, environmental protection, housing and law enforcement. If Democrats push through $205 billion over five years to fund these programs, Bush charges it would be the biggest tax increase in U.S. history.
Better instead, according to the president, to give corporations another tax break and let Wall Street fat cats keep low taxes on $200 million annual windfalls.
The president is off to party in Kennebunkport and cut brush and relax in Texas. Members of Congress, who have done little this year but squabble with each other and the White House, are off to vacation and visit their constituents at county and state fairs. Maybe when they all return, they’ll come back with enough common sense to know we’re fed up. But probably not.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)