Masters of deception

Legislative good and bad depends on the why of the beholder

Perception depends on the perceiver.

But also on the perceived.

Loath to buck the fact-based belief of America’s citizenry that they’re a tawdry nest of slack-jawed, self-promoting wastrels, the members of Congress piddled around for months before hurriedly cobbling together a rinky-dink hodgepodge of major tax-law changes, whose principal benefit, albeit temporary, is hastening the removal of “fiscal cliff” from what is generously called a “national dialogue.”

Most Americans did far more good for the economy than Congress or the president simply by completing their holiday shopping. The sniping between the executive and legislative branches didn’t seem to rivet the public, who perceived it as more of the same: pissy, partisan yapping and frenzied horse trading that resulted in some slapdash swill tarted up with a self-aggrandizing title. In this case, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

In truth: yet another stinky steamer heightening the summit of Bullshit Mountain. Ho-hum.

But that’s not what a Washington, D.C., lobbyist saw. In confusion lies opportunity. Washington’s deadline descending, a group grope of nicely attired ward heelers was instantly identified by all hired guns worth their tasseled Guccis as an embarrassingly target-rich environment. That’s just as true on major issues like the budget here along the American River Parkway as it is back there inside the Beltway.

For those wretched cretins who consume politics with the same fervor true Americans devour NASCAR, the artistry of a gifted lobbyist plying his or her trade can be mesmerizing. The grace of Fred Astaire. The precision of Manolete. The break-the-mold élan of Picasso and the predatory imperative of a ’roid-raging great white. All of it displayed within a seemingly seamless choreography aimed at a money shot for the client—and a fat, green “Paid” stamped on the five- or six-figure invoice emailed to same.

That’s why, if a reader were to peruse 2010’s gargantuan Affordable Care Act all the way through to Title X—“Strengthening Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans”—and get to line 23 of page 2,037, they would learn that databases regarding ’’(A) the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition; (B) the lawful use of a firearm or ammunition; or (C) the lawful storage of a firearm or ammunition” can neither be created nor maintained.

Skipping ahead to page 2,039, it would also be discovered that a “premium rate may not be increased, health insurance coverage may not be denied, and a discount, rebate, or reward offered for participation in a wellness program may not be reduced or withheld” based on gun or firearm ownership.

These prohibitions are labeled in the measure as “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights”—which, of course, are profoundly threatened by expanding health coverage to millions of insured Americans.

Less than two weeks ago, the Taxpayer Relief Act included $63 billion in business tax breaks, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation. There’s $6 billion in handouts on research and development credits, $34 billion for bonus depreciation, excise taxes on Puerto Rican rum and a little something for the builders of NASCAR racetracks. Railroads get their tax burden lightened if they conduct maintenance. Movie studios receive a handout if they keep production at home.

Seems a bit grubby and venal, don’t it?

On the flip side, during the late-December debacle, the milk industry prevented the price of a half-gallon from going to $12 (and the right testicle of all firstborn males). Gun control and environmental lobbyists in Sacramento and in D.C. have done a fair piece of successful burrowing into big bills as well.

And it was three smarmy operatives—as immortalized in Lincoln—whose blandishments and promises of post-legislative employ helped President Abe secure nearly half the 20-odd votes he needed to secure passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and forever ban slavery in the E pluribus of unum.

Proving that there are times perceivers shouldn’t be so peeved at the perceived.