Thanks to the Cornell Political Coalition (CPC), students on Friday had an exciting chance to hear a debate between Turn Left and the Cornell Review on the economic impact of the Bush tax cuts. The spirited, hour-long debate, entitled, “Are the Bush Tax Cuts Good for America?” pitted Paul Eastlund ’05, editor-in-chief of the Cornell Review and Adam Moline ’06, assistant editor of the Review, against Wayne Huang ’07, managing editor of Turn Left and Mitch Fagen ’07, vice president of the Cornell Democrats. In the course of the debate, the two sides clashed over everything from the fairness and morality of Bush’s tax cuts to the merits of supply-side economics as practiced by former President Ronald Reagan.
“The Bush tax cuts bring fairness and prosperity to America,” Eastlund said in his opening statement. “Very poor families don’t pay very much in taxes, so it’s not surprising they don’t get much back.”
Huang then challenged Eastlund’s arguments that the tax cuts had been good for the economy. “Bush inherited a budget surplus from Clinton,” he said. “Now we have a deficit of more than $420 billion … Long term deficits like this take the country on a path to financial disaster.”
Huang also argued that Bush had been dishonest in selling the tax cuts to Congress and the American people.
The debate was the third in a series of weekly debates sponsored by the CPC to build political awareness in the weeks before the election and provide a forum for the intelligent debate of controversial issues. The next debate will be held on Thursday at noon on Ho Plaza, and will focus on the environmental policies of the Bush administration.
The sharpest disagreement between the two sides centered around the fairness and morality of the Bush tax cuts in particular, and the structure of the tax system more generally. Huang and Fagen condemned Bush’s tax cuts for disproportionately favoring the top one percent of the population and blamed them for increasing economic inequality by widening the gap between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent of the population. Eastlund and Moline strongly defended returning taxes to the rich, who pay more in taxes, and then accused the Democrats of favoring “income redistribution.”
“I guess this is a philosophical debate … We believe that if rich people get richer at the expense of everyone else, that is immoral,” Fagen said. “Distribution of wealth does matter. It really does matter who in society benefits from the tax code.”
Eastlund forcefully insisted that the rich did not get richer at the expense of other groups in society and argued against a “redistribution” of income from the rich to the poor.
“Our government is not Robin Hood, nor should it be. The poor don’t get taxes back because the poor don’t put taxes in,” he said.
Fagen, however, challenged the claim that low-income people don’t pay taxes. “If you look only at the Federal Income Tax, the rich do pay much more, but if you look at all the other taxes, especially the payroll tax, the burden falls mostly on the poor,” he said.
Moline conceded that “the poor might be paying more payroll taxes,” but said that, “they get more back from the government” in the form of benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
According to an August study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the top 20 percent of taxpayers, those with an average income of $182,700, paid 64.4 percent of federal taxes in 2001. After the Bush tax cuts were implemented, that number fell slightly to 63.5 percent in 2004. In comparison, the bottom 20 percent, those with an average income of $14,900, paid just over one percent of federal taxes in 2001 and 2004. The percentage of taxes paid by middle class families with an average income of $75,600, increased more than any other group as a result of the Bush cuts, the study found –from 18.7 to 19.5 percent.
Another contentious topic in the debate was the national deficit, which the CBO report projected will reach $477 billion by the end of the year and could be as high as $2.4 trillion over the next ten years.
According to Moline, both he and Eastlund agreed that, “we have to choose between tax cuts and social programs [and] Bush made a mistake by trying to do both” and failing to cut funding for some social welfare programs.
Although they felt that Bush should have acted more forcefully to control government spending, Eastlund and Moline also emphasized that in the midst of the War on Terror, the deficit was not as important as Democrats believed. “It’s just a question of priorities,” Eastlund said.
Eastlund also questioned whether a budget surplus was even desirable. “A budget surplus does not mean we have a good economy, it just means that the government has too much of our money,” he said.
Huang answered Eastlund’s arguments, citing information that the budget deficit undermined economic recovery by hurting consumer confidence in the long term health of the economy, thus discouraging investment.
Echoing many liberal critics of the Bush tax cuts, Huang argued that the cuts will undermine the future economic health of the country.
“Bush is not returning the money to you, the taxpayer, he’s lending it to you after borrowing from your children,” he said.
Turnout for Friday’s debate was limited, but those who showed up came away feeling that the debate had been interesting and educational.
The two sides “seemed pretty equally prepared,” said Aimee Clark ’08, although she felt that both sides “used too much technical, economic vocabulary.”
“The debaters were very, very well researched, and the debate was well executed,” said Ben Ware ’08, secretary of the CPC.
Ware, who also introduced the debate, felt that the Democrats and Republicans battled each other to a draw.
“Both sides did very well,” he said.
Archived article by Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Sun Staff Writer