Trickling Down or Cascading Up?

April 19, 1995|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- I don't expect Republicans ever to abandon their bedrock philosophy that the best way to help America's poor is to let the rich raid the U.S. treasury.

Whether they call it the ''trickle-down'' theory or something else, most privileged Americans believe that they deserve special incentives and special access to the nation's riches because they are the ones who take the risks and fuel the engines of commerce and entrepreneurship.

I will accept the proposition that even most Democratic politicians have a little larceny in their hearts, and that they, too, feel that a huge share of America's goodies ought to go to those whose very wealth is proof that they are the most productive people in the land.

Still, I cannot stop thinking about the ''Contract with America'' legislation -- especially the $189 billion tax cut -- recently passed by the House of Representatives. It represents such a rip-off of the poor and lower middle class, and such a greedy bonanza for the very rich, that I cannot imagine it winning the votes of people who claim they want a tranquil America devoid of race and class warfare and concomitant crimes.

Did Newt Gingrich and his band see some glaring need to give new economic incentives to the rich? The wealthiest 20 percent of American households already were getting 48.2 percent of national income, the highest proportion in history. The middle fifth were getting just 15.2 percent of income, and the poorest 20 percent were getting just 4.2 percent of income -- both record lows.

Still, the House passed a tax-cut bill under which 1.1 million rich families would reap more benefits than 64.5 million middle-class and poor families would receive, combined. That is not ''trickle down,'' it's ''cascade up,'' which defies the laws of both gravity and common sense.

The Gingrich House set shameful examples of the tendency of the privileged to look out for the children of the privileged. It approved a $500 per child tax credit for families with incomes up to $200,000 per year. But it gave only cruel slaps to the 23.7 million children who will not qualify for this tax credit because their family income is too low for them to owe any taxes, and the $500 windfall is not refundable.

Not only will poor children not benefit from the tax credit, they will suffer because Gingrich & Co. want to pay for new benefits for the rich, including a capital-gains tax reduction, by cutting food-stamp allocations by $20 billion over five years, and by eliminating summer jobs and education programs for 600,000 low-income youths.

It is hard to understand a political philosophy that justifies a capital-gains tax cut that will take $92 billion from the treasury over 10 years (more than half of this will go to the richest 3 percent of households) while taking winter heating money away from the needy elderly.

I hear that some pangs of conscience are trickling down into the U.S. Senate where even some callused, flint-hearted Republicans are saying that the House has taken actions that they cannot stomach. But Robin Hoods these senators are not. The most I expect them to say is, ''It's OK to rob the poor, but don't do it in broad daylight when their children are watching.''

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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