Bush tax proposal leaves problems at the altar

Dearly beloved, we have gathered to join this president’s stunning 89 percent approval rating with his latest plan to spend more of the nation’s ever-dwindling money. If any believe this program should not be enacted, let them speak now – or forever pay higher taxes.

Administration officials said Sunday that President George W. Bush will soon present a proposal – an indecent one, in light of the nation’s economic crisis – to spend $100 million on experimental programs that promote marriage, particularly for single mothers on welfare.

The plan’s supporters have correctly noted the many benefits – higher household income, stable health, a better environment for children – that correlate with marriage. But they frequently neglect to note that the marriages they survey are voluntary unions, quite different from those in which government carrots and sticks are apparently needed to prod uncommitted couples to the altar.

If all the options for confronting poverty, welfare dependence and the obstacles arrayed against single parents trying to find work are considered, it becomes clear Bush’s plan throws its $100 million in rice outside the wrong door.

Marriage does not find the unemployed newlywed a job. Marriage does not provide childcare, particularly if both spouses must work to pay the bills. Marriage does not provide an education. Indeed, given the country’s divorce rate, marriage does not even guarantee one will remain married for any length of time. And marriage certainly does not solve the problem of an abusive partner who might be one’s only ticket to badly needed and attractively available government money.

All speculation about the merits of Bush’s proposal, of course, assumes the money to fund it is even available. In the week since the State of the Union address, the Bush administration has bubbled over with suggestions for spending money. But where Congress can possibly get the money to pay for the president’s policy extravagances remains to be seen.

The ongoing economic downturn makes it essential for Bush and congressional Republicans to practice, in fiscal hard times, the budgetary restraint that was easy to preach while the government regularly ran a surplus. Democrats should also give the lie to their tax-and-spend reputation and join their colleagues across the aisle, since both parties should share the goal of spending the people’s money in the most effective way possible.

In better economic times, government spending for pork, boondoggles and pet projects, while aggravating, can be cynically tolerated as part of “politics as usual.” But when the financial crunch that has drained Washington’s coffers also affects the common citizen, for whom “deficit spending” is not such a ready option, Bush and Congress owe the nation careful consideration of every dollar spent. The president’s marriage-support plan is a wasteful expenditure that fails to address the real problems its advocates perceive. Congress should politely decline the president’s proposal and wait for a worthy suitor for the nation’s treasury.