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Presidents’ views differ on environment, taxes

Controversy over extension of low tax rates sought by GOP lawmakers for the nation’s most wealthy, embroils the White House and Congress.
Here, a look back at the differing views of two former Republican presidents for what we might learn from.
That “there can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country” was the yardstick by which Theodore Roosevelt measured public policy, which would serve “the ultimate interest of all of our people.”
He held it incumbent upon government to treat the question of the public-lands domain, the forests and waters they provide, the integrity of streams “all from the standpoint of the far-seeing citizen who wishes to preserve these resources,” not letting them be degraded nor “come into the hands of a few men of great wealth.”
Since clean air and pure water “powerfully promote the public health,” the government must assure these; or, Roosevelt held, “our people in their every day life [will] feel severely the effects.”
Not government but the people themselves should assure such protection, argued George W. Bush. If air pollution plagued or worried them, tax cuts he implemented would “give families money for air filters,” respirators or medical care.
As a “mere truism,” in Roosevelt’s view, if the ordinary people–the tillers of the soil on small- or medium-size farms, and the wage-workers–are well off, then the rest of the people will be well off.
But fiscal resources, derived from taxation, are needed to ensure societal well-being and fair opportunities for all, with proper safeguards for the environment.
Roosevelt protested “the light taxation of corporations,” relative to ordinary people’s, “as evident injustice” whose rectification must come through insistence “that the man of means and the great corporations shall pay their full share of taxes and bear their full share of the public burdens.”
Roosevelt promoted “a heavy progressive [inheritance] tax upon very large fortunes,” this type of taxation not affecting “thrift or industry” in the way taxes on a small fortune can. He saw the inheritance tax as fair, efficient “incident to its functions of revenue raising” and as helping to counteract “a peculiar unwholesomeness in a governmental ideal where wealth by and of itself is held up as the greatest good.”
Through tax cuts that heavily favored the wealthy, Bush would cement and hugely exacerbate the large economic divide between poor people and “the moneyed men” that Roosevelt had found “exceedingly distressing.”
Through changing, not enforcing or de-funding environmental programs, conservation of the nation’s natural wealth, which Roosevelt held the foundation for societal well-being, would be harmed in significant degree.