What The Candidates Should Debate Delivering on these three Campaign Promises would go right to American families' bottom line
(MONEY Magazine) – As you read this, the people of Boston are digging out from the Democratic National Convention, and we New Yorkers are bracing for the Republicans. Obviously, these quadrennial circuses are about campaigning, not governing. But wouldn't it be great if, in addition to all the rhetoric that inevitably emerges from the conventions, there were also a few proposals that would help American families achieve a more secure and prosperous life? Should either party want to rise to the challenge, we have three modest suggestions.
REFORM THE AMT The alternative minimum tax is essentially a parallel income tax designed to ensure that high earners pay their share. As everyone knows, however, the AMT now affects taxpayers far less wealthy than its original targets. If it isn't modified, it will penalize 29 million families by 2010 (30% of all American taxpayers), according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. For any candidate who wants to claim that he rolled back a pointless middle-class tax, AMT reform is a layup.
SIMPLIFY THE TAX CODE Surely the Republic would not go broke--in fact, it would probably be richer--if its tax collection were guided by something simpler than the 3,226-page Internal Revenue code. Now, let's not be naive. Complexity creates lots of opportunities for politicians to curry favor. (See the American Jobs Creation Act, passed by the House on June 17, which awards tax breaks to everyone from tackle-box makers to rum distillers.) But it also spawns abusive tax shelters, impedes planning and gives law-abiding folk the sense that the game is rigged against them. As a campaign issue, tax simplification is a zero. But as a way to improve Americans' lives, it's hard to beat.
TACKLE SOCIAL SECURITY The debate over privatization often makes it seem as if the system's looming crisis is just a question of ideology. It isn't. It's mainly a question of arithmetic: too many retirees, too few workers to support the current level of benefits. Privatizing shifts the burden from taxpayers collectively to taxpayers individually. Whether or not that happens, future benefits must be lowered and future taxes increased. No politician will touch that line this fall, but the fact is, reform can be gradual and not draconian--if we start soon.
Speaking of conventions, alert readers will notice that we've changed a few of our own. On page 43, we introduce a new section, Plan, designed to help you make smart decisions about everything from how to talk about money to managing taxes. A section called Briefing now opens the magazine, providing essential information in short form. Toward the end is another new section, Spend. Our goal there is to help you find "the best life at the best price." We hope they work for you.
ERIC SCHURENBERG MANAGING EDITOR