Recklessness on Tax Reform

There's dumb and dumber in the House of Representatives. First, Republicans sponsored reckless legislation to scrap the federal tax code in 2002. Then they actually passed it. Luckily, no one expects the ill-conceived measure to become law this year. This bill has populist appeal--who doesn't think the tax code is ridiculously complex?--but it's based not on solid reform but rather outlandish gimmickry.

The House bill would abolish the existing Internal Revenue Code on Dec. 31, 2002, and would require Congress to enact a replacement system no later than July 4, 2002. Sounds simple, but no one has a clue as to what might constitute a new, simple code. And the measure does not stipulate what would happen if Congress failed to act.

It's irresponsible governance to leave future tax policy uncertain, for both individuals and business. This approach is likely to further antagonize big business, which already is disenchanted with congressional Republicans for some of their recent anti-business rhetoric.

Grass-roots support for the bill came primarily from the National Federation of Independent Business, which waged a massive signature campaign to make the case that tax forms are too complicated and costly for small business. The supporters maintain that unless Congress has a firm deadline, members will never address tax reform. Smartly, other small business groups such as the National Assn. for the Self Employed and National Small Business United oppose the bill.

Twenty House Republicans had the good sense to vote no. The California delegation voted along party lines with the exception of Democrat Gary A. Condit of Ceres.

The measure is not likely to advance. Senate opponents promise a filibuster, and President Clinton has said he would veto the measure if it got to his desk.

Change is clearly needed in the tax code, but it will take a bipartisan effort--similar to ongoing congressional action to revamp the Internal Revenue Service. And before the House and Senate get too high on their horses in condemning current tax laws, they should consider what is responsible for them in the first place. You got it--Congress.

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