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Moments after Fox News executive John Ellis prematurely declared his Republican cousin the next president on election night, Christopher Cox reflexively flashed his infamous artificial toothy smile. Though careful never to appear bourgeois, the natty Newport Beach congressman could not contain his glee. He energetically shook hands and traded monosyllabic, frat house-style exclamations with fellow Orange County conservatives huddled at the Sutton Place Hotel near John Wayne Airport.
For 12 bitter years, Cox has been peddling a wish list for America's megawealthy, only to see most of it stymied first by a Democrat-controlled Congress and later by a Democrat in the White House. For much of the 90s, for example, the congressman broke a sweat trying to get a massive tax break for the wealthiest two percent of Americans by reducing taxes on estates valued in excess of $675,000. Bill Clinton vetoed the bill. With Bush heading for the presidency and Republicans in control of Congress, however, it was finally time for Cox's dreams to come true.
"We are going to have an incredible session of Congress," Cox squealed to the election night audience. "Tonight, 275 million Americans have been admitted to the top 1 percent. . . . There will be tax relief for everyone!"
If Clinton had trouble with the word "is," our seven-term representative doesn't seem to grasp the word "everyone." Immediately after the ceremonial speaker's gavel opened the 107th Congress on Jan. 3, Cox and 16 of his GOP colleagues rushed to introduce House Resolution 168. The bill—also sponsored by the likes of Texas Congressmen Dick Armey and Tom DeLay—would add yet another loophole to the Internal Revenue Service Code.
Before you break out the Dom Perignon, know that the loophole is not for everyone. HR 168 proposes a new, permanent, $6,000 annual federal tax break only for households that earn stock dividends from publicly traded corporations and that reinvest that income with the same company.
At first glance, the proposal may sound innocuous or even logical as an economic stimulant. But it's hardly the equitable tax relief Cox promised on election night. According to a 1998 Federal Reserve Bank report, the typical person who earns corporate stock dividends is statistically a mirror image of Cox (who has a massive stock portfolio) and the nucleus of George W. Bush's electoral base: middle-aged and older married, white-male multimillionaires. Perhaps now it's understandable why angry white males were frantic when it looked like Al Gore might triumph during the Florida vote-count fiasco.
Now on the fast track to the powerful Committee on Ways and Means, the legislation hasn't garnered any public attention. The Republican House leadership—sensitive to the appearance of favoring the rich—has kept its massive PR machine idle on Cox's bill; consequently, the mainstream media—subservient as usual—did not bother to print a single story on the GOP's tax-cut priority. In fact, while Cox is planning a raid on the U.S. Treasury for himself and his pals, the media has focused public attention on the John McCain vs. Bush campaign-finance-reform sideshow.
Even the congressman himself—one of the most shameless self-promoters in recent political history—has not publicly touted his bill. In fact, not one of the 43 recent legislative priorities listed on Cox's official House website explains the urgency of HR 168. On Dec. 15, the congressman appeared on CNN with correspondent Wolf Blitzer. It would have been the perfect opportunity to explain to the country why cutting taxes for the rich should be a national priority. But Cox, who has yet to satisfy his political ambitions, is no fool. Instead, he employed his keen political skills to sound like a statesman without a hidden elitist agenda.
"We're going to get the whole plate of issues that include education reform, improving our public schools through increased local control, strengthening our armed services [and] taking a look at Social Security," he said. "All of these things and, of course, tax relief will also be part of the legislative agenda."