MADE IN THE USA/Joel D. Joseph

You Call that a Debate?

It was the most boring debate I have ever heard. Two suits, wearing identical suits and ties, with not a creative idea between them.

The moderator asked: What should the United States do if Slobodan Milosevic refuses to step down? Both Bush and Gore said that we should do nothing. Well, what the hell are both of them arguing for a strong military for if we won't use it?

Milosevic is a war criminal who has been indicted by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. We should use our superb military force to arrest Milosevic. We should send in a select team of Army Rangers to pluck the Yugoslav war criminal out of Belgrade and bring him to the court of justice to stand trial.

I could understand both candidates stating that they would keep their options open. This would keep Milosevic guessing as to what the United States would do to him. However, both candidates stated that they would do nothing other than diplomatic initiatives. They sent up a white flag announcing to Milosevic that he has no worry of a US military initiative and that he can camp out in his bunker in Belgrade for years.

Now, let's talk about real tax reform. Both of the candidates claim they want to help all taxpayers. Do you know who pays the highest rate of taxes? Our poorest taxpayers pay a higher tax rate than the richest as a percentage of income.

I am not talking about income taxes. I am talking about Social Security taxes. We tax the first $72,600 of income and exempt the rest. That means that Bill Gates pays a lower rate of Social Security tax than you and I do.

Employees pay a Social Security tax of 7.65%. Their employers pay an equal amount. (You pay your employer's share as well, because you would be paid more if your employer didn't have to pay the tax.) This means that if you earn $10,000 a year you pay $1,530 in Social Security taxes. That is one hell of a lot of gasoline. At $1.53 a gallon it is 1,000 gallons worth, more than most of us use in a year.

This would represent real tax reform, tax reform that would make a real difference in how millions of Americans live.

We didn't hear either candidate mention Social Security taxes, only Social Security benefits. I have suggested that we do away with the cap on Social Security taxes and create an exemption for the first $15,000 of income. These two changes will increase the life of the Social Security Trust Fund and significantly help those struggling to made ends meet.

Not one of the two overpracticed debaters ever mentioned our huge and growing trade deficit. It now totals over $300 billion per year. Part of this growing deficit is caused by growing oil imports and George W. did mention that we have to increase domestic supplies of oil.

But neither candidate mentioned that NAFTA has been a huge failure. Before NAFTA, we had fairly even trade with both Mexico and Canada. Now we have trade deficits of more than $20 billion with each of our NAFTA partners.

We haven't been doing too well before the World Trade Organization either. Just recently, the WTO ruled that our laws against foreign dumping of products in the United States below costs violate WTO rules. The US International Trade Commission found last year that Japanese and Russian companies were selling steel in the United States below manufacturing costs. Based on this court ruling the US Commerce Department imposed sanctions against these steel-dumping nations. What are Gore and Bush going to do about this new WTO setback? I'm sure that they are going to do nothing about it, just like they would do nothing about Milosevic's failure the leave office.

Neither candidate mentioned China either. That is because both supported letting China join the WTO. Our trade deficit with China is now more than $60 billion per year and growing. The candidates also did not discuss Taiwan. Both candidates probably would allow China to invade Taiwan and would not do anything about it. "Wouldn't be prudent," as George W.'s father would have said.

Both candidates were also pretty quiet about Mexico slapping America in the face. We bailed Mexico out when it suffered a collapse in its currency. Yet we allowed Mexico to cut back oil supplies in lock-step with OPEC. Why can't we get tough with Mexico? We don't have to invade the country, just negotiate. Mexico wanted to be in NAFTA and NAFTA does not allow Mexico to conspire with the oil cartel. We actually could take Mexico to court. But with wimps like Bush and Gore we probably won't do a damn thing about it.

We need a presidential candidate with both creativity and courage. We have two major party candidates who don't have the courage to wear a different tie and suit. Too bad Ralph Nader wasn't allowed to debate: He might have made a real contest out of it.

Mr. Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation. Write him at PO Box 5402, Washington, DC 20016 or email .

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