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Jewish World Review Feb. 27, 2001 / 4 Adar, 5761

Jim Wooten

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Consumer Reports

Stop punishing those who live responsibly -- IN the second-floor training room of the Dunwoody Kroger in Atlanta, two dozen highly opinionated members of the store's consumer advisory council talk about the price of Italian prune plums. Why, one wonders, were they $3.99 here and 99 cents at a competitor? Did somebody goof on pricing? Maybe, the store manager responds.

A day later, the vice president of the United States is on the phone. Listening to him, his voice natural, easy and low-key, it's easy to imagine him sitting around the Kroger in Dunwoody chatting about the price of Italian prune plums -- or another subject that elicits passionate conversation on the advisory council, the death tax.

It's on Vice President Dick Cheney's mind on Thursday. "Part of the concern," he says, "is that it represents double taxation." In seeking repeal, "it's the principle involved," he says. Income is taxed when its earned. It's taxed when it's saved. And it's taxed again, at rates as high as 55 percent, when you die.

On this issue, he and the Kroger advisers are on the same wavelength. Those who express an opinion hate the death tax.

Most of the two dozen people in this room on Wednesday are retired. But they are far from retiring. They are, in fact, a microcosm of a responsible, functioning and self-reliant society. Based on the neighborhood, they are comfortable and secure, and if wealthy, not ostentatiously so. More likely, they are responsible retirees who were responsible young adults, building careers or businesses while setting aside a little money for the kids and a little for the church or synagogue and a bit for old age.

With the good stock market, metro Atlanta's real estate boom and a little luck, they have become prosperous beyond, I would speculate, all their expectations. But that is not to look at them and see money. They're good, solid, self-reliant citizens who made responsible choices and who notice and care when the prune plums are mispriced.

They're not the super-rich. Ordinary, middle-class people who have behaved responsibly with their lives are now getting socked by the excess collections.

The top 25 percent of taxpayers earn 66 percent of the nation's income and pay 83 percent of the federal income taxes. Those are not rich folks. Fifty-five percent of two-income couples with children earn $50,000 or more, placing them in the top 25 percent. They deserve a tax reduction in life -- and in death.

The vice president believes that "we are very close right now to having majority support in Congress" for the president's 10-year, $1.6 billion tax reduction. While other Democrats are hanging back, "[Sen.] Zell Miller is signed on, which we deeply appreciate," says Cheney.

Georgia's other senator, Max Cleland, has previously voted for repeal of the death tax and for elimination of the marriage penalty, and those are still his positions, says press secretary Patricia Murphy. Too, she says, "he is predisposed to looking at a broader tax cut."

That may be where Congress is now. "I sense," says the vice president," that there's strong support in Congress and while there will be a debate over how big the reduction should be and exactly what the provisions will be, we are very close right now."

In the budget Bush will send to Capitol Hill, Congress will see that "not only can we meet the national priorities and pay off the debt, but we have the money to pay for the tax cut," Cheney said.

If it stays in Washington, the excess collections will of course be spent. "If we don't act now while we have a surplus to provide some of these funds back to taxpayers who earned them, the real danger is Congress will spend them all," said the vice president.

"And when that spending becomes part of the spending floor, it's hard to reverse it. If we don't provide relief now while have surplus, we will end up growing government faster than we grow the economy -- and that's a serious mistake."

Comment on JWR contributor Jim Wooten's column by clicking here.

01/23/01: The language of opposition turns vicious
01/12/01: Practicing what she preaches was Chavez's only offense
12/14/00: Our divided nation --- and those who caused it
12/07/00: Honest labor is for chumps who can't talk and politic their way to wealth


© Jim Wooten