JOSEPH N. BELL
Congressman Chris Cox
Thanks very much for your letter of last week. It's always a good
feeling -- even if it starts out "Dear Taxpayer" -- to be in touch
with my congressman so I can get the inside word on what you're up to
and what is going on in Washington. I wish that might have happened
when you were schmoozing with the Navy about turning the El Toro
Marine base into an upscale developer's smorgasbord instead of an
airport, but I'm told that is all in the past now. And besides, we
have an election to think about.
The first thing that struck me about your latest communique was
its title: "Annual Report on the United States Government 2003." I
don't know that I've ever encountered anyone with the skill and
chutzpah to reduce such a complex subject to four pages -- well, two
really, since the first page of your mailing piece is a cover design
and your comments filled the fourth page. You were quite right to add
that fourth page, though. We really needed help to grasp the
significance of the handful of numbers and graphs on Pages 2 and 3.
It was also thoughtful of you to put it in such simple and
straightforward language that even we nonexperts could understand.
I have to tell you, however, that there were a few places -- well,
maybe more than a few -- where the evidence you offered seemed a
little thin, or even inaccurate, for the conclusions you reached.
I've always believed in getting a second opinion when a medical
diagnosis was laid on me, and it seemed reasonable to seek one here.
The Annual Report of the United States Government 2003 shouldn't be
taken lightly. So just to keep it in the family, I turned to one of
your constituents at UC Irvine, a distinguished political science
professor named Mark Petracca.
You should know up front that he's a great jokester and often
makes a point that way. He said, for example, that a lot of your
conclusions failed the Pinocchio test, which I take to mean that he
felt the truth was being stretched a bit by omission as well as
commission. For example, take your statements that "more than 1.5
million new jobs have been created since passage of the president's
tax rate reductions" and "more Americans than ever are working today,
and more own their own homes, than at any time in our nation's
Said Petracca: "First of all, the number of new jobs needs to be
deducted from the 2 million jobs lost since Bush became president.
The Bush administration is the first since Herbert Hoover's to post a
net loss of jobs. Then, second, every seventh-grader knows that
aggregate numbers have little meaning in such a context. Only the
percent of our citizens working today is significant -- and, beyond
that, the percent who are working for a living wage. The same
technique should be applied to homeowners. Of course there are more
homeowners in the aggregate today because there are more people."
He had a similar reaction to your statement that "during the past
year, Congress and the president worked together to enact substantial
tax relief for every American taxpayer." Citizens at the high end --
which you failed to mention -- were considerably more relieved than
those at the low end.
Said Petracca: "Averages in tax reduction are also meaningless. If
we figure in the reductions of the wealthy, then pull an average,
everybody got a healthy reduction. But what is important is who got
the biggest cuts. The theory of tax reductions for the rich is that
they will plow that money back into the economy, but that isn't
happening. Nor are corporations using their savings to create jobs in
You explained to us that "robust tax receipts ... have already
reduced the projected deficit for fiscal 2004 by over $70 billion." A
news story in the Los Angeles Times on July 31 reported exactly the
opposite. It said: "Despite a larger-than-expected increase in tax
revenue, the federal budget deficit has grown by about $70 billion
and will hit a record $445 billion this year, the White House
projected Friday." You might want to check out this $140 billion
swing with your pals in the White House and let us know who is right.
There were other small points to which Petracca took exception,
but he was particularly concerned with your spin on government
spending when you told us: "In the last fiscal year, the federal
government more than doubled its emergency spending to prosecute the
war on terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and here at home."
Said Petracca: "Under this conservative president, we have seen
the largest growth in government in almost a century, most of it
involved in the creation of Homeland Security, which is taking so
many resources out of the economy. The conservatives are sending out
very mixed messages. They have increased government meddling in our
affairs with such things as a constitutional marriage amendment while
they bludgeon the liberals for spending on social needs.
"There is great disagreement on the substantive values of
government. Conservatives are violating our privacy and interfering
in our lives and in the process materially increasing the size of
government while accusing liberals of all these things. Cox just
hasn't figured that out yet."
I hope you don't mind these few suggestions from the folks back
home in the spirit of more and better communication with our
representative in Congress. Coming, as this did, under the label of
the House Policy Committee. I rather expected conclusions from the
committee as a whole or balanced facts from which we could draw our
own conclusions. But this is an election year. So maybe next time.
* JOSEPH N. BELL is a resident of Santa Ana Heights. His column