Building Grassroots Support to “Scrap the Code”

WITH THE HELP OF HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER Dick Armey of Texas and Representative “Billy” Tauzin of Louisiana, Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation’s “Scrap the Code” tour is educating and galvanizing Americans to promote fundamental tax reform. Congressmen Armey and Tauzin propose to scrap our overly complicated and unfair tax code and replace it with either a flat tax, in the case of Mr. Armey, or a national retail sales tax, embraced by Mr. Tauzin. While each is committed to his own plan, both agree that either alternative is better than the status quo. Both have devoted a large portion of their time and energy to this traveling road show because they believe in the premise of CSE Foundation’s “Scrap the Code” tour: Overhauling the federal tax code will happen only if pressure is applied from outside the Beltway.

CSE Foundation’s tour has criss-crossed the United States since October 1997, with stops from Phoenix, Arizona, to Sarasota, Florida, from Seattle, Washington, and San Diego, California, on the west coast to Boston, Massachusetts and the suburbs of Philadelphia on the east coast. In all, the tour stopped in 30 cities, with participation from approximately 30,000 people. Because the two Congressmen don’t believe that talking about tax reform has to be deadly dull, the debate format gives the public an opportunity to become educated about the top two tax reform alternatives in an entertaining yet informative manner.

The response has been amazing, answering once and for all the question of whether tax reform resonates with the public. Phone calls and letters of support have been pouring in to CSE Foundation since the tour took off last autumn. Hundreds of newspapers have covered the story, and the major television networks have each covered at least one tour stop. Tax reform is an issue that consistently makes news and attracts voter interest—even when Congress fails to act on the issue. A couple other measures of this are that CSE Foundation has given away over 15,000 free tee-shirts and at least as many booklets, brochures, bumper stickers and buttons.

Last October, while many members of Congress and the president were out selling their “dream” budget deal, CSE Foundation received its first inkling of how grassroots Americans felt about tax reform. Four thousand people turned out in Atlanta to hear Congressmen Armey and Tauzin debate their plans. It was an overflow crowd, requiring that some people watch the debate from television monitors in the corridors outside.

Enthusiasm for the tour did not stop there. This past May, in Raleigh, North Carolina, when the evening’s debate ended, the crowd refused to let Majority Leader Armey leave the stage. He stayed for a full hour after the hour-and-a half debate ended to answer questions, despite having already done a morning debate in Charlotte. In August, in Kansas City, the Channel 5-news station covered the debate live as the congressmen talked tax reform to another full lunchtime crowd. Members of Congress continue to request that the tour come to their districts.

For anyone who still doubts that Americans are interested in tax reform, consider this: Last month, The Washington Post ran a front-page story containing a poll showing that 66 percent of the American public support fundamental tax reform and consider it to be an important issue for deciding how to vote in November.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey likes to say that tax reform will be a reality “when America beats Washington.” The popularity of the “Scrap the Code” tour suggests that there is sufficient public support to conduct a major overhaul of our nation’s tax code, if tax reformers persevere in educating and leading the American people.

Mr. Beckner is President of Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based 250.000-member grassroots organization.