ALMOST 80 years ago, that great witness to American wealth, class and ambition, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."
Now comes this Bush administration, giving that literary turn harsh new meaning. The rich, Mr. Bush and his GOP cohorts believe, shouldn't have to pay so much income taxes. And they should pay as little as possible - preferably nothing - in taxes on their investments and estates.
The administration cloaks this radical agenda in the unproven fantasy of trickle-down, supply-side economics. To sell it, the president has thrown in some lesser tax breaks for the vast rest of us.
That's the essence of the third-largest tax cut in U.S. history, passed by Congress and signed into law Wednesday by the president: About half of all taxpayers benefit very little; those making $100,000 or more do far better.
We've long said these tax cuts are disproportionately favorable to the well-off, are lacking as a short-term economic stimulus, are a disingenuous opening for more lasting tax cuts that could cost trillions, and are likely to drive the national budget deficit so high that they'll further jeopardize Social Security and Medicaid for the great mass of baby boomers.
Now it turns out it's even worse.
In their lust to lock down big dividend and capital-gains tax cuts mostly benefiting high earners, Republican congressional leaders excluded millions of working families from one of the biggest breaks accorded middle-income taxpayers: increasing the child tax credit from $600 to $1,000.
That means that as many as 6 million families making just above minimum wage ($10,500 to $26,625) won't be receiving even some of that additional $400-per-kid credit, which the administration is dispensing this summer as spend-it-now stimulus. Of course, those making more (up to $110,000 or more) - and less apt to help the slumping economy by spending the windfalls right away - will still get checks based on the greater credit.
This inequity came about because Congress was intent on limiting the total cuts to $350 billion, and giving these families the added credit would have added another $3.5 billion, or 1 percent, to the tab.
Never mind that the $3.5 billion could have been covered by dropping the top tax rate from 38.6 percent to 35.3 percent, not 35 percent. Yes, Republicans wouldn't forgo that last 0.3 percent of the tax cut for the well-off. At the same time, we should note, they also went out of their way to include - among many changes - a provision that gives small businesses a much bigger tax break for buying gas-guzzling SUVs.
Democrats are now pounding on Republicans to undo this injustice in the name of the estimated 12 million children in working families denied the additional child tax credit. The White House holds that extending the credit to these families would mean sending them cash, beyond zeroing out their tax bills. If the ideological fault line is stark here, that's what happens when you reopen the tax code with the single-minded determination to make the rich even more different from the rest of us.