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Final Report of the Federal Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform

5 min readBy: Andrew Chamberlain

The President’s Advisory Panel on Federal 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. Reform has now released its final report to Treasury Secratary John Snow. Here are the materials:

Cover Letter (PDF)Executive Summary (PDF)Full Report, Chapters 1-4 (PDF)Full Report, Chapters 5-6 (PDF)Full Report, Chapters 7-9 (PDF)Full Report, Appendix (PDF)

Here’s the full text of the cover letter:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

President George W. Bush formed this Panel to identify the major problems in our nation’s tax code and to recommend options to make the code simpler, fairer, and more conducive to economic growth. The Panel heard from nearly 100 witnesses and received thousands of written comments. Together, these witnesses and these comments described the unacceptable state of our current tax system. Yet this tax code governs virtually every transaction in the world’s largest economy, affecting the daily lives of nearly 300 million people.

Our tax code is rewritten so often that it should be drafted in pencil. Each year, the tax code is adjusted to meet multiple policy goals – some are broadly shared, but many are not. Myriad tax deductionA tax deduction is a provision that reduces taxable income. A standard deduction is a single deduction at a fixed amount. Itemized deductions are popular among higher-income taxpayers who often have significant deductible expenses, such as state and local taxes paid, mortgage interest, and charitable contributions. s, credits, exemptions, and other preferences may be a practical way to get policy enacted, but it is a poor way to write a tax code. Whether the government spends more or extends a special tax break, the effect is the same: everyone else must pay higher taxes to raise the revenue necessary to run the government.

During the past few decades, panels have been formed repeatedly, legislation introduced annually, and hearings scheduled regularly to study our tax code and recommend changes. In 1986, a bipartisan effort yielded the last major tax reform legislation. But because of the ever-present tendency to tinker with the tax code, we must redouble our efforts to achieve fundamental reform.

Since the 1986 tax reform bill passed, there have been nearly 15,000 changes to the tax code – equal to more than two changes a day. Each one of these changes had a sponsor, and each had a rationale to defend it. Each one was passed by Congress and signed into law. Some of us saw this firsthand, having served in the U.S. Congress for a combined 71 years, including 36 years on the tax-writing committees. Others of us saw the changes from a different perspective – teaching, interpreting, and even administering the tax code. In retrospect, it is clear that frequent changes to the tax code, no matter how well-intentioned, ultimately undermine the integrity of the code in real and significant ways.

As we moved forward with recommendations for reform, we followed the President’s instructions to emphasize simplicity, fairness, and to remove impediments to growth. Achieving all of these principles is no easy task. We recognized from the start of our meetings that while it is relatively straightforward to point out flaws in a tax system and to express a desire for change, it is much more challenging to settle on a specific solution. There are difficult trade-offs. While we have differed at times and we may not all agree with every word in this report, we all fully endorse it.

We unanimously recommend two options to reform the tax code. We refer to one option as the Simplified Income Tax Plan and the other option as the Growth and Investment Tax Plan. Both of them are preferable to our current system. Both satisfy the President’s directive to recommend options that are simple, fair, and pro-growth.

The Simplified Income Tax Plan dramatically simplifies our tax code, cleans out targeted tax breaks that have cluttered the system, and lowers rates. It does away with gimmicks and hidden traps like the alternative minimum tax. It preserves and simplifies major features of our current tax code, including benefits for home ownership, charitable giving, and health care, and makes them available to all Americans. It removes many of the disincentives to saving that exist in our current code, and it makes small business tax calculations much easier. It also offers an updated corporate tax structure to make it easier for American corporations to compete in global markets.

The second recommended option, the Growth and Investment Tax Plan builds on the Simplified Income Tax Plan and adds a major new feature: moving the tax code closer to a system that would not tax families or businesses on their savings or investments. It would allow businesses to expense or write-off their investments immediately. It would lower tax rates, and impose a single, low tax rate on dividends, interest, and capital gains.

As directed by the President, our recommendations have been designed to raise approximately the same amount of money as the current tax system. The issue of whether the tax code should raise more or less revenue was outside of our mandate. Regardless of how one feels about the amount of revenue required to fund our government, all should agree that the tax system needs a solid and rational foundation.

We recognize that our report is just the beginning of the process to fix our broken tax system. The hardest work lies ahead. As a bipartisan Panel, we have heard from witnesses and elicited proposals from members of both major parties. We hope that the Administration and the Congress will carry forward this spirit of bipartisanship.

The effort to reform the tax code is noble in its purpose, but it requires political willpower. Many stand waiting to defend their breaks, deductions, and loopholes, and to defeat our efforts. That is part of the legislative process. But the interests of a few should not stand in the way of the tax code’s primary goal: to raise funds efficiently for the common defense, vital social programs, and other goals of shared purpose. If we agree the goals serve us all, we must also agree that the costs must be fairly borne by all.

This report aims to give voice to the frustrated American taxpayer and to provide a blueprint for lasting reform. We look forward to a national debate and a better tax system.

Connie Mack III John Breaux William Eldridge Frenzel Elizabeth GarrettEdward P. LazearTimothy J. MurisJames Michael PoterbaCharles O. RossottiLiz Ann Sonders