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A CONGRESS THAT SPEAKS



Published: Thu, May 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: It is far from clear what the Democrats' ascension to majority status in the Senate will come to mean. But if it means that Congress will cease to be the doormat for administration policies, as it was in the case of the tax cuts just approved, it will be a welcome development. The passage of the tax legislation was perhaps the sloppiest such procedure in the case of a major bill in modern memory. No rigorous examination of the measure's cost and other implications was permitted or occurred. In the rush to enactment, the fiscal and other likely consequences of the bill, when not ignored, were deliberately misstated and obscured. The only aim was to ratify the bill -- the cut, particularly at the top -- and no matter the effect on the government's long-term ability to pay. The middle-roaders of both parties, whose votes could have made the difference, were essentially acquiescent. They made a show of objecting to a bad bill that they then embraced in only slightly altered form.

The tax bill is in many ways the least of it. The legendary Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Russell Long of Louisiana, once counseled a group of reporters confused by a particular bit of legerdemain that there were only two things you could do to taxes, raise them or lower them, and he had just done the latter. That's what the tax bill also does, but tax cuts, especially cuts as ephemeral and far in the future as some of these, would not be that complicated to reverse.

Social Security privatization: Other administration policy objectives, if rushed into law, would be harder to turn around. The president seeks the partial privatization of Social Security. The particular form of privatization that he has suggested he favors would be a profound change. An insurance system in which, in many ways, the strong support the weak would be converted into a system in which, to a greater degree, people would depend on their own resources. The risks of such a step need to be examined with enormous care. So too the proposal to "reform" Medicare by shifting from a system in which the government guarantees benefits toward one in which it guarantees mainly a contribution toward the cost of benefits.

Bush as part of his energy policy has proposed to ease enforcement of basic environmental laws. He is, or seems to be, about to propose a major restructuring of the nation's armed forces. He shortly will have to enunciate a new national welfare policy as current law expires. These are not the kinds of issues in which the country is well served by having a Congress that rushes to judgment or acts as a rubber stamp.

Scrutiny: The Democrats were hardly uniform in their opposition to the president's tax cut. In the Senate such figures as Max Baucus, soon to be chairman of the Finance Committee, and John Breaux abetted it. But Republicans likely would be the first to tell you that, had the Democrats been in charge of the Senate during its consideration, the tax cut would have received closer scrutiny and had tougher sledding than it did. The bill still would have passed, but it likely would have been less excessive; so the Democrats claim, anyway.

The administration's agenda is such that it will be useful to have a Congress, or Senate, that can say something other than yes.

IT'S AN AD, AD, AD, AD WORLD

Los Angeles Times: Good news for those of us who feel we don't see, hear, read or absorb enough advertising. There's a whole lot more on the way, and it's showing up in places you never dreamed.

We've all seen airplanes towing ad banners to decorate the broad blue skies over beaches on sunny Sundays. Now there are sailboats in the advertising business just offshore. Guess which part of the sailboat carries the ads.

And if you're drowning there, you might not notice at first that, according to the lifeguard's shirt, he is being brought to you by a brand of skincare products or fashionable swimwear. The rescue truck ferrying folks to the hospital makes Nissan the official vehicle of certain beaches. Beach-cleaning machines have been rigged to leave behind endless sandy imprints for Skippy peanut butter or Planters nuts. This saves us from walking on plain old sand.

Taxi hubcaps: Mini-billboards on city buses are still around, but who'd notice next to the "bus wraps" that turn whole buses into behemoth ads? And those ads on taxi roofs? Well, now Los Angeles has ads on taxi hubcaps as well-and they don't turn with the wheels.

Finally, you know how you get in a crowded elevator and nobody says anything, feigning fascination with the inspection certificate or the floor-indicator lights? Well, thanks to the Elevator News Network concept, nearly 300 major skyscrapers now provide an ad and news ticker right above the door. Next thing you know, there'll be ads in newspapers.




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