Originally Published: April 18, 2001 7:15 p.m.
"A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." – former Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois.
When the late Senator Dirksen made that remark in the 1960s, he was emphasizing how numbed the general public has become to the whole issue of government finance.
We see news stories every day that mention billions of dollars (and now often trillions), and we have no sense of context of how much our government is taking from us and Congress is spending to ingratiate its members to us for the next election.
And the government has worked hard to keep us fat, dumb and happy with income tax withholding. The government takes it out of every paycheck. We never see it, so we don't miss it as we should. Many of us boost our withholding so we get money back at tax time. Those of us who miscalculate and end up paying a little think we're dying.
Don't ever expect members of Congress from either party to think seriously about this, because it would put the "perks-power-pork" cycle in Washington into a shambles.
But it might make all of us more diligent citizens who would keep a closer watch on our elected officials if we eliminated withholding and each of us had to bank our own tax obligations out of every check through the year. And then at the end of that year we would have to write a check to close out that account and hand it over to our government.
That would make us much more aware of how much we spent and much more concerned about what we were getting for it. And it would make all members of Congress very nervous.