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Bush's gift to the super-rich
The tax-cut crooks strike again

May 19, 2006 | Page 16

ELIZABETH SCHULTE reports on George Bush's latest scam to line the pockets of the super-rich with tax cuts.

GEORGE W. BUSH'S approval rating may be plummeting in opinion polls, but his latest $70 billion tax break package is keeping him popular with the people who matter most to him--the super-rich.

Bush is set to sign into law a bill that extends tax cuts on stock dividends and capital gains--special federal taxes on assets and other income--until the year 2010. The legislation, which passed both houses of Congress, originally aimed at making the Bush administration's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, but Republicans settled for a further two-year extension.

In another case of politician doublespeak, the legislation's sponsors called it the "Tax Increase Prevention Act."

"Let me make it perfectly clear: This legislation is good news for working Americans and for the economy of this country," crowed Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). But in reality, what's "perfectly clear" is that working people won't benefit from these tax breaks.

Some 87 percent of the benefits of these tax breaks will go to households with incomes above $100,000, according to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Fifty-five percent of the benefits will go to the tiny 3 percent of households that take in more than $200,000 a year. And if you make more than $1 million a year, which adds up to just 0.2 percent of all households, you'll get nearly one-quarter of the benefits.

In total, 68 percent of households will receive no benefits at all. "These tax cuts are very skewed to the wealthy," said Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center. "There's hardly anything in the package that favors anyone earning under $100,000."

If your family falls in the 20 percent of households in the middle of the income spectrum, your average tax cut would be $20. If your family rakes in $1 million or more a year, your average tax cut is $43,000.

Another hidden break for the rich included in the legislation is a provision that allows high-income individuals to convert regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, where all the gains are tax-free. Currently, only households making under $100,000 are allowed to convert to the Roth IRA.

According to the Tax Policy Center, three-quarters of the benefits of the Roth IRA proposal would go to households with incomes above $200,000. Almost 35 percent of the benefits would go to those with incomes of over $1 million.

Another part of the legislation is an increase in the income level at which households are exempt from the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a tax that was established in 1969 supposedly to ensure that the wealthy pay their share.

And while Congress pushed through these tax breaks in the name of "stimulating the economy," a savings credit for low-income people expired last year with hardly a peep. Lawmakers also failed to extend a deduction for college tuition payments, which benefited middle-income workers.

The Bush administration's tax-break bonanza for the rich is the latest, worst example of a tax system that's stacked against the majority. Over the last three decades, Washington has increasingly shifted the burden of taxes off Corporate America and onto workers and the poor.

This practice isn't confined to Republican administrations, but happened under the pro-business presidency of Bill Clinton as well.

As New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston concludes in his book The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everybody Else, "What surprised me more than anything was the realization that our tax system now levies the poor, the middle class and even the upper middle class to subsidize the rich...[T]he majority of Americans are being duped into supplementing the incomes and extravagant lifestyles of the rich and powerful."

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Medicare Part D drug benefit
"D" stands for disaster

GEORGE BUSH has a message for seniors--your time's up. May 15 was the deadline for seniors to enroll in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, known as Part D.

It might be more appropriate to call it "D-Day" for seniors. Despite requests for a deadline extension due to widespread complaints that the plan is too complicated and expensive for many seniors, the administration is steamrolling along.

From state to state, seniors have to navigate a labyrinth of different co-payments, premiums and coverage options. If seniors didn't enroll by the deadline, they face a penalty that could amount to 1 percent of the national average premium for each month they go without drug insurance.

When they hyped the plan in the run-up to its passage in 2003, congressional Republicans and some Democrats touted the savings to seniors and the disabled. But Part D has turned out to be a bureaucratic headache--and a costly one--as seniors and the disabled find that their previous drug plans have been cancelled. It's no wonder that, according to recent CNN poll, less than a third of senior citizens think the plan is working.

Take 73-year-old Yvonne Copeland in Chicago. Medicaid used to pay for her 12 medications. Now, under Bush's new plan, her co-pays are $30 a month. That might not seem like a lot to George Bush, but Copeland told CBS Channel 2 News, "Once I do everything, by this time of the month, I'm broke. I've got $2 in my pocket."

Theodora Davis said she was directed to the wrong plan. "I ended up with Blue Cross insurance, which won't pay for my blood pressure medication," she said. "I haven't had any blood pressure medication a whole week because I can't afford it."

The truth about Part D is that the "D" stands for "disaster."

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