Listening to the reaction of congressional Democrats to President Bush's Tuesday night speech in which he said the people, not the government, know best how to spend their own money, one would think that the tax and spend party has finally seen the light. After several decades of deficit spending, Democrats suddenly claim to be fiscally responsible. They say the Bush tax cut plan would put the nation in "jeopardy," even though they raised no such concerns when they controlled Congress and spent the money faster than it came in.
Major liberal newspapers and the broadcast networks are in overdrive, trying to convince the public that the Bush plan is "risky." After years of portraying all things Republican as evil, irresponsible and benefiting only "the rich," they take a poll (ABC/Washington Post) and guess what? A majority say they don't want a tax cut. The big media claim Bush's proposal would ruin education and create new deficits. But how can that be when he asks for a reduction, not in the budget, but only the rate of increase from 8 to 4 percent?
According to Congressional Budget Office projections, the Treasury will have over $1 trillion left after the spending increases and an across-the-board tax cut in which everyone who pays taxes will get relief and some lower income earners will be eliminated from the tax rolls. Bush says this will allow the poor to move ahead instead of treading water because of the taxes they must pay to a government already awash in money. Only in Washington is a reduction of the rate of increased spending considered a "cut."
Sen. John Breaux, D-La., worries that the projected surplus won't be there in 10 years. It has a better chance if taxes are cut now. When John F. Kennedy cut taxes, he fueled an economic boom. A similar boom occurred after Ronald Reagan cut taxes. Breaux acknowledged on the Fox News Channel that the Democrat Congress failed to reduce spending after the Reagan tax cuts, which is what produced the deficit and drove up the debt. If Congress had lived up to its promised spending reductions, "we wouldn't have had the deficits," said Breaux.
Bush's debut before Congress was a mixture of humor and humility. As the Fox News Channel's Brit Hume noted, the first half of Bush's speech was compassionate; the second half was conservative. Bush hit a lot of liberal themes. He praised individual Democrats; he promised an end to racial profiling; he wants to reform Medicare and institute a prescription drug benefit.
But he closed the deal on his tax cut proposal saying, "Let the American people spend their own money to meet their own needs," and "The surplus is not the government's money, it's the people's money." "Taxes are too high and government is charging more than it needs," Bush noted. "The people of America have been overcharged and on their behalf, I am here asking for a refund."
Democrats will have a difficult time demonizing President Bush. He is not as inviting a target as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Bush is a nice and decent guy, who speaks the language of other people who regard themselves as pretty nice and decent, too.
Democrats will try to demonize him but it's a risky scheme. While they try to make him into an ogre, he will be dominating the agenda. While they try to portray him as mean, he will be killing their strategy with images of kindness and compassion. George W. Bush intends to rescue people from the clutches of their own government and give them the hope that can be within them if they will look there instead of to Washington.
Bush is growing in the job after only a month in office. This was his most comfortable formal speech yet, even better than his well-written and well-delivered Inaugural Address. It also again exceeded expectations. If he keeps exceeding expectations, the expectations will rise.
If Bush continues to meet the rising expectations, he has a good chance of bringing much of the rest of the nation along. I believe that's called leadership.
Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services.
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