Feel-good letter fails truth test

JOSEPH N. BELL

Congressman Chris Cox

Washington, D.C.

Dear Chris:

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

history."

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

this country."

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.

Sincerely,

Joe Bell

* JOSEPH N. BELL is a resident of Santa Ana Heights. His column

appears Thursdays.

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