Some dates are easy to remember. A graduation year. The year you got married. The year your first child was born.
Others are more difficult. I can’t seem to recall when I first wrote this column. For my purpose in this column, a long time will suffice.
Some of you know me. Some may think they know me from reading this column for so many years. I will rely on both of these groups. I have a problem and need help.
I am not angry. I need to know why. What is wrong with me? Everyone seems to be angry with the tax law as it stands, or proposals they have heard about, or both.
Long ago, I heard a joke. What is the difference between Congress and kindergarten? Pause … adult supervision.
Unfortunately, this is no longer a joke. The body as a whole seems to be defined by ignorance. We are all ignorant of some things. Thus, it’s not so bad just to be ignorant. The other stuff is worrisome.
To explain the behavior we see, I had to find traits of a 2-year-old. The 5-year-old traits were too mature. Don’t believe me?
Traits of a member of Congress: (1) selfish; (2) struggles taking turns; (3) not sensitive to the feelings of others; (4) spends much time in fantasy; (5) feisty behavior; (6) will resist your requests.
The bad news is – are you kidding? Did you not read the traits? The good news is – these traits tend to lead to inaction. So, bad tax ideas never get legs.
But let’s temper that good news. Why can’t we have ideas that lead to a good tax system? There are, I believe, several impediments.
Jimmy Breslin wrote a book about the 1962 New York Mets called “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” In 1962, there were members of Congress who could play the tax game. They understood the law.
Wilbur “Tidal Basin” Mills chaired the House Ways and Means Committee in 1962. Russell Long joined the Senate Finance Committee in 1966. Both understood the tax laws. Mills helped President Johnson (yes, Johnson) balance (yes, balance) the federal budget.
Long explained constituent views of tax policy as “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.”
Long’s quote is why we are all so angry. Republicans won’t roll back tax cuts to constituent groups. Democrats cannot get traction to roll back cuts to state and local tax deductions (the “SALT” deduction).
From Long’s quote, the “you” is angry, the “me” is angry. And no one can find the fellow behind the tree to pin this all on.
I am not angry. Only because I have come to see the whole mess as satire. And to understand politics has always been satire. From Dante to Shakespeare to Swift, writing about the absurdity of politics is nothing new.
So, calm down, folks. It’s a mess, but it’s always been a mess! As Russell Long pointed out, people have always complained that they are the ones shouldering the tax burden.
The Mills-Long years were ones where great tax minds ran the Congress. However, they were not pretty times.
Medgar Evers was assassinated in 1963. John Kennedy in the same year. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy both in 1968, the same year we elected two crooks to run the White House. Crooked VP Agnew was forced out of office before crooked President Nixon.
Tax laws get better and they get worse. Just as we ended the decade of the 1960s by putting a man on the moon and watching the once-hapless Mets win the Series as the Amazing Mets.
I’ve spent a career lifetime negotiating the tax laws. I wish I could tell you they were once great, and that they would return to that greatness.
As a tax writer, I can only repeat the words from a Stevie Nicks song. “I’d like to leave you with something warm, but never have I been a blue calm sea, I have always been a storm.”
Waiting for a great tax law? The last words from Stevie’s song? “And not all the prayers in the world could save us.” Just don’t be angry about it.
James R. Hamill is the Director of Tax Practice at Reynolds, Hix & Co. in Albuquerque. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.