Bratwurst Follies

Was it Bismarck who famously remarked that you didn’t want to watch either laws or sausage being made? In reality, he was probably referring to bratwurst, but something got lost in translation.

In any case, nothing would have prepared the wily old Prussian for the sausage-making circus now going on in the House and Senate as they scramble to cobble together legislation on issues that range from extending the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act to paring some spending from the budget over the next five years.

TRIA has been the ultimate seesaw in the Capitol Hill playground for the last year (although it seems much longer) as its expiration date of Dec. 31, 2005, grew inexorably closer and Congress had to deal with increasingly panicky insurers.

Would Congress extend or not? Would an extension include group life insurance or not? We’ve run so many stories this year detailing the back and forth on group life that it’s like one of those holograms that alternately smiles and frowns.

So, where are we now? The House’s version of TRIA includes group life, the Senate’s doesn’t and the Bush administration is pushing for the Senate bill. It will probably be very close to year-end before this is resolved, which means insurers will have a nail-biting holiday season.

But this situation is mild compared to the Mummenschanz-like contortions that have been going on in the House and Senate committees responsible for tax legislation. Suddenly our solons feel an urgent need to show that they are fiscally serious. I can hear Bismarck laughing at this mock show of prudence after a five-year spending binge combined with a flood of tax cuts.

This show had The Wall Street Journal furious and scornful. To quote from the Nov. 16 editorial, “Fiscal Chicken Hawks”: “The reality is that over the next five years the total federal budget is expected to exceed $13.855 trillion. The Republican faux-Slimfast plan basically erases the rounding error, or the $.055 trillion, and leaves the $13.8 trillion untouched.”

Of course, the Journal bemoans the fact that money will still be spent for things like Medicaid, low-income heating assistance and anti-poverty programs. Especially galling is that these programs will still be funded while taxes could be cut yet once again for that richest sliver of Americans who have no problem heating their homes.

Problem is that Republican moderates are feeling the heat and insisting that those items the Journal wants out be kept in. Sen. Olympia Snowe knows how cold Maine winters are–and so do her constituents.

What is it about taxes that makes people crazy? What is it that causes segments of the population to start foaming at the mouth when there’s even a hint that taxes are justified and have a useful societal purpose?

I’ve never had a problem paying taxes. The way I figure it I’ve been handed a tremendous karmic benefit by being born in this country of opportunity, that I have done quite well in my career and that I owe something back to the society and the government that made it all possible.

At the same time, I recognize that there are many who have not been able, for one reason or another, to take as much advantage of this opportunity as I have been. Instead of consigning these folks to their misery, I am grateful that I can afford to contribute to the greater well-being of this country.

Needless to say, I don’t approve of every expenditure made by the federal or my state government. But that is just part of living in a free country. If you get tired enough of how the legislative and executive branches are spending your money–vote them out.

Meanwhile, enjoy the circus. And don’t forget to spread some mustard on the wurst.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief

The situation [with TRIA] is mild compared to the Mummenschanz-like contortions that have been going on in the House and Senate committees responsible for tax legislation.”