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A MIDDLE-CLASS TAX CUT?

The latest word out of Washington is that the administration is thinking about dusting off its proposal for a middle-class tax cut - an unfulfilled Clinton campaign promise.

If this trial balloon is not to be regarded as just a cynical response to the president's declining popularity and the approach of the November elections, the administration would be wise to include a lower capital gains tax as part of the package.But wouldn't a lower capital gains tax be a break for the affluent rather than the middle class? That's the usual objection and it has prevailed for many years in Washington. But it is off the mark.

The fact is that long-term capital gains often are simply the result of inflation over the years. Yet they are taxed as profits, which results in a loss on any real return.

Fully half the benefits of a cut in the capital gains tax would go to people earning $50,000 a year or less. These are hardly the rich.

Moreover, consider the indirect impact of a lower capital gains tax. All of the extra money would be either spent or invested, including investments in savings accounts. Either way, the economy is stimulated, enabling companies to create new jobs for new workers. Those new workers can legitimately be counted among the beneficiaries of a lower capital gains tax.

If the Clinton administration won't push for a lower capital gains tax, Republican congressional candidates are expected to do so at a gathering soon on the steps of the Capitol Building. Fine. But this really ought to be a bipartisan effort. What Washington needs to generate is a healthier tax climate, not just more campaign issues.