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THE PALM BEACH POST SATURDAY, MARCH 28, 1998 13A ' Armey's flat tax raises moral questions But the Greatest anneal to this gathering of medical expenses, $1,200 in charitable contribu-tinnc anH dfX) 000 in waixes would oav $563 more By Martin L. Fleming U.S. Reps. Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Billy Tauzin, R-La., came to town this week promoting their "Scrap the Code" drive for tax reform at the federal level. They met with a large audience, composed mostly of senior citizens, at the Sheraton hotel in West Palm Beach. Each congressman presented his own solu 'Titanic' leaves one cold; others, ivell, you know I Enough already with the Titanic. ! I don't understand this nostalgia for a shipwreck in which 1,500 people died. "Coming soon: Bubonic Hague The Musical? ; But it doesn't stop. ; There are Titanic documentaries, stories about Tetanic survivors, a best-seller list awash with Titanic books: James Cameron's Titanic; Her Name, Titanic; The Discovery of the Titanic. Frank McCourt's next book? Angelas Ashes on the Titanic. Tony Kornheiser tion. Rep. Armey, the House majority leader, was in favor of a 17 percent flat tax on wages, and Rep. Tauzin was speaking out for a national sales tax of 15 percent to replace the income tax. Although this crowd of 200 taxpayers was loudly supportive, neither of these programs has gathered much support in Congress over the years. t4 tiiiiu - - tr - a i in 1998 under the flat tax, as proposed, than under the present tax code. When confronted with this, Rep. Armey responded, "If you're not better off with a flat tax, don't support it" That may not have been the best answer. The flat tax idea has sufficient merit to warrant additional efforts for the purpose of solving these moral issues. One immediate consideration would be to, grandfather under the present tax code those, with mortgages who are currently itemizing their deductions and continue to do so on an annual basis. Furthermore, Congress should revisit the balanced budget plan signed by President Clinton on Aug. 5 and do the budget cutting planned for 2001 and 2002 in 1998. With the current economy, the time is right for making such a move. This would clear the way and make possible , a scheduled plan for paying down the federal, debt. It also would give Congress the courage to place further restraints on spending and gain members the gratitude of the American people. It would resolve this moral issue of Rep. Armey's flat-tax plan and put into practice these words of President Lincoln "You cannot escape the responsibility tomorrow by evading it today." retired citizens was that the flat tax would tax only wages and, of course, end taxes on income for them. They would no longer be taxed on interest and dividends, capital gains or Social Security benefits. Rep. Armey justified this by arguing that income should be taxed only once. To tax those items, he said, amounted to double taxation. There are, however, several moral issues that need to be addressed. The first: This plan is not revenue-neutral. It would take an estimated $30 billion a year from the federal revenue stream and jeopardize the recent progress in reaching a balanced budget. Rep. Armey stated that it was his intention not to have a revenue-neutral plan so as to force a reduction in the size of government. This reasoning has merit but raises a question. Why not reduce government now and use the savings to begin an orderly retirement of federal debt? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a noted Protestant theologian, once said, "The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children." We should not leave a $5.3 trillion debt to future generations if we are to pass this test. Another moral issue involves families that have made long-term mortgage commitments factoring in the tax benefits of itemized deductions on their tax returns. A flat tax would inflict a serious financial burden on many of them. This can best be demonstrated with an example using a typical American family owning its home. This family of five with young children, a mortgage of $140,000, $3,000 in deductible Rep. Armey During the last presidential primary, Steve Forbes campaigned for the flat tax without success. In recent months, however, there has been more interest and support in Congress for the flat tax. This is an ideal time of year for Rep. Armey to seek support for his plan, as taxpayers struggle with their tax returns for 1997. Much criticism was directed at the present tax code, which is made up of 6,439 pages of regulations, 2,000 pages of law and 480 forms. One of the chief selling points was to replace complexity with simplicity. ; There's even a Titanic cookbook, Last Dinner on the Titanic. Who wants to eat that? ' Here's what happened to the people who actually ate it: First, they heaved. Then they died. ! (What's coming next, the Titanic Happy Meal? Filet 0' Fish on a bed of iceberg lettuce.) ; And Celine Dion for the love of God, woman, shut up! 1. J'm not saying the movie is bad, I'm saying it's long. It's one of the few films I've ever seen where I thought someone ought to come by after a while and put a chocolate on the seat. The worst moment in the movie occurs just after they hit the iceberg about seven hours in and Titanic's builder tells the captain the ship is sinking. . ."How long do we have?" the captain asks. . . "An hour, two at the most." .,; , I sat there think Martin L Fleming lives in suburban Lake Worth. His book, American Politics and Fiscal Responsibility, was published last year by Venture Press. s tobacco deal up in smoke? I FIRST WE WIN : ing: iwu at ine most!? I'd have taken the lifeboat right then. I can't believe the Carpathia couldn't get there in time. I felt like the Mesozoic Era could have gotten there in time. What is the fascination with Titanic? If my 15-year-old daughter spent as much time studying Spanish as she has seeing this movie, she'd be the ambassador to Paraguay. It can't be the plot. First of all, you know the old lady isn't getting on that helicopter and going to that research boat. You think she has good memo Star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose get indiscreet on the bow of the Titanic. ries of her last cruise? You think she's a regular with Kathie Lee on the Carnival Line?' '-Second, the plot revolves around the necklace, and Gloria Stuart knows she's holding the necklace. The hole in the plot is so big even Kate Winslet could squeeze through it. --And please, don't tell me Kate Winslet is 17. If she's 17, I'm Marilyn Manson. And what's the fatal attraction of this DiCaprio kid? Tell me you don't take one look at this skinny pisher and think: pillow shams, something in puce? Whither The Lewinsky Bandwagon? Excuse me, Tony, but are you not going to mention Monica Lewinsky at all today? ; Actually, I probably should. She's been a busy bee. She went to Larry King's book party, and she sat behind the bench at a Washington Wizards NBA game. She chatted up everybody, posing for pictures. I wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of the month, Monica was signing on as undersecretary of . Health and Human Services. If the tobacco bill continues to follow the healthcare script, it will collapse of its own weight, that unwritten ending waiting to prove whether Congress is still capable of delivering on a major public issue or whether it is hopelessly addicted to money and partisanship. By Marie Cocco You've heard this story somewhere before. It begins with the universal recognition that there's a terrible problem affecting millions of Americans, one that places children, in particular, in harm's way. The public is certain something must be done and so, naturally, are the politicians. But there's a big, big problem. It's bigger than even the terrible problem afflicting the millions of citizens and endangered children. Solving the terrible problem requires the U.S. Congress to act. And that energizes untold numbers of egos, industry players and activists, from the most powerful power brokers to the most painfully obscure. If all that weren't complicated enough, one of the two political parties finds it infinitely more to its advantage to block action on this terrible problem, the better to blame the other guys for failure, so the voters can punish them in November. The original story was Health Care, 1994. The sequel is Tobacco, 1998. Not since the health-care debate in which everyone agreed it was just awful that average, working Americans had no health insurance has there been such bipartisan agreement on the parameters of a problem. Everyone agrees smoking is bad, pitching cigarettes to teenagers is worse and the industry needs to mend its ways. In the civics textbooks, this would prompt quick action. But we're a long way from sixth grade. The congressional bazaar has been open on tobacco for nearly a year, since state attorneys general reached a pact with big tobacco Friends of mine who saw Monica said her skin was so beautiful, she was almost glowing. Maybe notoriety agrees with her. Or perhaps Rahm Emanuel injected her with a radioactive isotope that will kill her before she testifies. I decided to bring The Lewinsky Bandwagon to a bump-and-grinding halt last week, believing that people no longer want to read about Monica. But apparently I knees don't control Congress. So writing a super-tough tobacco bill, as Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., did, , and getting 32 co-sponsors all ; Democrats is more partisanship than policy-making. The noblest actors thus far are Sens. John Chafee, R-R.I.. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who crafted a tough-on-tobacco bill that also gives the in-.' dustry a cap on legal damages. Sen. Chafee went to similar heroic lengths to try to save the health-care , effort four years ago. He clings to the common sense that nothing will get done from any place but the middle. But it's awfully lonely there.: That is the story so far. If it continues to follow the health-care . script, the tobacco bill will collapse , of its own weight The unwritten . ending will tell us whehter Con-, gress still is capable of delivering on a complex, controversial public is- sue or provide the final proof that . it is hopelessly hogtied by money ., and partisanship. Marie Cocco is a columnist for . Newsday. get on getting $65 billion from a tobacco deal to pay for spending voters like. Republicans want this money, too, though they would spend it on tax cuts or Medicare or other goodies. Greed counts in election years. Fear does, too, and that is why Republican leaders finally have enlisted Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to come up with something bipartisan and acceptable to save both themselves and the industry's legal immunity. But the commerce committee chairman on Thursday postponed until next Wednesday the panel's work on the settlement, saying he needed more time to complete bipartisan negotiations. Republicans have long enjoyed tobacco campaign money, which still flows to the GOP by a ratio of about 4-to-l over Democrats. But these same friends of tobacco must not be seen as friends of tobacco lest Democrats depict them in campaign ads as friends of tobacco. And that points to the most powerful force for doing nothing: Democrats. Revenge is sweet, and tobacco deserves it, but Democrats who want to bring tobacco to its companies to settle smoking-related lawsuits in exchange for regulation, curbs on the industry's marketing to kids and legal immunity for its misdeeds. But even now, with fewer than 50 legislative days left in the congressional session, the real haggling hasn't started, and no deal is close. Just as President Clinton's pride and Democratic Party dogma were, toward the end, the only things keeping health-care overhaul on legislative life support, only the most perverse forces are keeping hopes for a tobacco deal alive. These are fear, greed and fear. The tobacco industry and its multimillion-dollar lobbyists fear letting the big prize immunity slip away. Last year, the industry tripled what it spent on outside lobbyists to make its case in Congress, paying $19 million. That doesn't count what the companies, the industry-financed Tobacco Institute and the Smokeless Tobacco Council spent Not even Big Tobacco has this much to waste on losing. Political greed sprang into play when Mr. Clinton, in a tactical masterstroke, counted in his new bud Ms. Lewinsky suffered from premature evacuation. Reader Barbara Murphy writes: "The End of Monica??!! Say it ain't so." And Barbara Gems argues: There's still plenty to write about Monica. like just exactly w hat is her relationship with Mr. Ginsburg? All their lunches and dinners together. I don't think he ever got over kissing those pulkies." '.(This just in: William Ginsburg has actually said: I think I need to back off quite a bit now. I think I'm Overexposed." You, counselor, overexposed? You mean because across the grid the TV listings on the Sunday morning news shows simply say: "Bill"?) And what better metaphor to use for Monica and her relationship to the president than the Ti-tanir? At this mint. Mike McCur- Send Africa's tempest-tossed to the United States ? ! . - ry is simply rearranging the deck y chairs of the administration. The i7 African countries either host snip oi Mnc gris t uiue lowei m the water with every passing week. Except, instead of some guy in the crow's nest screaming "Iceberg!", every day there's an- Mr. Travolta A quick and relatively inexpensive fix to a problem in our Africa policy would be to lift the low ceilings on the number of refugees admitted to this country. refugees or produce them. Many do both. The Ivory Coast Guinea. Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda each housed more refugees at the end of 1996 than the United States has accepted in total since 1976. But these countries are poor, and handling mass movements of people stresses their fragile social fabric. More than 100,000 displaced Angolans and 200,000 Rwandans reside in the former Zaire, where the government was toppled last year. Obviously, the United States cannot absorb all of Africa's refugees. But we should do more. Our lib-eralitv also serves our own interests. African immigrants and refugees are helping revive American cities, from Houston's booming Nigerian community to the thriving pockets of Sudanese in the Dakota. Any number of mayors would like more immigrants and refugees in their cities. These officials know well the benefits that result from the infusion of immigrants' drive, creativity and talent Gregory Fossedal is cltairma of Uif Alexis de Tcc-qucrille Institution. He unott !,is article ft le New York Times. By Gregory Fossedal During his tour of Africa, President Clinton should ask to visit a United States processing center for refugees. He'd have to make a detour, though. On a continent with 3.5 million refugees, the United States has only one such site, in Nairobi, Kenya. This outpost, which handles 5,000 or so people a year, is the sole commitment that the world's only superpower has made to the problem of African refugees. Many experts have criticized the White House and Congress for not doing enough to aid the continent But there has been little discussion of something President Clinton could do fast with moderate cost that would help relieve pressures in Africa somewhat and also correct an injustice in American polity. That would be to lift the absurdly low ceilings on the number of African refugees admitted to this country. In the past six years. Congress and the White House have reduced the overall numbers of refugees admitted to 83.0 0 for 1998, down from 1 42,000 in 1992. Of this number, no more than 7,000 may be from Africa. Remember, these are refugees, w ho are fleeing persecution. ; other woman claiming Grope! (An even greater affront to the office of the presidency is Primary Colors, in which Bill Clinton suffers the ultimate indignity: He's portrayed as a tubby sybarite by former grinning sweathog imbecile John " mnie Barbarino" Travolta.) : Some people would say that Monica deserves to be carved onto the prow, the figurehead of the Clinton administration. I think to be fair to this administration, you wouldn't have just one figurehead. lTie president doesn't seem to be able to fix his at-lention on just one female figure. If you had Monica on the bow, you'd have to have Kathleen W illey on tin- stern and Genniier Mowers port and Paula C orbin Jones starboard, and that high school flame jn the engine room and pretty soon the ship is faming way too much weight. ; then, of course, you're back where you started. Worrying about leaks. ; - -Tony Kornheiur is a nationally syndicated humor columnist. In fact the 7,000-refugee ceiling has been reached only once since 1990. Actual average admissions are less than 6,000 annually. In 1995, a year of famine and violence, the United States admitted fewer than 4,800 Africans. Last year, the largest contingent of refugees came from Somalia (4.974 refugees), Liberia (231) and Ethiopia (197). We admitted only 37 from Rwanda, 31 from Sudan, tw o from Uganda, one from Zaire and none from Angola. From 1990 to early 1998, the United States took in fewer refugees from all of Africa (4fi.fx 0) than it did from Laos (47.417) and Vietnam (267.871). Of course. African countries themselves should bear muifi of the burden of the continent's tro ( les and they do.