ONE OF MY favorite holiday stories is the Dr. Seuss classic, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." For those who don't remember, the fable goes like this: The dastardly Grinch hates happiness so much that he decides to ruin Christmas for the people of the valley by dressing up like Santa Claus and stealing their presents. On Christmas morning, however, he has a change of heart and, infused with the holiday spirit, returns the stolen presents to the children.
This year, Congress is playing the part of the Grinch. But unlike Dr. Seuss' villain, the thieves on Capitol Hill are not going to return the toys.
Unwilling to balance the budget by cutting "pork" and capping spending increases at 4 percent, as my colleagues have proposed, Congress and the Bush administration have instead shown their contempt for the American people by enacting the largest tax increase in U.S. history -- more than $170 billion during the next five years. That's an increase of more than $300 a year for the average American family.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Conference Board, a consortium of leading business executives, reports that the average American family will spend $315 on Christmas presents in 1990. So much for the Christmas fund. What the Good Lord giveth, the Congress taketh away.
To pay the new tax bills next year, a lot of families simply are going to have to eliminate the annual holiday trip to Grandma's house. Thanks to new federal taxes on gasoline and airline tickets, the cost of going home for Christmas just went up.
At first, an additional 5 cents per gallon of gasoline doesn't seem like much, but for commuters, the nickels quickly add up. The Federal Highway Administration reports that New Yorkers can expect to pay an additional $101.52 annually, while Wyoming drivers -- faced with huge distances between towns -- will spend nearly $150 more in gasoline taxes.
Worse, taxes on gasoline unfairly punish the working poor -- families struggling to balance the household budget and stay above the poverty line. According to the Congressional Budget Office, families earning less than $5,000 annually pay eight times more of their income in gasoline taxes than those earning $50,000 or more. For poor families, $100 can mean the difference between Christmas and no Christmas.
Of course, long distance is the "next best thing to being there." But with new federal taxes on telephone service, the cost of calling Grandma to wish her a merry Christmas is going to take a big jump. New federal "sin" taxes on alcoholic beverages will raise the price of Christmas eggnog and New Year's Eve brew, whether your choice is champagne or a cold Coors. And that special present for your spouse you've been saving for -- maybe a fancy necklace or fur coat -- is going to cost 15 percent more, thanks to a new federal luxury tax.
It'll even cost you more to raise your children. Under the budget deal, the value of personal exemptions, for children and other dependents, will be phased out for taxpayers earning more than $50,000. The Grinch didn't like children, but only Congress would stoop to taxing them.
So what are you getting for Christmas? Scott Hodge, the Heritage Foundation's Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary affairs, has compiled an extraordinary list of goodies, including $3 million for a study of zebra mussels, $3.8 million for Arkansas' "Poultry Center of Excellence," $64 million for "intelligent vehicle/highway systems" and $428 million for a "parking garage revolving fund."
The one thing you won't get, however, is increased protection against the Saddam Husseins of the world. Of all the departments and agencies in the federal government, only the Defense Department was forced to take a budget cut.
It's enough to depress even the merriest of Santa's elves. Even before the new taxes were approved, the average American paid nearly 40 percent of his income to federal, state, and local governments. Now, it appears Congress won't be happy until it has all the presents from under the tree.
Edwin Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.