Darman Won’t Duck Out on Tax Test

Times Staff Writer

Watch out America, here comes the “duck test.”

Richard G. Darman, President-elect Bush’s incoming budget director, told a Senate committee Thursday that Bush’s pledge against higher taxes covered not only higher income taxes, but also efforts to eliminate tax deductions or raise excise taxes.

Bush “meant no new taxes as it would ordinarily be understood by ordinary Americans,” Darman said. “I think the burden of that is the duck test--if it looks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

That set lawmakers quacking.

‘Place Is Going to Become a Zoo’

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) opened the afternoon session in Darman’s confirmation hearings by saying: “Let’s get our ducks in order here. This place is going to become a zoo.”


Levin asked Darman whether requiring state and local government employees to pay Medicare taxes would qualify as a tax increase. “Is it a duck?” he wondered.

When Darman replied: “I need some sort of new metaphor,” Levin quipped back: “I don’t want you changing metaphors in the middle of the stream here.”

Nearly every member of the committee tried to get in on the act. “I appreciate your duck test,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) told Darman, “but I’m afraid what we’re involved in here is high-level quackery.”

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman John Glenn (D-Ohio) was so amused by the dialogue that, in the afternoon, he presented Darman with three plastic ducks mounted on a wooden stand. A label read: “The Duck Test: If it quacks, it’s a tax.”

The quacking was so infectious that reporters began circulating jokes playing off Bush’s oft-repeated campaign pledge: “Read my lips; no new taxes.” The best takeoff: “Read my bill; no new quacks.”

Hunting for Fast Approval

At the end of the long day of testimony, Levin urged the committee to approve Darman’s nomination as soon as possible. “All of us want to get Mr. Darman duck hunting as soon as possible,” he said.

With the long-running budget debate just waddling over the starting line, Washington certainly hasn’t heard the last of the duck test.

Duck soup, anyone?