Taken by surprise last week, the Bush-Cheney campaign tried to recover by putting together a conference call for journalists and trying to beat the Democrats at the class warfare game with this message: Had no tax cuts been enacted, the top 20 percent of federal income-tax payers would have paid 78.4 percent, but the actual figure, because of the cuts, amounted to 82.1 percent.
Rep. Bill Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and star of the conference call, concluded from those numbers that "the system is more progressive" because of the Bush tax cuts. Thomas then explained to the journalists that "progressive" means the more you make, the higher percentage of taxes you pay. Competing with the Democrats for who can be more progressive looks like a fool's errand. The top 5 percent today pays 53.5 percent of income taxes. Kerry's proposed upper bracket increase automatically makes the system still more progressive.
Thanks to the CBO, Kerry can now accuse Bush of trying to destroy the "middle class" based on a nonpartisan report authored by a former Bush aide. But the overriding problem in the view of supply-siders is the failure of this administration to institute a system of scoring that recognizes the economic therapy of lower taxes.
Everybody expects that Bush at Madison Square Garden will propose tax reform. But will the details be scored by the Congressional Budget Office in language that warriors in the class struggle can use? Early in the Bush administration, Bush adviser Karl Rove privately said it was essential to change the scoring of tax policy. That task has been left undone.