, Salem, MA


February 23, 2013

Shribman: Overhaul the tax system

The last time the Senate met it actually came to a unanimous decision. It agreed that the traditional rendering of George Washington’s Farewell Address, which for more than a hundred years has been read in the chamber on or around the birthday of the first president, would instead occur Monday, and that Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte would perform this commemorative act. That’s a start.

When she gets around to reading that revered document, the New Hampshire lawmaker may think the 17th paragraph was written especially for the 113th Congress. In that passage, Washington talks about “obstructions to the execution of the Laws,” the danger posed when factions hold “artificial and extraordinary force,” and the peril involved when small groups seek “to make the public administration the mirror of ... ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction.”

It makes you wish the Farewell Address were read more than once a year, or that Ayotte’s 99 colleagues might actually break with form and listen carefully to what’s being said in the Senate.

Now let’s go from the first president to the 44th.

In the neighboring chamber less than two weeks ago, the latest incumbent in the Washington succession spoke to those who hold the seats once occupied by Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, Caleb Strong of Massachusetts and Rufus King of New York. In his State of the Union address, Barack Obama said the American people “expect us to put the nation’s interests before party,” adding, pointedly, “They ... expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.”

Much of what the president said went unheeded at best, opposed at worst. But he did speak of one matter where both parties could come to swift agreement — and not a peep has been heard about it from either branch of government since. It is a comprehensive overhaul of our tax system, 100 years old this month.

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