Sponsor defends national sales tax bill
In his Dec. 29 commentary, “Sales tax detour for tax reforms,” Bruce Bartlett expressed his opinion that efforts to replace the current broken tax system with a simple, fair, pro-growth national sales tax are “Quixotic” and “led by the ‘church’ of Scientology.” Mr. Bartlett evidently lacked rational arguments against the sales tax and thus resorted to religious animus.
As a sponsor of H.R. 2525 (Fair Tax Act of 1999), I confess that I have never been introduced to the “church” of Scientology. I doubt that my co-sponsor, Rep. Collin C. Peterson, has either, though the subject has never come up. Nor have we asked the more than 250,000 members of Americans for Fair Taxation, the many thousands of Americans who have attended FairTax town hall meetings, academics from Harvard to Stanford, editorial boards across the nation or the many other groups that back the plan including the National Taxpayers Union and National Small Business United what their religious affiliations are. We do share, however, the excitement that our goal is reachable. I suspect Mr. Bartlett is confusing our bill with another because he seems so confused about other “facts.”
Most observers know that Mr. Bartlett is biased in favor of a flat tax on income and thus is prepared to produce a screed against any realistic proposal that competes with his idea. Even at that, it is fair to expect him to keep his facts in line. For instance, if the sales tax were imposed at a rate of 60 percent, the flat tax would have the same rate. Both plans tax income (or spending) once and exempt savings and investment. Nearly all economists, of every ideological stripe, agree that a broad-based sales tax and a flat income tax have virtually the same tax base (and thus would have the same tax rate).
Mr. Bartlett must know this. Yet he quotes a virulent opponent of both the flat tax and the national sales tax, economist Bill Gale, to the effect that a sales tax rate would need to be 50 percent. This, of course, is pure fiction. Mr. Gale did not analyze the FairTax but instead manufactured his own version of the sales tax that achieves this high rate by exempting most things from the tax. Those economists who actually have examined the FairTax (including academics from Harvard, Stanford and Boston University) agree that 21 percent to 25 percent is the right range.
As for the merits of wholesale tax reform, both the flat tax and the sales tax are simpler than the current tax system, and both are neutral toward savings and investment. I support a national sales tax over the flat tax because the sales tax achieves these goals as well as others that the flat tax does not.
The sales tax more visibly discloses the true cost of government than does the flat tax, by showing the tax every time a good or service is purchased. Additionally, research out of Harvard argues that we already pay a 22 percent sales tax on top of our income and payroll taxes. That is the estimated embedded cost of the current system at retail.
Every company that touches any product or service that we buy has income taxes, payroll taxes and attorneys and accountants to help it avoid the taxes. These dollars do not come out of a secret drawer; they are reflected in price, and you and I pay it. That burden would be eliminated with a sales tax but perpetuated by the flat tax because the flat tax leaves corporate income taxes and payroll taxes in place.
The sales tax relieves most Americans from the aggravation of having to file tax returns or keep tax records. April 15 would be just another spring day. For businesses, the cost to comply with a sales tax would be a fraction of the cost today. While the FairTax would dismantle the income tax apparatus, with the flat tax, all of the income tax apparatus would remain in place, and unfortunately, it would be relatively easy to regress to our current state. (Remember the much-vaunted 1986 tax simplification that reduced the income tax burden to two levels with the top rate being 28 percent? It has since been amended nearly 6,000 times and expanded to five levels, with the top rate being 39.6 percent. Only on the top 1 percent, of course.)
The FairTax also levels the playing field in the global economy. Imported goods come to our country with the majority of their tax component rebated to compete with our domestic competition, burdened with a 22 percent tax component. That would be eradicated under the FairTax, and imports to our shores would be taxed exactly the same as domestic products at the checkout counter. That would not be the case with the flat tax.
The FairTax would send our exports overseas with no tax burden on their shoulders to compete in the world market. That would not be the case with the flat tax.
The FairTax would make all Americans voluntary taxpayers, paying exactly as much tax as we choose when we choose. No government agency would know or care how much money we make or how we make it. That would not be the case with the flat tax.
Finally, the flat tax was introduced about two decades ago and has been promoted aggressively since then. It has failed to capture the imagination of the broader public. The FairTax was introduced just six months ago, and we have found that it already has attracted more support than the flat tax in the areas Mr. Peterson and I have visited. In short, the FairTax is more likely to be passed.
Sales tax proponents and flat tax supporters should direct their fire toward the common enemy, the current tax system. Either approach is better than the current system. Unfortunately, the effort to achieve fundamental tax reform is ill served by unfounded, ad hominem attacks by the Bruce Bartletts of the world who misrepresent the facts for their own purposes.
REP. JOHN LINDER
U.S. House of Representatives
K Street corridor has not forgotten local residents
I enjoyed “K Street: Boulevard of power” (Jan. 9). My law offices have been on the K Street corridor on Farragut Square for the past 35 years first a room for a one-person firm in the Barr Building at 910 17th Street, then on 1725 K St., then on Farragut Square South and now on a floor in the Brawner Building for our eight-lawyer firm.
The Times’ article emphasizes lobbyists and lawyers in national law firms as the denizens of the “corridor of power.” However, from my vantage point overlooking Farragut Square, I have seen many lawyers in local practice, such as my malpractice law firm, situated in the “corridor of power.” Many prominent lawyers who go to court for local residents are all along Connecticut Avenue and K Street. Many of the law firms represent primarily local residents and businesses in routine business matters. This is the center of the Washington legal world locally as well as nationally.
The “power lunch” restaurants reviewed in the article are, I am sure, all good. I have been to most of them on occasion. But since Duke Zeibert’s closed, I eat most of my lunches in my office.
JACK H. OLENDER
Poll finds Hispanics not satisfied with current Social Security system
While La Raza fights to keep its membership trapped in a failing Social Security system, a recent Zogby International poll commissioned by the Cato Institute shows how out of step the Hispanic political group has become (“Social Security snobbery,” Commentary, Jan. 6).
A majority of Hispanics lack faith in government to sort out Social Security’s problems. By greater than 2-to-1, Hispanics consider the current system riskier than market investment and by similar margins prefer investment through personal accounts to the government-controlled investment proposed by the Clinton-Gore administration.
By 61 percent to 27 percent, Hispanics want to give workers the right to invest their payroll taxes through personal accounts. And a plurality of Hispanics want the full 12.4 percent payroll tax available for investment, not merely 1 or 2 percentage points as in some reform plans. (The full poll results are available at www.socialsecurity.org.) La Raza may wish otherwise, but ordinary Hispanics make up the most pro-privatization group of Americans on Social Security. Politicians looking for Hispanic votes in 2000 should learn to tap that sentiment.
ANDREW G. BIGGS
Social Security analyst
The Cato Institute