- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Time to hang up your tax-cut spurs, Hoss? After all, President Bush and the Congress just lowered rates by $1.35 trillion and provided additional business stimulus over the last 18 months. Bullets of protest from the big government gang ricochet through the Capitol every day no more tax cuts.
And now, that old fiscal policy outlaw the budget deficit is back in town, giving even staunch tax-cutters saddle-chap thinking about the growing red ink in Washington. After a decade at the "boom-time saloon," both political parties are openly wondering if it's time to give the issue a rest.
Are taxes going the way of the stagecoach?
Not if Rep. Rob Portman and some of his colleagues in the House have anything to say about it. Preserving the tax issue as a potent economic tool and a powerful political cause, despite the recent challenges, is the latest policy shootout in Washington. He and his posse are fighting back with new ideas aimed at maintaining momentum by framing the issue more broadly than just reducing taxes. It's a worthy scuffle ,and Sheriff Portman and his allies have picked the right horse.
Fighting for tax changes is never easy and it gets more complicated and challenging in an era of deficits. With war and homeland security spending on the rise, and recently enacted tax and stimulus legislation in 2001 and 2002, many say Congress should ignore tax policy for a while.
That's a mistake, according to Mr. Portman. "We have to stay on the offense on the issue," he said recently. He's right. Advocates of smaller, smarter government must press ahead and make a strong case so they don't lose momentum when the political winds of war, deficits and spending blow in another direction. Toward that end, he and others are suggesting some creative proposals that keep the public focused on the need to simplify the burden as well as the bite of taxes and provide new incentives for savings and investing.
Tax "simplification" is a great example. Mr. Portman and his colleague Rep. Amo Houghton recently introduced separate but similar bills on the subject. The issue will serve as a platform for debate next year, emphasizing the need to restructure the tax code and ease the burdens of a complex system.
The issue should stir the interest of many Americans who pay taxes. For example, Mr. Houghton noted last week that, "In 1935, there were 34 lines on Form 1040 and instructions were two pages. Today, there are over 13,000 pages of forms and instructions." He also argued that last year, individual and business taxpayers spent four-and-a-half billion hours on federal tax compliance not including the additional costs and complexity of compliance. While costly and inefficient, the current system is also a "haven for promoters of dubious schemes."
Tax policy is not the root cause of Enron and other corporate scandals, yet there is certainly a link. As a veteran Capitol Hill tax aide said, "The current system invites cheating. There is a lot of gaming of the system because the law's just too complicated." Connecting current corporate accountability concerns with the need for tax simplification gives the issue additional political juice by injecting it squarely into today's news cycle.
Speaking of the news cycle, why not use the tax code to protect and grow America's retirement savings? Third-quarter 401 (K) statements are in the mail and will collectively shock the body politic as people witness the impact on retirement savings of one of the worst quarters in Wall Street history. Mr. Portman has some ideas about how to use the tax issue to help investors and savers in this area as well.
Last week, he introduced the "Protecting America's Savings Act of 2002," legislation that tweaks the tax code in a variety of areas, allowing workers to accelerate contributions and bolster the value of retirement plans and delay mandatory withdrawals until the market recovers. Mr. Portman worked behind the scenes during the last two weeks, convincing the House GOP leadership to move legislation aimed at helping investors. As a result, two days ago the House Ways and Means Committee adopted a bill drafted by Chairman Bill Thomas that contains several key provisions of the Portman bill. The full House may consider the measure as early as this week.
Maintaining the momentum on the tax issue requires creative thinking, sound policies and political smarts. Certainly, the attacks from the left, demanding higher taxes to pay for more Washington programs, will persist. So, as the shootout on taxes continues next year in Washington, the guys in the white hats need fresh horses and new policy weapons. Mr. Portman and his allies supply the needed ammunition.


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