Make Congress Suffer

Lawmakers should be penalized for inability to curb spending and modify the alternative minimum tax.

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Years ago, comedian Jackie Mason said that if we want to get Congress to balance the budget, we should "put 'em on commission." That idea went out of fashion in the Clinton years when there was a balanced budget. But now that we're back in the red, it's a concept we may want to revisit. And while we're at it, let's impose on all members of Congress the alternative minimum tax. Perhaps during their incessant haggling over how to fix that blood-red, hanging nail of a tax code debacle, they'll be more sensitive to its need for reduction.

Clearly the fact that some 23 million from among 90 million American taxpayers are about to get caught in its costly net next year hasn't prompted members to get going.

What's turned into an out-the-door, last-minute scuffle is hardly news to members. As my colleague Leonard Weiner reported in March:

If your 2006 tax return is among the 3.5 million to 4 million that are projected to be hit by the alternative minimum tax, your only choice may be to grit your teeth. But don't feel neglected. Virtually everyone agrees that the AMT is out of control and needs to be fixed. The big question is how and at what cost in lost potential tax revenue—roughly $1.2 trillion over 10 years if the AMT is totally repealed.

Members don't need to repeal it. They just need to index it for inflation, which is what has caused it to spiral out of control in the first place. If it had been indexed when it was created by Congress in 1969 (intended to make sure 155 high-earner households in the United States paid at least some income tax), we wouldn't be in our current fix.