by Ted S. McGregor & r & & r & A sunny, all-American street, Jane is on her front lawn, watering flowers, when her husband pulls up in a brand new F-350 with two shiny new WaveRunners on a trailer behind.
Jane: What's all this?
Dick: My new truck -- and WaveRunners! Sweet, huh?
Jane: [frowning] How'd you get them?
Dick: I bought 'em with my credit car... uh, credit cards.
Jane: Dick, you lost your job a week ago -- and I thought we talked about saving up so Jimmy could go to college?
Dick: No problem, hon' -- I've got it all worked out. See, I figured out a way that we can do both!
Jane: And Granny needs that new hip -- I just don't get this!
Dick: Trust me on this one, babe -- I have a plan here. Seriously. You may not see it, but I am so on it. Now check out the cup holders on this bad boy...
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & oes Dick sound like anyone you know? He lives in a world outside that place most people refer to as "reality." He claims to have a plan -- he tells you to trust him -- but his world is falling apart while he wears the plastic off his MasterCard. (Hint: Meets in D.C.)
We'll get back to Dick and Jane in a minute, but first, let's take a closer look at what, exactly, Congress did over this past year. The tale was hilariously -- and devastatingly -- told by Matt Taibbi in the Oct. 17 issue of Rolling Stone ("Time to Go! Inside the Worst Congress Ever").
Remember the famous do-nothing Congress of 1948, vilified by President Harry Truman. That bunch met a combined 252 days; the 109th Congress will have met for only 218 days over the past two years (and that's not even counting all the half-days so members could fly home for a long weekend). And in the second year of the 109th, they've set the record for the shortest session ever: 93 days. How does that impact spending? They don't have time to think about what they're doing.
Thursday, Sept. 28, is a case in point. Eager to leave D.C., the Senate holds a marathon session. So they hurry up and rescind centuries of legal and human rights tradition by overruling habeas corpus protections for Americans, then, as the night wears on and only a few members remain, they squeeze in a half-trillion-dollar defense appropriation bill -- with absolutely no discussion at all.
All in a day's work!
Jane walks out to her mailbox, opens it up and hauls out a stack of bills, many with ominous "Final Notice" marks all over them. She hauls the stack into the house, where Dick is researching flat-screen TVs on the Internet.
Jane: Dick, they're shutting off our water -- and our power. They want your truck back, too. How come you haven't been paying these bills?
Dick: Let me see those... Hon', this is a mix-up. That's all. I'm on it.
Jane: What do you mean you're on it? I knew this would happen -- you've been spending like a drunken sailor. You can't just think nothing would ever happen. This is nuts. People don't live this way. We have got to fix this. Now!
Dick: Look, I know a guy -- OK? He can help us out.
Jane: You're talking about Vinnie, that sleazy little bookie, aren't you? We already have the house mortgaged up, so what are you going to give him? I don't want to borrow any more money -- we're already in way too deep!
Dick: Jane, did I tell you I could handle it? You really just have to trust me on this one. Relax... now what do you think of this one -- it's 46 inches across...
Deeper and deeper we go. In the beginning of 2001, the United States enjoyed a $236 billion surplus. Today, we're spending $296 billion more per year than the government takes in -- and Congress is still digging. As Taibbi calculates, it took 42 American presidents to borrow a total of $1 trillion; in six years under George W. Bush, we've borrowed $2 trillion -- $300 billion of which we owe to Communist China. (In case you're wondering, the annual interest payments on that $2 trillion debt is $77 billion a year.)
And Congress's campaign-funding-for-legislative-favors arrangement is like getting out a backhoe so they can really dig. The infamous Energy Bill, which was hatched in secret by Dick Cheney starting in 2001, wound up giving $6 billion in subsidies to that poor, poor sector of the American business world: oil companies. Dating back to 2001, energy companies have donated $115 million to members of Congress -- 75 percent of it to Republicans. That's been a pretty good investment.
A beater van is parked down by the river, the side door opens and Jane climbs out; Dick sips from a cup of Top Ramen. Granny naps under a blanket in the front seat, while Jimmy stares vacantly out the back window.
Jane: Dick, I've finally had it. You said you could handle it. You said not to worry. You knew a guy. Well, Dick, look around -- we're living in a van down by the river. Not exactly working out, now is it?
Dick: [mumbling through his noodles] I have a plan... trust me...
Jane: No, Dick, you don't have a plan -- you never had a plan. You're just a big talker. But this family is going to turn things around starting right now. We're all going to get jobs -- two or three jobs if we need to. We're going to get back to basics, and we're going to pay off Vinnie and the bank and the power company...
Dick: [Rising in anger] I knew it! I knew this was what you'd do -- it's so obvious! You're going to raise my taxes! You! You're the Tax Man!
Sound familiar? Yes, now Republican members of Congress, like poor, stupid Dick, are fighting to keep control by blaming the other side for raising taxes if they get elected. You can see it on your TV at night, when Cathy McMorris's ads claim Peter Goldmark -- who has never held an elected office -- is the Tax Man.
In the wake of the past six years, the bills are mounting -- we owe an insane amount of money, and we will have to pay it someday. That's just reality. The Republicans want you to fear the Tax Man, but they're the Tax Man. Every time they borrow more money to spend, they're raising our taxes. (Or Jimmy's -- and his future kids' taxes.)