Balance Sheet

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Assets

Parental Control. The campaign to censor the Internet hits a snag in the House. By a vote of 420 to 4, it passes a telecom bill amendment sponsored by Reps. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from regulating the Internet. The amendment would also ban civil lawsuits against on-line services that provide software to screen out racy language and pictures.

Contract Job. Want to be your own boss? First you must pass a murky 20-part Internal Revenue Service test to determine if you're an employee or an independent contractor. The IRS makes some 40 million queries about these regulations to befuddled businesses and individuals each year. Rep. Jon Christensen (R-Nebr.) and 100 co-sponsors offer HR 1972, a bill that makes anyone an independent contractor who meets three criteria: You must state, in writing, that you'll pay your own taxes; you have to invest in your own training and equipment; and you must offer your services to several employers or have a free-standing office.

Plan Obsolescence. Congressional appropriators defund three relics of Beltway micromanagement: Sematech, the government-backed computer-chip designer; the Advanced Technology Program, which makes taxpayers subsidize high-tech commercial ventures; and AmeriCorps, the national-service program that costs taxpayers $30,000 a year for every college graduate who "volunteers" to play cop or candy striper.

Earth Tones. At the peak of his state's recession, Pete Wilson promised, "California will not cut back state environmental protection" no matter how much people beg for relief. The recession still hasn't ended. But now that Wilson wants to be president, he's become a born-again deregulator. Wilson may try to overturn the state's electric-car mandate. And he wants to rein in California's Endangered Species Act by requiring compensation for landowners whose property houses threatened critters and forcing the legislature to vote on any new listing of birds or fish.

Liabilities

Pane-ful Enforcement. Top antitrust enforcer Anne Bingaman's crusade against commerce accelerates. The Justice Department considers legal action against Windows 95 before Microsoft ships the software­­–the first time the feds have accused a company of monopolizing the marketplace with a product that doesn't exist. Talk about vaporware.

Buck Stopper. Conservative commentators from Robert Novak to Paul Weyrich attribute Mata Hari­like powers to Sheila Burke, Bob Dole's chief of staff. Right-wingers blame Burke for Dole's cave-in on welfare reform and his zeal to "fix" health care. Get a grip, guys. Burke may be the most powerful and unaccountable female public official since Hillary Clinton. But put the blame where it belongs­­–with the guy who hired her.

Oil Slick. The most enthusiastic congressional supporters of consumption taxes hail from Texas and Louisiana. Wonder why? Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.) says his consumption tax would boost American competitiveness because it's "border refundable." Can you say hidden oil-import fee?

Cold Cash. First cocaine, then cigarettes, now freon? The impending phase-out of CFCs has hiked freon's retail price from $1.00 per pound to $25 per pound. Not surprisingly, reports Washington Times automotive writer Eric Peters, a black market in freon is flourishing. The Departments of State and Justice, the Customs Department, IRS, and EPA have formed a task force to crack down on freon smugglers, one of whom was caught in Florida with 3,000 tons of the refrigerant.

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