The 'Fair' Tax

Matt Towery

12/21/2004 12:00:00 AM - Matt Towery

 Past polling has suggested that, when properly explained, the "Fair Tax" proposal, which would end the federal government's fixation on punishing those who work hard, is extremely popular. But tell that to the man who has championed it in recent years, U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Ga.

 Linder, who began his stint in Congress more than a decade ago, is a dentist by training, a successful businessman in his past career, and as bright a public servant as one would ever hope to meet. But in Washington, like everywhere else, there are certain "circles of power," certain styles which are expected, and a huge aversion to rocking boats unless such rocking is really a gentle push, or the public wants the boat to be taken to the depths of the deep blue sea.

 The problem is that John Linder is a true boat-rocker, and while members of Congress will pay lip service to such men or women of conviction, they also lack a comfort level with them. And admittedly, Linder's somewhat aloof style has made his popularity among some members somewhat problematic. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., an immensely likeable and level-headed leader of his party, has reportedly done everything but hire magician David Copperfield in an attempt to make Linder disappear from a rightful seniority driven stint as House Rules chairman.

 One wonders if Hastert has done a personality check on other powerful House members, such House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., known far and wide as one of Washington's most arrogant and unlovable members. Linder, for all of his dandified ways, is a saint compared to Thomas, and a heck of a lot smarter.

 Interestingly, it would be Thomas' committee that would have to approve and forward to the House floor Linder's novel and popular taxation proposal.

 But being smart and devoted to a cause rarely gets rewarded in the nation's capital. For years, Linder, whose proposal would shift taxation away from punishing production and toward taxing consumption, has reportedly tried in vain to get the Bush White House and top congressional leaders to seriously consider this logical proposal. But Linder's efforts have yet to prove fruitful.

 You see, pushing for complete overhaul of something as broken as our current income tax system, when the overhaul doesn't benefit some major source of political power in Washington, is never viewed as smart politics. So rather than fight for an end of a form of taxation that results in putting a burden on initiative and risk; requires a bloated bureaucracy to enforce its intricacies; and supports a world of big accounting and law firms, the real legislative push this year will be for the so-called "privatization" of Social Security.

 Now that's something that might fly, right? After all, allowing taxpayers to put some cash away in private funds might just give a big boost to those who handle investments. Not that I'm opposed to the concept. But with a thousand questions out there about the proposal's cost and workability, this proposal seems far more radical and risky than the life-altering taxation change proposed by Linder.

 The fact is that John Linder has devoted his entire adult life to advancing truly conservative ideas. And on a personal note, I write this knowing full well that I am not someone he particularly enjoys reading. But unlike some of his colleagues in the House, I can shove aside the fact that John Linder is not my biggest fan and recognize his immense value.

 He is as thorough in his research and planning as anyone who has ever set foot in the House. And while he is not warm and fuzzy, he is sharp and competent, which is much more than can be said about most in his business.

 And he is no outsider. During Newt Gingrich's stint as House speaker, Linder played a critical role as head of the Republican Congressional Committee. GOP hardcore members will recall that the 1998 version of that effort turned out less than spectacular. But take it from one who knows -- the problems with the Republican battle that year were not of Linder's making.

 And so, some six years later, we head into a new year with hopes of a true overhaul of our tax system probably having little more chance of coming to pass than Linder being tapped for Rules chairman. I've said it once and I'll say it again -- the Republican Party needs to go back to its Ronald Reagan philosophy of governance. They can start by giving John Linder and his proposal the respect they deserve.