How to cash in on a mandate

Now that Bush has his victory, coupled with bolstering GOP dominance in Congress, he can get started with the agenda he spelled out in the campaign, right? Hmmm… where to start? Maybe education? That was a big one in the campaign. More money for community colleges, right? Or how about gay marriage? Maybe he’ll get started on that constitutional amendment. Or how about some more support for all those faith-based charities he likes to talk about, some good ol’ compassionate conservatism?

Turns out, those things weren’t actually such high priorities after all. No, now apparently what’s on his mind is overhauling the tax code. As John Stewart might say, wha?!?

Where did that one come from? We certainly didn’t see Bush hackling about the tax code during the debates, or on the campaign trail. Now we’re already speculating about what direction the “tax simplification” will take. My favorite all-time observation about tax simplification was shown to me by my father in law, who once had collected Lasser’s Income Tax Guides dating back at least fifteen years. “You notice how every five or six years there’s one issue that seems to be double the size of the previous year,” he told me as he pointed to his shelf full of progressively thicker, bright-yellow tomes. “Those are the years when a ‘tax simplification’ act was passed.”

The lesson, of course, is that whenever the government tells you it’s “simplifying” your taxes it’s really doing something else, like raising them, or cutting them for a special interest group. One solution that actually seems to be gaining traction this time around is a national sales tax. That really would be simple, wouldn’t it? Except, as MaxSpeak points out today, that it wouldn’t:

You need an impractically huge rate to replace revenue…. Some things you need to exempt purely on the grounds of practicality. Then there is politics. Will we levy a double-digit tax on automobiles? Houses? Medical care? Public utilities? Every time you take something else off the table, you need a higher rate.

So what about a flat tax? Wouldn’t that simplify things? I don’t know about you, but figuring out which bracket I’m in has always been the easiest part of doing my taxes. The hard part is figuring out whether to take this deduction or that deduction, or use the AMT or the SET, the ERA or the RBI. Each one of those little loopholes represents a different special interest, and each one makes your taxes a little more complicated. Each one represents a separate battle in Congress. Changing the tax brackets is easy, getting rid of the loopholes is well-nigh impossible.

So apparently Bush’s legacy of this re-election, apart from whatever happens in Iraq, is going to be another doubling of the Lasser’s tax guide. On the bright side, I think gay couples might just count that as a victory.

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One Response to How to cash in on a mandate

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