Robert L. Borosage is co-director of the Campaign For America's Future.
With casualties rising in the Iraqi chaos abroad and the congressional page scandals at home, President Bush wants to change the subject to taxes and the economy. “Our nation has got this choice to make,” he said in Macon, Ga., Tuesday at yet another Republican fundraiser: “Keep taxes low…or let the Democrats in Washington raise taxes.”
These are dog days for conservative Republican incumbents. The growing din of civil war in Iraq drowns out the president’s tough talk about the war on terror. The Mark Foley page scandal puts a damper on the conservative indictment of licentious liberals. Stagnant wages and growing pressures on working and middle-income families make the president’s celebration of the “strong economy” sound out of touch.
So the president and conservative incumbents are trotting out the old staple—the threat that Democrats will raise your taxes. There are limits to the argument. With fighting escalating in Afghanistan and Iraq, with deficits still consuming the Social Security trust fund surplus and more, the president doesn’t promise new tax cuts. He doesn’t really say what he’ll do for the economy, but merely what he’s against: Democrats raising your taxes. He doesn’t explain how Democrats will do that when he's armed with veto power in the White House.
This is the best the conservatives can do. By large margins, Americans say they think Democrats will do better on health care, on education, on jobs and the economy. But tax increases are an understandable concern for families struggling to get by.
One problem with the argument: The conservatives in charge of Washington have already been picking the pockets of most American families. Their corporate tax and trade policies have added to the flight of good jobs abroad and the downward pressure on wages at home. Their full-bore assault on unions and opposition to the minimum wage contributes directly to a distorted economy in which profits and CEO salaries are up but workers are falling behind.
The pay-to-play politics that were perfected by now-disgraced House Majority Leader Tom DeLay trades favors for corporate lobbies for contributions to conservative candidates. Unstated in the deal is that Americans get stuck with the bill.
With health care costs soaring, conservatives paid off the drug companies by prohibiting Medicare from getting a better price on drugs, and outlawed the importation of cheaper drugs from abroad. With tuition costs up 40 percent on Bush’s watch, conservatives protected the banks that profit from student loans but cut billions from the loan program while interest rates were raised on parent and student loans. With gas prices squeezing Americans, conservatives scorned any concerted drive for energy independence, while lavishing billions in subsidies to the oil companies already wallowing in record profits. Those policies cost most Americans a lot more than they got back in the Bush tax cuts.
Voters may not be as thick-headed as the president seems to think. If your pocket is getting picked, you’re likely to focus on the sneak with his hand in your pocket rather than listen to rumors about the new folks who want to move into the neighborhood.