09/19/2005 04:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Time to Put the Bush Tax Cuts on Trial

In a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed last week, I argued that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Democrats must focus their ire on President Bush's tax cuts, and immediately demand they be repealed. The fact is, the White House decided to make giving billions of dollars of tax breaks to the richest 1 percent a higher priority than spending the relatively tiny amounts experts told the administration was necessary to strengthen the Gulf Coast's crumbling flood/hurricane protection infrastructure. And now, in the wake of the disaster, the GOP has said it will merely postpone - not terminate - its push for new tax cuts, including an estate tax cut - a move that would almost exclusively benefit the wealthiest 2 percent of the country.

To understand how irresponsible the tax cutting was in the past - and how ludicrous it is moving forward - see this excerpt from today's Great Falls Tribune:

"The [American Society of Civil Engineers], which recently released a report card for America's infrastructure, gave the nation's dams a grade of D, citing concerns over lack of funding for dam safety maintenance and rehabilitation, and an increasing number of unsafe dams around the country. Since 1998, the number of unsafe dams has risen by 33 percent to more than 3,500, according to the group. And the number of dams deemed unsafe is increasing at a faster pace than dams are being repaired. About 85 percent of the nation's 75,000 dams will be at least 50 years old by 2020, according to the National Performance of Dams program. Nationally, about $10.1 billion is needed over the next 12 years to refurbish all the non-federal dams that have the potential to kill people should they fail, according to the civil engineers society."

Knowing that America faces this very real vulnerability, doing nothing about it, and then going ahead with $336 billion in already-planned new tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of the country would be as near to criminal negligence as any budget/tax decision could come.

It is true, during the 2004 campaign, John Kerry supported reducing some of Bush's tax cuts. But since the election, that line of argument has disappeared. Now it must come back with a vengeance. And slowly but surely, it is. There is a growing number of congressional Democrats who are starting to talk about repeal, as is former President Bill Clinton. And even a few stray Republicans are saying it might be time to repeal the Bush tax cuts. But putting the Bush tax cuts on trial is going to take more than a few lonely voices - it is going to take a full-on campaign by progressives to make repeal take center stage.

So without further ado, I say let's get it on. Let's have the debate about taxes that those arrogant conservative elitists like Grover Norquist think they control. Let's let America decide whether it supports conservatives' argument that says more tax cuts are going to strengthen those dangerously creaky dams, more tax cuts are going to strengthen homeland security, and more tax cuts are going to provide better body armor to our troops fighting in Iraq. Let's let America decide whether it thinks it was a good idea to ignore expert warnings about inadequate hurricane/flood infrastructure on the Gulf Coast and instead spend billions giving Bill Gates another tax cut. The simple truth is that sooner we put the tax cut debate into these real-world terms, the sooner progressives will start winning a tax debate that we have lost to devastating consequences.