As President Bush rebuilds his cabinet, we can
expect to hear many in the media and on Capitol Hill claim the
president lacks a mandate for his nominees and his policies.
That's nonsense. The president earned more than 59 million votes
-- about 3.5 million more than John Kerry -- in large part by
making a convincing case for several clear-cut policy goals,
including Social Security reform, a muscular foreign policy and,
critically, fixing the
"The American people deserve and our economic future demands a
simpler, fairer, pro-growth system," President Bush announced in
his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in
September. "In a new term, I will lead a bipartisan effort to
reform and simplify the federal tax code."
To keep that promise, President Bush should
press Congress to act quickly on tax reform. And he should ensure
that this reform meets four broad goals:
The tax code
shouldn't punish achievement;
The tax code
should not be used to promote social policy;
The tax code
should be clear and understandable, and
Tax rates should
be as low as possible, to encourage economic growth.
This won't be easy, of course. The current system has developed
over decades, and every confusing element of it has champions in
Congress and lobbyists ready to fight for them.
Many of these people like to talk about "progressive" tax rates.
But there's nothing progressive about a system that taxes savings
and investments twice, as our current system so often does. The
president should insist that lawmakers devise a system that would
encourage investment and innovation.
First and foremost, that means bringing down tax rates, since lower
rates encourage workers to put in extra hours or attempt to start
their own businesses.
It's also time to stop using the tax code to encourage people to do
things the government will approve of. Right now, the government
gives tax deductions or credits to taxpayers who buy houses, have
children or donate to charity. While these are all worthy goals,
people ought to decide to do them on their own.
Eliminating all the deductions and credits also would simplify the
tax code, which ought to be another of the president's goals.
Americans spend more than 6 billion hours filling out tax returns
every year. Plus, we shell out more than $200 billion to tax
accountants and software companies to do our taxes for us. After
all, who has time to read all 1,100 forms and publications that
make up the current tax code?
The answer is a fair, flax tax with a generous personal exemption,
so the tax burden doesn't fall disproportionately on poor people.
All income would be taxed once, at a flat rate. Taxpayers could
fill out their return in minutes and mail it in on a postcard,
instead of struggling for days and then stuffing form after form
into an envelope.
All these reforms probably will be a tough sell in Congress. But
departing Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma has an idea that could speed
the transition: Allow taxpayers to fill out returns under the
current system and under a reformed, flat-tax system. Then they
could put the returns side-by-side and file the one that benefits
them. Most people are sure to prefer the simple system, especially
since it will usually save them money in the long run.
President Bush has a clear mandate to make the tax code flatter and
fairer. That's what the president wants and what taxpayers deserve.
When he succeeds, he'll have turned a mandate into a
Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, a
conservative think tank based in Washington.