Here's an idea. Since the House of Representatives thinks it's so important to give a $30-billion-a-year tax break to the richest 2 percent of Americans, why doesn't it do the same thing for the poorest 2 percent, as well? For the sake of symmetry. As a member of the Texas Lege once said, "In a artistic sense, it works."

Thirty billion to the richest, 30 billion to the poorest -- and boy, will that ever boost the incomes of the poor. And then, just for the complete balance of the whole, how about $30 billion for the middle? All in favor, vote aye.

You have to admit, that House of Reps -- they used to call it "the People's House" -- what an imagination, what a sense of humor. Here we are looking at an income gap between the rich and the rest of us that is almost beyond human comprehension -- the richest fifth of Americans now have 80 percent of all the total wealth of the nation, leaving 20 percent of the wealth for the other 80 percent of us in a practically harmonic convergence -- and the House thinks the rich need a big tax break.

Now, if you are expecting to inherit more than $1 million from your papa and $1 million from your mummy in the near future, obviously you think this estate tax is an onerous burden on deserving heirs.

After all, in order to inherit, you have to have lived to probably nearly middle age without having seriously peeved your parents or great-uncle or whoever has the swag. But some of us manage that amazing feat without looking forward to a nickel, and do we get a break? Not from this Congress.

Republicans argued in favor of this incredible boondoggle (and many a Democrat voted for it) on the heartbreaking tale of heirs to small businesses and farms that have increased so much in value that they are subject to estate taxes.

Easily fixed: The exemption from estate taxes for small businesses stands at $1.3 million, but if that's not enough, hey, bump it up. And add an exemption for agricultural property, just the way we do with real-estate taxes.

Estate taxes on the very largest piles go all the way up to 55 percent (top federal tax 40 percent, top state about 15, though both were already scheduled to come down), so if you have $100 million, that means poor Junior the IV gets only $45 million -- and how is the poor boy to make it on that kind of peanuts?

As economist Paul Krugman pointed out, the fact that this tax applies only to the wealthiest 2 percent is only half the story, because even in that bracket, there's an unbelievable income gap: More than half the value of that top 2 percent actually lies in the top 0.4 percent. And if ever there was a worthy target for a tax cut, it's our top 0.4 percent. What a needy bunch.

But I say there are some swell folks in our bottom 2 percent as well, so let's have $30 billion for them, because I think -- I can't prove this -- they actually need the money more than the top 0.4. And that is not to mention the practically unrelieved terrificness of the 2 percent of us in the exact middle.

While I'm at it, here's another dandy idea. Many a question has been recently raised about the erratic nature of the death penalty in this country. Short of bagging the death penalty entirely on the grounds that putting retarded 13-year-olds on trial is making us look bad to the rest of the world, why not put a system in place to try to fix the death penalty?

Whenever a plane crashes, the Federal Aviation Administration runs around investigating until it figures out why. Then it puts out word that it was because somebody forgot to tighten the wing nuts or whatever, and it makes all the airlines go out and tighten their wing nuts.

OK, every time we find a case of an innocent citizen on Death Row, why not have an investigation to find out why it happened? Prosecutors withheld evidence, cops lied, eyewitness mistaken yet again, defense lawyer slept through trial, whatever. (We've got a defense lawyer in Texas who's put more guys on Death Row than most prosecutors.)

Then this investigative body could issue new rules -- no sleeping in the courtroom, for example. Whenever the bailiff sights a napper, he has to ring a bell. Plus penalties for those who fouled up. This would help.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.