Thanks to inflation, AMT covers so many upper-middle-income taxpayers that its elimination has become one tax cut favored by Democrats. But why would a Republican president's commission lock into a Democratic priority? Because the Bush panel's dominant figure is former Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, a Democrat with a reputation for compromise but a record of partisan loyalty.
Breaux's Republican co-chairman is former Sen. Connie Mack of Florida, who ran with supply-siders on Capitol Hill but now seems most interested in cancer research. Hopes that the panel's membership would recommend real tax reform plunged when Bush appointed a third legislator: 77-year-old former Rep. William Frenzel of Minnesota, who as the House Budget Committee's ranking Republican in the '80s was the bane of supply-siders.
Most disheartening for reformers about the presidential panel is what it omits. It does not include the innovative, daring plan of Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina for an 8.5 percent retail sales tax and an 8.5 percent business transfer tax on companies. Yet, Bush has declared a "sales tax is an option we should consider seriously."
"Rather than giving the president a sales tax option," said Lawrence A. Hunter, chief economist of the Free Enterprise Fund, "the panel took it upon itself to decide for the president, limiting his options. That isn't what the panel was supposed to do." DeMint's plan, of course, would eliminate the AMT, as would any far-reaching tax reform.
When Republicans in 1994 assumed control of Congress, the party's leaders assured me that tax reform would be high on their agenda. In 11 years, however, Republicans have not begun to resolve conflict between a flat tax and a sales tax. Bush as president ignored the issue until this year and then named a commission instead of drafting a proposal. What emerged this week suggests that the president and the Republicans have squandered a precious opportunity.