Ruth Bass: Taxes - Pick one from column A, but maybe not from column B?

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RICHMOND — Say I'm a perennial peacenik. The military budget is an overwhelming chunk of what Washington spends every year, and I want out of that. My taxes will drop so precipitously that I'll land in the tax-paying percentage area of General Electric.

Say I'm a life-long, childless single. The 1040 should get me an exclusion from the burden of Betsy De Vos' private school voucher costs. Why would I want to educate children? This would be a way to save in this topsy-turvy era in which draining the swamp has become a goal instead of an environmental no-no.

Say I'm a vegetarian, and the Agriculture Department is using my tax dollars to inspect farmers who raise chickens, pigs and beef cattle. Shouldn't a space on the federal 1040 give me a credit for that part of my taxes?

This silliness is brought on by John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, who asked, in what appears to be total innocence, why he who never gave birth to a baby should be paying for maternity leave, prenatal care, etc. — all the fairly substantial costs of giving birth.

So, skip past my absurd proposals for treating taxes as if I were in a cafeteria line with a tray. Shimkus is down to the nitty-gritty, and if he's thinking of not paying for anything connected with a baby, then I want equal treatment. I want the new health care insurance plan to eliminate payment for prostate exams, prostate cancer treatment, vasectomies and, most of all, for the pills that take care of erectile dysfunction.

Let's no longer subsidize that guy who sits in a bathtub next to his partner, ensconced in her separate bathtub, and contemplates love-making before their tubs, inexplicably, sail off into the sunset. That's Cialis. Then there's Viagra, which reportedly costs taxpayers $41.6 million a year so couples can gaze adoringly at each other by a campfire and then disappear into the tent.

Congress frequently talks about fixing the tax code, making the forms simpler, the system clearer. Shimkus' approach, if allowed across the board, would turn tax-paying into a smorgasbord of choices so taxpayers could just place their preferences on a tray and eat without getting all anxious about supporting something that has nothing to do with them.

Perhaps the Congressman can get a catered plan from an insurance company so he only pays for what he wants. But, in view of all the publicity about how grand the Congressional health coverage is, he should probably just sit tight and suffer a bit of angst about where his money goes.

People who don't drive pay for highways. People whose children, aunts, parents and spouses are not drug addicts pay for subsidies to treatment centers. People who sign straight-A report cards for their kids pay taxes for special education for the classmates who are struggling. Perhaps no one should tell the congressman from Illinois that his taxes and his insurance rates make up for the uninsured when they end up in the emergency room, unable to pay. He's paying for a whole menu of stuff that he'll never have on his plate.

We are our brothers' keepers, our sisters' keepers, our parents' keepers, even strangers' keepers — if there's a need. Besides, with budget cuts looming, the IRS won't have time to put broccoli on the tray and leave off the mashed potatoes, even if Shimkus' thoughts made sense. Taxes are not a catered affair.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor at The Eagle. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.

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