Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden is bringing a new accent to the Senate Finance Committee as the recently installed chairman. Literally. Wyden at work constructs whole sentences that roll along in a monotone until he decides to single out a word for the stress. And a big stress it is, too.
There’s no particular logic to where he chooses to do it. But once the listener gets in the spirit of it, it’s easy to forget the subject: In Tuesday’s case, it was the misery inflicted on Americans by tax preparers who are incompetent or crooked.
“most of those paid tax return preparers don’t have to meet ANY standards, ANY standards for competence,” Wyden says. Except that the normal typeface doesn’t do justice to the difference between monotone Wyden and stressed Wyden.
Wyden makes the capital letters that should open a sentence seem like they’re cowering under his desk. Proper nouns stay under the radar. “my home state of oregon gets this issue RIGHT.” Who’s suffering from this abuse? “they could be immigrants PROUD to pay taxes in their NEW country,” Wyden says. “the most VULNERABLE people in america will bear the brunt.”
Nina E. Olson, the IRS’ national taxpayer advocate and one of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing, either speaks the same way Wyden does or she couldn’t resist following his example, the way some people involuntarily mimic the tics of their conversation partners.
“the only CREDIBLE argument,” “seemed very REASONABLE,” “the BEST enforcement,” “it is a BRIGHT line that all taxpayers can understand,” she said.
“it’s your job to go to BAT for taxpayers,” Wyden said.
“as was discussed in YOUR statement,” Olsen said.
“the heart of what YOU’VE been talking about is very unSCRUPulous preparers,” Wyden said. He said unSCRUPulous a lot.
“that’s a very important distinction that AUDITS will not get you,” Olsen said. “the irs right now is doing a PILOT.” (That sentence may suggest a way for the IRS to avoid notice.) “there may be things on that END that you can work with.”
Olsen even had a flair for this that exceeded Wyden’s. “there’s a very high learning CURVE,” she said, starting with a loud “c” and working up to a crescendo to a finish on the VEEE note. Try that at home. It’s not easy. Wyden looked appreciative of everything she said.
The two of them communicated with a mysterious musicality, reminiscent of the recordings of whale singing available in national parks and wax candle shops. The Senate could put it in the gift shop.
“what HAPPENS here on the finance committee,” Wyden said. What happens on the Finance Committee may never sound the same.