By Bill Kaplan
Speaker Ryan must be forlorn. The so-called House Freedom Caucus has stymied passage of a budget and spending bills. A spectacular failure of responsibility. The House is broken. Moreover, GOP congressional extremists are yahooing for Trump. What's a speaker to do? Be expedient and endorse Trump, and regret it on a daily basis. Then rollout skimpy proposals to provide political cover from Trump.
On Sunday, the Washington Post editorialized: "The agenda the speaker is pushing doesn't merit backing Mr. Trump....No policy or principle Mr. Ryan has articulated comes close to justifying the indelible stain of supporting a dangerous demagogue." And, conservative columnist Michael Gerson opined: "He (Trump) is riding the line between clownishness and fascism." Ryan will not be able to live this down. Nor will history be forgiving. Moreover, Trump's daily bigoted outbursts "kept Ryan's package of proposals from gaining much traction... " (Politico).
With all of Ryan's talk about an agenda and proposals one could be forgiven for thinking the GOP-led House is a mirage. The GOP has been in charge since 2011. Republican divisions, extremism and hostility to governing have minimized substantive accomplishments. However, Speaker Ryan and House Republicans are adept at passing soundbite legislation. For example, browbeating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ad infinitum.
The New York Times reported: "For five years, congressional Republicans have taken out their anti-tax wrath on the Internal Revenue Service, cutting its budget by nearly $1 billion, reducing its staff by about 17,000 and even threatening to impeach its chief." Result: billions of unpaid taxes (New York Times). The uncollected monies could have paid for education, health care, pension reform and public works (bridges, highways, mass transit and water projects). It gets worse.
The GOP-led House passed a bill that would "prohibit the hiring of additional Internal Revenue Service employees until the Secretary of the Treasury certifies that no employee of the Internal Revenue Service has a seriously delinquent tax debt." All Wisconsin GOP reps. voted yes (Ryan, as speaker, abstained). All Wisconsin Democratic reps. voted no. Here's the rub.
Forbes reported: "What is not quite clear is why the measure would only be targeted to IRS...it is curious that the law wouldn't apply to other government employees - including those (Congress) that make our nation's tax laws." Moreover, Forbes said: "...the delinquency rate for the Department of Treasury is 1.19% (for IRS alone below 1%)...lowest among all government employees, for both civilians and military."
What about Congress? "The US. House of Representatives - the one that just passed the bill - has a delinquency rate of 5.04%. The members of the House together with their staff owe a collective $6,714,852 in back taxes..."(Forbes). Here is a better idea. Stop the crusade against the IRS. Congressional Republicans should give the IRS the resources it needs to collect unpaid taxes (mostly from the rich). By the way, Trump paid no federal income taxes for at least four years (Politico and Washington Post). That's skimpy.
-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.