the next few days, thousands of readers will finish
and file their federal tax returns. Thanks to
President Bush's third tax cut in three years,
many will pay less than they did a year ago, especially
those with investment income.
the good news. Here's the bad:
federal taxes almost surely will go up, regardless
of whether Mr. Bush or John Kerry wins the election.
The only questions are when and by how much.
reason: Federal finances are in such a mess that,
barring an even bigger boom than took place in
the 1980s and 1990s, spending cuts alone won't
eliminate the current deficit, even if pursued
more seriously than now.
neither candidate is likely to be candid on the
subject this year. Since Walter Mondale lost 49
states in 1984 after correctly predicting the
need for a tax increase, campaigns have seen little
candor on taxes.
far, both candidates are misrepresenting the other's
Bush is running ads accusing Mr. Kerry of proposing
a $900 billion tax increase, a fictitious figure
based on health care proposals that the senator
hasn't fully explained how to pay for.
Kerry accused the president of proposing or passing
$6 trillion in unpaid initiatives, a figure based
on everything from enacted tax cuts to his plan
for a manned mission to Mars.
Massachusetts senator has urged repealing the
Bush tax cuts on those who earn more than $200,000.
But even if enacted, that won't pay for proposals
like his health plan, let alone close the budget
Mr. Kerry outlined a set of tax-and-spending proposals
aimed at cutting the deficit but stopped short
of a detailed budget with realistic numbers.
Bush continues to urge an extension of his tax
cuts, even as some fellow Republicans resist because
of concern over the deficit.
has portrayed the election as a choice between
his tax cuts and the certainty Mr. Kerry will
raise taxes, a contrast that a USA Today report
on two Missouri focus groups indicate already
has gained some traction with voters.
promises may be good short-term politics but carry
big long-term risks.
1988, the first President Bush repeatedly said,
"Read my lips, no new taxes." In 1990, he suffered
severe political damage when forced to accept
a tax hike as part of a deficit reduction plan.
Later, he conceded that perhaps his pledge wasn't
such a good idea.
the lack of will to deal with the dire fiscal
outlook was evident in congressional votes on
the budget and highway funds.
the Senate, a handful of Republicans joined with
Democrats to revive the "pay as you go" rules
that require offsetting measures to pay for both
new tax cuts and spending increases.
House Republican leaders succeeded in twisting
enough GOP arms to block a similar provision in
its budget resolution.
puts the whole burden on curbing spending. At
the same time, lawmakers of both parties were
busy adding local "pork" to the highway bill.
attitudes will become more important in the next
four years when Congress must decide whether to
keep tax cuts that were given expiration dates
to provide a phony cap on their cost.
failure to extend them would reduce the deficit,
but Mr. Bush and GOP congressional leaders are
committed to their extension.
Kerry would bring a different attitude to the
White House and would seek to keep the estate
tax and restore a higher rate for upper-income
though he might get support in the Senate, even
if Republicans keep their majority, he would face
strong resistance in a Republican-controlled House.
however, lawmakers will have to face this issue,
regardless of who is president. So will Mr. Kerry,
Mr. Bush or whoever gets elected in four years.
of the last three presidents -- two Republicans
and a Democrat -- accepted tax hikes, regardless
of what was said in the campaign.
current fiscal mess ensures it will happen again,
regardless of what Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry tell
P. Leubsdorf is Washington D.C. Bureau chief of
The Dallas Morning News. His e-mail address is
Posted: April 28, 2004