Read George W. Bush's lips. He is serious about cutting taxes. Bush the Younger is his father's son, but in politics he's following the Ronald Reagan example, even to the point of seemingly offering the nation the third Reagan term Bush the Elder promised but never delivered.
In Wednesday's speech, centering on how he would keep the nation's record economic expansion on track beyond 2000, the GOP presidential frontrunner served up a Reaganesque tax-cut proposal that even dwarfs the congressional Republican tax cut President Clinton vetoed.
The popular Texas governor would slash the nation's tax bill by $1.3 trillion over 10 years; Congress' 10-year price tag was $792 billion. In addition, Bush would phase in higher child tax credits, phase out inheritance taxes and eventually eliminate the marriage penalty.
Bush is not buying into Steve Forbes' flat tax or calls from other tax critics to replace the current income tax code with a national sales tax. That's unfortunate, but realistic. Polling indicates the nation isn't ready for such radical change. Forbes has spent millions promoting his plan, yet his poll numbers are still in single digits.
Bush's massive tax cut plan, whether he wins the nomination or not, sets the stage next year for a clash between Republicans, who seek to return much of the budget surplus to taxpayers to spend, and Big Government Democrats, who'll try to bribe voters with a host of costly, and carefully targeted, "do-good" spending schemes, such as providing free prescriptions for the elderly.
Vice President Al Gore, who has never seen a tax cut plan he didn't call "risky," has already unloaded on Bush for "spending up the surpluses." But, again, it would be taxpayers, not government, spending (part of) the surplus. It's Gore who'd spend up the surpluses in Washington.
Another interesting point is this. Bush's proposal, though skewed toward lower income working families, cuts the maximum marginal tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent. Gore, and his Democrat rival Bill Bradley, say that's too much.
Yet even at a maximum 33 percent, the Bush tax rate is still higher than the 28 percent tax reform law signed by President Reagan in 1986. Bradley, as a New Jersey senator, was a prime mover of the Reagan bill and Gore, a Tennessee senator at that time, voted for it.
If the federal government could get by with a maximum tax rate of 28 percent 13 years ago, then there's only one reason why a 33 percent rate is too low today: the tax-and-spend crowd is back -- seeking to "grow the government" again. Is that what Americans really want?