IT'S A LITTLE early in the year to award The Chutzpah Prize for 1982. Surely many more acts of breathtaking gall are yet to come. Still, we would like to enter one candidate for the finals.
Our nomination goes to the Democratic leaders of the House--Messrs. O'Neill, Wright and Foley-- who have sent us an invitation for Aug. 4. The "sad but important milestone" that the leaders ask us to join in commemorating is nothing less than the first anniversary of the passage of the 1981 tax bill--an event which, they tell us, signaled the real beginning of Reaganomics and all the tragic results that it has entailed.
We don't need a special occasion to remind us of the tax bill of 1981. It's stored away in our permanent memory cells under the heading: "Greed"; subtitle: "congressional-record-set." We do, however, remember the event somewhat differently from the way the sponsors of this milestone celebration do. In our version, the Democrats who are planning this somber commemorative party weren't exactly what you would call innocent bystanders.
As we wrote about it in this space on July 23, 1981, the writing of the tax bill looked like a wide- open game. "Every time the Republican Senate adds something to the pot, the Democratic House sees the raise and ups the bet." On the opposite page we ran a column by Michael Kinsley entitled "The Shame of the Democrats." Marveling at the Democrats' striking concern for members of the economic elite--commodity speculators, independent oil producers, large corporate exporters, big sugar producers and beneficiaries of huge estates-- Mr. Kinsley observed that "the poor, the working class and, indeed, the country would have been better off if the Democrats had played no role at all in shaping the forthcoming tax and budget cuts."
The Democrats have another chance this year to regain their standing. So far, they don't seem much interested. The Republican Senate has delivered to them a tax bill that would not only take back some of the more excessive of last year's giveaways to corporate interests, but would also close some loopholes that Democrats have long talked about as prime targets for reform. Not a single Democrat voted for the bill when it passed the Senate last week.
Despite all the brave talk about the evils of Reaganomics and its deficit-enlarging tax cut, House leaders have shied away from putting any Democratic mark on a tax bill that raises, rather than reduces, revenues. Instead, they have chosen to go directly to conference with the Senate on its version. Next week, when the conference measure comes to the House floor, the Democrats will face another test. They might want to remember Mr. Kinsley's concluding thought from last year: ". . . if the Democrats keep devaluing their own souls, others may conclude that this merchandise is no longer worth buying."