The House of Representatives' withdrawal March 6 of a vote on a bill designed to provide $400 million in tax relief to members of the military dragged a plastics molder into an unwanted spotlight and shone a bright light on part of what is wrong with government today.
Plano, Ill.-based Plano Molding Co., perhaps the nation's largest maker of plastic tackle boxes, has good reason for welcoming abolition of a 10 percent excise tax on such products. That tax, since it was introduced 19 years ago, has contributed to a sharp decline in tackle-box sales nationwide. The proceeds from the tax (which also is levied on such items as fishing poles and motor-boat fuel) go to fund several state projects, such as upgrading boat ramps. One can argue ad infinitum about the fairness or the cost/benefit analysis of almost any given tax. That's not the issue here.
So what do plastics tackle boxes have to do with tax relief for the military? Absolutely nothing - and that is the point.
Tackle-box tax relief, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Weller, R.-Ill., was just one of several unrelated amendments slapped onto H.R. 878 by various elected officials eager to curry favor with elements of their constituencies.
Other such mission-critical measures included a tax break on foreigners who place bets outside the United States on U.S. horse races (thank you for that one, Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La.), and one for U.S. makers of bows and arrows. (Maybe the sponsor of the latter, Rep. Paul Ryan, R.-Wis., figured there was at least a military connection on that one.)
OK, we're not naive. We know this is how the game is played in Washington. Pork-barrel politics, some of it even is worthy and justified.
But attaching such special-interest amendments in this case served to torpedo a bill, the Armed Forces Tax Fairness Act of 2003, meant to help provide financial relief to the men and women of the U.S. military, on the brink of war.
And, while the Democrats are all sanctimonious now about the actions by Republican officials who injected the pork, the Democrats had a chance to vote against the bloated bill in the House Ways & Means Committee, and passed it unanimously. The Republican leadership in the House then canceled consideration of the bill because it lacked the votes to prevent the Democrats from stripping several of the unrelated tax breaks from the bill at the next stage of the process. That prompted legislators such as Charles Rangel, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, to blast Republicans who, he claimed in a news release, ``put a few members' pet provisions before the financial well-being of our troops.''
It's all enough to turn your stomach.
Bottom line: no tax relief now for members of the military, and no rollback of the tax on plastic tackle boxes.
Gee, we're sure glad our elected leaders invested a lot of time and energy on that bill, and even more time blaming each other, after the fact.
Is it any wonder sometimes why so few people feel it's worth the energy to vote?