The Campaign Spot

And Then, the Great Fair Tax War of 2009 Began

With his new book, The Fair Tax Fantasy, my friend Hugh Hewitt bravely risks a tsunami of angry e-mails and callers, each one raging with the unbridled fury of a thousand suns going supernova.

Hugh: “Fair Tax enthusiasts often call my show and demand that I ‘read the book,’ by which they mean one or both of Neal’s books. We have, and they do nothing to persuade serious readers of the plan’s merits, but much to camouflage the scheme’s many deeply embedded flaws. Henceforth, I’ll be able to respond, ‘Yes, but have you read the book that exposes the Fair tax as a destructive fantasy it is?’”

Back in December 2007, I wrote a bit about why the Fair Tax would never happen:

I’m intrigued by the theory of a national sales tax, or a consumption tax, or some variations of these. But supporters of the Fair Tax seem to find the enormous, radical, epoch-shaking change part of its appeal instead of a potential liability.

If and when Congress considers scrapping the entire tax code and replacing it with the Fair Tax, the scene in Washington is going to look like one of those giant battle scenes from Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, or, say, the Imaginationland episodes of South Park.

One one side of Capitol Hill, you’re going to have a plucky band of stout-hearted policy warriors, led by perhaps the President backing the idea and some members of Congress. They’ll be joined by longtime advocates like Neal Boortz and John Linder. Herman Cain. Maybe Sean Hannity. Maybe Mike Gravel sitting alone, muttering to himself.

And on the other side of the hill, sharpening their battle axes will be . . . oh, just about all of Washington. Every lobbyist who has ever labored to get a tax break written into the tax code. Every special interest who has ever succeeded in getting a tax break written into the tax code.  Every homeowner worried about losing the home mortgage deduction, along with every real estate agent, home builder, and construction worker. Every charity of every stripe, ready to push orphans and puppies in front of the camera, claiming they’re doomed without the charitable deduction. Every accountant and tax preparer. And every member of Congress who refused to give up their most powerful policy tool, their ability to influence the federal tax code. And just think, all they would need would be 40 votes to filibuster the proposal to death.

So the political fight to pass the Fair Tax would the Bloodbath To End All Bloodbaths, with the odds stacked very heavily against the reformers. Maybe some people find struggling for decades against the toughest of odds for a dream derided as crazy by skeptics to be inspiring, an ideal that gets the blood pumping.

But I’d prefer a candidate who had a plan B for tax reform that could be passed with, say, simple majorities in the House and Senate.

I would just add today that Fair Tax supporters really can’t criticize President Obama for reducing the deduction level for charitable contributions when they want to eliminate the deduction for charitable contributions.