Editorial Roundup for Wednesday — October 26, 2005

• Hurricane budgeting: Squeezing the poor


Hurricane budgeting: Squeezing the poor

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 25, 200

The cost of helping suffering people of the Gulf Coast will be taken out of the hides of suffering people all across America under plans being batted around by Republican members of Congress. This is what now passes for fiscal responsibility in Washington.

In a way, we’re amazed to see it. After all, Congress and the White House have spent nearly five years behaving with no responsibility whatsoever. Since 2001, they’ve sharply cut taxes, with two-thirds of the benefit going to the well-off. At the same time, they have boosted spending by $700 billion per year. They’ve put an entire war, and more, on the national credit card.

In the process, they’ve taken a $236 billion budget surplus in the last year of the Clinton administration and turned it into a $390 billion deficit. So, when Katrina and Rita barreled in, we assumed they’d just put it on plastic again. We were wrong.

Apparently the financing of guns and tax cuts are legitimate reasons for plunging the nation head over heels into hock. But the cost of aiding hurricane victims must be subtracted from other government programs, even if it causes more suffering. Republicans in the Senate have laid out plans for $35 billion in spending cuts to pay for the hurricanes. Among the cuts are $10 billion chopped from Medicare and Medicaid. They’d raise $8.5 billion by hiking fees on lenders who make student loans, who presumably would pass the cost right on to the students.

Others have suggested delaying the start of the Medicare drug benefit, squeezing old folks who can’t afford their prescriptions.

In the House, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town & Country, is among those taking aim at food stamps. Too many illegal immigrants unlawfully are getting food stamps, he grumbles. So, presumably, the cost of Katrina should be recovered by leaving Mexican children hungry.

To his great credit, Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., helped block a Senate attempt to strip $500 million worth of food stamps from the poor.

We’d suggest some alternatives. Congress might take a page from John Kerry’s tax plan of last year. Repealing some of the income tax cuts for people making over $200,000 per year would raise $43 billion this year, according to the liberal-leaning Tax Policy Center. If we need more, we could restore the estate tax, which falls only on heirs to the richest 2 percent of the population.

We can hear the opposition howling already: Higher taxes on the well-off will stifle investment and stall the economy, they’ll say. Horsefeathers. This plan would not even restore the wealthy’s taxes to the level of the late 1990s, the greatest boom time in American history. Taxes on the wealthy didn’t stifle investment then, and restoring those taxes would make very little difference now.

Not all ideas coming out of Congress are wrongheaded. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Giradeau, would end an outrageous gouge on the taxpayer that benefits the pharmaceutical industry. To wit: The law creating the new Medicare drug benefit forbids Uncle Sam from bargaining for discounts from drug companies. Doesn’t the taxpayer deserve a discount? Who is Congress working for, anyway?

This season’s hurricanes created great personal suffering and the government should certainly help victims recover. But we don’t have to help one group of victims by creating more victims.

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