BROOKLYN — The Tea Party Republicans who’ve taken over the budget process in Washington — as well as Trenton, Madison, Indianapolis and Columbus — need a refresher course in Willie Sutton.
Asked why he robbed banks, Willie said: “That’s where the money is.”
At times, Republicans obey Sutton’s Law religiously. When they’re running for office, they don’t go, for example, to the local Planned Parenthood clinic and ask pregnant 14-year-old girls to underwrite $2 million in TV attack ads against Democrats. They go where the money is: Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers, the insurance, pharmaceutical, oil, coal, gas and chemical lobbies. They tap the Chamber of Commerce. They ask their friends in Saudi Arabia. And just like Willie Sutton, they hit up the banks — Citigroup, Bank of America, Amex, Visa, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs.
But give these shmucks an actual government to run, and they suddenly seem to think that the secret to deficit reduction is Sutton’s Paradox: “Go where the poverty is.”
Head Start. Pell grants. Cancer screening. Home heating. Disabled veterans. Unemployed nurse’s aids. Shake down the riffraff, take away their milk money, pile all that chump change together and pretty soon you’ll get the economy humming. At least, this is what bohunks like John Boehner and Rand Paul seem to think.
Me? I still think Willie was a better economist.
Actually, I don’t think this is the year for deficit cuts at all. But even in that area I have a few ideas neither the Tea Party nor kick-me-hard Barack have mentioned.
First of all — and not just because its name sounds like something dreamed up by Joe Goebbels and Leni Reifenstahl during a lost weekend in Baden Baden — the Dept. of Homeland Security (DeHoSe) was never a good idea. It has aged badly.
By now, 9/11 is history. Not only haven’t we caught Osama bin Laden, we know for sure that DeHoSe isn’t up to the job. At the least, by breaking up this misbegotten Cabinet travesty, we can torch one costly layer of administrative deadwood. As we do, we’ll probably uncover several redundant or pointless bureaus that can be summarily erased from existence, never to rubberstamp a requisition again. Best of all, by killing DeHoSe, we reduce, by thousands, the number of Keystone G-men channeling Jack Bauer, entrapping one another, and rifling Aunt Milly’s luggage in their relentless quest for diabolical Islamofascists wielding explosive Nikes and squirting anthrax shampoo.
Next, legalize marijuana.
We all know that, ten, twenty, thirty years from now, weed’s gonna be legal. But we need money right now! So, legalize now — and give the cannabis concession to Big Tobacco, because those guys really know how to sell this stuff. (Think of menthol maryjane!) Make dope-dealers buy licenses and limit sales to adults (with big, lucrative fines for violations). Collect cannabis taxes by the joint, ounce, pound, kilo and bale. Collect more taxes on rolling paper, roach clips, pipes, bongs, Che Guevara t-shirts! Encourage domestic hemp farming by hitting imported weed with a fat tariff.
And open the prisons. We’re spending $29,000 a year for every doper, Deadhead and dealer we’ve put behind bars. The U.S. has the largest jail population on earth because we lock people up for getting stoned. Everybody must get out! On what we save just from freeing drug offenders, we could spend billions on rehab resorts, drug treatment, halfway houses, parole officers, etc. — and still decimate the deficit.
Not to mention the income from the Grass Tax!
OK, next. Anybody with a memory (or, if they’ve seen “The Sting”) knows about what used to be called the “numbers racket.” It was an elegantly simple lottery, run by the Mob, in which people placed penny-ante bets on a three-number combination. Each bet was a pittance but the daily handle was enough to keep your neighborhood hoods flush with Cadillacs, silk suits, diamond stick-pins and nights at the Stork Club.
“Playing the numbers” died when states decided to climb off their moral high-horse and grab a piece of the action, with state lotteries and Indian casinos. Proceeds from all this sin were supposed to do good — fund education, create surpluses and cut taxes.
So, where’d all the money go? The odds are supposed to favor the house, but somehow every state in the country came up craps. Now, they’re all hip-deep in IOU’s.
I’m not saying we should give up and close down the games. Just take them away from politicians. Put in a few calls — to the Crips, the Latin Kings, the last vestiges of the Gotti family, the estate of Bugsy Siegel, whoever — and offer them dibs on state gambling. Put the contract out for bids, hire the Mob that makes the best offer, and then look the other way ‘til the end of the year and it’s time to split the pot.
OK, one other idea.
The Government Accounting Office recently reminded us that half the corporations in America pay no taxes at all. Zero. Bupkes. Exxon-Mobil, for example, in 2009, made $42.5 billion in profit, paid nothing on that and got a $1.1 billion refund from the IRS. Also not paying — not a cent — in recent years: Boeing, Bank of America, General Electric, Wells Fargo, Citigroup… I could go on, but my gorge is rising.
The President’s deficit commission talks about simplifying the tax code and eliminating loopholes, so that some of these dodged taxes — amounting to more than $100 billion a year — can be recovered.
Fuggedaboutit. As fast as tax laws can be revised, Big Business’s tax lawyers will devise new scams for stiffing the waiter. They always have. The solution is to not even try taxing corporate income, or profits or assets or anything else even remotely financial.
Instead, make the tax lawyers a tax liability. For every dollar billed to, say, Google, by its tax lawyers, the IRS would then bill Google $2. Or maybe $3. Better yet: $20. The more tax lawyers a company hires, the more taxes it pays. And down goes the deficit!
Eventually, some company might figure it out. Finally, it might fire the damn lawyers, fill out its 1040 like everybody else — and pay its fair share.
In the meantime, we’re still in the hole. Maybe there’s a 14-year-old pregnant girl out there who’ll lend Uncle Sam a couple bucks ‘til the first of the month?