Misplaced Priorities Again in the Senate

Posted: Jul 05, 2006 12:07 PM
It could cost more to get caught working in the world’s oldest profession if a bill passed last week by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee becomes law. The Finance Committee approved legislation that would allow the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prosecute pimps and prostitutes for tax code violations. Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) proposed the legislation, which would impose a 10-year prison term on pimps for each prostitute in his employ on whom he fails to file a W-2 form.

What’s next? Will the Senate Finance Committee require pimps to pay for their employees’ health care? Will they be forced to deduct Social Security and Medicare taxes? Will pimps be subject to OSHA regulations requiring a safe workplace?

Not surprisingly, tax evasion by pimps and prostitutes does not rank high in polls of issues most important to the public. This is another frustrating example of Congress working on the wrong problems and finding the wrong solutions while the serious issues are left to fester. To observers of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley’s pimp tax is just the latest dereliction of leadership and misplaced priorities.

In January 2005 committee member Olympia Snowe (R-ME) dismissed reports that the Social Security program is nearing bankruptcy by stating, “There is a lot of fear among seniors.” She refused to even consider President Bush’s proposal to make optional personal retirement accounts part of the Social Security structure. Throughout 2005, Snowe blocked every effort to bring the optional personal retirement accounts proposal out of committee for a vote by the entire Senate.

Senator Grassley failed to show much leadership on restructuring Social Security, saying in July 2005 that his fellow Republican senators were reluctant to “walk the plank” on fixing the program without bipartisan support. Regarding a proposal to pull the issue from the Finance Committee and bring a Social Security bill directly to the floor, Grassley said, “I would not discourage leadership from doing that, but you don’t build consensus that way.” Senator Grassley, you don’t need consensus to pass a proven idea that has worked since 1981. We need leadership. If you cannot lead the majority party toward a proven solution to one of the crumbling pillars of our economic infrastructure, you need to step down from your chairmanship position.

In November 2005, Grassley criticized oil companies for making profits, suggesting they contribute 10 percent of their profits to supplement the federal heating assistance program for the poor. He and other committee members threatened a windfall profits tax on oil companies, but did not advance the idea because of feedback from the public and possibly some of his clearer thinking colleagues. Instead, Finance Committee members proposed a “backdoor” tax on oil company inventories. Yes, this senator calls himself a Republican.

Most recently, Senate Republicans have been unable to pass a full repeal of the estate tax, the most immoral tax in the entire tax code. A number of liberal Republicans, including Senator Snowe, have voted against full repeal. While senators continue to debate various compromise plans to eliminate the estate tax for all but the wealthiest Americans, it is doubtful any of them will pass this year.

The Senate Finance Committee, one of the most powerful and influential committees in Congress, is in desperate need of an overhaul. The American people and American businesses deserve representation from a body that is focused on solutions, not assaults on capitalism. The first and best solution is to replace Senators Grassley and Snowe with conservatives who have the political will and ingenuity to fix Social Security, Medicare and the tax code.

Senators such as Jim DeMint (R-SC), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John Ensign (R-NV) have demonstrated a willingness to speak out for fiscal conservatism and common sense this year on issues such as spending and dealing with illegal aliens. They would make fine replacements for Grassley and Snowe.

A second solution is to replace outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist with a conservative willing to call the Democrats’ bluff and exercise the so-called “nuclear option” on legislation they threaten to filibuster. The American people sent a Republican majority to the Senate, but current leadership has proven incapable of breaking from inane Senate traditions that respect filibuster threats and other procedural roadblocks over solving the problem. That Democrat may be your “good friend” from so-and-so state, but to my fellow conservatives and me, he is an enemy of economic freedom.

It is frustrating to watch Republican majorities pass phantom taxes on pimps and prostitutes and continue their assaults on our free market economy. This week, as we celebrate our nation’s declaration of independence from tyranny just 230 years ago, we need independence from misplaced priorities and an unwillingness to lead.