Unworkable Good Ideas


November 19, 1991|By JAMES J. KILPATRICK

WASHINGTON — Washington. - An admirable paper came along the other day from the Heritage Foundation. The conservative think tank has great ideas for pumping life into the ailing economy. Every recommendation makes sense. Just one thing is wrong: Heritage seeks repeal of the laws of both politics and human nature, and the system doesn't work that way.

A large part of the Heritage package goes to tax relief for the middle class. Fair enough. Families in the large bracket from $25,000 to $75,000 are hurting. Income taxes, combined with Social Security taxes, have them squeezed. Rising state and local taxes turn the vise a little harder.

It sometimes appears as if every elected official in Washington is trying to assist the middle class. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D.-Ill., chairman of House Ways and Means, has a plan. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D.-Tex., chairman of Senate Finance, has a plan. Looking around Capitol Hill, one sees the Downey Plan, the Gramm-Gingrich Plan and the Kasten-Weber Plan.

All of these plans depend in some degree on raising personal exemptions or providing tax credits for low-income families. Some propose, counter-productively, to soak the rich. Most plans propose to reduce the tax on capital gains. Quite suddenly the cause of tax reduction has become a holy crusade.

The Heritage proposal has one advantage and one disadvantage. The advantage is that Edward L. Hudgins and Robert E. Moffit, the principal authors, are not in the Congress. They can see things objectively. Alas, that is the disadvantage also. They cannot see things realistically.

In order to replace the revenue that would be lost by a cut in taxes, Heritage proposes to cut or to abolish 117 federal programs. Right on!

No. 8 on the list calls for a reduction in loans from the Rural Electrification Administration. Over a five-year period this would save $2.1 billion. Will it pass? Will pigs fly? There no longer is the slightest justification for maintaining the REA. It no longer functions principally to bring power to remote farmers. Virtually all farms have power.

Nowadays REA expands to suburbs; it finances golf courses and shopping malls. Its subsidized telephone loans are gobbled up such pitifully small and struggling companies as Centel. But would the Heritage authors like to predict what would happen on the floor of the House if their heretical proposal ever came to a vote? Forget it.

No. 9 calls for ''elimination of federal water subsidies.'' Yes, sir. No. 13 says, ''Charge full market value for hard-rock mining claims.'' If Heritage wants to set off an uproar, let it press that recommendation. I know. I proposed it myself months ago, and I heard from scores of aggrieved miners who thought me a criminal lunatic.

The list continues. ''Impose user fees for special weather services.'' Try that idea on those who benefit from special weather services. Here is a great one: Prohibit the payment of agricultural subsidies to individuals with gross farm incomes above $100,000 a year. That would save $5 billion over five years. You bet it would.

Heritage would cut agricultural research by $1.4 billion, cut postal subsidies by $2.1 billion and save $1.1 billion by effectively killing the Small Business Administration. The plan would end grants to Amtrak, cut federal funding for mass transit, kill the Interstate Commerce Commission, kill subsidies for non-essential airlines and eliminate grants in aid for airports.

This is only the beginning. The Heritage philosophers would cut funding for arts and humanities in half. They would end all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Over the next five years they would cut funds for the National Institutes of Health by $2.7 billion. They would require a means test of families whose children receive school breakfasts and lunches. Proposal No. 117 is to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which now mandates high-priced union wage scales on federal construction.

In the same helpful spirit, I could add a few projects of my own: Kill the B-2 bomber, kill the space station and kill the supercollider in Texas. Tax all Social Security benefits, instead of half of them, as regular income. What else? Roll back the raises Congress has voted itself.

On this platform, I am prepared to abandon newspapering and run for public office. Or just run.

James J. Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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