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President Clinton's economic package represents the first counterassault, however modest, against the nation's top 1 percent of income earners, who amassed enormous wealth in the 1980s.

If the 1980s represented the decade of the Superrich, then the 1990s is about middle-income America and its slow awakening to the end of the American dream.

Missing yet is a serious discussion of the neediest poor. But if Clinton was elected primarily to represent middle-income America, his presidency represents a corrective step and his administration is aware of the nation's unconscionable inequity.

According to the Citizens for Tax Justice, based in Washington, D.C., tax cuts for the richest million U.S. families in the 1980s added more than $1 trillion to the national debt. In 1992 alone, the cost of those tax cuts will exceed $160 billion. (That's the amount by which Clinton hopes to reduce the annual budget in five years.)

Our nation's income tax structure was once far more progressive. For a $1 million-a-year earner, the top income tax rate fell from 91 percent in 1955 to 70 percent in 1964, 50 percent in 1981 and 28 percent in 1988; it rose to 31 percent in 1991.

Against this eroded progressive scheme, Clinton has proposed a mild tax hike - from 31 percent to 36 percent - for couples with a taxable income over $140,000 and individuals with a taxable income over $115,000.

Writing in The New York Times the day after Clinton's address, former President Reagan protested, "Do they really believe that those who have worked and have been successful in the 1980s should somehow be punished for it? Is success in the 1980s, or any time for that matter, supposed to be something we as Americas are to be embarrassed about?"

Frankly, Mr. Reagan, the answer is yes - especially if that success resulted from efforts by powerful lobbyists who won further favor for the Superrich. Few Americans are comfortable speaking of class conflict, but reasonable evidence suggests that's what we have been facing as money has been sucked to the top of the economic pyramid.

So Clinton has began to speak about restoring fairness. Yes, but what does fairness mean to a youngster born in a U.S. ghetto with little chance of eating adequate food or having adequate health care or attending a decent school?

Certainly, much more effort is needed to properly frame the problems we face. Any discussion that excludes the vulnerable poor hasn't got it right. Who, for example, will lobby for those who cannot afford to lobby on their own behalf? That's just part of our challenge for conscience.
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Title Annotation:tax the rich
Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 26, 1993
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