WASHINGTON — WHATEVER COMES out of the budget summit farce, it's a safe bet working-class Americans once again will bear the brunt.
While Democrats in Congress make a loud show of opposing President Bush's capital-gains plum for the rich, the truth is we've been patsies right along when it comes to restoring fairness to the tax system. Bush made clear he would JimFainveto any increase in rates for his wealthy friends (now we know what those lips really meant), and the Dems folded without a skirmish.
They floated the timid idea of trading off a hike from 28 to 33 percent on the top income bracket for Bush's prized capital-gains cut, but he was having none of that. As a result, we're likely to emerge with a grab bag of excise and energy taxes falling most heavily on people with family incomes under $50,000.
If you wonder why working folk are fed up with politics, look no farther. Under Ronald Reagan, they were forced to shoulder sharply higher taxes (largely in the guise of bolstering Social Security) to finance a cut from 70 to 28 percent in income tax for the deserving rich.
Study after study has shown that the burden shifted dramatically during those eight years from people with incomes over $100,000 to those making less than $50,000.
Cap gains is Bush's pet, the only part of his domestic agenda for which he's gone to the mat. It's the crux of the misnamed summit. With the Dems bluffed out of restoring progressivity through income taxes, everything else is negotiable.
Some Republicans in Congress are willing to drop capital gains, sign a deal and go home. But the White House is adamant. Bush may finally cave; GOP senators and representatives may yield in spite of him or he may carry the day. In any case, it's the only issue left. The outcry from GOP whip Newt Gingrich about other arguments is a smoke screen, designed to mask Republican stubbornness in behalf of the richest 1 percent of the population is the sticking point.
The Democrats know a president holds the cards when it comes to levying blame. He gets the TV time and ink. He speaks with one voice while they're a raucous mob. But that's not the only reason they kowtow to the wealthy few at the expense of their natural constituency.
Some of their over-conscientious leadership, like Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and House Speaker Tom Foley, are inclined toward almost any compromise to avoid a veto, make progress against the deficit and keep the economy above water.
Most are so hip-deep in today's money politics that they vote like Republicans. They give allegiance to the PACs and fat cats who finance them, effectively denying middle-class Americans representation in Washington.
That's why a revolt against the political status quo is gathering. It's why mavericks like John Silber and William Weld trounce old-line pols in states like Massachusetts. It's why a new study for the Times-Mirror newspapers shows white workers in the $30,000 to $50,000 bracket almost as despairing as blacks.
The middle class is getting tired as hell and inclined not to take it anymore. If Democrats don't wise up to that soon, we'll need to start a new party to represent the nation's working core.