WASHINGTON -- In 2013, when President Mitch Daniels, former Indiana governor, is counting his blessings, at the top of his list will be the name of his vice president: Paul Ryan. The former congressman from Wisconsin will have come to office with ideas for steering the federal government to solvency.
Not that Daniels has ever been bereft of ideas. Under him, Indiana property taxes have been cut 30 percent and for the first time, Standard & Poor's has raised the state's credit rating to AAA. But in January 2010, Ryan released an updated version of his "Roadmap for America's Future," a cure for the most completely predictable major problem that has ever afflicted America.
Some calamities -- the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 -- have come like summer lightning, as bolts from the blue. The looming crisis of America's Ponzi entitlement structure is different. Driven by the demographics of an aging population, its causes, timing and scope are known.
Funding entitlements -- especially medical care and pensions for the elderly -- requires reinvigorating the economy. Ryan's map connects three destinations -- economic vitality, diminished public debt, and health and retirement security.
To make the economy -- on which all else hinges -- hum, Ryan proposes tax reform. Masochists would be permitted to continue paying income taxes under the current system. Others could use a radically simplified code, filing a form that fits on a postcard. It would have just two rates: 10 percent on incomes up to $100,000 for joint filers and $50,000 for single filers; 25 percent on higher incomes. There would be no deductions, credits or exclusions, other than the health care tax credit (see below).
Today's tax system was shaped by sadists who were trying to be nice: Every wrinkle in the code was put there to benefit this or that interest. Since the 1986 tax simplification, the code has been recomplicated more than 14,000 times -- more than once a day.
At the 2004 Republican convention, thunderous applause greeted George W. Bush's statement that the code is "a complicated mess" and a "drag on our economy" and his promise to "reform and simplify" it. But his next paragraphs proposed more complications to incentivize this and that behavior for the greater good.
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