The Daily 750









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Flatter Taxes

Thursday, November 03, 2005

My youngest sister, Elizabeth Price Foley, was a senior legislative assistant to Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden when we shared a house in Bethesda, Maryland, and Wyden was in the House of Representatives, in the late ‘80s. Just another of those small world, whoever would have known connections. Those were the days when I thought Oregon was the place you went when you couldn’t make it in LA. Still true, still not true.

The senator is a tall man with a giant smile and so appealing that, after umpteen years, he’s just now being noticed outside his home state. Maybe the confidence and love in his new marriage will push him forward in ways that a only a loving New York bookstore-owner-wife could manage, and I’ve got a suggestion for her first project.

The Senator restated his proposal for a flat tax, or at least a flatter tax, in his comments on the Senate floor on Monday. He had initially announced his proposal a few days earlier on October 27th, when it got some play but not enough to bring about morning conversation at our house. Monday’s speech was completely buried by the day’s earlier sugar-induced vapors.

Notably, on Monday, Wyden made his case by invoking “the Great Vegetable,” as my husband likes to cackle -- Ronald Reagan: “Look back to 1986, when Reagan worked in a bipartisan way with Democrats to come up with a proposal that’s foundations would be very appealing now. He made sure that all incomes were treated equal, and that’s what this country has always been about.”

And then a baseball analogy. “The middle class has three strikes. The first pitch, a slider, shifts a sizable tax burden to the middle income. A fast ball takes away many of the deductions and credits for child care and medical needs: strike two. Third is a changeup: it may look neutral but as it flies across the plate it adds billions of dollars to force middle class citizens to pay for tax cuts for the few. The middle class simply strikes out while those at the top get a grand slam.”

I'd like first of all to refute the phrase "the Great Vegetable" and praise the Reagan years as I experienced them. Ah, the glory days of cold war policy, when the big bad Evil Empire loomed to feed the budgets of think tanks near and far. I'd like second to say how happy I am that Ron has embarked on such an interesting new life. And third...well, third should be some comment about taxes, but I know when to quit. Let me just be a non-commenting advertising arm for the good Senator. Hey Kitty: How's about you? Whaddaya think?

Anyone?


:::UPDATE:::

I mean I shared a house in Bethesda with my sister, not with Ron Wyden, although that would’ve been a blast. We didn’t know it then but the three of us were all at our goofiest -- fun-loving, eyeball-rolling, gawky, slight lispers who were determined to be serious, graceful articulators and got a little bit lost in the ambiguities. Hives, starter marriages, divorces -- yep, pretty goofy alright.

As for Wyden’s tax proposal, I dunno. Some tax good, some tax bad, you put da lime in de coconut you shake it all up. Seems like the federal income tax rate on our household is fair. The state income tax could be lower. Oregon needs a small state sales tax. The local property taxes are outrageous, mainly because of the hundreds of dollars per year for a school bond, too much of which was used to prettify the campuses. One rickety elementary school was torn down and built from scratch, and then the school administration decided to use half of it for their offices. Discuss.

What struck me (no pun intended) is the pretty good job Wyden is doing in marketing his plan, by using Reagan’s name and W’s favorite pastime (no, it really isn’t squishing crunchy bugs with his thumb).

The McDonald’s web site has an area called “From Farm to Table” and before you go there, know that it’s a heavy download and not much fun. It starts with a green lawn that grows a tree that sprouts green leafy branches, at the end of which flowers a McDonald’s food item -- a hamburger, french fries, a salad, an ice cream cone -- oddly, each in their specific wrapper. After all the branches have flowered a food item, a red apple drops to the ground.

If you’re concerned about America’s nutrition, do you think this ad, appealing to a number of your interests -- natural, organic, from the earth to your table -- do you think it's going to bring America a flatter stomach? Nah. And is Wyden, appealing to Reagan’s old fan base and Bush’s new one -- is it going to bring America a flatter tax? Nah. But it’s a good try.

If you want to experience a wowzer ad that will make you SO HAPPY Ikea is coming to Portland, clear your Internet files, grab a cup of coffee and go here. (tips to Lileks)