George Will

It also is heartening that Rangel bothers to define (sort of) a four-letter word that many Democrats, who rarely define it, treat as a four-letter word: "rich." At what level of income are people rich? It "certainly isn't $200,000," says Rangel, who insists that under his plan "very few people making under $500,000" would not get a tax cut.

Perhaps this is the compassionate liberalism of a Democratic Party that represents the rich: The conservative Heritage Foundation reports that Democrats hold a majority of the wealthiest congressional districts, and that half the richest households (single filers earning at least $100,000 and married filers earning at least $200,000) live in states where both senators are Democrats.

Rangel says his proposal is "revenue neutral" and would only "rearrange" taxes. Much depends on how the alternative minimum tax and the Bush tax cuts are dealt with permanently. In any case, there will be a load of compromising on the road to Rangel's horizon.

"It's embarrassing," Rangel says, "what we do to taxpayers" -- embarrassing that so many of them cannot perform their civic duty of paying taxes without hiring a professional preparer. And sometimes, Rangel says, "they owe more to the preparer than they do to the government."

"I would erase the whole thing," he says, and begin anew by simply asking, "How much money does it take to run the damn government?" Then he would sweetly invite all the interest groups "to come in and defend their preferences." He thinks "a lot of people would have forgotten" why the preferences were granted, so the code might be partially cleaned up "by default."

More of a Madisonian than a McCainiac, Rangel says, "I really think lobbying is a good Goddamn thing." He surely knows, however, that tax reform can also be political reform. Reform should do what was done in 1986 -- simplify, paying for lower rates by closing loopholes. Serious simplification would, in effect, confiscate much of the intellectual capital of those lobbyists -- they are legion -- who live high on the hog by entreating Congress to tweak the tax code for the benefit of clients. Such confiscation would be awesome.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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