Thursday, April 27, 2006

OR's "Mr. Smith" Goes to NH, Pimps Fair Flat Tax

No, he's not running in 2008. But Sen. Ron Wyden is clever enough to understand that the first taste most Americans get of politics in the presidential election season is during the runup to the New Hampshire primary. Iowa's caucuses come first, but they're messy insider affairs that are better interpreted with an abacus than an open pair of ears. No, it's in the snowy burgs of the Granite State where ordinary Americans can watch clips of other ordinary Americans, sipping coffee in rustic cafes and giving presidential hopefuls that jaundiced New England eye. What gets talked about as important to the election, gets notably talked about first in New Hampshire.

After co-promoting the "Fair Flat Tax Act" with Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL) in December, the response from various invested parties was a rather tepid shrug. But this was to be expected, and in fact Wyden's staffers admitted during the plan's November rollout for progressive media that their primary goals for the short term were simply jumpstarting a discussion, putting an actual Democrat idea on the table, and trying to take back the issue of fair taxation from the GOP.

But Wyden isn't waiting around for Congressional buy-in to pitch his plan. His trip last week to Bedford was designed to place the issue of tax reform into the minds of Hampshirites, in the hopes that an electorate primed and ready to discuss the issue, will force potential Presidents to address it as well:
“This year in the United States, we will have spent more money preparing our taxes than our government will have put into higher education,” Wyden told an audience of business leaders at a Politics and Eggs forum yesterday.

“We will have spent more than the annual revenue of Wal-Mart.”

Wyden, a second-term U.S. senator, showed the audience a one-page prototype that he developed to simplify the tax process. He invited audience members to view the form on his Web site,

“This is a one-page 1040 form,” he said. “It can be finished in under an hour.”

Some audience members compared Wyden to Jimmy Stewart because of his long-limbed stature and folksy disposition. He has long argued that the current tax code is too complicated for average people and puts too high a burden on middle-class Americans.

“We cannot do what we need to do in the United States today without a middle class,” he said. “Their survival is at stake.”
Note the Stewart comparison, which was meant to be a general physical reference--but given his best impression of Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington this morning, standing by himself for over five hours in an effort to dry up an $80-billion teat for the oil companies, Wyden may have to get used to the comparison.

The Union-Leader's conservative streak keeps their treatment of the story well within the range of the bland, but the Concord Monitor's op-ed gave Wyden what he wanted to hear:
Even though improving America's byzantine tax code will be a long shot no matter what happens in this year's elections, tax reform could be a good issue for Democrats.

The middle class is the right focus, too, depending, of course, on how the term is defined. The wages of many middle-class workers have stagnated for several years.


The Senate is scheduled to take up tax reform in the fall. Wyden has given Democrats something to talk about other than how bad the Republican plan is. He is right to question whether, in a nation where the gap between the rich and everyone else keeps increasing, the national policy should be to tax work at a far higher rate than wealth.
Of course, it wouldn't be a trip to New Hampshire if you didn't make it clear how much you treasured the state's first-in-the-nation primary. And as Politics NH indicates,
Following his meeting with [Gov. John] Lynch, Wyden said he did not support any plan by that would “dilute the New Hampshire Primary”, something that Democrats are considering this weekend in New Orleans.

Coming from Oregon he “understands what it means to be from a small state”. In terms of the primary, “I will do everything I can.”
If you don't make that clear while you're there, I think they pull a Hotel California on you and you can never leave. Thank goodness Ron had his pandering shoes on for that one!

Slowly but surely, as Wyden breaches the midway point of his second term as Senator, he is branching out beyond the Beaver State in order to become a more nationally-visible figure of that august body. Whether it's (slowly percolating) presidential ambition, a realization that staying mentally locked in Oregon trying to get things done with Gordon Smith is pointless, or just plain ego that is driving Wyden's recent surge in spotlight moments, it's a good thing to see.

What can you do? Pretend Oregonians like talking about national issues instead of statewide ones, and engage your neighbor in a little tax talk. Wouldn't it be great if you could fill out your taxes on one page, but you still got credit for your kids and your house? Wouldn't the system work better if we taxed money earned by collecting interest the same way we taxed money earned by the sweat of the brow? And with special resonance here at home: wouldn't it make more sense if corporations paid their fair share of taxes just like people? (Hint: the answers are yes, yes, and you bet your ass).