I've occasionally used this space to chronicle the often testy debates I've had with my dear Vermont-dwelling mother over the direction of the country under Republican stewardship.

I've opened mail from her that contained anti-Bush/Cheney editorials in local papers that often stopped just short of accusing the commander-in-chief of kidnapping young children or other horrible misdeeds.

Whenever I tell her of a killer clothing sale at an upscale retailer, she'll make a blanket statement that, "Well, they have to do that because they're all doing terribly."

I didn't have the heart to break the news to her that it's actually because the next season's lines are coming in and it costs more to ship the unsold stock back to the vendor than sell it at a discount, I held my tongue.

"A lot of people aren't doing well," is another lament I, as the oldest child unfortunately hear too often. "Vermonters like the entire country are really suffering."

Now, not to take anything away from the majestic Green Mountain State, but somehow I would not draw any far-reaching economic conclusions from an area with a total population of roughly half-a-million and virtually devoid of anything resembling a middle class.

And of course I had done a lot of deflecting with regard to comments on Bush's oft-debated tax cuts. Never mind that my family didn't even receive the second check for the 2003 cut, it was, according to her, a conspiracy to "help Bush's rich friends."

Obviously, the salary for an editor was not among that demographic.

But since this fall promises to be a vicious fight for the White House, the controversial tax cuts are sure to be brought up in the ensuing debates.

And Bush's Democratic challenger is sure to seize upon a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office that infers the cuts have in fact placed a greater burden on America's middle-class earners than those generating over $1 million in annual income -- roughly the top 1 percent in the country.

Throw into that maelstrom, all the recent talk of abolishing the federal income tax with a flat tax or national sales tax and you have an issue thicker than a Morton's porterhouse.

For what it's worth I can't see tax reform on that scale coming anytime soon.

Since the 1980s tax bills have increasingly taken more lower-income earner off tax rolls to the point where some 50 million households don't pay federal tax. That's a lot of aloof non-taxpayers.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but a flat tax, a sales tax or a federal ice cream tax, for that matter, would still need to raise the same amount of tax.

So come fall, we'll all sit back and watch Bush and Kerry debate tax cuts and/or reform. But trust me, no matter who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania for the next four years, this year you're still going to receive the requisite 1040 forms.

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