Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Senator, Heal Thyself"

Senator Chuck Grassley, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has found the real cause of high taxes, a case of "waste and abuse" worthy of his attention.

What do you suppose it is? The billions in corporate welfare? The trillion dollars worth of weapons the Defense Department can't find or account for? The earmarks never debated on the floor of the Senate?

No. Guess again.

It's the meal allowances for the lawyers working at well below corporate law firm rates for the Legal Services Corporation. The Legal Services Corporation provides lawyers for the poor -- poor often being beaten down by the lawyers for the rich. It's a program that was established back in the days when someone could be found in Washington who cared about the poor. And it has been on the Republicans' chopping block ever since.

(See, e.g., Associated Press, "Legal Aid Program for Poor Has Expensive Taste; Documents: Execs Give Themselves Luxuries," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 15, 2006, p. 6A.)

Now I'm in favor of lean budgets, whether governmental, corporate or personal. Lots of cuts can be made that don't harm programs; sometimes cuts represented by alternative approaches can actually improve the number and quality of outputs per dollar of inputs. And if the poverty lawyers have been abusing expense accounts they should be made to stop.

But if the Senator is suddenly interested in the taxpayer waste associated with lunch, he might first take a look at the Senate's own, taxpayer-subsidized lunch room, and then take a look at the tax deductions taken by corporate executives for drinks, meals, wine and deserts that would make the Legal Services lawyers' meals look, by comparison, like the thin gruel consumed by the characters in a Dickens novel. Senator, we taxpayers are paying multiples more for those corporate luncheons, whether in executive dining rooms or expensive restaurants, than we've ever paid to feed either the poor or their lawyers.

Finally, I trust you catch the irony in Senator Grassley talking about "waste and abuse." This is the same senator whose $50 million grant of taxpayers' money for an indoor rain forest in Iowa earned him, and the state of Iowa, ridicule from everyone from Dave Berry, to "West Wing," to the Speaker of the House of his own party, to editorial cartoonists, citizens' taxpayer groups and bloggers all across the country.

Senator, think about how many poverty lawyers we could feed for $50 million, and then, "Senator, heal thyself."

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