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The rhetorical battle over George W. Bush's tax cut plan escalated Thursday morning. Groups for and against the plan held news conferences within an hour of each other on the same floor of the National Press Building in Washington, D.C.
The groups don't agree on the size of the tax cut, the size of the surplus, or the outcome of the debate. There are just two things on which they appear to agree. First, the proposal's fate would be determined in the American hinterland, not Washington. Second, the desire each group has to beat the other. This time, more than right versus left, it seems close to being personal.
At the pro-tax cut event, sponsored by the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform, ACU executive director Christian Josi praised the Bush budget. Asked about groups in opposition, Josi said, "We beat them on the Ashcroft nomination and we'll beat them again."
At the anti-tax cut news conference, People for the American Way's Ralph Neas laid out the mission of Fair Taxes for All, the umbrella name for what he called "a massive coalition of coalitions."
"The sole purpose is to defeat the Bush tax cut. We are dealing again with voodoo economics. We will fight hard, we will fight fair, and we will fight to win," he said.
Groups at the news conference in favor of the tax cut included the Small Business Survival Committee, the Club for Growth, United Seniors Association, 60 Plus, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, and Citizens for a Sound
They estimate their groups together will spend at least $25 million in lobbying and communications efforts. They claim a combined membership of "10 to 15 million people" but that they rely much more on volunteer support than groups in opposition to the plan so their force projections may be much larger.
Organizations in opposition to the tax cut included National Council of La Raza, NAACP, American Association of University Women, National Women's Law Center, AFL-CIO, Religious Action Center, and the Sierra Club.
They did not offer estimates of how much would be spent to defeat the plan. They said they would be working with Democrats, Republicans, and independents to stop a tax cut most of them called "too big," "unfair," "irresponsible," and "tilted towards the wealthy."
The groups supporting the tax cut called it a good start, saying much more reform was needed to create a fair and equitable tax system. One participant called arguments the tax cut didn't add up accurate only in "the world of Washington fantasy math." They are certain the tax cut is not too big and that there is more than enough money to cut taxes and pay down the debt.
Groups opposing stated with equal force that the plan would cost more than projected, that the surplus --when social security and Medicare were factored out -- was much smaller than it appeared, and that together with spending increases proposed Tuesday night by Bush would lead to a new era of deficits.
The pro-cut group said that the need for family tax relief and the benefits to the national economy, because growth would be spurred, made the tax cut essential.
The anti-plan group made the case that what was needed was more spending on school construction, infrastructure, support for single mothers, and, in the words of the NAACP's Hilary Shelton "billions of dollars in electoral reform before we give tax cuts to those who need them least."
The leaders of the groups in opposition were asked if they would refuse to take the benefits of the lower marginal rates, new credits, and increased deductions if the plan passed and continue to pay as they had before.
No one said they would abstain from the benefits. Nor would they commit to recommending that the members of their groups to forego them.
The National Council of La Raza's Raul Yzaguirre said if his only interest were his personal well being, "I would be the first in line to get the tax cut." But, he said, the groups gathered with him were promoting "the interests of poor people, not our own."
Multi-millionaire Justin Dart, a leading advocate for the rights of the disabled, said, "If I get a substantial reduction, as I would, I would not give it back (to the government). I would donate all of it to People for the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights," and the disability group in which he himself is active.