Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Taming the tax code: Senators tiptoe toward reform

By George Will



JewishWorldReview.com | "Colleagues," said the June 27 letter to 98 U.S. senators, "now it is your turn." The letter's authors are Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman and ranking Republican on the tax-writing Finance Committee, respectively. From their combined 71 years on Capitol Hill they know that their colleagues will tiptoe gingerly, if at all, onto the hazardous terrain of tax reform.

Together with Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., of the House Ways and Means Committee, Baucus and Hatch propose a "blank slate" approach, erasing all deductions and credits — currently worth more than $1 trillion a year — and requiring legislators to justify reviving them. Hence the Baucus-Hatch letter, in response to which almost 70 senators sent more than 1,000 pages of suggestions. Although some often were short on specificity, the submissions were given encrypted identification numbers and locked in a safe, as befits dangerous documents.

Every complexity in the 4 million-word tax code was created at the behest of a muscular interest group that tenaciously defends it. Which is why tax simplification would be political reform: Writing lucrative wrinkles into the code is one of the primary ways the political class confers favors. Furthermore, "targeted" tax cuts serve bossy government's behavior modification agenda: Do what we want you to do and you can keep more of your money. Simplification would reduce the opportunities for the political class to throw its weight around. Hence the flinch from simplification.


In 1986, however, Congress did not flinch. In the last 40 years, Finance, the Senate's most important committee, has had formidable chairmen — Russell Long, Bob Dole, Bob Packwood, Lloyd Bentsen, Pat Moynihan and Baucus. And in 1986 there were additional serious reformers, including Sen. Bill Bradley and Rep. Dick Gephardt.

Of the three biggest tax preferences, unions, especially, oppose taxing as compensation — which it obviously is — employer-paid health insurance (a $260 billion benefit), and Democrats oppose ending the $80 billion deduction for state and local taxes. It encourages high government spending.

The third preference, the mortgage-interest deduction, is a $70 billion benefit that goes disproportionately to affluent homeowners. But Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, which have no mortgage-interest deduction, have homeownership rates comparable to America's. Every congressional district, however, has real estate brokers benefiting from the bankers who benefit by providing mortgages.

Baucus is proud to have been mentored by the greatest Montanan, Mike Mansfield, a Democrat who for 16 of his 24 Senate years was majority leader. Today, the main impediment to tax reform, aside from Baucus' risk-averse colleagues, is Majority Leader Harry Reid, who Baucus insists, emphatically but implausibly, is a friend. Reid, who is as petty as Mansfield was grand, deplores partisanship but resents Democrats like Baucus who practice bipartisanship. Reid says he did not even read the Baucus-Hatch letter, and insists tax reform "can't be revenue neutral; it can't be even close to neutral."

Each year 6.1 billion hours are spent complying with the tax code. This is equal to the work time of 3 million full-time workers, making tax compliance one of America's largest industries. Is there time for Congress to reduce this waste of time?



RECEIVE LIBERTY LOVING COLUMNISTS IN YOUR INBOX … FOR FREE!

Every weekday NewsAndOpinion.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". HUNDREDS of columnists and cartoonists regularly appear. Sign up for the daily update. It's free. Just click here.


"It's early," says Baucus equably. Actually, it is late in this legislative year, and elections are next year. But, says Baucus serenely, 1986 was an election year in a president's second term. He seems unperturbed about the possibility that Camp might be distracted by seeking Michigan's open Senate seat. Baucus still hopes to bring Congress to an "all join hands and jump together" moment, "a tipping point where there is a sense of inevitability."

Inevitably, however, the tax code has reached a critical mass of complexity that renders it almost unreformable. This illustrates the crisis of the regulatory state: Interest groups fasten themselves onto the government and immobilize it.

At the 2004 Republican convention, George W. Bush vowed to "simplify" the tax code's "complicated mess." The convention roared approval. Next, he promised new complexities — tax benefits for "opportunity zones" in depressed areas, a tax credit to encourage businesses to offer health savings accounts. Another roar of approval.

Since the 1986 simplification, the code has been re-complicated more than 15,000 times at the behest of Americans who simultaneously praise the principle of simplification. All other taxes could be abolished if we could tax the nation's cognitive dissonance.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

George Will's latest book is "With a Happy Eye but: America and the World, 1997-2002" to purchase a copy, click here. Comment on this column by clicking here.

Archives

© 2013 WPWG

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles

QUANTCAST