Monday, November 15, 2004

Passing a national sales or consumption tax will not necessarily be made easier by the introduction of seven new conservative Republicans to the Senate, Georgia Sen.-elect Johnny Isakson said yesterday.

Mr. Isakson, a Republican who as a House member last year co-sponsored a bill to replace the income tax with a national sales tax, said it would be a “major shift” in the nation’s financial structure that should not be immediate.

“You need at least three years for Congress to have a deadline to either keep the [current tax] code or make a change,” he said.

Mr. Isakson said he would prefer to first create a framework for reform by making the Bush tax cuts permanent and then, after extensive debate, “set a date certain” for Congress to vote up or down on a new tax system, allowing for a period of transition, which also would take years.

South Carolina Sen.-elect Jim DeMint — who as a Republican congressman joined Mr. Isakson and 52 other House members as a co-sponsor of last year’s “Fair Tax” bill — said this year’s election results show that voters are ready for change.

“They understand that our cumbersome and unfair tax code needs to be simplified, and we have four years to reform it, whether it is a sales tax or some other tax,” Mr. DeMint said.

Mr. DeMint and Mr. Isakson are among the newly elected Republican senators — including Mel Martinez of Florida, John Thune of South Dakota, David Vitter of Louisiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina — whom Sen. George Allen yesterday introduced as the “magnificent seven” in an event at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

A more conservative Senate, with 55 Republicans, makes it much easier to confirm pro-life judges and pass tort and medical-malpractice reforms and a comprehensive energy policy, said Mr. Allen, the NRSC chairman.

But “nothing big happens without bipartisanship,” Mr. Burr said.

Mr. Thune, who defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle — the first time a party’s Senate leader has been defeated in 52 years — said his immediate concern was getting office space.

“We may not get our offices until April,” he said, referring to comments in orientation about the Senate’s slow process for assigning offices.

Aside from the many new policy ideas the members may have, Mr. Allen is particularly keen on permanently abolishing the estate tax and changing the judicial-confirmation process.

“You can mark me down as one who would like to see the rule change in favor of a simple majority vote and not a 60 percent majority,” Mr. Allen said, a reference to Democrats’ use of the filibuster to block several of Presidential Bush’s judicial nominees.

Mr. Martinez, the first Cuban-born American elected to the Senate and one of three new minority senators-elect, along with Democrats Barack Obama of Illinois and Ken Salazar of Colorado, said he supports Mr. Bush’s guest-worker program for immigrants. But he said stronger border enforcement is necessary requirement of any new immigration policy.

“Amnesty [for illegal aliens] would be the wrong thing to do,” he said.

Mr. Burr put the illegal-immigration issue in the context of national security, saying, “With the state of terrorism and with 12 million to 14 million undocumented immigrants in this country, it is imperative that we find and determine who they are and what they are doing here.”

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