Charitable Choice
By A.D. Freudenheim

10 June 2001

Reasserting the same glib assurances that have so far been a hallmark of his time in office, President George W. Bush signed into law the "tax relief" bill that was a centerpiece of his election campaign. In enacting the legislation on 7 June, the President said that "Tax relief is the first achievement produced by the new tone in Washington … [it] is an achievement for families struggling to enter the middle class. … Tax relief is compassionate and it is now on the way." Grounding his remarks with references to some fifteen families that Bush "met" during the course of his campaign, and who presumably feel that the tax cut will be beneficial to them, he continued, noting that "most families" will likely receive a $600 tax rebate, and single parents or single individuals will also receive money back in the next few months.[1]

Noticeably absent from his remarks was any reference to the fourth piece of the original "prosperity with a purpose" tax cut pledge: charitable contributions. In a speech on 1 December 1999, in Des Moines, candidate Bush introduced his proposal for a tax cut, including a theme that he would repeat throughout the campaign about the importance of supporting community charities:

… My plan takes the side of compassion and giving - because a prosperous society must be a generous society.
A rising tide lifts many boats, but not all. Many prosper in a bull market, but not everyone. In the most affluent country of history, there are still people in need of help and hope. And there are private and religious groups in every community willing to provide both - saving children from gangs, rescuing people from addiction, caring for women in crisis.
Yet it is not enough for conservatives like me to praise these efforts. It is not enough to call for volunteerism. Without more support and resources, both private and public, we are asking them to make bricks without straw.
Most of these groups depend on charitable contributions. Yet today 70 percent of tax filers cannot claim the charitable deduction, because they do not itemize. Under my plan, people who don't itemize will be given the same treatment and incentive as people who do, rewarding and encouraging giving by everyone in our society, not just the wealthy.[2]

When he enacted the tax bill last week, the President failed to remind the American people of his belief in their obligation - and willingness - to be not just "prosperous" but also "generous." Perhaps in the excitement over his legislative success Mr. Bush simply forgot to mention either part: the need to donate or his commitment to enabling deductions regardless of a person's tax bracket. More likely, however, the President's remarks from 7 June reflect his truer views, that "the money we return, or don't take in the first place, can be saved for a child's education, spent on family needs, invested in a home or in a business or a mutual fund or used to reduce personal debt."[3] All worthwhile goals, but ones that do not necessarily have the same impact on the portion of the American population whom the President once acknowledged may not be able to help themselves.

Moreover, while a refund of $600 would clearly be helpful to lower-income families, some critics of the tax bill, such as the organization Citizens for Tax Justice, argue that roughly 40% of American taxpayers will see little or no benefit at all - clustered mostly among those earning less than $44,000 per year. According to their analysis, thirty-four million taxpayers (26%) will not get any tax rebate checks, and another seventeen million (13%) will likely receive only half of what Bush's public statements have promised.[4]

Some Americans are advocating a return to Bush's stated principle of generosity. In a press release issued on the same day Bush signed the bill, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the official name for the organized Reform Judaism movement in the U.S.) called on its 1.5 million members to donate their tax returns to charity.[5] If just half of these members donated the "average" tax refund of $450,[6] a total of $337,500,000 would be given to various non-profit organizations. A remarkable amount of money from a small portion of the population. Extrapolate that out further; there are more than 100 million taxpayers in the country. Even if only half do get some "tax relief," that means more than 50 million taxpayers should receive money back; multiplied by the same $450 figure, the result would be a $22,500,000,000 charitable donation. That's right: twenty-two and a half billion dollars.

The idea that this population of Americans should contribute their refunds to charity is an exceptionally middle-class notion. Yet that is exactly the population whom President Bush most wants to convince will benefit from his actions. Ultimately, we all have to make the decision for ourselves about how we will spend whatever money we might receive. But in the interests of supporting President Bush's original vision for a tax cut, and with the understanding that our collective strength as Americans is not only much greater than any individual action but is also made up of those actions, taxpayers across the country should donate their refund checks to the charity of their choice. The President hoped to make a great statement to the American people with his bill; now is our opportunity to make an even greater statement in return.

[1]"Remarks By The President In Tax Cut Bill Signing Ceremony,"
June 7, 2001 as published on the official White House web site:

[2]Excerpted from "A Tax Cut With A Purpose," speech by candidate
George W. Bush on 1 December 1999, in Des Moines, IA,
as published on the Bush campaign web site:

[3]Remarks from 7 June 2001.

[4]"51 Million Taxpayers Won't Get Full Rebates from 2001 Tax Bill,"
1 June 2001. Press release from Citizens for Tax Justice, as published
on their web site:

[5]"Reform Jews Urged To Give Tax Rebate Checks To Charity: Underfunded
Federal Programs Targeted For Contributions," 7 June 2001. Press release
from the web site of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

[6]Using Bush's figures of an average $600 return for families and a $300
return for single taxpayers, the average of the two is $450. I acknowledge
that this is a highly unscientific figure, because it does not take into account
the difference in total numbers between single and familial taxpayers.

Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.