The Corner

Re: Changes Coming to 9-9-9?

As Kate mentioned below, the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Moore, who helped design Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, is having second thoughts about the political viability of the national sales tax aspect of the plan and has recommended a 9 percent payroll tax to replace it.

In an interview with National Review Online, Moore explains that he has “come to the conclusion that a national sales tax is just a nonstarter,” politically. While he wasn’t expecting such a hostile reaction to the idea, Moore concedes that “people are naturally suspicious of a new tax.”

Cain’s current plan would eliminate the payroll tax altogether, and he often touts this as a selling point. However, enthusiasm over the elimination of an existing tax has been overshadowed by concern over the prospect of creating an entirely new revenue source for the federal government. Indeed, as Cain’s poll numbers have continued to rise and other candidates have begun to target him, the “new tax” argument has been a favorite line of attack.

Moore recommends as easy fix — set the payroll tax at 9 percent across the board (a reduction from current levels), while eliminating the existing cap on the amount of income from wages that can be taxed. Moore estimates that this new version of the plan would raise “roughly the same amount” of revenue as the current one, and argues that Cain would be “well-advised” to make the change. It is simply a matter of being “better off with the devil we know than the devil we don’t know.”

That’s not to say that Moore no longer likes the 9-9-9 plan in its current form. “I’d take a national sales tax if it gets [income-tax] rates down to nine percent,” he says. “But there are some very real objections out there.” 

Moore acknowledges that despite the criticism from other Republicans, Cain has been a capable defender of the plan its current form. And while he doesn’t expect to see the candidate announce any changes in tonight’s debate, Moore thinks the transition could be relatively smooth. “Is it a capitulation? No. It’s just a strategic change,” he says.

“Republican voters want to blow up the current tax system and start over, and Herman Cain is one of the few who has proposed doing that,” Moore says. “He has the boldest plan out there right now.”

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...