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DID CONGRESS LEARN A LESSON?

We may have seen the beginning of a new epoch.

Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was commenting on the so-called luxury tax on big boats, fancy cars, furs and jewelry.He said he would support a move to repeal the luxury levy "if the evidence establishes that because of the tax, sales have declined and jobs have been lost . . ."

Could it be the Ciceros on Capitol Hill are discovering that the laws they pass actually affect the lives of human beings? Or, more specifically, that when they increase taxes, sales decline, jobs are lost and people find it harder to make ends meet?

The luxury tax was one of the sillier provisions of last year's budget agreement. It was pure demagoguery, an occasion for congressmen to boast about soaking the rich.

It's amusing to watch politicians with annual incomes of $125,000 fume about fat cats, but to many Americans the luxury tax seems less than hilarious.

The workers who build yachts aren't laughing. More than 8,000 of them have been laid off this year, thanks to plummeting sales. Another 3,000 retail car salesmen have likewise lost their jobs.

Such a consequence shouldn't have been hard for Congress to predict: Higher taxes mean higher prices, which mean fewer sales, which mean people lose their jobs.

And the tax may not bring in even the relatively small amounts of revenue originally expected.

Congressional demagogues once enjoyed criticizing tax cuts as "trickle down" economics. They should attend to the "trickle down" effects of their tax increases. The economy is far more complex than their frivolous rhetoric can account for.

If the luxury tax teaches them this simple lesson, it will be a windfall.