To those who worry that the rough-and-tumble Republican primary will produce a nominee who’s damaged goods by the time he* faces President Obama, allow me to point to the plethora of tax-reform plans coming from the candidates.
Concurrent with the daily superficial dramas that come with a presidential campaign is a real, substantive, intellectual debate about how to repair a fundamental — and fundamentally broken — function of government: the way it funds all its other functions. And it all but ensures that the eventual nominee will come equipped with a thoroughly vetted, central policy proposal that will compare very well with Obama’s embrace of the current tax code with just a few “tax the rich” tweaks.
Consider the range of proposals:
While there are some broad areas of agreement among these plans — flatter, simpler and broader are carrying the day in this primary — there’s a great deal of debate among them as to how to achieve those broad aims. Should such a basic reform as tax reform provide options for people to continue as they are now or change, as Gingrich and Perry argue? Should consumption be taxed by the federal government — either directly, as with Cain’s plan, or indirectly, as with the plans that keep the income tax but eliminate taxes on investments and savings? How much progressivity in the code is enough — or too much? Should Republicans play along with Obama’s game by treating higher earners differently when it comes to exemptions (Perry) or investment income (Romney)?
GOP primary voters have a chance to hash out these questions for themselves as they evaluate the candidates. And the analyses of these plans by independent and even left-leaning think tanks, as long as they’re intellectually honest, give the candidates a chance to weather criticism and make changes (a la Cain’s recent tinkering) before one of them wins the nomination and faces Obama.
And it must be said that any of these plans will contrast quite brightly with Obama’s plan to keep most of the current tax code, with higher rates — and fewer/no exemptions! — for higher earners. It is the difference between keeping a broken system mostly intact and starting mostly, or in some cases totally, over. It is the difference between using the tax code to reward/punish one’s allies/enemies, and simplifying it so that it doesn’t stand in the way of growth and investment that don’t develop the way government planners think, or hope, they will.
* – Yes, I am discounting the possibility that Michele Bachmann wins the nomination. And, while we’re talking candidates with zero chance of winning, Rick Santorum. And Gary Johnson. And any other candidates who have never gotten a mention on this blog.
– By Kyle Wingfield