WASHINGTON – While Republican leaders of the House and Senate are huddling for the next two days in Norfolk, Va., to chart the agenda for the upcoming Congress, White House officials meeting with them on tax reform are likely to debate the idea of a national sales tax (search).
President Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) have both said the idea of a national sales tax deserves a serious look. For many, the idea of a world without the Internal Revenue Service is very seductive.
"We spend about $400 billion a year complying with the tax code. We spend $200 billion a year just filling out IRS paperwork," said Rep. John Linder (search) , R-Ga., who has proposed a bill that would create a national sales tax.
Proponents have spent millions on research and have concluded that a national sales tax can replace the income tax, payroll tax, estate tax and corporate tax. Advocates say the new tax would lower the cost of manufacturing and job creation and attract foreign investments, among other things.
"If we were to get rid of the sales or the income tax and the payroll tax and all compliance costs, we would be so ferociously competitive in a world economy that corporate America would not be competed with unless foreign corporations started building their plants in America," Linder said.
Proponents seek a 23-cent national sales tax on all retail goods, everything from groceries to clothes, cars to electronics. Everyone would pay the same rate, which critics argue is part of the problem.
"If you consume $40,000 a year and you make $50,000 a year, would you feel it is fair if a guy who made a half a million dollars a year but spent $40,000 a year paid the same tax you do? I think you wouldn't feel it's fair," said Buck Chapoton, former assistant treasury secretary.
Sales tax advocates say the rich will always consume more than people in the lower and middle classes, and will pay wealth that is untaxed now.
"The current tax only taxes income. This tax taxes wealth. There are a lot of people who have inherited huge sums who are paying no income tax whatever, they will pay taxes when they spend it," Linder said.
Critics contend that the sales tax would have to be higher than advocates advertise.
"It would require at least a 30 percent rate, that's a very high rate and may create tax evasion on its own," said Chris Edwards, a tax analyst with the Cato Institute. "The highest state sales tax we've got right now is only 11 percent. So there's a great unknown here, would the government be able to actually collect a 30-percent sales tax?"
Sales tax backers say their tax is relatively easy to collect — forty-five states already do it — and the tax would collect revenue from the vast, underground economy.
"About a trillion dollars now is in the underground economy, untaxed. That's just three items — pornography, illicit drugs and illegal labor. We wouldn't make them more legal if we had a sales tax, but what we would do is tax them when they spent it for personal consumption," Linder said.
Critics say two categories of Americans won't like the sales tax: millions who don't pay federal income taxes and workers about to retire who could see their nest eggs devoured by a large and unexpected sales tax.
Click in the box near the top of the story for a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.