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Geoffrey Norman: Housekeeping - Cleaning Out The Basements, Attics, Garages & Crawl Spaces In The Imperial City


Housekeeping - Cleaning Out The Basements, Attics, Garages & Crawl Spaces In The Imperial City

It was news, a few days ago, when Sen. Max Baucus announced that he did not intend to run for re-election. Baucus has been in the Senate since 1978 so you could understand why he might feel like doing something useful with the rest of his life.

Baucus, of course, made it sound like a matter of the heart. He was being summoned back to his home state of Montana and it seems the call was "... whispered to me among the elk resting in a meadow east of the Bridger Mountains." That, anyhow, is the way Baucus put it in a newspaper column; adding for good measure that he "... heard it as thousands of snow geese flew over the Rocky Mountain Front."

Well, it probably isn't fair to subject the man to literary criticism when his expertise is in tax law. Or, that is to say, in carving out loopholes for special interests and creating a tax code so Byzantine that he, himself, would likely be unable to navigate it without error.

Also, there was the possibility that he might have faced the ignominy of defeat if he had run for re-election. Montana gave President Obama only 42% of its votes in the last election. And Baucus, himself, had warned about the growing unpopularity among his constituents (and everyone else's, it should be said) of Obamacare. Before his announcement about elk and geese calling him home, Baucus had made news by saying that he was hearing a lot of complaints about Obamacare and that he feared its impending implementation would be a "train wreck."

Since he was responsible for crafting much of the bill, Baucus could no doubt expect his constituents to take out a measure of their wrath on him.

More dignified, he probably concluded, to heed the call of the wild than to be kicked to the curb.

Unfortunately, it seems that Baucus doesn't intend to quietly fade off into a Big Sky sunset. He wants to spend his last 20 months in office reforming the tax code. His parting gift.

If one were to suspend disbelief, give into the temptations of hope over experience, wish upon a star, and take the sentimental route ... well, you could imagine that this might turn out to be a good thing. What can those Washington lobbyists do to him now? Cut off their campaign contributions? He isn't running.

In theory, Baucus could actually do the right thing and attempt to revise the tax code to make it short, clear, fair, and efficient. He could probably do it himself, over the weekend. He surely knows much of what is wrong in the code. After all, he spent three decades putting it there.

He could, if he so desired, go back to Montana and hole up in a small cabin where, while listening to the music of bugling elk, he could do penance by excising those sins of favoritism and loophole creation of which he is so plainly guilty.

But, no. He desires hearings. Months of them. So there will be testimony. Reams of it. And the usual arm twisting and log rolling and so forth. In the end, there will be winners and losers in the small, parochial sense. In the aggregate, we will all be losers.

But ... Senator Baucus may have given the nation a hint of a possible means of escape from the tangled fix it finds itself in.

Why not declare a moratorium on new business. No new laws from Congress until it has gone back and reviewed those that it has passed during ... oh, say the last half-century. Congress passes laws with great fanfare and then never looks back to see if they worked. Or even if, at a minimum, they did no harm.

There was a report floating around somewhere the other day that indicated that nobody in government has any idea exactly how many agencies, departments, bureaus, etc. of government actually exist. The answer, of course, is too many of them. With many doing nothing useful. Some doing outright harm (corn based ethanol, anyone?) and a few pulling on opposite ends of the same rope. Remember when the government was funding anti-smoking programs while simultaneously subsidizing tobacco farmers?

Senators who have been around as long as Max Baucus (and our own Patrick Leahy) could dredge their copious memories and come up the names of programs and agencies they voted to create and fund and have never thought about since. They could then go back and check on how things have worked out.

The experience might make them want, like Baucus, to heed the call of the wild goose.





 

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