- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Just as you are rushing about to file your income taxes this April 17, the U.S. House of Representatives will be taking a historic vote on the issue of taxpayer protection. On the House floor this week will be the Tax Limitation Amendment (TLA) to the Constitution, introduced by Reps. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, John Shadegg, Arizona Republican, and Ralph Hall, Texas Democrat, with 185 co-sponsors from both parties.
The TLA is simple and powerful. It would require a supermajority of two-thirds of each house of Congress to vote approval for any tax increase before it could become law.
The amendment is urgently needed to correct a deep and powerful imbalance in our political system in favor of higher special interest spending and taxes. Special interests seek government spending for benefits heavily concentrated on them, with taxes to pay for the spending spread broadly among everyone else. Because of the great benefits concentrated on them, the special interests can and do spend enormous amounts of time and money lobbying for such giveaways.
But each individual taxpayer only bears a tiny part of the cost of each such giveaway. So the taxpayer cannot devote anywhere near the same time and resources in fighting such spending. Organizing taxpayers across the country with a small, diffuse interest in each fight is far more difficult and costly than organizing a narrow special interest seeking a great gain concentrated on them.
Consequently, special interests often ride roughshod over taxpayers, who are busy attending to their own jobs and families. The result is runaway taxes and spending.
Before the government takes the hard-earned dollars of working people by compulsion, there should be a broad consensus among the people that such a tax is needed. That is what the TLA requires. It shows the proper respect for the private property and earnings of taxpayers. It provides the proper protection against the army of Washington lobbyists working for well-heeled special interests seeking taxpayer funds.
The Constitution itself provides ample precedent for such a supermajority requirement in cases where seeking a broad consensus rather than a bare majority is justified. Indeed, such supermajorities are required in the Constitution in 10 different instances. For example, a two-thirds vote is required to override a presidential veto, to ratify a treaty, or to expel a member of Congress. In addition, ratification of a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and approval by three-fourths of the states.
House and Senate rules have also long required supermajority votes in various circumstances. For example, both the House and Senate require a two-thirds vote for suspension of any of their rules. The Senate requires a 60 percent vote to end a filibuster. In addition, three-fifths of the full Senate must approve a waiver of any balanced budget provision or point of order to consider legislation that would violate a budget approved by Congress.
Most pertinently, on the first day of the 104th Congress in January 1995, the House adopted Rule XXI that requires a 60 percent supermajority for passage of any bill that increases taxes.
Fifteen states, comprising one-third of the U.S. population, already have supermajority requirements for state tax increases. Studies show that in those states taxes do indeed grow more slowly, as does state spending. Moreover, restraining taxes and government spending has benefited the economy in these states. The economies in the supermajority states grew almost one-third faster than in other states. In addition, employment grew about 25 percent faster in the supermajority states.
Supermajority requirements have proved to be quite popular. In four states where the requirements were enacted by referendum Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota and Florida the supermajority proposal received more than 70 percent of the vote. A nationwide poll conducted by the polling company in 1997 found again that 70 percent of voters would support such a provision at the federal level.
The bottom line is that taxes today are too high. Federal, state and local taxes consume about 40 percent of the income of the average family. That is more than the average family spends on food, clothing and shelter combined. Taxpayers need the protection of a supermajority requirement for tax increases.
Such a supermajority requirement would work just like other constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment protects a narrow majority from restricting freedom of speech or of religion. Similarly, the proposed supermajority amendment would prevent a special interest coalition comprising a temporary, narrow majority in Congress from adding further burdens on already overtaxed families. Only a broad consensus that tax increases were necessary would justify further infringing on the hard-earned wages and incomes of working people.


Peter Ferrara is general counsel and chief economist at Americans for Tax Reform.

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