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National Perspective

Washington Insight

July 01, 1998|From The Times Washington Bureau

THE TAX-FREE LUNCH LIVES: As congressional negotiators recently put the finishing touches on a bill to restructure the Internal Revenue Service, the popular piece of legislation became a magnet for pet projects that lawmakers wanted to slip into a bill President Clinton would never dare veto. Among the lucky beneficiaries: casino and hotel workers in Nevada, Atlantic City, N.J., and elsewhere. Buried in the final bill is a provision blocking the IRS from taxing the free meals workers get on the job--a particularly common and important benefit for casino, hotel and restaurant workers. Right now, those meals are tax-free, but the IRS had proposed rules to begin counting their value as taxable income. Members of the Nevada delegation worked to block the IRS rule, concerned about the effect it would have on their legions of constituents--blackjack dealers, maids at Caesar's Palace and the like--who get their meals on the job, for the convenience of both employer and employee. It worked. But their success set off a scramble to claim credit. Although Nevada's Democratic senators, Harry Reid and Richard H. Bryan, also worked for the provision, GOP Rep. John E. Ensign announced the deal even before it was formally sealed. "ENSIGN KILLS MEALS TAX," screamed his press release. Ensign is running for the Senate against Reid, whose response was a bit more gallant: "This was a team effort from the beginning," he said.

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CO-DEPENDENT COUNSEL: A former law clerk praising his old boss, Washington attorney Paul T. Cappuccio took to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal this week to proclaim "Scalia was right" about the independent counsel law. Ten years ago this week, Justice Antonin Scalia was the lone dissenter when the high court upheld the law. As the justice predicted, Cappuccio wrote, the free-wielding power given an unchecked prosecutor has opened the way for "an overzealous or partisan independent counsel . . . [to conduct] long, drawn-out probes of matters that professional prosecutors would not likely pursue." Of course, Cappuccio advised, critics are "surely wrong" to hurl those charges at independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. For the record, Cappuccio is a law partner and chief assistant to, who else, Ken Starr.

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COURAGEOUS PROFILE: Justice Department insiders discount prospects that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will recommend to Clinton that Charles La Bella--the interim U.S. attorney in San Diego--get the job full time. "That would take a real profile in courage," one official says of La Bella's home-state senator, noting that the prosecutor--who headed Justice's campaign financing task force--is no White House favorite. Boxer is up for reelection, and could use campaign support from Clinton.

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STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE? Asked to name the best and worst of Congress in a Washingtonian magazine poll, about 1,200 Capitol Hill staffers largely overlooked the largest state delegation. But Californians swept the field in the "best-dressed" category. Republican Rep. David Dreier of San Dimas took top honors, and Bay Area Democrats Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Ronald V. Dellums of Oakland won praise for their sartorial splendor. Republican William M. Thomas of Bakersfield was named the meanest member of the House; Tom Campbell (R-San Jose) was voted second-brainiest; and retiring Democrats Vic Fazio of West Sacramento and Dellums were named the House members who will be most missed. Fazio also ranked just behind House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)--and ahead of his party's House leader, Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.)--in the "best leader" category.

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