It's budget time in Washington -- that very special time of year when the nation discovers (yet again) exactly how much less we've got, and how much more we'll need, than we ever imagined we did.
Assuming, that is, we care even the slightest bit about bringing the "got" and the "need" into roughly the same universe.
Assuming, that is, we have any interest at all in ever balancing the in-flow and the out-go. Instead, that is, of falling so deep down the deficit hole that all the shovels in China can't dig us out.
It's budget time -- when the good citizens of the US of A go into a temporary panic about how poorly our public servants are serving us, and what it all means for our fiscal future, and in the meantime, hit the malls and put another million flat-screen TVs on the credit card.
And in their spare time, slam anybody who even suggests that maybe we're not doing this right.
Which is why it's so important at a time like this to find people who can hold onto their sense of humor. Especially people in positions of power, people who understand just how serious serious is and can still look at the lighter side.
People, for instance, like Charlie Rangel.
Charlie Rangel is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is the committee most responsible for writing the country's tax laws. Charlie Rangel has also been in the House of Representatives approximately forever, so he knows how things work in Washington -- or don't.
He and his committee will be doing much of the heavy lifting on the Obama administration's latest tax proposals. Some of the proposals bring taxes down. Some of the proposals take taxes up. Some of the proposals will ease a financial burden. Some of the proposals will sting.
Charlie Rangel is expecting a spirited debate on the tax proposals. That's the way the reporter from the Associated Press characterized it, anyway -- a "spirited debate."
But then, in the same article, there's the quote -- the money quote -- from Charlie Rangel himself.
"I only hope," he says, "the debate can be more focused on policy than politics."
What a hoot! What a card that Charlie Rangel is! Washington can't discuss Groundhog Day without focusing more on politics than on policy! Washington can't discuss what time the sun comes up without focusing more on politics than on policy!
And Charlie Rangel wants a debate on taxes that's "more focused on policy than politics"?
Are you giggling yet? No? Then throw into the mix the fact that we're already deep into the next election campaign, with the "ins" holding on for dear life and the "outs" ready to storm the barricades. Think that might have a few people on edge? Think that might have a few people trying to squeeze out some electoral advantage redeemable come November?
And that's the setting in which Charlie Rangel says he hopes Congress will take on -- in a mature, responsible, policy-focused way -- something as explosive as the question of whose hand goes how deep into whose wallet? Instead of, say, using it as one more excuse to play Partisan Political Paintball?
I'm still laughing. Aren't you?
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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.
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