The Hard and Worthwhile Road to the FairTax

The FairTax will not be enacted without overwhelming citizen pressure.

The answer to the strategy question of “How can the FairTax be enacted?” is both simple and hard: one Congressional district at a time with each step forward reinforcing the grassroots works of others. The larger answer is that only the full participation of the American body politic has the power to overcome the entrenched interests in Washington, D.C. that surround the income tax system. The good news–and bad news– is that the benefits of the income tax system are largely confined to those in and around Congress while the disadvantages and destructive effects of direct taxation affect the entire nation. Implicit in such strategy questions are two more fundamental questions: can the many overcome the politically powerful few and, most significantly in my view, does our form of democracy still work when the majorities’ interest requires change by the political elite? The FairTax is, seen in this light, is nothing less than a test of the fundamental promise of the Framer’s vision of a representative democracy.  

We, the people, essentially have to run over the tax lobby and all their friends in Washington, D.C. for the FairTax to see enactment. This is no small task and one that the political class largley dismisses as unrealistic. True; one cannot ever underestimate the clout this crowd will bring to bear in defense of the lucrative federal system that allows favor trading, huge profits, loophole buying/selling and the understandable social networking that this significant Washington, D.C. industry produces. Pundits, academicians, legislators, lobbyists and even tax-reform groups and think-tanks all feed off the income tax system’s workings in Washington and have –and will–resist this needed and sensible reform. The merits of a tax system that unleashes our potential for invention, competition, productivity and investment are not, alone, sufficient to win Members of Congress away from their self-interest in power and profit–and the very human element of resistance to change. Even the potential of the FairTax to solve the current economic crisis by restoring consumer confidence, allowing distressed home owners the increased take home pay to satisfy mortgage obligations and attract a predicted $10-$15 trillion of foreign investment into our economy does not trump the power and profit motives of income tax system defenders. The FairTax has already suffered attacks from this group that distort the issue for political advantage (in races from Arizona to Texas to Georgia), ignore the considerable research that has been accomplished (the President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform), and even, by a well-known income tax lobbyist, falsely assign the genesis of the FairTax to a religious group.

But opponents have made the mistake of underestimating the growing grassroots strength of the FairTax movement. In essence, this issue is a case in point on the distance (and disconnect) between the political class of “elites” and the citizen–because the income tax system is very “positive” for those who work it in Washington, D.C. and very “negative” for almost everyone else. In this, the political class can only continue profiting from a clearly destructive system through denial of the most fundamental tenant of our form of government–-self-rule by our citizens. To achieve the red hot “heat” necessary to overturn such self-interest, a far greater number of the public must become aware of their immediate self-interest and the harm that this system produces for them today and in the future. Only when Members of Congress face daily hectoring, the loss of voter support and imminent defeat will the FairTax go to the floor of the House. That kind of intense citizen pressure has not yet been achieved but grassroots strength is steadily growing toward that day and, in pockets of the nation, this intensity of citizen demand is being produced today. When we finally see the FairTax campaign reach the “tipping point” of such intense citizen pressure, inevitable calls from the status quo crowd–this will include both Democrats and Republicans– for a modification of the FairTax will occur. These calls will include resistance to repeal of the 16th amendment and, upon introduction, a floor amendment to allow some item–probably a food, medicine or service–to be exempted from the FairTax. It will sound eminently reasonable but through this one amendment, the door will be left open to continued Congressional mischief to pick winners and losers (to punish and reward) and lobbyist’s continued role as purveyors of influence and money.

In the case of the FairTax floor debate, supporters will have a matter of hours to raise constituent pressure to the boiling point and shut down the Congressional attempt to retain power over the tax system and the ability for self-dealing that so corrupts the system today. The mechanics of this require a large presence in Washington during debate, an e-mail network that can be quickly alerted in a call to action, and a phone and fax response that will overwhelm Congressional offices both In Washington and in home districts. The same fight will occur in the Senate.

For the Constitutional Amendment fight, the timing will be easier but the goal of winning two-thirds of the entire Congress supporting the legislation will be more difficult. Without any doubt, both Democrats and Republicans will be needed so those who want to fashion the FairTax as a Republican-only issue should really reconsider that position. The FairTax is, in my view, a citizen initiative that transcends political affiliation because to succeed, all are required and upon enactment–all benefit. In this, the same intense pressure from constituents will be needed in order to secure overwhelming bi-partisan support for passage.

Once out of the Congress, FairTaxers have little doubt that the same pressure on state legislators from a newly empowered citizenry enjoying the immediate benefits of the FairTax will produce quick results in state-by-state ratification of the Constitutional Amendment. State legislators, after all, have no stake in the profits and power surrounding the income tax system.

I often hear the question, “what guarantee is there that… (fill in the bad outcome caused by Congressional self interest)?”. Simply put, there is no guarantee that the Congress and those dependent on the profits from the buying/selling of the tax code will not work mischief. In our Republic, there has never been such a guarantee on any public policy except our Constitutionally guaranteed rights–and that is precisely why we now have a government on an unsustainable path of debt–and other failures of public policy.

The FairTax requires, as does our form of government, advanced citizenship. It is seen too rarely but through the FairTax that ethic must be restored both for the FairTax to advance–and for the promise of the Founding Fathers to be both renewed and fulfilled. The problem–and the beauty–of self-government is that if we want it–we must acheive it. Those who have come to expect that our “leaders”– or someone else–will make this happen or guarantee the policy outcome don’t truly understand the nature of a representative democracy. It’s understandable–we, as citizens, are increasingly conditioned to rely upon the statefor comfort and security, leaving us free to pursue happiness. From Hurricane Katrina’s lesson that overreliance on government is unsound to the almost daily stories of government agency waste and fraud to the sad state of our economy, life teaches us something quite different. We get the government we deserve and we’ll only get the tax system we work to produce.

Those in Washington have worked to produce something that works quite nicely–and lucratively– for them, even if destructive to the economy and our citizens. It is high time that this public policy was made to actually serve the larger public and it will require reminding the citizenry of their power and perogatives under the Constitution to acheive that goal. Hard? Yes. Worth it for far more than even a far better tax system? Yes.