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Off-Year Elections Set Stage For New Era Of Economic Turmoil

The top business news of 1994 wasn’t the opening of the Harpers furniture factory in Post Falls or announcement of Egghead software coming to Spokane or a start on downtown rejuvenation.

In fact, the most important news in the private sector wasn’t a business or economic story at all, strictly speaking.

But it will have vastly more impact on employers, workers, taxpayers, consumers, workplaces, welfare, workfare, family leave, wages, benefits and fringes and virtually every other facet of business and the economy than the rest of the top 10 all together.

I’m speaking, of course, of the off-year elections.

In the fifth congressional district, Spokane lost it’s most powerful public servant of all time.

Chances are slim to none that this community will ever again place one of its own in such a key position to influence legislation, procure pork, and intervene with bureaucrats on behalf of the folks back home.

And that would be true even if Speaker Tom Foley had won re-election, because his job as a Democrat was eliminated in the Republican sweep. Now a GOP horde led by Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich & Co. is steering Congress on a hard right course that was utterly inconceivable only a couple months ago.

And those who have been so comfortably smug in the conviction that the nation can’t turn back the clock are suddenly staring at a congressional agenda which has transformed yesterday’s politically incorrect issues into today’s political expediencies.

Proving again there’s no such thing as can’t, Congress will shortly consider:

Cutting middle-class taxes.

Cutting the tax on capital gains.

Cutting government programs.

Cutting welfare to citizens who are poor.

Cutting welfare to legal immigrants who are not citizens.

Cutting welfare to illegal immigrants who are in this country as aliens.

Cutting welfare for businesses and industries.

And on and on.

But maybe the unkindest cuts of all are promises of middle-class tax relief, first by Gingrich etc., followed by House minority-leader-to-be and unannounced presidential contender Dick Gephardt, and last as well as least the president. The three-ring circus they are putting on for the American public has little to do with the economy or the middle class or even taxes.

Except for a tiny tragic minority of elderly pensioners existing on fixed incomes for whom literally every penny counts dearly, a cut that works out to the price of a pizza a week won’t make much of a dent in the budget worries of most taxpayers in today’s society.

And the president’s puny and pitifully transparent package, which he ballyhooed as a “Middle Class Bill of Rights,” served only to advertise that this is political gamesmanship pure and simple and cynical in the extreme.

As if to emphasize the fact, Clinton fell all over himself managing somehow to weave into his 10-minute talk a word list of old taboos newly approved as politically correct - “right,” “wrong,” “family,” “values” “responsibility,” and so forth.

Everybody’s hopping onto the “personal accountability” bandwagon so scorned a couple years ago when it was popular and entirely possible to blame everyone but one’s self for individual failings.

But this new regime isn’t buying easy excuses.

As senator-elect Fred Thompson of Tennessee said in the Republican response to the president’s “Middle Class Rights” pitch, “We’re going to tackle a welfare system that pays people more not to work than to work.”

The “Grinch” talks about removing grossly abused children from welfare homes and raising them in orphanages, and many with personal experience attest to the merits of these institutions.

The pendulum has swung so far, so abruptly that there are concerns being expressed for the continuation of media liberals as the ruling elite. Never fear - they could march into the sea forever and still survive.

But back to the November elections as business and economic news. As reporter Lisa Anderson of the Chicago Tribune observed in an election post-mortem last week on page one of this newspaper: “It’s not about piddling tax cuts; it’s about gutwrenching economic insecurity, stupid.”



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