October 23, 2005

Mendacious or Ignorant?

Honestly, I haven't thought about Connie Mack for years, since the days of Walkin' Lawton Chiles decision not to run against him for the Senate, and then Mack subsequently beat Buddy McKay in part by tarring him with the Liberal brush (though there are other opinions out there too). At the time, I was still a registered Republican and remember thinking that Mack wasn't a very good candidate, considering that he had to change his name to that of his grandfather in order to get the name recognition bump to win. That's all water under the (Florida) bridge now, though.

In today's New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon interviews Connie Mack (R-FL) in Q&A format. For those who haven't been paying attention, Mack is the chair of the president's tax reform panel. In reading the interview, at first I couldn't decide if Mack was vastly overconfident, completely out of touch, dissembling, or simply, well, simple. Check the excerpt (emphasis mine, also added "Q" and "A" for clarity):

Q: Indeed, he is still calling for tax cuts. He would like to eliminate the estate tax permanently.

A: I think there is a likelihood that Congress will deal with that issue before this term comes to an end. I would vote to eliminate, as we refer to it, the death tax. I think it's an unfair tax.

Q: Really? I think it's a perfect tax. The idea behind it was to allow people to postpone paying taxes until they die, at which point they presumably no longer care. Why do you call it unfair?

A: Well, let's say, if you are in the farming business and you have the desire to pass this farm on to your children. The problem is that when your parents die, you have to come up with cash to pay the estate tax. One thing you don't have is cash. You've got plenty of land. So I just don't believe it's a fair tax.

Q: That strikes me as a red herring. The issue is not really small farms, but zillion-dollar estates made up of stocks and bonds.

A: I don't know what the percentage breakdown is. I still go back to the same notion that these individuals who have accumulated these resources have paid taxes on them many times in their life, and then to say, when you die, now you pay more taxes on it? There is a limit.

Q: Well, the U.S. government has to get money from somewhere. As a two-term former Republican senator from Florida, where do you suggest we get money from?

A: What money?

Q: The money to run this country.

A: We'll borrow it.

Q: I never understand where all this money comes from. When the president says we need another $200 billion for Katrina repairs, does he just go and borrow it from the Saudis?

A: In a sense, we do. Maybe the Chinese.

Q: Is that fair to our children? If we keep borrowing at this level, won't the Arabs or the Chinese eventually own this country?

A: I am not worried about that. We are a huge country producing enormous assets day in and day out. We have great strength, and we have always adjusted to difficulties that faced us, and we will continue to do so.

OK, let's tally here.

If it disproportionately affects less than 3% of deceased individual's families, the issue is "unfair," but if it's a national debt that puts our economy under the control of the Chinese, it's no worry.

SCORE: Overconfident AND out of touch.

Next? Let's take the example of the family farm as the victim of the estate tax. Checking statistics, we find that:

These 440 taxable estates are those for which farm or business assets made up at least half the total value of the estate. They represent only 2 percent of all 18,800 taxable estates in 2004.

SCORE: While I would like to go with "simply simple," there's no way the chair of the tax-reform panel and anti-estate tax crusader hasn't seen these figures, likewise a man of Mack's tax bracket and former banker "knows from" investment patterns. I have to go with dissembling here. He is perfectly on message, however.

Now, let's examine the blanket "I don't know what the percentage breakdown is" statement. Again, I suggest that given the position of Senator Mack, it is unlikely that he is unaware of the general skew of the figures. However, it is entirely possible he has managed to avoid memorizing exact figures so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

SCORE: Ignorant.

Finally, there is the sequence of "What money?" and "We'll borrow it." Now, I know Mack started out as a fiscal conservative, and I suspect he still has a little "starve the beast" in his heart. So that could account for the "What money?" since, as we all know, if we have drowned government in the bathtub, we won't need much money to support it. On the other hand, Mack has come over to the Bush agenda and apparently sees nothing wrong with borrowing pantsloads of foreign money to sustain all the big government that masquerades as conservatism under Bush.

SCORE: This one is difficult, as there are conflicting variables that indicate "overconfident" (debt will be no problem), "completely out of touch" (people won't care about owing our economic souls to the Chinese), "dissembling" (it will be easy to continue borrowing without negative effects to our economy), and "simply, well, simple" (blind faith in the positive outcome). In the end, I think I am going to have add a new score category of "callous indifference."

Side note, I didn't realize how much ire from the right there was on the tax panel.

Posted by binky at October 23, 2005 01:57 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Economics | Florida | Petty Rants | Politics


Wow, I never expected to support a commission created by George W. Bush and headed by John Breaux and Connie Mack - but if the dreamily dangerous flat-tax brigade and the cruel and callous national sales tax squadrons don't like the commission, maybe something good can come out of it.

Posted by: Armand at October 24, 2005 04:33 PM | PERMALINK

The man is clearly an idiot. Nice catch.

Posted by: baltar at October 24, 2005 05:30 PM | PERMALINK

i seethed while reading the same interview yesterday morning. i knew the estate tax numbers were off, or at least didn't support the whole save-the-farms bulls*&t, but where he really killed me was where i didn't need to call upon old information, statistics, or really anything but common sense: his unbelievably blithe reference to borrowing indefinitely against our progeny's economy . . . that's something more than callous indifference. it's closer to criminal negligence.

the guy wouldn't survive one shareholders' meeting as a board member of a public company making statements like that, and yet he's the one the president tapped for tax reform?


Posted by: johua at October 24, 2005 05:38 PM | PERMALINK

i'd say i can't wait to see his interview with Ali G (speculating; i know of no such, but wouldn't it be fun), but i'm thinking i already read its equivalent.

Posted by: joshua at October 24, 2005 05:39 PM | PERMALINK
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