Congress is back in session. Are there any nobler words? "Rinse, repeat," perhaps. Or "Next on Fox."
Most years, the return of Congress is nothing more than the sound of the sheep bleating in the pen as the shepherds sharpen the shears. But things are different with the 109th.
The Bush administration is not interested in fixing the status quo so much as replacing it. In their dreams, the president leaves office with the tax system remade, democracy on the march in the Middle East, Social Security redefined to include private investment, and maybe a head start on beating China to Mars. Also the elimination of the key of B flat, which strikes some as annoying. And no more umlauts in The New Yorker when they use the word "cooperation." It's just so pretentious.
Here are some of the issues the 109th will address. Or pretend to.
Simplification of the tax code. Right now the tax code consists of one rule for every living creature in the United States. Remove insects and birds, and it's about 14,237 rules per person. This generally means we're all doing something wrong, either by forgetting to apply for the 1083 Schedule B Miscellaneous Hummel Figurine Depreciation Benefit, or because we're not paying tax on the extra quarter the pop machine spat out by mistake. The tax code is longer than the Bible, in other words, with twice as much smiting and half as much forgiveness. Couldn't it be pared down?
Of course. But tax simplification can't be done halfway. To some it means shorter words in the 1040. To others it means replacing the entire code with bell-ringers and kettles on the street corner, soliciting donations. But to people who do not live their intellectual lives according to the wisdom of Che or Ayn Rand, there are two alternatives: a flat-rate tax or a consumption tax.
Why have we not debated them seriously before? The obvious answer because the Accountancy Lobby has used special ops to assassinate its enemies is tempting but largely untrue. No, most conservatives either don't want the trouble or love their own pet loophole, and most liberals regard progressive taxation as the 11th commandment.
The chances of the Internal Revenue Service being eliminated this year are about the same as a small, Earth-bound meteor striking only Paris Hilton. In other words, it doesn't matter how desirable the outcome, it's not going to happen. At best we'll get another round of "simplification," which is like the meteor winging Paris' yappy little dog. But if the Democrats kill an attempt to simplify the tax code, they've handed the GOP an issue for the midterm elections.
The draft. Greetings, Gen Y! Remember how you forgot to vote, again? Let this be a lesson. Sorry, but Uncle Sam needs you. What do you think we're going to use to occupy Iran, anyway? SPITBALLS?
Just kidding. Relax. But the Congress will have to address increasing the size of the armed forces, and surely it will have wide bipartisan support from all the carpers who've complained about troop levels in Iraq. Right?
The federal deficit. My fellow senators, we all agree that the increasing amount of spending and borrowing is a great worry, and a burden on future generations. Therefore, let us OH MY L-RD LOOK OUT THE WINDOW IT'S GODZILLA RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!
Works every year.
Trade issues. Step 1: We import 10 billion pounds of extruded plastic from China in various forms. Step 2: We build plants in China to manufacture the electronics we really need. Step 3: (blank) Step 4: Continued world domination! Resolved: We figure out Step 3. (Tabled; sent to committee)
Social Security reform. Also known as the hysterical Sunday-morning pundit full employment act. President Bush might get this one through, if he sticks to a simple plan that hammers simple points: It's your money, and you ought to have a voice in how it's invested. Expect resistance from seniors who think Bush wants to convert their checks to quarters and feed them into slot machines. That's their job, dagnabbit!
In short: This is the start of the next phase of GOP activism. Lame duck? Maybe by 2008 and only lame from four years of kicking sacred cows, as hard and often as possible.