February 4, 2009 in Opinion

Just drive, he said

By The Spokesman-Review
 

I don’t want to say Washington, D.C., politicians are out of touch, but shortly after he left the U.S. Senate, Tom Daschle was waiting in the car for his wife to get off work. She found him in the back seat. That story was comically rendered by his wife at a farewell dinner in 2004, according to Ron Elving, of National Public Radio News, to show the difficulties Daschle faced in becoming an ordinary citizen after losing his Senate seat.

But he never really became one. Like many politicians before him, Daschle spun through the revolving door between government and industry and landed a cush gig with an investment group that started him out at $1 million a year and put him back in his accustomed seat by giving him a Cadillac and a chauffeur. Problem is, such a gift needed to be reported as compensation. He was so used to being chauffeured that it didn’t occur to him that he was doing anything wrong.

In the insular world of Washington, many people are in the same situation. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington investigated 24 former members of President George W. Bush’s Cabinet and issued its report last month. CREW found that many became employed by the industries they once regulated and then helped them gain government contracts.

Interestingly, the big winner held the same job Daschle was slated to take. Former Health and Human Services director Tommy Thompson has served as an adviser for 42 companies since leaving the Bush administration in 2005. Among other CREW findings:

Seventeen former officials hold positions with a total of 119 companies; 17 hold positions with 65 companies that lobby the federal government; and 15 hold positions with 40 companies that lobby those officials’ former agencies.

No wonder D.C. insiders were shocked when Daschle climbed into the front seat.

W-2 step. After the travails of President Barack Obama’s nominees Timothy Geithner, Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer – and those of nominees from previous administrations – it’s fair to ask: Do any of these folks honestly pay taxes?

It doesn’t help that politicians have made it easier for the well-heeled to cheat by slashing the auditing staff of the Internal Revenue Service. An estimated $330 billion in taxes went uncollected last year.

In 2006, the U.S. Treasury eliminated nearly half the IRS lawyers who audit the wealthy families subject to gift and estate taxes, according to the New York Times. The deputy IRS commissioner told the Times that estate tax lawyers are the agency’s most productive staffers, bringing in an average of $2,200 for every hour they work. In 2001, the IRS audited one out of every 47 people who applied for the earned-income tax credit, which is designed to lift working people out of poverty.

Here’s my two-fold economic stimulus package: 1) Hire more tax collectors. 2) Give them a better compass.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.


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