- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert says in his autobiography that tax reform must be a priority for the next Congress.

In his new book, “Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics,” Mr. Hastert says the 109th Congress must alter the tax code to maintain a strong economy. Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, says the best options are a flat income tax, the value-added tax or a national sales tax, and calls for eliminating the Internal Revenue Service.

“People ask me if I’m really calling for the elimination of the IRS, and I say, ‘I think that’s a great thing to do for future generations,’” Mr. Hastert told the Associated Press yesterday.

He said he had talked in general terms with President Bush about his proposals.

“I think that’s a piece they don’t want to bite off in the campaign. They have other things they want to talk about.”

His autobiography hits bookstores today, and Mr. Hastert will discuss his insights at the National Press Club at noon.

Mr. Hastert’s spokesman, Peter Jeffries, said the speaker has complained for years about “the billions of dollars wasted every year in tax preparations.”

Mr. Hastert doesn’t advocate any particular tax measure. Mr. Jeffries said his real goal is to start a national dialogue.

Members of both parties have talked about simplifying the tax code for decades.

“Democrats very much want to work in a bipartisan way to make the tax code simpler and fairer, but Republicans have failed to make any such progress in the decade they have been in charge of the House,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

In 1998, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, and Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, toured the country debating tax-reform plans.

Mr. Tauzin advocated a national sales tax to replace the income tax, while Mr. Armey supported a flat income tax of 17 percent with no loopholes, tax breaks or social engineering.

Democrats liked the national dialogue and agreed reforms were needed, but would not stand behind either plan.

The value-added tax is a European import, which — like the sales tax — is based on consumption. Under that tax, a certain percentage would be added to commodities or other goods purchased in the United States.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, strongly backs a national sales tax, while Democrats strongly oppose a flat tax.

“[Mr. DeLay] has for a long time supported a national sales tax,” said Jonathan Grella, spokesman for the majority leader.

In April, Mr. DeLay excoriated the Internal Revenue Service and the tax burdens placed on Americans.

“The tax system in this country is an unmitigated mess. The Internal Revenue Code is a 1.6-million word, job-killing monstrosity that has to go,” he said, adding that under a national sales tax, “we can free the national economy from the stranglehold of the IRS, and unleash a new era of American growth, job creation, and competitiveness, with a chance to double the economy in the next 10 to 15 years.”

The Democratic National Committee in a statement released Monday said the flat tax would squeeze the middle class and favor the rich.

“According to tax analysts, replacing the current, progressive income tax with a flat-rate tax would dramatically shift the tax burden away from the wealthy — and onto the middle class and the poor,” said Jano Cabrera, DNC spokesman.

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