WASHINGTON - President Bush, promising to simplify the way Americans pay federal taxes, appointed a panel yesterday to craft proposals by this summer that could become the groundwork for Bush's bid to overhaul the nation's complex tax code.
"This is an essential task for our country. It's a task that will treat our taxpayers more fairly," Bush told his new nine-member bipartisan Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform seated with him in the Oval Office. "I am firm in my desire to get something done."
What they recommend - and what the Treasury Department does with those recommendations before taking the president's case to Congress later this year - is another matter. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow told reporters outside the White House that "everything is on the table."
Tax experts expect that the Bush administration is most likely to pursue a streamlining of the federal income tax, an initiative that could include easier rules, as well as tax incentives to encourage individuals and businesses to save and invest money. Those are two goals Bush has made clear he wants to achieve in creating a tax code that encourages "economic vitality and growth."
Yet this panel of former politicians, professors and business leaders will have an array of proposals on its plate as it holds public hearings across the country. These will range from a new flat tax - a single tax rate that all Americans would pay - to a national sales tax in place of the income tax.
In the end, with the panel's recommendations due by July 31, whatever the Treasury Department fashions must be something Bush can sell to the Republican-run Congress if the president is to achieve his goal of overhauling the tax code in his second term.
"One of the things they'll have to do is analyze the political landscape and make the best estimate of how far they can go in reform," said Connie Mack, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Florida, who will serve as chairman of the advisory panel. "I view my role, certainly as we begin the process, to be very open-minded and not have a specific conclusion that I'm going to get."
The chairman is the grandson of the baseball legend for whom he is named, the longtime manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. Mack - his actual name is Cornelius McGillicuddy III - made his name in politics with a Senate campaign based on a simple theme: "Less taxes, more freedom." His son, Rep. Connie Mack IV, is a freshman in Congress.
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