We Must Stop Bush's Rampage

Charles W. Jones, International President Emeritus

His radical agenda and tax-cut budget weaken worker protections, rob Medicare to give the rich a big tax cut

In the first hundred days of his presidency, George W. Bush has been on an anti-worker rampage. Just look at a few of his deeds:

  • He reversed a Clinton executive order that kept law-breaking companies from getting government contracts.
  • He abolished federal labor-management partnerships.
  • He banned project labor agreements.
  • He issued an executive order requiring government contractors to post job site notices informing workers that they don't have to join unions.
  • He delayed rules to help workers with black lung disease.
  • He said he would not sign a campaign finance law unless it included "paycheck deception" language designed to weaken unions' political voice.
  • He called for "fast-track" bargaining authority so he can extend NAFTA into all of South America.
  • He killed a workplace ergonomics rule originally proposed by Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole under George Bush Sr. -- a rule that OSHA spent ten years developing -- to address the 1.6 million repetitive motion injuries workers suffer each year.

Watching Bush work, you'd never know this man slipped into the White House on a technicality, with half a million fewer votes than his opponent. He is acting as though he has the entire country behind him.

Now he wants to pass a $1.6 trillion tax cut that is not only unfair to workers, but will also deplete the Medicare surplus and threaten the U.S. government's ability to take care of business.

You can bet that this tax cut will be followed by a tax increase just a few years down the road.

That's what has happened in Texas and Florida when the Bushes got in. As governor of Texas, Bush forced through a property tax cut, even though fewer than eight percent of Texans said it was a high priority. Now they are dealing with their worst budget crisis in a decade.

Texas is so broke that Republican state senator Chris Harris, vice-chairman of the finance committee, has proposed a constitutional amendment to rollback property taxes to pre-Bush levels. Others say that isn't enough.

Texas is making desperate cuts in education, health care, and highway repairs. Already a low-service state (they spend the least per citizen of all states), when Texas cuts services, they cut to the bone. As state senator and finance committee member Eddie Lucio told the New Republic, "We are having to scrounge around for some very necessary funding."

The president's brother Jeb has done the same thing in Florida. When he was elected governor two years ago, he vowed to slash taxes, even though only three percent of the people said that was a high priority. They would have preferred he try to improve education, crime prevention, and health care, according to polls.

But the state government was enjoying large surpluses, thanks to eight years of fiscal prudence under Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles and a strong economy. Bush saw his opportunity and took it, lobbying hard for the largest tax cut in the history of the state.

Bush cut corporate taxes and the intangibles tax, leaving in place the sales tax, which hits working people the hardest. One-third of the benefits from his intangibles tax cut went to the richest six percent of Floridians.

Then the bad news hit. Economists' projections proved to be wrong. Shortfalls began popping up. Because the state constitution will not allow deficit spending, Bush has had to cut much-needed funds for health care for pregnant women, juvenile detention centers, teachers, and more.

Even Jeb's fellow Republicans admit the tax cut was a mistake. Republican state senator Burt Saunders told the New Republic, "We should have gone a little more slowly . . . we have significant needs in Florida that have for many years gone unmet."

Don Sullivan, another Republican senator, admits, "I can't see where anybody will come out ahead." Jim King, Republican senate majority leader, says the 1999 tax cut "probably wasn't the smartest thing we could have done."

That is a masterful understatement. As the fastest growing state in the nation, Florida needs to increase spending just to keep up with demand. Instead, they are cutting. In a few years, they will be in serious trouble.

So will the federal government, if George W. is successful. His ill-conceived budget would slash programs in ten of the government's 25 agencies. Most of the cuts would be in programs important to families: money for police, environmental programs, energy conservation, pediatrician training, and health services.

And of course he hasn't overlooked worker protections. He wants to cut the Department of Labor budget by nearly ten percent, gutting enforcement programs and the NLRB.

Perhaps worse than these cuts is what his budget will do to Medicare.

A March 14 editorial in the Washington Post explained that Medicare is divided into two parts. Hospital costs are paid for through payroll taxes. That's the money in the trust fund, which now shows a surplus. The rest of the costs are paid with general tax funds and patient premiums.

Bush's budget would begin to use the payroll tax (trust funds) to pay for expenses other than hospital costs. As a result, the Medicare trust fund surplus would be depleted much sooner than projected. When that happens, taxes will have to be increased to make up for revenue lost with Bush's tax cut.

As the Washington Post editors say, "Judged by a realistic standard, the tax cut is more than the government can reasonably afford."

Bush calls himself a "compassionate conservative," but he acts like a self-absorbed radical. His tax cut, his budget, and his legislative agenda are all bad for working families — and for the entire nation. He must be held back.

Seeing the Senate reduce his tax cut by one-fourth was encouraging. This body may be able to resist his onslaught. The House of Representatives, with its five-seat Republican majority, seems inclined to pass his proposals on a strictly party-line vote.

Call your senators and congressmen and ask them to hold the line on Bush's budget and tax cut. We cannot allow him to ramrod his irresponsible fiscal agenda through Congress.