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Washington Calling

IRS improves ... GOP squabbles... Cold War thinking
by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service


January 10, 2005

Washington - If taxpayers confessed their returns were only 90 percent accurate, they would likely face countless demands for receipts and documented records.

The IRS allows itself a little more leeway. It has set a goal this year of providing correct answers 90 percent of the time to more than 3.3 million taxpayers who use the IRS toll-free line - which would allow for 330,000 instances of bad advice.

When IRS investigators tested the system last month, they found the accuracy rate for information they got was correct 86 percent of the time - near enough by Washington accounting standards.

The sleuths found IRS agents answered their telephones 97 percent of the time this year, and gave courteous responses. When the program began four years ago, phones often rang without being answered.

President Bush's efforts to consolidate the GOP's election victories are off to a very rocky start.

Blame this one on Congress. GOP stalwart David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is already complaining he has "buyer's remorse" after Republicans refused to embrace new rules that could rein in government spending in the 109th Congress.

Signaling they want to avoid a fight over Social Security, lawmakers also scorned a relatively modest plan floated by the White House to change the inflation formula used to adjust Social Security benefits annually. And there's a brewing fight over immigration reform proposals.

The GOP infighting is a political gift for Democrats, who in recent years gave new meaning to disunity. They can sit on the sidelines condemning GOP infighting, while kicking coals into the fire to keep it raging.

Voters in November sent former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle into a comfortable retirement with a pension of $121,233 a year. The National Taxpayers Union says congressional pensions are a non-partisan giveaway: defeated Rep. Phil Crane, R-Ill., gets to draw a $114,102 pension this year.

Does the U.S. Mint ever have a deal for you. Starting next week, for $720, plus a $4.95 handling charge, the Mint will sell you one ounce of gold that you can buy on the open market for $421.

The 71 percent markup reflects orders from Congress that the Mint charge customers the cost of minting coins. This year's coins bear a rendition of internationally renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens' image of Liberty holding a torch and an olive branch aloft. The government will also provide "a handsome, satin-lined velvet presentation case."

The generals and admirals are still fighting the Cold War and mapping plans for gold-plated weaponry to confront an enemy that already has retreated from the battlefield, rather than thugs equipped with shoulder-fired missiles and car bombs.

With troops in Iraq costing taxpayers about $70 billion a year, Washington's green-eyeshades are warning the Pentagon to pare back extravagant plans for major new weapons purchases.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, estimates the military budget would have to grow 25 percent to buy all of the guns, planes and warships the generals want. Weapons purchases are already running 15 percent higher than during the Cold War, he says.

Topping the hit list: 30 new Virginia-class attack submarines the admirals want, at a cost topping $2 billion each. The Navy insists the new nuclear-powered subs are an advance in underwater warfare because they will have vertical torpedo launch tubes instead of the outdated horizontal tubes.

With foreign fleets around the world rusting at their moorings, who are the new attack submarines supposed to attack?


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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