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Jewish World Review August 6, 2004 / 19 Menachem-Av, 5764

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

A Simpler Tax? | "Denny Hastert should be king!" I said to Vinny the Number Cruncher, my gray-haired accountant.

"You're going to have to get hold of yourself, kid."

"But Vinny, surely you've heard about Hastert's new book, 'Speaker: Lessons >From Forty Years in Coaching and Politics.' In it, Hastert proposes a simplified tax. He recommends a national sales tax, a flat tax or possibly a value-added tax."

"Oh, brother."

"Come on, Vinny, you agree that our current tax system is a wreck. Americans waste more than six billion hours trying to comprehend their taxes every year. They spend billions of dollars on accountants and attorneys to determine what the heck they owe."

"That's why I make such a good living, kid."

"And the IRS certainly has been a nuisance. Look at how many taxpayers have been intimidated and harassed over the years. The IRS doesn't need a warrant to butt into your affairs. And they can confiscate your property without taking you to court."

"No question about that, kid."

"Hastert says that by simplifying the tax code, we can not only eliminate these burdens, but we can further unleash the energy of the American economy. We can double the economy within 15 years, and growth is the solution to the liabilities we'll face in the coming years."

"Anything we can do to promote growth is good, kid."

"Then why aren't you as excited about Hastert's ideas as I am?"

"Don't get me wrong, kid, I am excited. I don't doubt Hastert's sincerity, and I think it's terrific the Speaker of the House is a pro-growth, common-sense thinker. But history has made me a cynic."

"What are you talking about, Vinny?"

"Look, kid, when the income tax became law back in 1913, there was nothing complicated about it. Did you know that the New York Times was able to publish every required form on one page?"


"Since then, Congress has meddled with the tax code so much, nobody can comprehend it. The tax code is thousands of pages thick and the IRS has grown to more than 100,000 employees to enforce it."

"But Vinny that's why I favor a national sales tax. I wouldn't have to file a return every year. Instead of digging through receipts, I'd be able to go smell the roses. I wouldn't have to write you a fat check. And I wouldn't have to worry about the IRS ever again!"

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"That would be grand, kid. But let me play devil's advocate. Let's say Congress decided to scrap the income tax in favor of a sales tax. You really think Americans would be willing to give up their precious home mortgage deduction -- especially after so many have bought giant shacks?"

"I hadn't thought about that."

"And lets not forget about all those lobbyists who contribute big bucks to politicians to slip their deductions into the tax code. You think our esteemed leaders will willingly give up such power?"

"You're suggesting that even if we do simplify the tax code, it won't stay simple for long?"

"Look, kid, I remember how President Reagan simplified taxes by eliminating deductions in return for reduced rates. In due time Bush 41 raised taxes, then Clinton raised them again. Congress slipped in more complications along the way. And then Republicans went hog wild."

"But Republicans have reduced taxes, which is good."

"That is true, kid, but they added 10,000 pages to the tax code in the process. The code is so complicated today even the IRS can't figure out."

"But Vinny that is why we must simplify the tax code. We must create a new, simple approach that even Congress can't screw up."

"Keep Congress from meddling with something simple, kid? I can't think of anything more complicated than that."

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© 2004 Tom Purcell