By LANCE GAY
Scripps Howard News Service
January 14, 2006
It's going to get worse, and GOP plans for sweeping tax reform have disappeared from Washington's agenda. Tax Foundation President Scott Hodges predicts that compliance costs will escalate to almost $483 billion by 2015 thanks to changes in tax laws already in the works. The Foundation says its estimates are conservative, and don't include the cost of appeals or Tax Court proceedings.
What about those Republican promises of running a leaner, more efficient government? Last year, the federal government issued 77,752 pages of regulations; only slightly down from the 78,564 pages of red tape in 2004, and slightly more than the 75,6012 pages in 2003.
It's got to be the dullest election around, but expect the rank and file to fall in line behind Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri in his bid to become the next House Republican leader, succeeding the scandal-plagued Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas.
There's no great enthusiasm for the bland former history and government teacher. But there's even less for the main challenger for the job, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, whose partying at Republican conventions shot his reputation as one of the party's upcoming smart conservatives.
P.S. Mavericks like Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., say that neither Blunt nor Boehner is likely to lead any crusade against cozy relations between Congress and lobbyists. Blunt is married to the lobbyist for tobacco giant Philip Morris (now rebranded as Altria), and in 1995 Boehner handed out tobacco-lobby checks on the House floor.
Air Force brass thought they had a winner in launching a campaign in September to curb alcohol abuse on the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa with the mantra "ZZ13." It stands for: zero underaged drinking; zero alcohol-related incidents; one drink per hour; and three drinks per night.
But the Stars and Stripes military newspaper reports that "ZZ13" has become a favorite expression at the base's Airman's Club, where flyboys replaced traditional drinking salutations with cries of "ZZ13." The base had 95 DUI arrests in 2005, three more such arrests than in 2004.
Those expensive sensors planted on the border with Mexico to sound alarms when illegal aliens cross are maybe a little too sensitive.
The Border Patrol says the sensors have a false-alarm rate of about 92 percent, and are set off when shaken by nearby highway traffic, wild animals and even passing trains. Every time they are set off, officers are sent to find out why, and agency figures report that only a handful of illegal aliens have been nabbed.
Sensors installed along the border with Canada had similar problems, the agency said.
What with Louisiana's jambalaya-rich history of fraud and government corruption, there's little surprise that allegations of fraud in hurricane-relief programs are surfacing.
Expect many more. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general recently shifted more than 400 investigators to ferret out what happened to the $62 billion spent so far on Gulf Coast relief. The agency already has opened 230 cases of suspected fraud and misappropriation, and is combing through more than 8,000 tips pointing to improper or illegal spending.
Although most arrests so far have involved individuals filing false claims, lawmakers monitoring the probes expect that much bigger fish are about to be reeled in.
Consumer groups are rallying behind Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell. The Democrat wants strong new laws to curb predatory lending practices by Internet businesses that give quickie advance loans against paychecks.
The Consumer Federation of America says many cash-strapped families are trapped into paying back loans that have annual rates of more than 400 percent for the payday loans. Storefront businesses are getting around strong consumer-protection regulations in states by operating Internet terminals linked to a Delaware call center, where usury laws are not so stringent.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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