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Perched on a barstool under a spotlight at a carefully orchestrated GOP "national town-hall meeting" in San Diego a few days ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich wooed youthful Republicans with a ham-fisted pop-culture reference involving Michael Jordan's basketball pass to a white Chicago Bull's teammate. Such elementary interracial interaction apparently remains inspirational to presidential wannabe Gingrich, who--for cheap political points--transformed an ordinary ball toss into a high-sounding if ambiguous point: "Together, we can do it." The crowd, which looked bused in from the all-you-can-eat buffet at Norms, reacted to the rhetoric by applauding and fervently waving (professionally manufactured) "I love Newt" placards.
"Our goal is not to exclude anyone," said Gingrich, who peppered his speech with notes of concern for "rising young people" before he and his entourage--including Orange County Republican Congressmen Ed Royce and Ron Packard--scampered out of the auditorium to the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Of course, Gingrich getting hip to b-ball and a Harrison Ford movie doesn't alter the fact that his empathy for young adults is, like his calls for togetherness, a crock.
The latest evidence? Look no further than the new federal budget that supposedly gives tax "relief to every taxpayer in every stage of life." While the speaker and Bill Clinton backslap each other, their deal singles out one group of citizens for tax wrath: Generation X.
Typical Generation Xers--single, childless 20 or 30-year-olds in the early stages of building economic security--are still going to be paying taxes out the wazoo. By comparison, corporations won additional tax loopholes worth tens of billions of dollars. Seniors avoided increases in government health premiums. Parents won child and tuition tax breaks, and--according to the Citizens for Tax Justice--the wealthiest 1 percent nabbed more than 32 percent of all new tax reductions. But Gingrich and Clinton decided to give Generation X not one cent in tax relief. In some cases, their tax burden increases.
"The average young adult is not married, works extremely hard, but is going to be footing the bill for everyone else's tax breaks," said Heather Lamm, chairwoman of the Third Millennium, a Manhattan-based nonpartisan group created four years ago to speak on behalf of the 50-million-strong Generation X.
"While we're glad there is a budget agreement, what concerns us is that both Republicans and Democrats protected their benefactors and delayed the tough choices--particularly about Medicare and Social Security. And it is going to be us--the post-baby boomers--who will have to suffer financially without anything to show for it in the end," she said.
Lamm--the daughter of ex-Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, a Reform Party presidential candidate in 1996--said politicians like Clinton and Gingrich prefer empty rhetoric instead of action when it comes to doing what is right for up-and-coming generations. She said that despite talk of newfound fiscal responsibility, Washington is still placing "nearly a billion dollars a day" in government debt on youth.
"The bottom line is that, as a group, we have no clout in Washington. The politicians really feel like they don't have to think about us because we have not a single lobbyist. We don't contribute money to their campaigns, and we certainly don't vote," said Lamm, who noted that 70 percent of young adults didn't bother to go to the polls in 1996.
The result? A single worker without children who earns $35,000 a year will still be paying $4,692 in federal income tax. By comparison, a married worker with two children and the same income will pay $625 in tax--a whopping $4,067 less than his single co-worker under the new budget terms.
"It is obvious that this system desperately needs to be rethought," said Lamm. "The politicians talk about personal responsibility, the rights of individuals, and the necessity to reward hard work. But then they turn around and punish those of us who are single."
"I think most of our generation doesn't get involved in politics because we see the system as corrupt," said Levy. "And it's really easy to say 'none of this affects me,' but we need to look no further than what just happened in Washington to realize that conclusion is wrong. We're not paying attention, and the politicians are quietly burdening us with their debts. They have to get the money from someone, and unfortunately, that someone is us."
Told that Gingrich promised his San Diego audience that the Republican Party is committed to expanding the same "fair" policies as those just enacted, Lamm sighed and said: "I'd laugh if I didn't think he was serious. . . . Both major [political] parties can say anything because unfortunately, we're just not holding them accountable."