Elephant Talk

One important item you missed for the new congressional agenda ("Capitol Ideas," Feb.) is income-tax reform. Dick Armey (R- Tex.) has a flat- rate tax proposal of 17 percent, with a personal deduction of around $13,000. Another Texas Republican, Bill Archer, would go even further and replace the income tax with a broad- based tax on consumption. Meanwhile, Richard Gephardt (D- Mo.) has his own plan with a lower rate for low incomes (10-11 percent) and a higher, unspecified rate for "the rich."

It would be incredibly invigorating if Congress actually passes a low and simple tax- rate system, giving millions of dollars back to beleaguered taxpayers, and unleashing a new economic renaissance. Let's hope they have the foresight to do it.

Brent J. Bielema

Fulton, IL

Democrats, New and Old

In his otherwise cogent prescription for a new Democratic Party ("The Center Folds," Feb.), Joel Kotkin never gets around to spelling out a pocketbook issue that would connect with young, high-tech workers.

One way for Democrats to get on the correct side of a money issue for both middle- income working families and the young would be to attack payroll taxes, the 7.51 percent Social Security levy in particular. This is an area where Republicans intend on doing nothing despite the prospect that the system will not last past 2010 as it is currently constituted.

Newt Gingrich himself knows that the system is doomed but has made the political calculation that it is better to do nothing for now. Back in 1982 he talked about replacing the system with a private one and in 1986 floated the idea of replacing the payroll tax with a dedicated VAT. By 1990, he was loath to sign onto the Wallop-DeLay plan (which would have cut both payroll taxes and capital gains taxes) at a time when it was the only tax- cut plan which broke out of the pay- as- you- go straitjacket. In short, Gingrich and the GOP have abandoned the field.

The fact that Chile privatized its Social Security system with great success even provides an opportunity for those fact- finding trips to a developing country that Democrats seem to love. But from all indications, anything outside the purview of labor unions holds little appeal for today's Democratic Party.

Jeff A. Taylor

Gaithersburg, MD

Space Debris?

While I agree with the general thrust of T.J. Rodgers's "Technology Traps," (Feb.) and have admired his writing in the past, there are misconceptions, egregious accounting errors, and clear misstatements of fact in his discussion of the federal space program.

First of all, it is Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, not Boeing and Lockheed, who have teamed for the next reusable launch system, though Lockheed, as well as other companies, is expected to compete for it.

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