WASHINGTON – Chosen to find a simpler way to tax the nation, a presidential panel gets set to recommend two designs that would rewrite virtually every tax law for individuals and businesses.
Under the plan, most deductions, credits and other tax breaks would be eliminated along with much of the paperwork and equations that baffle taxpayers under a drastically simplified income tax.
But many have wondered whether the key recommendations may be too unpopular to ever be enacted by Congress.
The nine members of the presidential commission present their findings Tuesday to Treasury Secretary (search) John Snow, who told the Detroit Economic Club (search) on Monday the nation's taxes need "not only theoretical reform, not only academic reform, but actual practical reform."
The President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform (search) spent most of the year studying tax designs, including consumption taxes like a national retail sales tax. President Bush tasked the group with finding simpler and more economically productive ideas for taxation.
The commission wrapped up its work last month, and its ideas immediately attracted criticism — some from those wanted to see more change and some from those who felt the changes went too far.
Under both of the panel's alternatives, three out of four taxpayers would fall into the lowest, 15 percent, tax bracket.
Under one plan, individuals would pay no tax on dividends paid by U.S. companies and exclude 75 percent of their capital gains from taxation. Under the second plan, all investment income would be taxed at 15 percent.
Both proposals would abolish the alternative minimum tax, a levy originally drafted to prevent wealthy individuals from escaping taxation but increasingly reaching into the middle class. They also would eliminate federal deductions and credits for mortgage interest, state and local taxes and education, among others.
The advisory commission would replace those withdrawn tax breaks with simpler benefits, including three savings plans that supplant dozens currently available for retirement, medical expenses and education.
Bush set certain limits on the panel, requiring that the new plans collect as much tax money as the government collects now.
The proposals also had to retain the progressive system that taxes wealthier taxpayers at higher rates than poorer individuals and families. They were also required to recognize "the importance of homeownership and charity in American society."
The panel rejected frequently touted ideas to impose taxes on consumption, like a retail sales tax.
Instead, the group chose to use one recommendation to push for major simplification of the current income tax system. Its second recommendation makes changes for businesses that shift the nation's tax system toward indirect tax on consumption.
Snow said he expected the panel's ideas to halve the lines on a standard income tax return, also cutting in half the number of taxpayers who need to hire a professional tax preparer.
The panel determined that tax breaks for homeownership and employees' health insurance could be changed to spread their benefits to more middle-income families.
The panel would convert the home mortgage interest deduction into a credit, while lowering the $1 million limit on mortgages eligible for the tax break to an amount closer to average housing prices, with adjustments for geographical differences.