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Al Franken on the Bush Tax Cuts

July 7th, 2009 . by economistmom

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It’s a big day for Al Franken, and I’m really happy for him. I’ve always been impressed with his level of knowledge and way of explaining fiscal policy. I’ve met and talked with him twice–once at a black-tie affair about a dozen years ago (funny story about that) and again at a book signing several years ago where my daughter Emily (now just 16) was his youngest fan (somewhere I have a photo of the two of them that I’m going to have to dig up). I’m hoping Franken will bring some of both his intelligence and his wit to the Senate floor in the coming years, especially when it comes to talking about fiscal responsibility and tax policy.

Here’s a great example of his talent.  From his book Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (2003), Franken tells his tale of the Bush tax cuts, in a one-act play:

The Waitress and the Lawyer A One-Act Play
by Al Franken (from an idea by George W. Bush)

Set: A clean, well-lit diner. It’s eleven at night.

allison, a slim, well-dressed lawyer in her middle thirties, sets herself down at the counter. donna, a plump waitress in her late .twenties, approaches with a pot of coffee and a friendly smile.

donna: Can I help you, sug?

allison: Yes, please. Double cappuccino and a biscotti.

donna: Sorry. How ’bout coffee and a slice a pie?

allison: No pie for me. I’m on a diet.

donna: You, on a diet! If I had your figure, I’d have pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

(They share a laugh.)

allison: Oh, what the hell! That lemon meringue looks great. Besides, it’s gonna be a long night.

donna: You workin’ the night shift, too?

allison: Well, in a manner of speaking. I’m a tax attorney and April’s my busiest month.

donna: Well, don’t look for any business from me. Thanks to President Bush, I won’t be paying any taxes this year.

(allison laughs as donna pours her a cup of joe.)

allison: You mean income taxes, Donna? Do you mind if I call you Donna? I read your name tag.

donna: Sure, sug.

ALLISON: Donna, how much do you make?

DONNA: Well . . .

allison: C’mon, just between us gals.

donna: Twenty-five thousand.

allison: Wow. That puts you in the top 10 percent of all waitresses. And how much in tips?

donna: That’s including tips. I report every cent. In this country, if you play by the rules and work hard, you can make a better life for yourself.

(allison laughs again, spraying her coffee all over the counter.)

allison: I’m so sorry.

donna: Don’t worry about it, sug, I’ll wipe that up. But what’s so funny?

allison: It’s just that what you said is so sweet and naive. Sure, you’re getting a $365 cut in your income tax, but you’re forgetting the $3,825 that was withheld in payroll taxes.

donna: Oh, I don’t mind the payroll taxes, because I’ll get back every cent in Social Security and Medicare when I retire.

allison: Honey. Bush raided the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to pay for my tax cut.

DONNA: He did?

allison: Yes. He took a $4.6 trillion ten-year projected sur­plus and turned it into a $1.8 trillion deficit. Let me show you what I’m talking about.

(allison empties the salt shaker onto the counter.)

allison: Let’s say this pile of salt is the surplus that we had under Clinton. And . . .

(allison tears open a packet of sugar and pours it on the counter, as well.)

allison: And this pile of sugar represents the Bush defici—

(donna eyes the growing mess, half listening.)

donna: Would you mind not doing that?

allison: Sorry. My point is that eventually someone is going to have to replace all that sugar in the packet and, well, clean up the mess. And I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be you or your kids. You have kids?…

[Allison explains how a bunch of government programs that benefit Donna are being cut, summing up:]

allison: … So, let’s see. After-school— $700. Medicaid—$2,896. Housing—$1,464. So, less your $365 tax cut, you’re down $4,695…


(The two women avoid each other’s eyes. Finally donna raises the coffeepot.)

donna: Can I top that off for ya?

allison: No, thanks, Donna. I should get back to work.

donna: So, I take it you’re not votin’ for Bush next time.

allison: Are you kidding? I make $250,000 a year. I love Bush.

donna: How big is your tax cut?

allison: I’m gonna get $6,000. Which is about sixteen times as much as you. And, of course, the program cuts don’t affect me. But the big payoff comes when my mother passes away. She’s on life support.

donna: I’m so sorry.

allison: Are you kidding? If she can hang on till 2010, I’m getting $12 million. Tax free. That’s about a six-million-dollar tax break.

donna: Oh, the repeal of the death tax. I saw that on Fox, too. I guess that’s fair, because that money was already taxed once when it was earned.

allison: My mom? Work? Oh, no, no. It’s mostly capital gains. Never been taxed, and now it never will be. Unlike your tips. Speaking of which, how much do I owe you?

donna: Well, let’s see. They just raised the sales tax. I guess $4.87…

So, I wonder if now Senator Franken feels the same way about the now-soon-to-be Obama tax cuts? It’ll be fascinating (and entertaining) to watch.

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