- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2000

Nobles: Republican Reps. Rob Portman and J.C. Watts, for pushing for tax repeal with clear imagery that can capture voters' imagination.

Let's face it, the minutia of government is boring. For those who are in politics to roll back the bureaucracy, talking about it in an interesting way is a challenge. For Republicans, it is a perennial problem. Thankfully, Reps. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, and J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican, have recently found illustrative ways to talk about a tax cut agenda and for that they are The Washington Times' nobles of the week.

Thanks to the several congressional staff members dressed as Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, Americans who watched the House vote to repeal the three percent telecommunications tax knew the levy had been around for more than 100 years. For those who caught only the words, Republicans kept calling it the "Spanish-American War tax."

The words and images worked as convincing arguments. Tarring it the "Spanish-American War tax" implied this underlying question: Why are we paying a tax originally enacted to fight a war we won a century ago? The quaint-looking uniforms worn by Republican staffers only underscored this point. The tax has actually been repealed and reinstated several times over the last century. It was repealed after the Spanish-American War, but reinstated during World War I. It then came back during the Great Depression, and hasn't left us since. But all that is too confusing and frankly unnecessary for a photo and a sound-bite. The tax was invented before the income tax to address a national crisis. The taxing structure and the country have radically changed since, and the tax should no longer exist.

The campaign worked. The House overwhelmingly voted to repeal the tax (420-2). NBC ran it as its lead story and several newspapers around the country ran front page pictures of the Rough Riders on the steps of the capitol. Even the liberal media understood this imagery. Knaves:

• Knaves: The U.S. Census Bureau, for not knowing where Virginia's governor lives.

This was going to be the most accurate census in U.S. history. Too bad the Census Bureau had to ask a news crew to find the Virginia governor's mansion, which hasn't moved since 1814.

The census is, of course, one of the few things the federal government does that is actually spelled out in the Constitution. Officials who bungle this simple duty certainly deserve the label of knave.

This census season has been filled with questionable behavior by several members of this administration. First, the administration tried a mathematical projection, instead of an "actual enumeration," as called for in the Constitution. Mathematical equations are much easier to manipulate for political purposes than actually heads counted, so Congress objected and the Supreme Court agreed. Now, the administration plans on taking a normal count and a statistical sampling count, so it can comply with the court ruling and still build a constituency for those it "missed." That's hardly an incentive structure to encourage an accurate head count.

Although the results are not in yet, if Gov. James Gilmore's experience is at all instructive the count won't be very accurate. The governor never received his census form, so recently two census employees went out looking for him. They had to ask a TV news crew for directions, because they flatly had the wrong address. Unfortunately for the two census takers they then let the news crew film them trying to get Mr. Gilmore to fill out his form. (Mr. Gilmore has since turned his form in.) The incident got the census officials fired for breaching privacy procedures. Yet, one question remains: Why didn't the census have the right address for the governor of Virginia? The governor's address is publicly known, appears on numerous official government documents and anyone familiar with Richmond can find it. In fact the first Virginia governor to live in the mansion was James Barber (when he moved into the new mansion in 1814), and this will be the 18th time a census has been taken for that residence.

Maybe the Census Bureau should focus more of its resources on getting the right address and actually counting people and less time with how many toilets are in a house and the race of each American. It seems at $14.25 per hour, census officials just can't handle the work load.

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