, Salem, MA


February 23, 2013

Shribman: Overhaul the tax system


In short: a less complicated, fairer system. Also — and here we plunge a policy dagger into the heart of accountants coast to coast — one that is comprehensible to the normal human being.

In his 1976 presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter described the U.S. tax code as a “disgrace to the human race,” perhaps the only thing upon which he and his 1981 successor Ronald Reagan would agree.

Reagan, assisted by the Democrat who headed Ways and Means, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Chicago, was able to strip the code in 1986 of many barnacles and lower the top rate to 28 percent from 50 percent. (The top rate has since migrated up to 39.6 percent.)

Now the trumpet summons us again to tax overhaul. The president — like Reagan, with Illinois roots, but a Democrat — believes that “now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.”

He was speaking language his rivals understand, and embrace. And the beauty thing — as George H.W. Bush would put it — is that Republicans are in accord. “There’s the possibility now of doing something very big,” Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said in an interview. “It’s going to take presidential leadership. He’s got to bring his party to the table. Republicans desperately want to do tax reform.”

So there we have it. Two willing parties. One extremely juicy target. A way to ensure justice (the Democratic imperative) and lower rates (the Republican preoccupation). Also a way to increase the economic activity subject to taxes (a Democratic priority) and a way to help small business (a Republican goal since the time Newt Gingrich was speaker) all at once.

And a way to do what almost nothing does in a culture where it takes minutes to boot up a computer and hours to figure out how to get On Demand on your television. It simplifies things.

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