Why 9-9-9 Is A Great Idea

It’s the time of the campaign season for Republicans to go to war with each other.

Well, not really “war”; more like a tug of war.  If you’ve read this blog any length of time, you know the analogy I’m going for.  Politics isn’t a sprint.  It’s not even a marathon.  It’s a tug of war – or really an endless series of tugs of war, for control of everything from the Presidency down to the Soil and Water Commission, not to mention the various political parties,.  It’s a tug of war where, every two or four or six years, you take a snapshot and see how far to your side of the mud puddle your side has pulled each of the ropes.

And it’s the GOP’s turn to tug like mad.

Herman Cain has been pulling way about his weight, so far in this cycle.  And supporters of other candidates are pulling in response.

My friend Gary Gross at Let Freedom Ring is one of them, in a piece entitled “Why 

Why 9-9-9 is stupid is because it’s being proposed by a Republican. If Democrats want to propose it, then they own that proposal. If a Republican proposes and passes it, then Democrats raise that rate, Democrats can rationalize it by saying they’re just raising a tax created by Republicans. In essence, they’d be saying ‘it must not be bad because Republicans proposed it’.

There is a good point there – but let’s be honest, any tax reform can be hijacked by the party in power.  It’s incumbent on candidates and parties to not only propose better ideas, but wield the electoral power it takes to defend them.  Even Reagan’s reforms got hijacked, in not a few cases.

Frankly, a pretty impressive case can be made that 9-9-9 is capable of doing alot more damage than the current tax code. A fairly easy case can be made that Rick Perry’s flat tax and Newt Gingrich’s tax overhaul are significantly better tax reforms than 9-9-9.

That’s all true, well, and good.

Now – go out on the street, or even into a GOP meeting, and ask anyone to explain Perry’s flat tax proposal (although it’s really not that hard).  OK, how about Gingrich’s plan?

Indeed, how about getting interested but non-wonky voters to explain any tax reform ideas of the past 30 years, correctly?

Tax reform proposals have two problems.  The complex proposals, like Gingrich’s, are in the realm of the wonk; nobody who doesn’t live and breathe politics knows a whole lot about them.  And the relatively simple ones, like Perry’s?  There’s the big problem; to the extent that any politician has ever really talked about them, it’s been largely in the form of lip service.  No serious candidate for President has ever seriously pinned their campaign on radical simplification of the tax code.

Serious, radical tax reform has never been anything but a side show in any Presidential campaign, even within the GOP.

And that is why Cain’s proposal is a wonderful thing, in concept if not in actual details (because Gary and the other critics are right; a national sales tax would be a problem); because Cain is, to my knowledge, the first serious presidential contender to try to make adoption of a flat tax a real campaign-defining issue with voters – the kinds of voters who, bless their hearts, do need a catchy, easy-to-remember formula.

Do we need a better one than 9-9-9?  Absolutely.  But 9-9-9 has made a flat tax – some kind of flat tax – part of the political conversation.  And while I might favor something more like Perry’s plan (I’d personally like to see a flat 15% corporate tax and a 15% personal tax on income above the poverty line, as well as Perry’s cap on federal spending tied to the GDP, a ban on bailouts, and a balanced budget amendment), at least the subject is seriously on the table.

The details, we can work out – but it is vital that this issue get out of the side-show tent and into the center ring.

And now that the issue is there, we can work out the details.

And that is a good thing.

6 thoughts on “Why 9-9-9 Is A Great Idea

  1. Mitch, Let’s be clear about this. I think Herman Cain did Republicans a great service by proposing 9-9-9 because it forced other candidates to propose tax reform, too. I’m confident that we’d both agree that anytime the subject is taxes, limiting spending as a percentage of GDP & regulatory reform, President Obama loses & Republicans gain.

    You’re right, of course, that only wonkish types can smoothly explain most tax reform proposals. Actually, I appreciate the Perry Plan’s simplicity. Either stick with the complicated mess of the current system or pay a 20% flat tax after the $12,500 per person exemption, the home mortgage deduction & the charitable giving deduction.

    Newt’s plan is pretty straightforward, too. Start with cutting the corporate tax to 12.5%. Next, abolish capital gains & estate taxes. Finally, let companies write off all their new equipment in one year.

    During our recent blogger conference call, Paul Ryan said that the bold plans, including 9-9-9, Gov. Perry’s plan & Newt’s, would “without a doubt” create jobs.

    That’s close enough for me.

  2. Gary is right that 999 could become 11-11-11 with a liberal Congress. But that ignores one simple fact-the last liberal Congress raised taxes about a dozen different ways, and that average Joe on the street or even in a GOP meeting probably couldn’t name more than two of them.

    999 makes the exact tax rate completely transparent (at least until it gets diluted with a dozen different exemptions) so that even the average Joe at an OccupyMN rally would know when taxes went up.

  3. I’m just glad Cain finally got a solid piece on SITD. It has been said that 9-9-9 could not pass even a solid republican House/Senate because it gets rid of popular things like the income child tax credit and the mortage interest deduction (and I’ll be honest it probably can’t) BUT at least its a starting point. It should be interesting to see how this plays out. Especially with Romney’s clusterfuck of a tax proposal and the hit piece, by George Will no less, due out Sunday. Mitt is about to get hammered from all sides.

  4. What needs to be done to prevent 9-9-9 from becoming 11-11-11 or 15-15-15 or 25-25-25 is that the taxpayer base needs to be expanded. When more than half the people don’t pay taxes, it’s VERY easy for that majority of citizens to say “I don’t pay any taxes, I don’t care if the taxes go up”. If the poor had to pay even a small amount of taxes, they’d think long and hard about voting in the next politician that promises the world at the expense of “increasing revenue”.

    Unfortunately the only way THAT will happen is if we get all 3 branches (senate, house, POTUS) and we get a crew in who realizes that yes, they will likely get voted out after 1 term for broadening the tax base, but it’s THAT IMPORTANT.

  5. simply put the tax rates need to slashed but at the same time the tax base needs to be broadened. Will it happen? with 53% of the public still paying federal income taxes yes, but the 47% that don’t pay federal income taxes probably have a higher voter turnout rate.

  6. Of course, Cain’s plan also includes a provision that a supermajority is needed to raise taxes under 9-9-9. That’s the best defense against 11-11-11 or 15-15-15. Vigilance on the part of the American taxpayer and voter is required.

    Others have already hit upon the need to expand the tax base so I won’t elaborate further.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.