Latest to put forward a blueprint is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a former front-runner who fully embraced a number of longstanding and far-reaching conservative goals.
“My plan does not trim around the edges,” Perry said as he announced it Tuesday in South Carolina.
The centerpiece is a proposal that would give individuals the option to pay a 20 percent flat tax. Perry also would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent; eliminate taxes on dividends and capital gains; make deep, unspecified cuts in federal spending; and establish individual retirement accounts outside the Social Security system.
The plan represented a sharp and intentional contrast to the less radical 59-point proposal put forward last month by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Although Perry did not mention his chief rival by name, he spoke dismissively of those who “simply offer microwaved plans with warmed-over reforms based on current ingredients.”
Perry won strong praise from conservative economists and activists, who were pleased that he adopted many of their long-held goals. In doing so, his plan could help reverse the slide his campaign suffered as the result of his weak performances in presidential debates.
“I am impressed at the level of detail. For someone who was supposed to be thin, there’s a lot there,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who in 2008 served as top economic adviser to GOP nominee John McCain’s campaign. “This is a very close cousin to some very serious plans that have been put forth historically.”
Added Grover Norquist, an anti-tax activist: “This does not solve all the world’s problems at once, but it’s a huge step in that direction.”
The proposal would be a boon to the wealthiest Americans, and that is one reason why previous flat-tax proposals, though appealing in their simplicity, have never gone far politically.
“The obvious winners are the rich,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “How big, we don’t know yet.”
President Obama’s reelection campaign made a similar point.
Perry’s flat-tax plan “radically restructures the tax system and shifts a greater tax burden onto the middle class,” James Kvaal, the team’s policy director, wrote in a memo released shortly before Perry’s speech.
Although the Republican candidates differ on the specifics of their plans, the frame of the argument against the current White House occupant is the same: Obama contends that the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes, the GOP candidates counter that wealthy Americans, along with everyone else, are paying too much. What’s bloated, they insist, is the government.