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Cruelest month -- for taxpayers

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By Debra J. Saunders
Published:
When you're president, every day is a holiday. This April is National Financial Capability Month, as declared last week in a presidential proclamation. "I call upon all Americans to observe this month with programs and activities to improve their understanding of financial principles and practices," quoth President Obama.
If April is the cruelest month, as T.S. Eliot wrote, then April as National Financial Capability Month could be the cruelest joke. It's as if every day is April Fools' Day, especially tax day, the dreaded 15th.
This also is the host month of this year's Tax Freedom Day. Every year, the Washington-based Tax Foundation computes the trademarked day when "the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay off its total tax bill for the year."
Tuesday, the Foundation will announce that Tax Freedom Day 2013 will fall on April 18. After that date, you'll be working for your paycheck, not for the government.
What does "financial capability" mean in Washington? It's an odd term that departs from the usual money lingo -- like financial planning and financial literacy, two terms mentioned in the proclamation. There are some financial planning tips on the aptly named government website, Mymoney.gov.
While financial planning entails saving and investing, "financial capability" seems to be about -- what else? -- borrowing and spending. No wonder Obama wants to give the idea an ovation.
The proclamation promotes the administration's College Scorecard and Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. Then it talks about more borrowing: "Financial capability also means helping people avoid scams and demand fair treatment when they take out a mortgage, use a credit card or apply for a student loan."
Given the president's record, the White House might want to rename April "Financial Audacity Month." It goes with the president's memoir, "The Audacity of Hope," and his record of adding more than $4.trillion to the national debt while giving lip service to deficit reduction.
It's rather bold for this White House to believe it is in a position to counsel anyone -- except maybe Cyprus -- on "how to budget responsibly," as the proclamation promised.
As Tax Foundation chief economist Will McBride put it, Washington's borrowing binge is fueled by two groups -- "bootleggers and Baptists coming together to make really bad policy."
The bootleggers, McBride explained, are "a bunch of people who are basically profligate and run up the deficit to spend money on their cronies. But then there's a whole set of people who believe that it's a good economic policy." As an example of the Baptist variety, McBride named economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
On the spending side, the White House recommended "high-quality preschool and early education that gets every child on the right track early" as "ladders of opportunity" that lead to a solid middle-class life.
Financial capability then must be all about spending what you don't have, putting more faith in education programs than they merit and heeding the sage advice of Washington politicians. It should start with this disclaimer: "Do as I say, not as I do."

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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