Sunday, November 21, 2004

We don't need no stinkin' privacy
Something really needs to be done about the way budgets are written and passed in congress. At present, each house writes and passes a multi-billion dollar plan. Along the way they pack in hundreds of porkbarrel projects in order to buy enough votes to pass the bill. The majority party gives themselves far more pork than they allow the minority party. There are usually enough good and necessary, or at least popular, things in among the pork that the vote can be used to bludgeon anyone who votes against the bill. "Senator John voted against candy for children. Write to Senator John and ask him why he hates your kids."

Then the two houses get together in conference to hammer out a compromise bill. While in conference, the majority throws in some more pork for their own districts and slips in a few pet projects that aren't exactly pork.

In the latter category:
This weekend Congress was working on a massive $388 billion omnibus spending bill that will cover all manner of federal spending. But at the request of Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, a special provision was inserted into the bill which allows the Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees or their "agents" to review any American's tax return with no restrictions whatsoever.

Specifically, none of the privacy law restrictions -- or the criminal and civil penalties tied to them -- would apply when the Chair or anybody he or she designates as his or her "agent" looked at your tax return.

Remember when some Clinton aids requested the FBI files of prominent Republicans? That was stupid and wrong and the aids in question were rightly fired. This is about a thousand times worse than that. This is not politicians playing dirty tricks on each other. This is the people at the top collecting blackmail material on every adult in the country (except, of course, the tax evaders).

When someone actually read the compromise bill (over 3000 pages long) and noticed the provision, a poopstorm erupted in the conference committee. At first, the Republican leadership denied knowing anything about it and blamed it on an unnamed staffer. They said it was a mistake. We weren't buying:
"We weren't born yesterday, we didn't come down with the first snow," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. "This isn't poorly thought out, this was very deliberately thought out and it was done in the dead of night."

Then they passed the bill. I did mention that the process stinks, didn't I? Ted Stevens, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, promised, scouts honor, that won't use his now power before congress gets around to repealing it later this month.

The questions remains at this point, what was Istook trying to pull, will he face any consequences, and, most importantly, will the Democrats let this pass?

At the very least, Istook should not be allowed to show his face in public for the next two years without being met by a hailstorm of wadded tax forms. When he shows up back at the House this week every Democrat should walk up to him and hand him a tax form. Then they should pull down his pants and take his lunch money. After this week, every day Istook shows up in the House, at least one Democrat should go on the record offering to show him their tax return.

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