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2:39 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Dems should pay back rebates

When the check arrived, I cautiously opened the envelope, as one might do if he feared a bomb. I'm not used to getting a check from the government. Mostly I send checks to the government.

The check has lots of numbers on it in addition to the dollar amount. There's an attractive drawing of the Statue of Liberty.

Next to my Social Security number are the words, "tax relief." I love one of those words, the "relief" one. "Relief" implies I have been under a burden and the government, which put it there, is now lifting a small amount. At the bottom of the check it says, "Tax Relief For America's Workers." I like this phrase because many politicians who constantly refer to "working families" are not referring to me. I'm glad my government thinks that I work.

The other summer game they're now playing in Washington — besides the search for Chandra Levy and the chronicling of Rep. Gary Condit's busy sex life — is deciding what to do with the tax rebate. Politicians and pundits who support tax cuts don't have a problem. They can spend it, or save it, or give it to charity with a clear conscience. The people with the problem are the liberal Democrats and Republicans who likened any tax cut to national suicide.

A few liberal politicians have been forthcoming about their rebates but most are hiding and won't say. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) says he's spending his to pay "energy bills." Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) says she recently moved and will use the rebate to pay her expenses. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) says he's saving his rebate.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said he's donating his rebate to charity. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) says he's donating his rebate to Habitat for Humanity, a housing program for the poor.

A spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) says her boss hasn't received his check yet and that she "doesn't know" what he will do with it.

What these people have in common is their opposition to President Bush's tax reduction proposal. Each of them predicted the end of Medicare, Social Security bankruptcy and the return of deficits. If economic Armageddon is just around the corner where prosperity once lived, isn't it reasonable — even patriotic — to assume that people with such fears would return their rebate checks to the Treasury? No liberal I've talked to in Washington intends to rebate the government with his rebate. How crass! How uncaring! How greedy!

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) was one liberal group that strongly criticized the Bush tax cut, calling it "a disservice to the nation." I called the CWA's legislative representative, Rosie Torres, who wrote those words. It went unreturned. Perhaps she's out shopping.

Politicians who have faith that government can spend our money better than we can should return their checks. To do otherwise would be hypocritical.

Rep. Gephardt recently gave a speech in Des Moines in which he defended Democrats who voted in 1993 to raise income and gasoline taxes. Gephardt seemed to suggest that if Democrats regain control of the House, he might push for another tax hike.

Last Monday, Gephardt issued a cleverly worded statement which allows him to favor tax increases in the future: "I never addressed the future of taxes in my remarks because I don't believe they need to be raised."

Gephardt went on to again denounce the tax rebates and rate reduction as "overzealous" and said it "threatens our prosperity."

Under such conditions, congressman, the decision about what to do when you receive your rebate check should be obvious. Set a good example and send it back.

As for me, I'm going to spend it to help the economy by sustaining or creating jobs that make the goods or provide the services I will buy. But I'm waiting a few days. I want to stare just a little longer at a check from the government made out to me.

(Direct all MAIL for Cal Thomas to: Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave, Suite 1500, Chicago, Ill. 60611.)