- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

Well, it's official. The first installment of more than 93 million tax refund checks are now securely back in the wallets of the hard-working taxpayers who sent the money here in the first place.
And over the next 10 years, Washington's take on their tax dollars will be less and less, giving workers and businesses the power to grow their earnings and investments in a way that will pay economic dividends for years to come.
But what happens next? Given the way Washington works, politicians and pundits might think that any bill with "tax relief" in its title is pointless for now.
After all, we've slain the beast of tax burdens. Time now to sit back and let the economic good times roll, right? Wrong.
There is still an enemy at the gate. For all our efforts, the federal tax code still lurks in the shadows, choking innovation and growth while it grows more complex and unfair. We may have won the battle to give taxpayers relief, but the war to fundamentally change the way Washington collects taxes still lingers.
Just a few short decades ago, the federal tax burden accounted for less than 3 percent of national income, and the entire tax code could be read in one sitting. Today, federal taxes are nearly 7 times that size, and you'd have to read the novel "War and Peace" four times over to get a feel for the tax code's monotonous length.
Time spent filing taxes means time lost on the job or in the home. Last year, Americans spent 5.7 billion hours filling out IRS forms equal to 2.7 million workers doing nothing but IRS paperwork. When taxpayers asked for help, the agency responded correctly only 27 percent of the time.
Is it any wonder that one out of every two households this year used a professional to prepare its taxes? If a mechanic fixed a car's engine so it would start only one out of every four tries, a driver would go somewhere else the next time the car needed work.
But with taxes, there is nowhere else to turn.
Americans today are caught in a tax trap the harder they work, the more they earn, the more they pay in taxes. It's time we gave them hope and a way out.
Our current tax system is broken. It cannot be fixed. It must be scrapped and replaced with a system that is fair, simple, low and honest.
To achieve an objective like tax reform, we must think boldly and act smartly.
That's why I'm hosting today's forum on tax reform to escalate our war against the oppression of taxes to a new level. While several options will be discussed, I have personally fought the fight for a flat tax.
Because it treats all economic activity equally, a flat tax will promote greater economic efficiency and increased prosperity. When saving is no longer taxed twice, people will save and invest more, leading to higher productivity and greater take-home pay.
When marginal tax rates are lower, people will work more, start more businesses, take more risks and devote less time and money to interpreting their 1040s. And because tax rules will be uniform, people will base their financial decisions on common sense, not arcane tax law.
The only legitimate purpose of a tax code is to collect revenue. What has happened instead is nothing short of social engineering a system designed to elicit economic behaviors and otherwise shape and distort taxpayers' lives. That's wrong, and we must fix it.
Can we get there in one giant step, or a series of incremental ones? What form will it take? Answers to these and other questions remain, but one thing is certain to do nothing is to simply acquiesce to a system that has failed both the taxpayer and the tax collector.
Make no mistake, true reform will never come about unless the tax code is made simple and fair. Anything short will only sustain the status quo, creating a more tangled web of confusion in the process. More contempt for government is sure to follow.
Our challenge rests before us. Today's forum will be the next step in our journey to restore fundamentally American concepts of fairness and decency to the tax code.
If we put ideas before personal ambition and principle before politics, we will succeed.

Dick Armey, Texas Republican, is House Majority Leader.

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