Tax Reform: Dueling Plans from the GOP

Fair tax or flat tax?


House Republicans are quietly moving ahead with dueling plans to replace the tax code with a simpler system.

It's a hot topic in advance of the April 15 filing deadline for individual income tax returns. The latest budget blueprint from the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, reports that Americans spend an estimated 6 billion hours and more than $160 billion on tax compliance. That dollar figure is not the tax payments, it's just the tax-related compliance spending on things like software, accountants, and lawyers. A lot of Americans are thinking there has got to be a better way.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp, attracted some attention earlier this year with his tax reform plan, which would lower individual and corporate tax rates while also slapping a new tax on elite college endowments. But Camp has announced he is retiring from Congress, and his plan doesn't seem to be headed for passage anytime soon.

Lower-profile, but potentially more significant long-term, are the plans offered by two other Republican lawmakers. Ryan's budget blueprint mentions them alongside the Camp proposal as "good ideas" and "growth-oriented tax plans."

One is House Resolution 25, the Fair Tax Act, offered by Congressman Rob Woodall of Georgia. It would repeal all federal corporate and individual income taxes, including payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, and the death tax. It would replace them, and fund the government's operations, with a new federal consumption tax on goods and services at a 23 percent rate.

The other is House Resolution 1040, the Flat Tax Act, introduced by Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas. It would give Americans the option of choosing to file with an optional one-page tax return, at a rate of 19 percent for the first two years and 17 percent for the years after that.

Both the Fair Tax and the Flat Tax are dramatic enough departures from our existing tax code that some skepticism about their prospects is in order. But the encouragement from Ryan means something; he may take over the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the next Congress. And each proposal has backing from other heavyweights among House Republicans. The Fair Tax has 74 cosponsors, including the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Jeb Hensarling, who is a former chairman of the House Republican Conference. The Flat Tax has 11 co-sponsors, including Tom Cole, one of the brightest House Republicans, who is well-respected by many of his peers.

Neither plan is without risk.

Critics of the Fair Tax worry that it will be transformed into something like a European-style value-added tax that exists not as a substitute for the existing income tax system, but as an ever-increasing addition to it. So the Fair Tax's most far-sighted supporters insist that it be coupled with a repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment.

As for the Flat Tax, though it is designed for simplicity, as long as it is only an option for taxpayers to choose rather than a full replacement for the existing code, it could add complexity for taxpayers rather than removing it. You'd have to calculate your hypothetical taxes twice—under the Flat Tax and under the existing system. Then you'd have to figure out which tax you'd be better off paying, and then make an estimate about future years to determine whether to make the irrevocable decision to switch out of the existing system and into to the Flat Tax.

If these plans advance, expect Democrats to attack them as either giveaways to the rich (the Flat Tax) or attacks on the middle class (the Fair Tax). That's one reason some Republicans prefer to focus on rate reduction rather than a more dramatic overhaul. Rate reduction functions as a kind of tax reform in its own right by reducing the value of deductions.

As great as the burden of tax-season is for individuals and businesses, it's one of the many areas where technology has moved faster than the politicians. Electronic filing means that fewer of us have to wait in line at the post office. Tax-preparation software sold by private companies (whose business could be at risk if a major tax simplification ever passed) makes completing those returns easier.

For those of us feeling the frustration nonetheless, the Fair Tax and Flat Tax offer the hope that it may get better, or at least simpler, sometime in the future. It wasn't so long ago that Herman Cain was dominating the Republican primary discussion with his 9-9-9 plan. If there's a week of the year for the tax reform policy debate to get some political traction, this is it.

NEXT: GOP War Against the Insufficiently Pro-War in the GOP

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  1. You know, any time that the two words ‘reform’ and ‘congress’ are used in the same sentence, I worry a lot about what else they can fuck up and make worse than it already is.

    It’s like when you see a product on store shelves and it says ‘New and Approved’. Because you know that means:

    1. We ‘repackaged’ this, so that you are getting less for a higher price.

    2. We changed the formula to use cheaper but less effective ingredients and therefore the product is not as good as before.

    1. *”New and IMPROVED.”

      1. And they ask why we want an edit feature?

      2. If something is New, it never existed before. How, therefore, can it be improved?

  2. Also, what about the poor employees of those tax prep services?

    This idea is a JERBZ KILLER!

    1. “Won’t somebody think of all the poor ditchdiggers affected by ending the American Dig A Hole A Fill It Back In Act!?”

      1. You under estimate the true value of the dig a hole and fill it back in act.

        One day some lucky guy is going to dig up some rare native american artifacts, take them home and put them on a shelf, and then get raided by the FBI.

        1. Some windows might be broken in the process.


      2. Guy sitting on his porch sees a county truck coming down the road. Driver gets out, digs a hole, gets back in. Couple of minutes later, the passenger gets out, fills in the hole, gets back in the truck. The truck drives about 50 feet, stops, and the cycle continues.

        Eventually they get close to guy on the porch, and he yells out “What are you guys doing?”

        Guy in the truck yells back “We’re from the highway beautification project. The guy that puts the tree in the hole is out sick today.”

  3. Everyone gets to claim a standard deduction which is calculated based on a national cost of living average. No other deductions. After that, all income is taxed at something like 18%. It is still progressive based on gross income because of the standard deduction, would require half a page, and could be finished in 5 minutes. Do the same basic thing for corporate taxes, but replacing the cost of living deduction with deductions for expenses.

    If you need to throw a few bones to get it passed, create 2 or 3 tax brackets, ranging from maybe 15% to 23% or so, and continue to allow charitable deductions. Stick the corporate tax rate at the high end of that spectrum.

    1. Sounds good to me – I probably sent 50 of those 6 billion hours completing my
      tax return for 2013, all to end up paying about 19% of AGI. I’d be happy to pay 20% flat to get it done in 1 hour.

    2. agree. But “cost of living” could be pretty easily manipulated.

      I’d want to include things like the cost of owning a car and paying for high-speed internet service.

      You could possibly peg it to 2x the poverty level, or something like that.

    3. And how do you tax capital? You’re taxing it at both the corporate level and the individual level (aka the Buffet Myth). If you want to tax it at the same rate as other income for individuals , then I’m OK with that iff you abolish corporate income tax.

      Of course the socialists aren’t OK with that…

    4. all income is taxed at something like 18%.

      If you tax gross income at 18%, you put a lot of people out of business.

      If you tax net income, well, calculating net income is where a lot of the complexity of the current code comes from.

      That said, I could get behind taxing net income as determined by GAAP. I’ve never understood why we need separate accounting for taxes and for the rest of the world. “If its good enough for the SEC, its good enough for the IRS!”

  4. I am hugely supportive of the Fair Tax, I have had letters to the editor re: Fair Tax published in our local newspaper.

    The income tax is morally reprehensible and practically destructive (there is no dichotomy between the two). Consequently, it is also a *huge* power center for the non-objective state, since income taxation necessitates an endless array of rules, regulations, and bureaucrats to try to enforce it.

    Nuke the motherfucker from orbit, as you say. But the statist-collectivist leftoids predictably try to twist any anti-taxation argument into a war on women, blacks, or the poor, as if anyone benefits from the state looting someone else (in practice, it is quite the opposite).

  5. I would really like to see this:

    1. A massive increase in the standard deduction, to around $25,000 for a single individual. With proportional increases in deductions/exemptions for married people and kids.

    2. Above that rate a flat tax at whatever level is needed to maintain revenue neutrality.

    3. (Phase Two) Complete elimination of all other deductions.

    Phase two would be introduced a few years after the standard deduction hike. Would be too hard to pass it all at once.

    But I think you could get the Democrats to go along with a large hike in the standard deduction, if you agreed to adjust the other tax brackets to stay revenue neutral.

    I’m not even sure you would have to change rates much since a lot of people earning below $25,000 / year aren’t paying much in taxes anyway. There might be a sweet spot where the disruption in overall tax bills would be the smallest.

    1. The elimination of targeted tax credits would do more for anti-corruption than a hundred campaign finance reform bills. You want to spend tax revenue? Put it in the budget.

  6. I like the idea of a flat consumption tax, no income tax and therefore no income tax filings.

    1. Taxes are evil, but if we must have them, we might as well use them to fuck over poor people.

      1. Like we do with social security taxes?

      2. You probably believe food isn’t taxed.

      3. Right, because poor people don’t pay any taxes on consumable goods right now.

        Personally, I am not for levying this tax on necessities, like food.

        But I’ll even go one better. At the end of the tax year, if Tony still is unemployed and living in his moms basement, the government will issue an ‘idiot’ tax free card to Tony. So when Tony presents this at any place of purchase, he is exempt from paying taxes on his moms money that he’s spending.

        1. My apologies for your having missed the point. The poorer you are, the more a consumption tax hits you. Income tax is not morally distinct from any other tax. You guys just hate it because it most affects the gazillionaires whose interests you are concerned with to the exclusion of all others.

          1. I didn’t miss the point, dummy. I just totally disagree with you.

            gazillionaires whose interests you are concerned with to the exclusion of all others.

            This sounds like a combination of wild assumptions and envy to me.

          2. Gazillionaires prefer the current system. After all, they did well under it, didn’t they?

            Plus, they can afford to pay a tax lawyer hundreds of thousands of dollars to go line-by-line through the tax code to eliminate their tax liabilities.

            1. No, you don’t get it.

              If Tony ever, one day, decides to get off his lazy ass and get a job, he might have to pay some taxes. That is what his rant is all about, nothing else, only that. If he was rich, you’d be hearing a different tune from him.

          3. And thank you for demonstrating just what a moron you are. Consumption taxes can just as easily be progressive. Take the Fair Tax example. Everyone receives a monthly prebate of the tax they would pay if they spent at the poverty level, so if they spend at that level, they pay no tax. The more you spend above the level, the more tax you pay. And even though your marginal rate is constant (a good thing), your average rate asymptotically approaches the full marginal rate.

            A consumption tax taxes the destruction of wealth, i.e. the eating of the seed corn, while leaving completely unharmed productive work and investment. Because it rewards work and savings, it favors ants and not grasshoppers, which is why socialists like you hate it.

            Another reason they hate it is that everyone would see just how much money the government sucks out of the economy with every purchase. You would much rather try to hide it behind words like “fairness” and “equality” and the 70000 pages of the Internal Revenue Code with special carve outs for all of your crony pals.

            Finally, just remember: sin taxes good because they discourage the sin; income taxes good because… unicorns!

            1. A consumption tax taxes the destruction of wealth

              I don’t understand this point, though I see it and ones like it brought up a lot on this issue. Consumption and production are two sides of the same coin. If you increased prices by 30%, or whatever, demand would go down, and production would follow. Consumption isn’t the destruction of wealth. It’s the utilization of wealth.

              1. Right, but I think the comment is in reference to investment and savings. Better to raise incomes and then let be choose how to spend, save, or invest that wealth. At least it’s a better moral system. Also, we probably ought to move away from a debt/consumption fake economy to a savings/investment growth economy.

          4. Lots of gazillionaires here in the comments, right old chap?

            *polishes monocle*

      4. Re: Tony,

        Taxes are evil, but if we must have them,

        Except that don’t have to have them.

        we might as well use them to fuck over poor people.

        Oh, the Fed is already doing that just fine.

        Just fine.

      5. What is the most you have ever paid in year end income tax ?

        ZERO I would bet.

        Your opinion of how much income tax others should pay is worthless.

  7. I need expiration dates on both (preferably all 3).

    I’m tired of idiots ratifying, e.g. the 16th Am. only to have bureaucrats co-opt it ad nauseum as the regulation ages and people (including other bureaucrats) find ways to game the system.

    Fair Tax sounds great until somebody off-shores all of their consumption or declares themselves only payable in electronic property BTC.

    1. BTC (and barter) is a problem under any system. It would have to be addressed by them all. And how do consumers off shore their consumption without off shoring themselves? You still have import tariffs if they try to get around it that way. If the specifics of the Fair Tax implementation bug you, then replace a final consumer tax with a VAT and you get the same thing just with more paperwork for the companies to track.

  8. Ignorant douche tax.

    1. Why do you want to tax yourself at a higher rate than anyone else in society.

  9. I’m not a Ryan fan. I don’t believe the assumptions baked into his plan are solid. BUT, I give him a great deal of credit for sticking his neck out there and putting forth A plan. We can’t have a national debate on the issue if nobody is offering a remedy.

    1. Ryan is a dickweed. I don’t like the government telling me that I have to wait x number of years longer to retire and collect my SS because they couldn’t keep their greedy hands out of the cookie jar. I instead want to first, severely cut the budgets and staff of alphabet agencies, and make congress work for free until the budget is balanced. I also want some type of opt out option for SS, like I will take one half of what I paid in right now, in one lump sum, and we’ll call it even. That frees up some money for the corrupt ass hats if enough people opt out.

      1. Social security is a tax. You don’t “get back” what you paid into social security. The sooner people learn to understand and accept that the easier it will be to reform the system. It’s not your fucking 401(k), it’s not your savings account, you don’t draw on the money you “deposited” your entire working life when you collect, some other poor son of a bitch just gets to fork over for your retirement the same you forked over for somebody else’s retirement when you were paying the tax. Every entitled old cunt wants to get theirs while the gettin’s good, and as long as they have that mindset nothing about social security is ever going to change.

  10. I run a small store. Because of this I would not want a Fair (sales) Tax. It would be too tempting to cheat and keep much of the tax revenue collected. Where I live there is an 8% sales tax, which generates $4,000 in taxes on $50,000 in sales. Raise the total rate to 30% and the taxes collected jumps to $15,000, and that is high enough that a little reduction in total sales could double your income.

    It would be very hard to check, to audit, because the ammount of sales is difficult to verify to the degree necessary.

    I favor a flat tax from dollar 1. I want every working person to feel it when taxes go up. Eliminate the witholding of taxes so everyone writes a check each quarter. Eliminate the social security and medicare witholding because they are a lie any way. And remove the tax on corporations and long term investments to improve the business competitiveness.

    1. 30% is way too high.

      I think that on most items, 15% is good. For luxury items, then the tax could be higher. And you would think that would quell part of the concern from those screaming ‘gazillionaire libertarians who want to fuck the poor!’. Of course, it won’t, but I choose to ignore morons and try to get something done so that EVERYONE has some skin in the game and feels the pain when government gets too big and greedy.

      As far as cheating is concerned, sure, with cash you can cheat. But you can already do that. But with all plastic transactions, just set up a POS system that sends the 15% directly into the tax fund.

    2. And how is it not tempting to cheat with an income tax of 25% or 40%? The same argument applies. The fact that there are far fewer sellers than there are consumers and income tax filers actually makes enforcement easier.

      I can live with a flat tax, but a consumption tax is far more efficient and growth oriented.

      1. With an income tax you are using a system where you pay and with holfing are reported to the IRS making it more difficult to cheat. With a sales taxI report what I sell and the tax is calculated from that. If I just don’t ring some stuff up, the sale doesn’t show and I keep the tax.

        Hyperion: The 30% is the total for the proposed federal “Fair” tax, state and local sales tax. IF the proposed fed is 23%, state is 7% and a local 1% is added on…….

        1. If I just don’t ring some stuff up, the sale doesn’t show and I keep the tax.

          How? Let’s say you don’t ring up an item that costs $10 so you can easily calculate that it will cost $10.30 after all taxes and you mentally add that to the total of the other items the customer is buying. You quote the customer a price that is $10.30 higher than the one the cash register rings up and will be on their receipt? In most stores the customer can actually see the price on a secondary screen. What if you tell them one price and they see a lower price?

          1. You set the price so that it comes out to an even number, say $7 for a 6-pack. You ring up the beer, void the sale, give the person change. Or the regular customer who already knows the price, gives you the correct change, ypou dont ring up anything.

            Or you just void the necessary sales at the end of the day because the tapes are not kept, and they would be impossible to review even if they were kept.

  11. The only tax that is fair is ZERO tax

    The only flat tax there should be is ZERO tax.

    Anything else is just negotiating with the robber.

  12. Here’s my tax reform plan:

    Amendment XXIX to the Constitution of the United States:

    (1) No tax shall be withheld from wages or income, however earned.

    (2) Any tax on wages or income shall be payable to the Treasury on the first Monday of each November.

    (3) Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

  13. Any reform that doesn’t begin with “The Internal Revenue Code, and all regulations promulgated thereunder, is hereby repealed.”

    Is doomed to failure.

  14. yeah man, poor people would be better off filling out their bankruptcy forms than their complicated tax forms. i love the nonsensical argument. poor and working class people should be deliriously happy to pay more in taxes and have the rich pay less.

    1. The rich would pay more than the poor under any tax scheme by nature of having more taxable money/wealth/income (whatever you choose to tax). The only real difference a fair or flat tax would make to the poor is that they wouldn’t have to lend the government their money interest-free for 11 months every year before they get every dime of it back.

  15. i can’t imagine that there would actually be a simple tax system with genuinely progressive rates that would be simpler to file. paul ryan is just trying to make things easier on the poor moocher class that leaches off the dagny taggarts and john galts of the world.

    1. As if “i can’t imagine” is much of a qualifier coming from you.

    2. See my comment elsewhere on this page.
      One page tax returns are definitely feasible. Collecting all tax from employers and the self-employed, is also definitely feasible.

      Any tax of the form

      Tax Owed = Demogrant + Flat Rate x Tax Base

      can be made quite progressive, if Demogrant is negative. “Progressive” means that Taxes Owed as a % of income rises with income.

  16. i can’t imagine that there would actually be a simple tax system with genuinely progressive rates that would be simpler to file

    Are you talking about our current system? Because I can envision waaaay simpler systems.

    1. i’m saying that you can have a very simple tax code that would be very progressive. why does simplicity imply that a person making 1,000,000 dollars a year should pay the same rate of taxes on their income as a person making 10,000 a year?

      1. Most plans I’ve seen include some sort of rebate or large standard deduction, and still have a few progressive tax brackets. So simplicity doesn’t imply what you are saying, and your point is, well, not really much of a point.

      2. The simplest form of taxation is for a rampaging proletarian mob to just drag the richies out of their houses and divvy up their wealth directly. How’d that be?

      3. Why shouldn’t they pay the same rate? Why do we need to punish the successful with ever higher rates? I want everyone to pay the same rate so increases hit everyone and are harder to pass.

        1. If you have more money than someone else, stealing more of it is perfectly moral.

  17. honest question: let’s say you have to keep tax burdens at the same level. why should libertarians support a consumption tax or a flat tax on earnings that will result in a heavier tax burden on the poor and working class? why would you want more people paying more taxes?

    1. You’d actually have more people paying less taxes, and most libertarians support such policies as a least-worst solution. If you’re going to have a multi-trillion dollar central state financed by abusive taxes, protecting cronies and politically important demographic groups from the abuse that all others must suffer is unfair and slimy. Same reason libertarians oppose corporate welfare and subsidies.

      A better question might be why functional retards want to exempt only certain groups from paying taxes if taxes are so vitally important and beneficial.

    2. Because now you have many people paying next to nothing, or even getting back more thabn they paid in.

    3. Why do you want rich people to claim mortgage interest deductions? Why do want to encourage (or reduce the burden on) more children that use more of Mother Nature’s resources?

  18. What in the hell. “I would support paying this much, I would support paying that much. Either fair, flat, 9–9-9, 50 50 theft is theft no matter what name you give it. Cheese and rice man! Taxation is theft, and a fancy name for extortion.

    This is why the liberty movement gets derailed, because folks preaching liberty, then go off on some nonsense about accepting a limited amount of extortion, while subjecting others to such a system they don’t “mind”.

    Freedom and liberty are defined. If folks go off and accept things that contradict such rights, then how can they say they support freedom and liberty???

    Paul Ryan should stick to playing pretend battleship with Romney, and Herman Cain should stick to sim city where he could make 9-9-9, 10-10-10, or 5-5-5. Liberty is not a game, or convenience like many of these folks make it out to be.

    1. I am mesmerized. So, go on, explain how we get shit done as a nation?.

  19. Are you implying that individuals couldn’t “get shit done” in the absence of government? Did you ever volunteer to serve in the military? If so then why wouldn’t you volunteer to serve to defend your land? In the absence of war mongering foreign policy and sending my brothers and sisters off to defend “freedom” while taking it away here at home, individuals would find it easier to trade with one another rather than go to war with them. I doubt there would be much blowback from peaceful trade.

    If government was so successful with social security, and all these other programs, then why isn’t the retirement age getting lower, with individuals winding up better off? The retirement age keeps going higher because the ponzu scheme is unsustainable. What about infrastructure. With ever increasing funds, why are there cries about “crumbling infrastructure….oh that’s right, the DOT’s and central planning do not economize and reduce expenditures, but rather look to gain more money, utilizing the same horrid road construction that yields frequent repairs.

    Wealth disparity growing? Economy performing horrid? Keep debauching the currency, and forcing individuals to use such a media of exchange and this will continue. Also keep manipulating the interest rates along with the economy, advocating the same cheap over and over again that has resulted in failure just the same…. There’s more, but I’ll get to it later.

  20. Free individuals are able to repel aggression, and violations of their liberty quickly. Why should individuals have to wait 4 years to vote for an attempt to stop theft from taking place??? Would you allow the same robber to come into your house and steal, or would you take action? Individuals keep advocating rulers because they are scared of facing reality. They abandon it because they are shielded from any consequences for their advocacy of theft, force, coercion, or violence that they advocate politicians to do on their behalf.

    For years, folks have said “if only the right people, “if only more money”, etc. would things get better. So if trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results is insanity then the logical conclusion of government is insanity. It can only survive through violence. So if one respects liberty, then they could not advocate violence be initiated thereby forcing others to obey the demands of the few and therefore licking the boot of tyranny. Lick the boot all you want, but leave free individuals alone.

    If something can not survive through voluntarism, then it should not be. If you don’t want someone coming to your house, and demanding you pay up every week, then why is it ok when a politician orders it to be done? What gains are there from being extorted, only to have the money funneled to central planners whom are unable to economize, thereby destroying capital through inefficiency?

  21. If one is forced to work for the benefit of another they are a slave. There is no such thing as selective freedom and liberty. What you wish to sacrifice others may not. How many are you going to harm or kill in order to force others to give up their rights? Because that’s what it takes to venture away from liberty.

  22. The high 23% Fair Tax is a mixture of good and bad. The Fair Tax includes a prebate – a handout to low income families intended to offset the regressive nature of the tax. Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop people from keeping the prebate and avoiding the high tax rate by purchasing used items from clothing to furniture and everything in between. This legal tax avoidance will reduce the demand for new goods, slow the economy and require an increase in the initial 23% tax rate. At least the wealthy will be able to sell their used items rather than discarding or donating them.

    The claimed concern for, “a European-style value-added tax that exists not as a substitute for the existing income tax system, but as an ever-increasing addition to it” does not explain why every developed country in the world considers a VAT to be the fairest business tax ever invented. A VAT is a business income tax on gross sales that permits a credit for VAT taxes paid by other businesses in the chain of production and distribution but does not allow other income deductions, deferrals, exemptions or special rates (which is why it is fair). In practice, a VAT is a very good substitute for some but not all income tax revenue because it must be paid by business owners rather than low income families.

    The optional 19% Flat Tax is very good for high earners who will be able to lower their taxes but does nothing for low income families who have suffered the most since the 1970s.

  23. Tax value added by business, wages and interest paid by state & local govt. and nonprofits, and pensions 30%. All taxes would be collected at the paying source. The only persons filing a return would be the self-employed.

    FICA and Medicare taxes would be credited in full against flat tax liabilities.

    This tax would cover the proceeds of asset sales, net of the cost of asset purchases. Hence capital gains realised by businesses would be taxed. Nonprofits would deduct donations received, and all would deduct sales and excise taxes. No other deductions.

    All monetary benefits paid by the govt. would be reduced by 30%. All legal residents of the USA would be paid $4500/year, with parents pocketing the money their children were entitled to. This, plus some food stamps and section 8 money, would end poverty in America.

    The flat tax I propose would require a 15 line return from firms and the self-employed, a 13 line return from nonprofits, an 11 line return from state & local governments, and a 2 line return from pension plans.

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