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Arlen Specter and the Flat Tax

2 min readBy: Joseph Bishop-Henchman

Colby Itkowitz at The Morning Call digs into Senator Arlen Specter's annual tradition of introducing a flat taxAn income tax is referred to as a “flat tax” when all taxable income is subject to the same tax rate, regardless of income level or assets. bill, most recently in March 2009 just before he switched from Republican to Democrat. Specter appears to be sticking by the position.

The article correctly points out that while flat taxes are painted as being a Republican idea, there's really nothing partisan about them:

But Bill Ahern, the nonpartisan TaxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. Foundation's director of policy and communications, sees it differently.

''Anyone who looks into the damage that this complex tax code causes is bound to cast about for something, anything, to improve the situation,'' Ahern said. ''It's true that tax filing is the biggest payday that some people get. The tax code has been used to provide what welfare used to provide.''

While the flat tax is largely considered a favorite of the conservative right — its supporters include billionaire publisher Steve Forbes and anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist — versions of a flat tax have been introduced by Democrats. President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, supported what he called a flat tax, but it still required that higher-income earners pay a higher percentage.[…]

Christopher Nicholas, Specter's campaign manager, said Sestak's criticism must mean he supports the status quo.

''Sestak has gone out of his way to defend today's complicated and unnavigable maze of regulations and loopholes,'' Nicholas said.

Sestak's campaign responded with a four-page tax plan that includes closing tax loopholes for corporations and oil companies. But it also adds new tax credits and relief, which wouldn't simplify tax filing.

Complicated taxation creates incentives to shelter and disguise income and impose administrative and compliance costs that are a loss to society. There are Republicans and Democrats who oppose such a tax system, just as there are Republicans and Democrats who support it.