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George W.al-Mart and the Corporate Grab at Your Tax Rebate

No sooner are Bush's $300 bribes in the mail than corporations are scheming to take the cash out of your hands. Fortunately, the "Donate the Rebate" campaign is taking off.
 
 
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You've probably gotten yours already. The white perforated envelope promising you your share of Bush's benevolent tax rebate. $300 if you're single, $600 if you're married: These notices let you know when your windfall is due and who to thank for it.

And no sooner are Bush's self-congratulatory bribes in the mail than the corporate money grubbing has begun. Companies like Home Depot and Wal-Mart have already started advertising their (entirely selfless, of course) recommendations of how to spend all that free money.

Hoping to cash in on the dual political dramas of tax rebate and energy crisis, Home Depot's new radio and TV ads suggest buying energy efficient products -- thermostats, home insulation and energy-saving windows -- at Home Depot superstores. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is promising another sort of green. It's offering a free check cashing service for all rebate checks, because heavens forbid you'd have to trek all the way to the bank when you could just stop over at your neighborhood mega-conglomerate.

"The main driver [for the check cashing promotion] is customer service," says Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams. "The other driver is we love to have people in our stores." People spending money in those stores surely has nothing to do with it.

There is, of course, a variety of ways you could spend this money that would do more than fatten the Depots and Marts of the world. I, for one, am joining the growing number of taxpayers rejecting the rebate and donating the money to a worthy charity. It's safer than going to the next G-8 conference, more reliable than voting in Florida and even easier than trooping down to Wal-Mart to cash it. All you need do is sign the rebate over to the services that need it. From Planned Parenthood to your local homeless shelter, you can help either those fighting Dubya's economic agenda or those being hurt by it.

And you won't be alone. Web sites like DonateRebate.org, TaxRebatePledge.org and RejectTheRebate.org are seeing a swelling refusal of the tax rebate. TaxRebatePledge.org has so far received almost $274,000 in pledges from over 800 taxpayers and RejectTheRebate.org, a site ran by United for a Fair Economy, has received another $100,000.

Going against the corporate grain, Working Assets long distance service is encouraging tax rebate pledges by matching any $300 or $600 donations on their GiveForChange.com site, up to one million dollars. Along with matching your donation, the site allows users to greeting cards to the president, telling him how they used their tax rebate.

"This is just about the most popular thing we have ever done," says Michael Kieschnick, president of Working Assets. "The messages people are sending to Bush are profound. People are politically frustrated and this gives them a way to act." So far, Working Assets has received $28,000 in donations, and that's before any rebates have actually been sent. "We have no doubt we will get the one million we have pledged to match," says Kieschnick.

Just as important as considering where the money will go, is where the money came from in the first place. The primary reason Dubya sent out his rebates (beyond the perk of having his name attached to wad of cash) is to jumpstart a stalling economy. By doling out $39 billion dollars in rebate money, he hopes people will pump it back into the system and help ease what is currently a bad re-election environment.

Dandy idea for sure, but there's no proof it'll work. According to ex-Treasury Department official and National Center for Policy Analysis senior fellow Bruce Bartlett, it didn't happen in 1975 when Ford signed a 10 percent tax rebate and it probably won't happen now. "The way these rebates are structured, it's not going to people with low incomes -- not to the people who are most likely to spend the money. It's going to the people who are predominately well-to-do, making the probability even higher that these rebates will be saved therefore providing no economic stimulus."

So basically, it's a gamble with a $39 billion ante. What's more, the numbers Bush has bet on are dangerously outdated. Projections from several years ago might have indicated a budget surplus, but now the figures are not adding up. The president's own advisors are predicting a shortfall of anywhere between $20 to $58 billion dollars. Add that to the current tax cut, which is set to balloon to $4 trillion dollars in the next two years, and one has to wonder whose money Bush is playing with. Social Security? Medicare?

Bush and his supporters like to say that this isn't other people's money, it's our own. It's not as much being stolen from social services as much as it is simply being returned to us. But if that's the case, than why is Bush so eager to have us spend it on things the government will not? "It can be saved for a child's education, spent on family needs, invested in a home or in a business or a mutual fund or used to reduce personal debt."

Even if you ignore the inherent contradiction that the rebates would need to be spent on goods in order to actually boost the economy, these suggestions are hypocritical. For while they are noble and necessary expenditures, it is only because the government leaves us little choice.

Save for education because public schools are becoming passe. Spend on family needs like electricity because the government can't bother regulating it. Invest in your future, because you can't be so sure social security will exist. Personally, I'd rather think the government was making some effort to bolster our communal infrastructure than try to stretch my $300 for all my education, health and retirement needs.

Truth is, I could use the $300. But for as many excuses I could make, I'd rather not take Dubya's token cash if it means playing accomplice to his privatization plans. I would rather stand by the idea that the money is better used supporting social services than Wal-Mart.

* Shameless Self-Promotion -- Donate Your Rebate to AlterNet! *

As a small nonprofit, AlterNet can always use extra funds to help bolster our independent coverage of important issues and trends. Your $300 will go a long way. Please consider pledging your tax rebate to us today.