SEPT. 19: WHAT DID Michael Massey know from power lunches at Lion D'Or? Here he was, the owner of the fourth largest dry-cleaning chain in the greater Omaha metropolitan area and, for the first time in his life, he needed a Washington lobbyist.
Massey had never been very political; the only cause that had engaged his passions was the epic struggle against stay-pressed clothing. But that was before his accountant told him about what was really in President Reagan's tax plan. Not the big- picture stuff -- that he got from the business section of the Omaha World-Herald. What really irked Mike Massey were two obscure paragraphs buried on page 184 of "The President's Tax Proposals to Congress for Fairness, Growth and Simplicity."
They were going to take away Mike Massey's favorite deduction -- the one where he could write off $25,000 every year to cover the depreciation on his company's trademark, "E-Z Clean Clothes for an E-Z Clean Life." He just couldn't believe it when he read in the president's tax plan, "There is no evidence that investment in a trademark or trade name yields a greater benefit to society than is reflected in the expected market return to the investor."
Mike Massey knew precisely what societal benefits derived from this deduction: he bought himself a Cadillac Eldorado every year with the tax savings. Fortunately, his brother-in-law, the orthodontist, suggested he call an old fraternity brother from Creighton University, which was why Mike Massey now found himself sipping a Jack Daniels in this fancy frog restaurant and waiting for Norman Bakslapp, lobbyist-for-hire.
"Little late, sorry," Bakslapp muttered, as he squeezed into the empty seat. "Rosty's main man called as I was running out the door -- and you know how it is in this town." Massey had no idea what Bakslapp was talking about. All he knew was that this didn't look like a restaurant where he could get a thick steak.
With the tone of a man privy to great secrets, Bakslapp then proceeded to summarize the morning papers. "Markup in Ways and Means is starting tomorrow," he whispered, "and Rosty wants to get a bill reported out by the end of the month. He's going to miss by about two weeks, but we're still on target for a floor vote by Halloween. Reagan will be out pressing the flesh this week and next -- and his whole ball of wax depends on getting the grassroots stirred up enough to take the bull by the horns."
Five mixed metaphors, four Jack Daniels, two white sauces and a $6,000 retainer later, Mike Massey was elected president of the United Businessmen for Better Trademarks (U-BET), with Norman Bakslapp as staff director. The first target of U-BET's lobbying blitz: Hal Daub (R-Neb.), Omaha's man on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Sept. 26: Even Ronald Reagan had to admit it wasn't a bad speech. True, they wouldn't let him mention Rambo again or quote Bruce Springsteen or even give his theories on desegregation in South Africa. But as Air Force One circled over Valley Forge, the president double-underlined his favorite line from the speech draft, "If we are to win the Second American Revolution, we must join forces to defeat the redcoats of reactionary liberalism."
Equating Mario Cuomo with King George III -- now, that was speechwriting. There was just one problem with the speech text, Reagan thought: it didn't hammer home the point about cutting taxes. The president looked over to where Nancy was still dozing, but thought better of waking her. Then it came to him, the paragraph that was missing from his speech:
"My tax reform plan is an American as George Washington, as patriotic as the Founding Fathers. It has one guiding principle: all real American families should pay less. So if your state and local taxes are too high, move. Why should we pay higher taxes, so that welfare cheats in New York can use food stamps to eat in fancy French restaurants? There is no such thing as a free lunch, especially when you and I are expected to pay for it."
Oct. 2: The breakfast rally in the main ballroom of the New York Hilton had been hastily organized, but it achieved its purpose -- 45 seconds on the evening news. There were quick cuts of Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch denouncing Reagan's speech and piously assuring Manhattan's political upper- crust, "This is not a New York issue, it affects all Americans who want a government that cares." They were augmented by a minion of out-of-state politicians (all in town for fund-raisers for their 1986 campaigns) who obediently repeated the mantra, "This is not just a New York issue . . . ."
But it was the sing-along at the end of the rally that quickly became the anthem for those fighting to preserve the deduction for state and local taxes. Led by the cast of "La Cage Aux Folles," the entire ballroom linked arms -- stock brokers, investment bankers, real estate moguls and city contractors -- and sang out, "We shall not be moved. Ronald Reagan, we shall not be moved. Like a rent control tenant, we shall not be moved."
And so was born The Coalition of Real Americans Against Forced Migration to the Sunbelt.
Oct 9: The McNabb Twins (Jason and Sean) had not been following the grueling markup sessions in the Ways and Means Committee. With their eight- grade science fair project due in just four days, they didn't have time to watch The McNeil/Lehrer News Hour and so missed Hal Daub's stirring defense of the current depreciation formulas for trademarks: "Without such familiar friends as Tony the Tiger, the Big Boy and Mr. Whipple, America would be reduced to a pitiful, helpless, generic giant."
As Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Pearlman dutifully struggled to argue the administration's side of the suddenly explosive trademark issue, Jason McNabb was putting the final connecting wire on the home-made modem that linked their Radio Shack home computer with the touch-tone phone in their bedroom on a tree-shaded block in Beaufort, S.C.
"Let's see what this baby can do," Sean said, as his brother gave the thumbs-up sign. "Let's start with Area Code 202 and see what's doing at the Pentagon."
Within minutes, the McNabb Twins were poised on the threshold of access. They weren't exactly sure what the Joint Committee on Taxation was, but they sensed it was important. "Maybe Dad will finally get us dirt bikes, if he doesn't have to pay any more taxes," Jason said hopefully. But the twins were momentarily puzzled when the computer asked them to identify themselves as either staffer or member. "Dad, who's that old guy who's our senator?" Sean shouted from the top of the stairs. As the FBI would later discover after a full field investigation, it was Jason who typed in the words, "Strom Thurmond."
Even bright 13-year-olds like the McNabb Twins have short attention spans. For a while the boys changed all zeros to nines and all sevens to threes, but they quickly became bored with the computer's failure to do anything interesting like flash "Red Alert" or show the trajectory of incoming Soviet missiles. "Let's go over to the mall and play some real video games," Jason finally suggested.
Oct. 14: One more briefing like this, Larry Speakes thought, and I'll be begging Mike Deaver for a job. "Sam," Speakes said to the querulous television reporter, "let me spell it out for you again in one-syllable words that maybe -- just maybe -- you might understand. The president stands behind his tax plan. Our numbers show that give or take $10 billion, it is revenue neutral. We don't know where the Joint Tax Committee is getting their new estimates. We've looked at their computer printouts, but we refuse to accept their contention that tax reform will cost $513 billion by 1989."
Oct. 22: Dan Rostenkowski was in a foul mood. He was getting too old for nine-hour markup sessions, especially with Charlie Rangel, and that kid Tom Downey from New York trying to relate everything (including the plight of kosher butchers) back to state-and-local taxation. Then that Daub fellow (where did he come from anyway?) got that damn trademark issue all tangled up with the repeal of the investment tax credit. And the White House had taken a powder -- the president kept harping on lower taxes, while the rest of those bozos over at the White House couldn't even read a computer print- out. Admittedly, $513 billion seemed high, but you couldn't argue with the numbers.
Caught up in his reveries on the injustices of life, Rostenkowski didn't notice when his administrative assistant walked in. "Excuse me, Mr. Chairman," he said, "but there's something you need to know."
It was the worst news of all: the Chicago congressman was not going to be reimbursed for the $32,000 in postage it cost to answer all those "Write Rosty" letters. To pay for the form replies ("It's gratifying to know that you stand with us in our commitment to fairness in taxation . . . ."), Rostenkowski was going to have to call upon his vast reelection fund. Even though he was again running without serious opposition, Rostenkowski viewed wasting campaign funds with the same horror that ninth-generation Bostonians reserved for dipping into capital.
When this is all over, Rostenkowski thought, I'm going to take myself a long vacation. Some sun, some golf -- and maybe even the Super Bowl. Which reminded him: Better return that call from Pete Rozelle at the National Football League.
Nov. 19: WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House today gave President Ronald Reagan a major legislative victory passing a modified version of his tax reform plan by a vote of 239-176. The president called the vote "a victory for justice, simplicity and lower taxes for everyone."
Nov. 22: Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Dick Darman had reason to feel pleased with himself as he strode along Pennsylvania Avenue on his way to lunch at Maison Blanche. The leaves crackling underfoot, the almost desperately bright November sunshine, the sense of infinite promise; all of it reminded him of his undergraduate days at Harvard. Even the wrought- iron fence standing between him and the White House grounds no longer seemed heavy with symbolism. Darman had gotten over his exasperation at being exiled to Treasury and brusquely passed over when he made his ill-concealed bid to replace David Stockman.
Now he was the "Clausewitz of Tax Reform." Darman loved that sobriquet when they used it last Sunday to introduce him on the Brinkley Show. Tax reform was going to be his legacy and he was confident that he would get sufficient credit when the bill finally passed. "We're really going to pull it off," Darman marveled to himself as he turned down 17th Street.
As he entered the restaurant, Darman braced himself for an effusive greeting from the maitre' d whose name he could never remember.
Standing in the vestibule, Darman imagined the smiles and waves, the eddies of power and importance, as he was escorted to his favorite table on a raised platform in the front of the restaurant. It was what Darman liked about Washington: one always knew where one stood based on where one was seated.
But the maitre'd -- what was his name anyway, Jean, Pierre, Louis? -- greeted Darman with an impassive stare.
"Your name, sir?"
Darman couldn't see the joke, but he gave his name anway. "Do you have a reservation?" Darman fought to keep his temper under control. "Yes, my secretary made it this morning. What's going on here? You know me." The maitre'd gave what passed for a Gallic shrug. "We're very busy today," he said, "and we have no record of a Darman. We might be able to seat you in 45 minutes. Of course, there will be many empty tables every luncheon as soon as the tax bill passes."
Darman quickly looked around to make sure that no one important was witnessing his humiliation. By the time he turned his full fury to the maitre'd, Jean (or whatever his name was) was busy escorting a middle-aged couple -- tourists, chattering about the Tourmobile and clutching guidebooks -- to Darman's favorite table on the raised platform.
Dec. 11: Bob Dole knew the cornball jokes weren't up to his usual standard, but nothing in his comic persona equipped him to carry good news to the president.
"Mr. President, you may think I'm the Grinch who Stole Christmas," the Senate Majority Leader said at the start of the White House leadership breakfast, "but that's not the real me."
Dole quickly reached under his chair and donned a red tasseled cap and a Santa Claus beard. "My elves have been working overtime and I'm pleased to report that the Senate will vote on tax reform before the Dec. 19 recess," he said. "It'll be tight, I only count 48 sure votes, but I think we can do it. We will, of course, have to cave on the deductibility of sports tickets. Half the Senate is planning to go to the Super Bowl -- and they take Pete Rozelle seriously when he says he'll have them bodily tossed out of their sky boxes unless it's stricken from the bill."
The Gipper allowed himself a broad, V-for-Victory smile. "Bob -- or Mr. Claus, that is -- I think we can safely dropkick that Super Bowl clause. After all, I wouldn't want to call the winning locker room and have them hang up on me."
Dec. 18: The McNabb twins weren't sure what those two men with black lace-up shoes and white shirts downstairs wanted with their Dad, but they sensed it meant trouble.
With false bravado, Sean suggested they try one more time to access the War Room at the Pentagon. Moments later, after reaching something in Washington named the Legislative Counsel's Document File, the twins called up on their screen "S.1776 -- The Tax Reform and Simplification Act of 1985."
They heard their father calling them from the downstairs, using a voice normally reserved for such high crimes as stealing his Irish linen handkerchiefs to use as hamster parachutes.
"Get rid of it, quick!" Jason cried. But Sean couldn't resist one last dollop of mischief. Before logging off, he deleted every line of S. 1776 -- except the title and opening sentence.
Later that night: After 27 years at the Government Printing Office, Joe Dunlop had learned not to question the august wisdom of the United States Senate. If they wanted him to print a bill with just a cover sheet and 1,893 blank pages, that was their prerogative. He wasn't going to ask and wise guy questions -- not with just 23 months, 17 days and 9 hours until retirement.
Dec. 19: Bob Dole knew he couldn't keep them in session much longer. It was 8:30 at night and the Senate had to adjourn by 9:15 or no one would make their plane home before the curvfew at National. After a quarter century in Congress, Dole still marvelled at the way his colleagues could debate for hours without ever reading a word of the actual bill under discussion. To prove his point, he flipped open S.1776 at random.
Dec. 19: WASHINGTON
(UPI) -- The Senate approved the administration's tax-reform plan by a unanimous voice vote late tonight and then adjourned. President Reagan hailed the Senate action as "the best possible Christmas present for the American people." It was, Reagan said, "the culmination of my second-term agenda."
Democrats also claimed credit, saying the administration had modified its original proposals to meet the party's objections. "It is a bipartisan bill we all can be proud of" said Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd. House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill pledged early House passage of the Senate version tax reform.
The entire Senate bill reads as follows: "Whereas, the United States tax code is in urgent need of simplification and reform."