Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wyden's Long March to Tax Fairness

We've covered Ron Wyden's Fair Flat Tax Act proposal a couple of times in the past, so I won't go into much detail about the specifics of the idea, which you can read for yourself. But since its introduction, Wyden has worked very hard gently pushing the idea with not only those naturally disposed towards its structure, but potential foes like tax subcommittee chair Senator Charles Grassley and the head of the President's economic council.

It looks like what Wyden calls "grunt work" is beginning to pay off. Yesterday's Business section of the Washington Post featured not only a column on his efforts, but also a followup online chat, and although the tone was one of semi-admiring skepticism, it's a significant step forward for a real discussion of his plan:
The last full-scale revision of the federal income tax was 20 years ago. Since then, Congress has made about 14,000 tax-law changes, and very few of them are what anyone would call reform. A lot of the loopholes and exceptions that were excised by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 have been essentially restored.

Hence Wyden's effort. He has been making speeches around the country and talking to Washington insiders about the need to clean up the tax code again, for the sake of fairness and simplicity. Not many people bet that he'll succeed. But, then again, almost no one put much faith in the lonely crusade of New Jersey Democrat Bill Bradley when he laid the groundwork for the 1986 act.

"This is the beginning of the long march," Wyden said.
Birnbaum's coverage does a pretty lousy job of explaining the theory behind Wyden's plan, which is much less about closing loopholes and cutting taxes, than it is about restoring the balance between wage and wealth income, and individual and corporate income. He does however hit the nail on the head in identifying its most formidable opponent: big business interests, and the Congresspeople who coddle them. The chat is similarly somewhat off-focus, diverging (as online chats do) into discussions about the estate tax and carbon taxes, without using that valuable time to talk about how Wyden's plan would work.

Nonetheless, this is one more positive step for both the plan's chances of success, and Wyden's continuing ascent from obscure western Senator to one of the leaders in the national Democratic caucus. Should the Senate flip this November, his positions on the Finance, Intelligence and Energy committees would make him a highly influential member on some of the hottest issues before Congress in the near future. I'd like to see him replace the earnest but ultimately ineffective Senator Rockefeller as the ranking member in Intelligence, where his increasing facility for the bully pulpit is desperately needed to reverse the damage done by the current administration.

Keep on keepin' on, Ron.