AUSTIN, Texas -- "He should be ashamed." So said Gov. George W. Bush after Vice President Al Gore pointed out that there are 1.4 million uninsured children in Texas.

Somebody should be ashamed. And now on to the topic du jour. It's like, duh. Just when you thought there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, the Republicans go and prove you're wrong.

The R's have been on a tax-cutting spree, intoxicated by the prospect of huge surpluses. In tax stories, you always need to read the second paragraph, or the ninth, or wherever they've hidden the Catch-22. The trouble with TV news is that they never have time to get to the second paragraph.

Here's the second paragraph: In a truly startling class warfare assault, the R's have rigged every one of their recent tax adjustments to favor the rich. You might think that's no skin off your nose, but the less that rich people pay, the more of the tax burden has to be borne by you. Duh.

As long as we're doing class warfare, let me point out that if you are in the overwhelming majority of Americans, you have not benefited from the Clinton boom, if at all, anything like the extent to which the rich have.

This is very simple: Progressivity in the tax code allows most people to pay less because the very rich pay more. In case you hadn't noticed, rich people are doing very well indeed, acquiring ever more of the total wealth -- the richest 1 percent have more than the bottom 94 percent put together. And that was before the new tax breaks.

The very first thing that the R's chose to do with the budget surplus was vote to abolish the estate tax -- a shameless payoff to rich campaign contributors. The Democrats offered to exempt farmers and small businesses. (Farmers were paying only 1 percent of the tax to begin with.) The R's wouldn't let them. This is a tax that already gets all its revenues from the wealthiest 1.4 percent, and two-thirds of that from the wealthiest 0.2 percent.

Further, the bulk of the largest wealth accumulations have never been touched by the income tax; they are unrealized capital gains. If the person who made the money would have had to pay cap gains on it, why shouldn't his heirs, who never worked a day for it?

People are being so snookered on this one. Sen. Russ Feingold offered an amendment limiting the estate tax to accumulations of more than $100 million, and the R's wouldn't even take that. These are people who think that giving a poor woman with a bunch of kids $8,000 a year in welfare will sap her will to work and destroy her moral fiber. So what does inheriting $100 million do to your moral fiber?

Next the R's decided to fix the "marriage tax." Good idea -- ridiculous that two married people should have to pay more than they would if they were both single.

The D's offered an amendment saying that married people could file just like single people. Nope -- R's wouldn't take it. They "fixed" things so the bulk of the tax relief went to the richest couples.

They did NOT fix the odd little exemption that gives some married couples an extra tax break (so you divorced and single people just shut up and pay). Furthermore, they did not fix the worst part of the marriage tax -- the part that affects the working poor.

This "fix" is so skewed that 3 percent of the new tax break goes to people with incomes between $0 and $20,000, while 68 percent of it goes to people with incomes between $75,000 and $200,000, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

According to Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, of the tax measures passed by the R's this year, 60 percent of them would go the richest 10 percent of the people. The top 1 percent of taxpayers would receive a tax cut 84 times as large as the average American family -- $15,000 vs. less than $200.

Not yet exhausted from helping their campaign contributors, the R's next went to work on the pension system. They raised the limits on the amount that workers can contribute to their IRAs, 401(k)s and other tax-deferred retirement plans.

This is good. We want to encourage saving. But your low- and moderate-income workers are the ones who have the hardest time saving for the future. Very few workers contribute even the maximum now allowed, so this is yet another boon to the well-to-do.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that about 77 percent of the total tax savings in the Republican-passed plan will go to the top 20 percent of taxpayers. But of course, that was in the 24th paragraph of the news reports.

How long do you think it's going to be before most Americans get a break from this Congress?

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.