FORT WORTH, Texas - Is it mere coincidence that so many of the largest contributors to candidate George W. Bush's presidential campaign are among the biggest beneficiaries of President George W. Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut?
Of course it isn't. It's a phenomenon too predictable for coincidence, too subtle for bribery, too natural a consequence to be a surprise.
Political influence? Yes, and altogether legal.
Buying influence in Congress will persist as long as the public tolerates a system without restraints in which money - big money - is the sine qua non of electoral success. Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney rigidly oppose any effective reform.
Mr. Bush believes in the efficacy of trickle-down economics. He has spent his life associating mostly with people who profit from it.
Mr. Bush preached the gospel of big tax cuts in all the presidential debates. He persisted even as opinion polls showed that the public preferred paying down the national debt to getting a tax cut.
The tax code is the historic shopping mall of the rich. Tax breaks are their patronage. That's why members of the tax-writing committees of the House and Senate never have trouble attracting generous campaign contributions.
Mr. Bush's big tax bill should be defeated - or at least restructured and reduced. Giving half its benefits to the wealthiest 8 percent of Americans is embarrassingly inequitable.
If it isn't scaled back dramatically, it probably won't leave enough for our long-awaited debt reduction, or enough to build classrooms, hire teachers and provide Medicare patients with affordable prescription drugs.
Presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer last week gave words to the inane theory that we mustn't leave any unpledged money in the Treasury. If we do, "Congress will only spend it." Oh, sure. Squander it on trivialities like schools and roads and health.
Now Mr. Bush's top-heavy tax cut bill is being slyly peddled as a cure for recession.
If recession should come, as prominently advertised, it won't be because the wealthiest 5 percent have too little money to invest. It will be because the middle- and lower-income 75 percent have too little liquidity to buy the goods being turned out for their consumption. When they can't do that, business can't keep expanding.
Lower interest rates are much more effective tools to ward off an economic downturn. They save money for consumers on credit charges, leaving more for solid purchases. They lower the cost of borrowing for business expansion. Significantly, they cost the Treasury nothing. They save tax dollars, in fact, by reducing the carrying costs on the public debt.
Bill Clinton strove for eight years to stop the Treasury hemorrhage caused by huge annual deficits that took off with Ronald Reagan's 1981 tax cuts and that tripled the debt in 10 years, finally running it up to $3.5 trillion. Mr. Clinton's efforts finally succeeded, with help from Congress, producing an actual surplus of $57 billion for fiscal 2000. This year's surplus is estimated to be about $71 billion.
Getting here has taken some statesmanlike action on the parts of former President Clinton and Congress. Their celebrated budget summit forswore big tax cuts and put us on the glide path.
Mr. Clinton guarded that hard-won surplus jealously, vetoing tax cuts that threatened it - including the Republican leadership bill to abolish the estate tax outright. That bill would have given about $235 billion, at Treasury expense, to the wealthiest 2 percent of heirs in the nation over the next decade.
The most disingenuous argument being offered to support Mr. Bush's kind of tax cut is his glib assertion, made several times on the campaign stump: "That isn't the government's money; that's your money."
This particular rhetorical flourish is enough to make thoughtful people cringe. Of course it's our money, in exactly the same sense that the U.S. government is our government.
Surely Mr. Bush doesn't suppose that we're too inattentive to realize also that the national debt is our debt.
One of the best reasons of all to pay down the debt and protect the budget from massive tax cuts is the dead weight that such huge debt loads onto the backs of taxpayers in interest charges.
Last year, we paid $223 billion in taxes for interest on our $3.3 trillion national debt. That's almost $1,000 in annual interest for every man, woman and child.
What a drag! Think what good things that this $223 billion annually could buy if we'd free ourselves of debt.
Jim Wright is a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is j.wright@)tcu.edu. This article first appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.