So now we know. The U.S. Senate can act with majestic speed and stunning common sense when confronted with an issue of transcending interest. It also helps if senators are in danger of being made the laughingstock of the sane world.
The “world’s greatest deliberative body,” club of political clubs, where a single seat typically costs an initiation fee of at least $5 million in campaign contributions, voted on a bare 24 hours’ notice and without objection this week to admit a dog to its floor. It is not as trivial an achievement as you might imagine.
This, after all, is a Congress that has been notable for having accomplished in its first 2-1/2 months little more than it might if it had stayed in bed.
In the tax field alone, the proposals flying around make up a blizzard of intentions in a firestorm of incoherence. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott celebrated tax day Tuesday with a “tax summit” and invited Jack Kemp, who was his usual talkative self but who offered as a unifying position little more than his learned opinion that “April 15 is a miserable day for most Americans.”
Meanwhile, the position of House Speaker Newt Gingrich on taxes was like a Lionel train that somebody left on. It kept on moving to no apparent destination. Earlier in the session, Newt had a machete out for every tax in the code. Then he suggested maybe tax cuts could be deferred until a balanced budget could be agreed to. This was an obvious attempt to present to his detractors the face of a more responsible Newt. But then he switched back to a tax-cut-or-die position in an apparent attempt to reassure his right-wing friends he was the same old irresponsible Newt. He called for zero taxes on capital gains and abolishing estate taxes, but this week switched to a milder stand in favor of a lower tax rate for capital gains and a higher threshold at which estates would be taxed.
The man is blinding in his ability to confound both those he would lead and those he would destroy.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in an apparent attempt to prove not all Republicans are owned by corporations, is proposing to end corporate deductibility of the embarrassingly huge stock options being awarded to company executives.
Dick Armey, the House majority leader, remains wedded like a besotted swain to his flat tax.
Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer will have a cow if he doesn’t get a national sales tax.
Try to imagine there being enough days left in this session to make any sense of this raging but undirected desire to cut taxes.
Try to imagine that the Republicans will ever agree on a common tax policy.
But, to get back to the dog. The uncommon speed with which the senators approved a resolution admitting a harmless guide dog to their midst after the poor beast had earlier been barred by the sergeant at arms suggests a new way to salvage this Congress.
It was fear of the dog-lover vote that drove them, fear of appearing to be mean to a Labrador retriever. If we could frame more legislation in terms of whether it is good for the nation’s dogs, put a pro-dog amendment on every bill concerning people, extend Medicare to cover older dogs, perhaps even create a dog-stamp program for low-income dogs, this session might recover its balance.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.