Magazine article The American Prospect

New Year's Resolutions

Magazine article The American Prospect

New Year's Resolutions

Article excerpt

OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS, WE'RE GOING TO FACE monumental tax and budget decisions. President Bush wants to privatize part of Social Security, make the tax code far less progressive, borrow many more trillions of dollars, and probably slash domestic programs. It's crucial that people understand what's at stake as these issues unfold--and that means reporters need to do better than they have in the past. So here are my New Year's resolutions for journalists who cover fiscal issues--and

what readers should demand of them.

1. Explain who wins and who loses. This ought to be a natural for journalists. It's what makes tax and budget stories interesting rather than boring. It's what gets stories on the front page and sells newspapers. For many years, Congress and the Treasury released reliable tables showing the effects of proposed tax changes by income group--to the chagrin of corporate lobbyists, right-wing think-tankers and other purveyors of bad policies. But since the Republicans took over the government, they've either perverted the tables or suppressed them entirely. Fortunately, outside groups like mine can still provide this essential information.

So when Bush proposes still more big tax cuts for the wealthy, don't let him get away with leaving out the bad news about the tax increases that will fall on everyone else. When he proposes borrowing trillions of dollars to implement private investment accounts for workers under age 55, let those workers, who may initially think that private accounts look attractive, know the downside. Not only is there a big risk of their investments doing poorly; future benefits will also be slashed and all that new debt, plus interest, will have to be paid for by, well, those same workers. Not really that great a deal, when you think about it.

2. Tell us about legislation before it's enacted, not only afterward. Journalists are the public's link with current events, not historians. But sometimes they forget that. Last fall, for instance, Congress enacted a huge collection of new corporate tax breaks. Although there were a few good stories in some of the major papers about the bill as it progressed, most papers didn't cover it until after it was enacted--when it was too late for public unrest to have any influence.

3. Go for the jugular, not the capillary. After the corporate tax bill passed last October, I was deluged with calls from reporters wanting "dirt" on the bill's most trivial provisions. …

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