The last days of this Congress were like a fire in the zoo. Every animal in the legislative bestiary rushed to and fro in made, irrational excitement until the rhinos and the hippos and the leisures and they hyenas had enacted the tax bill.
It will be weeks before anyone will have a firm knowledge of all that's in this bill and what its effects may be. But although the boys and girls went ahead and passed a major piece of legislation which almost none, or perhaps none of them had read, the outlines of their undistinguished work are visible enough. They would have done better to have passed no bill at all.
Instead of the tax simplification that everybody but the loophole lobby and the tax law industry has prayed for for so long, they had the gall to put a section in the law empowering the IRS to reimburse volunteers for any expensers incurred in helping persons over the age of 60 to fill out incomprehensible tax forms. Whether that's illiness or cynicism, it gives you some idea of the minds which shaped this law.
Who knows how many wild clauses are buried in the bill? The Wall Street Journal found one "intended to benefit the heirs of Ernest and Julio Gallo, owners of the Gallo Winery in California. Currently, heirs who inelect to pay estate taxes over 15 years. On part of the taxes due, the government charges only 4 percent interest. The (congressional) conferees agreed to change the rules so that the Gallo family could quality for this special treatment."
The bill drops tax breaks on the society in the same irrational, hopscotching way that a tornado will pop through a trail camp, a farm and a shopping center. Among the beneficiaries are shot machines, greenhouses, pigpens, milling parlors and chicken coops.
Everyone has noted that this is a rich man's tax bill. Fair enough, maybe, in a nation that has never been bothered long enough or seriously enough about the distribution of the ownership of wealth. The top 5 or 10 percent of families own most of the country's productive wealth today as they did at the turn of the century. This bill ensures that pattern will continue.
What's craziest about this tax cut is the conservative support for it. Heretofore, conservatives insisted tax cuts and spending cuts should go in hand. These were the good folks who repeatedly told us ther is no such thing as a free lunch. Now, just when some of us who paid them no need have come to realize they were right, the very same conservatives tell us there is such a thing as a free lunch if it's being served in an exclusive restaurant and a rich man is going to eat it.
Without this tax cut we might come perilously close to a balanced budget with its concommittantly good effects on inflation. So the argument can be made that most of us may lose more from the inflationary rise set in motion by the tax cut than we shall gain in the paltry savings to be given us next April 15.
So when your Congress guy or your Congress gal comes marching home to tell you all the good he did, offer 'em a glass of Gallo wine and explain that, at today's prices, even bologna sandwich lunches aren't free.