23. CONGRESS TAKES THE MONEY AND RUNS
Last year, Congress got caught with its hand in the till and everybody
heard about it.
In fact, Senator William Proxmire (D-Wis) revealed what he called "Congress's
Dirty Little Secret" in the July issue of Reader's Digest, the
largest circulation magazine in the world. An incensed Proxmire said
"Voters should be outraged by what we've done. ... Unless Congress
moves to repeal the tax break it has given itself, there may well be
a new rebellion."
In brief, this is what caused all the furor:
On December 15, 1981, the U.S. House and Senate approved the Dole Amendment
giving themselves a nice tax break -- an automatic deduction of $75
for living expenses each day Congress meets during the year.
The tax deductions, unchallengeable by the IRS, were worth about $19,000
to each member of Congress.
When word about this self-serving legislation got out in early 1982,
the American public -- already suffering from recession, unemployment,
inflation, and its own tax increases -- said it was mad as hell and
wouldn't take it any more.
As U.S. News & World Report said there was a tidal wave of criticism
-- some 34,000 angry letters to the Internal Revenue Service alone.
"Get this repealed or, so help me, I will refuse to pay my income
tax this year," wrote a Pittsburgh woman. Others assailed lawmakers
as "parasites," "thieves," and "hogs."
As a result of the media coverage and the public outcry and an awareness
of the coming November 2 elections, the House voted 378 to 7 on June
9 to go along with the Senate proposal to repeal the tax break.
There was a flurry of news stories, sanctimonious statements in Congress,
and the woman from Pittsburgh no doubt gleefully said "Well, we
got them this time!".
Not quite. The media didn't follow-up on that story.
While Congress repealed the legislation, it did not make it retroactive.
Thus, every Congressman who wanted to take advantage of that tax break
for 1981 could and no doubt did.
Correspondence from Irving Babbitt (10/18/82) who cited his Congressman,
Ray McGrath, 5th CD, New York; confirmed by David Bonta (3/30/83), aide
to Congressman Douglas Bosco, 2nd CD, California; US News & World
Report, 6/21/82, "The Tax Break That Congress Regrets," Reader's
Digest, July 1982, "Congress's Dirty Little Secret," by Sen.