Last night, John Oliver blasted the tax loopholes that make our tax code such a mess, but noted how difficult it would be to do any tax reform, and then Aasif Mandvi showed how dangerous it is to challenge those special interests that want those tax breaks.
So if the tax code needs to be fixed, and there's a bipartisan desire to fix it, why hasn't anyone done it in 27 years?Video below the fold.
DYLAN RATIGAN (10/7/2011): The reason we are not seeing more meaningful tax reform is quite simply because all of the politicians are terrified to alienate the base that funds them.Is it just me, or does politics seem to have a surplus of third rails? Certainly way more than three.
TRACY BYRNES (7/27/2013): You're gonna have to find someone who is willing, basically, to do political suicide.
SEN. ROB PORTMAN, R-OH (7/27/2013): It's that third rail of the New York subway system, you grab and you're electrocuted.
ALEX WAGNER (6/11/2013): National security has become basically the third rail in American politics.(audience laughter)
CBS (12/15/2012): The politics of gun regulation are a third rail.
RICK STENGEL (11/10/2011): Social Security is the so-called third rail of American politics.
FOX NEWS GUEST (5/24/2011): ... Medicare reform package, and of course that's the third rail of politics.
JAKE TAPPER (6/19/2013): The true third rail of American politics, picking a favorite sports team from outside your state.
It's like America's political system is built entirely out of third rails! It's why you can't urinate anywhere within the Washington, D.C., area without getting electrocuted. That's true! That's a fact!
The problem is that every single part of the tax code is in there because someone wanted it to be. And if you, as a politician, even consider taking one out, its backers will make you pay. So you've got to think twice before going up against big hedge funds, big oil, or big chicken poop. They'll get ya!
And what's more, it's probably not just their current jobs that lawmakers are trying to protect, it's also their much more lucrative future jobs.FAREED ZAKARIA (8/4/2013): In 1974, only 3% of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today that number is 42% for members of the House, and 50% for Senators.(audience groans)
Ugh. I never thought I'd say this, but Washington really had so much more integrity back in the Watergate era. (audience applause)
Nowadays, our lawmakers are so chickenshit, you can get a tax break for setting them on fire. But that's not the point.
Here's the crazy thing. They're not wrong to be scared. Which is why the credit must go here to Senators Baucus and Hatch, who are currently trying to overhaul the tax code from scratch. And they've come up with an ingenious plan to encourage their colleagues to do something approaching their jobs.LARRY KUDLOW (7/26/2013): Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee have promised their fellow lawmakers that any suggestions about what they make about deductions and credits are preserved in tax reform will be kept secret for 50 years.That is the lamest time capsule ever. (takes out box) Oh look, it's from 2013! We got a Selena Gomez CD, something called a Snuggie, and oh, a 10:1 spending cuts deal. It's all retro!
This is how paranoid the Senators are that their suggestions for making the country better might leak out, and thereby destroy their careers. The 50-year vow of secrecy wasn't enough! So to enforce it, their ideas and opinions will each get their own ID number, and be stored on password-protected servers and in locked safes. And those locked safes will have a handle made of a deadly spider. Which, even if you're brave enough to touch it, won't actually work. There's no perch you can get on the spider.
It speaks to how broken the entire system is, that this story is both completely ludicrous, and completely logical. It's also had an amazing lack of coverage. We found three stories on it. One was the CNBC story that you saw earlier, Fox mentioned it once in passing, and the other was on CNN — who, like a flirtatious cat, briefly brushed up against this story's leg.CHRISTINE ROMANS (7/26/2013): All right, ideas our elected officials float to fix the tax system. We should know about them, right? Wrong. Senators slapped a Top Secret on them that last 50 years, so Washington's ideas on how to collect and spend your money doesn't you. Check out that story at CNNMoney.com.JOHN OLIVER: No! Don't throw it to the web! You had some actual news there! For more on this, we go to Aasif Mandvi, who is in D.C. So Aasif, an emblematic story about a key issue with legislators too terrified to address it, and reporters too incompetent to cover it.
AASIF MANDVI: All right, whoa, now hold on, John. Not incompetent. I don't think you realize exactly how toxic tax reform is in Washington. To go anywhere near it, you need some real — and pardon my French — cojones.
JOHN OLIVER: I'm pretty sure that's Spanish.
AASIF MANDVI: Whatever. I am a reporter with two pairs of cojones. And I am going to talk about this issue no matter how dangerous it is in this town. I have in my hand here an actual list of powerful Washington lobbies hellbent on preventing tax reform. Everyone, from the Chamber of Comm....
JOHN OLIVER: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Aasif, Aasif, Aasif!
AASIF MANDVI: What?
JOHN OLIVER: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Keep very still! Keep very still! I don't want to alarm you, but it would appear that you are being laser targeted. Are you sure you want to talk about this?
AASIF MANDVI: Yes! Of course! It's a huge story, you said it yourself! And don't worry, these sniper laser sights are just here to intimidate me, OK? I am on television. They're not going to do anything, OK? Anyway, top of the list here is the Chamber of.... (gets hit by dart)
AASIF MANDVI: Oh shit!
JOHN OLIVER: Whoa! You've been tranq-darted!
AASIF MANDVI: Yeah, I know, I'm fine, I'm fine!
JOHN OLIVER: No you're not! You're not fine!
AASIF MANDVI: This is a big story! I'm not pussying out and throwing it to the web like CNN! OK?
JOHN OLIVER: OK, that's very brave.
AASIF MANDVI: (slurred speech) Second on the list....
JOHN OLIVER: Actually, you didn't get to first on the list, just a correction there.
AASIF MANDVI: Oh, right. First on the list is the Chamber of.... (gets hit by second dart)
AASIF MANDVI: Oh, damn! Come on!!
JOHN OLIVER: That dart took a while. That dart took a while to get to you.
AASIF MANDVI: Yeah, it took a while, but it stings!
JOHN OLIVER: That was quite a slow dart there. Are you OK?
AASIF MANDVI: I'm fine, John, I'm fine! Now, let me just check one thing. Are you a seahorse?
JOHN OLIVER: No I'm not. I'm not a seahorse.
AASIF MANDVI: Then I'm not OK. (faints)
JOHN OLIVER: Aasif Mandvi, everyone. We'll be right back.
Meanwhile, Stephen was supposed to welcome Daft Punk on his show, but was stopped by MTV. So instead, he had to improvise a dance, and had a special guest Robin Thicke do him a solid by performing his hit "Blurred Lines" instead.