Primary victories by Tea Party candidates have given a boost to the so-called fair tax, a reform proposal that abolishes incomes taxes — and the IRS — and levies a tax on spending instead.
The levy received little attention during the 2005 tax reform debate under President George W. Bush because experts warned it raised less revenue than the current system and would force drastic cuts in the size of the federal government.
While that prospect does not sit well with many Washington insiders, it dovetails well with the Tea Party’s mantra: fewer taxes, less government.
“Both the Tea Party and the fair tax seek to put power back in the hands of the American people,” Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), the primary sponsor of fair tax legislation, said in a statement to The Hill.
Linder predicts that the Tea Party’s growing ranks will force lawmakers to take a serious look at his fair tax bill.
“I believe that as support for the Tea Party movement continues to grow, Americans will learn about the benefits of the Fair Tax,” Linder said. “As more Americans begin to understand how the Fair Tax can turn our current economic situation around they will voice their support for this fundamental tax reform plan to their representatives, and Congress will have no choice but to act.”
Todd Cefaratti, executive director for JoinTheTeaParty.us, said that roughly 1,000 new recruits join the movement every day. And while the Tea Party is a splintered collection of groups without a unifying leader, Cefaratti’s organization connects them by providing them with daily updates about the movement.
Republicans have taken note of Tea Party upstarts toppling Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah), and blocking Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) from running for a Senate seat he was widely expected to win. Some conservatives who aren't even up for reelection this year are tacking farther to the right to keep the Tea Party from supporting a candidate in their home state.
The Tea Party’s entrance onto the political stage comes as congressional tax-writers begin shouldering the enormous task of reforming the tax code. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has announced a hearing on the subject this week, the first in over a year.
“We’ve got to reform our corporate and our individual income tax for a whole host of reasons,” he told reporters recently. “It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to take time. I’m going to do what I can to make it thoughtful, and that means extended hearings on [the] various aspects of individual and corporate tax code.”
The fair tax essentially replaces income and payroll taxes with a national sales tax that would likely be collected at the state level. Many experts say state agencies don’t have the manpower or technology to monitor all sales, which will lead to greater noncompliance in terms of taxpayers paying their fair share.
But a recent poll by the Tea Party Patriots gave the fair fax extremely high ratings, beating out other tax reform proposals, like the flat tax, as well as other non-tax issues Tea Parties consider extremely important.
“Out of all the issues that online respondents listed – including a balanced budget amendment, term limits, drill-here-drill-now and whole host of other issues – the fair tax came out No. 1,” Philip Hinson, national spokesman for FairTax.org, told The Hill.
None of the high profile Tea Party candidates like Sharron Angle, Joe Miller or Christine O'Donnell mention the fair tax on their campaign websites, but Cefaratti suggests the proposal does fit within their profile.
“[The] tea party movement doesn’t have just one or a few positions as we are a grassroots movement and not a single organization with a single leader,” he told The Hill. “The movement is about core principles of following the US constitution as the founders intended of limited government, states’ rights, individual liberty and freedom.”
The fair tax plays well in the South with all but one House Republican challenger from Georgia supporting the proposal, Hinson says. Republican challenger Bill Marcy in Mississippi’s 2nd district and Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) running for the Senate also support it.
Linder’s latest Fair Tax bill has 64 co-sponsors, including Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.). The total is a record high.
“We’ve heard that there are more congressional candidates running in support of the fair tax this year than has ever been the case,” Hinson said, adding, “When you go to any Tea Party rallies, particularly here in the South, you see fair tax signs and fair tax T-shirts everywhere.”