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A Good Deal
Bush's tax-cut victory.


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Ramesh Ponnuru

It’s possible to quibble with the tax-cut deal that the House and Senate have reached, or with the White House strategy that got us to this point. Should the president have tried to cut a deal two months ago for more than $350 billion? Couldn’t child tax credits and marriage-penalty relief have been kept out of the bill, and then passed separately later? But these questions are secondary to the magnitude of Bush’s achievement. In the 15 years before Bush took office, tax rates did not go down once. Since he’s taken office, he’s managed to bring them down twice.

Moreover, this deal is a lot better than what people expected to get for most of the last month. Tax rates on income will go down immediately, and the tax on dividends will be dramatically reduced. In cutting capital-gains taxes, the bill improves on Bush’s original proposal. It is as pro-growth a tax cut as the country has seen since 1981.

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Those of us who had serious reservations about the structure of Bush’s first tax cut — especially the long phase-in — should acknowledge that it made political victories for tax-cutters possible. The delay in implementing the tax cut tempted the Democrats to come out for repealing much of it, and the White House was brilliant in depicting this move on their part as a tax increase. That debate contributed to Democratic defeats last year, and continues to contribute to Democratic division on domestic policy.

The “sunset” provisions now in the tax code will also work to Republicans’ benefit. Dividend taxes are scheduled to go back up in a few years, and income-tax rates to go up a few years after that. If Democrats want to let those taxes revert to higher levels, Republicans will be able to be the party that wants to keep taxes down — and Republicans have always had a bigger advantage on keeping taxes down than on cutting them.

SECRETS AND LIES
Yesterday, I wrote about the folly of social conservatives’ objections to meetings between the chairman of the Republican National Committee and gay-rights groups. In his reply to me, Ken Connor, the head of the Family Research Council, says that his objection was to the “clandestine nature of the meeting.” The Family Research Council would presumably have been delighted if the RNC had draped a banner across its entrance welcoming the gay-rights activists; and will be eager to have all of its meetings with Republican officials occur in conditions of total openness. I would suggest to Mr. Connor that when the RNC chairman meets with 300 people from any organization, it’s not a “secret” meeting. And in any case, many of the social conservatives who objected to the meeting (e.g., Paul Weyrich) didn’t make its alleged secrecy an issue.

Connor notes that there was a drop-off in evangelical voting in the 2000 election, and suggests that there will be another one if Republicans do not take up the social-conservative cause on gay rights more vigorously. He provides no evidence that the drop-off was caused by evangelical unhappiness with the Republican party on gay issues, rather than by, say, the decay of certain Christian-conservative groups that used to turn out voters. He cites no polls on the degree of evangelical satisfaction with the president or the Republican party today. And he provides no argument that social-conservative voters would be wise to abandon Bush next year over his gay-rights record. If social conservatives really were inclined to do anything so foolish, which I very much doubt, I hope that their leaders would try to wise them up.


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