Political Animal


August 23, 2011 9:25 AM ‘The great milestone on the road to serfdom’

By Steve Benen

In recent years, conservative Republicans have become surprisingly aggressive in shaping an agenda to change the U.S. Constitution. In 2010, we heard from a variety of far-right candidates, many of whom won, who talked about scrapping the 17th Amendment, getting rid of at least one part of the 14th Amendment, “restoring” the “original” 13th Amendment, and proposing dozens of new amendments.

And then there’s the 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, which made the federal income tax possible. This, too, is high on the far-right list of targets, and has drawn the ire of a certain Texas governor. Greg Sargent had a good piece on this yesterday.

If I were one of the reporters covering Rick Perry’s campaign travels, I’d try to make some news by asking: Do you still stand by your proposal in your book to repeal the 16th Amendment and replace the income tax with an alternative tax system? Do you still believe your book’s claim that 16th Amendment is “the great milestone on the road to serfdom?” […]

Perry clearly states [in his book] that “we should restrict the unlimited source of revenue that the federal government has used to grow beyond its constitutionally prescribed powers.” How? Here’s what Perry suggests, in addition to scrapping the current tax code:

“Another option would be to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution (providing the power for the income tax) altogether, and then pursue an alternative model of taxation such as a national sales tax or the Fair Tax.”

The Perry campaign apparently doesn’t want to talk to Greg about this, and the candidate who allegedly never backs down suddenly no longer stands behind the book he published just nine months ago.

But the Republican presidential candidate can’t avoid these questions indefinitely — or at least, shouldn’t be allowed to by reporters covering his campaign. Indeed, the problem isn’t just Perry’s willingness to scrap the 16th Amendment, it’s also the policy radicalism behind his preferred alternative. As Brian Beutler explained this morning, the so-called “Fair Tax” plan would impose a regressive national sales tax that would necessarily “slash revenues by hundreds of billions of dollars.” Which is, of course, the point — Perry believes most of the federal government is unconstitutional and wants to see it eliminated.

David Savage has more along these lines today, outlining Perry’s constitutional worldview, which casts doubt on the legality of everything from Social Security to the minimum wage to child-labor laws.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on August 23, 2011 9:30 AM:

    What the Republicans appear to want is a "United States of Somalia."

    And they'll be perfectly happy - as long as THEY'RE the Warlords!

    Serfin' USA!

  • Josef K on August 23, 2011 9:37 AM:

    But the Republican presidential candidate can’t avoid these questions indefinitely — or at least, shouldn’t be allowed to by reporters covering his campaign.

    This might be the one time where a controversy-mad media will be helpful. Perry offers an abundance of targets for them, plus his continual dodging of them and the questions makes him look all the more...colorful.

    Maybe running for the Presidency wasn't his wisest move.

  • berttheclock on August 23, 2011 9:42 AM:

    How ironic his useage of the word serfdom. This amendment actually caused the ending of serfdom at the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina. No longer could the Vanderbilt's afford to keep their serfs operating a working estate. Many acres were sold and turned into a National Forest.

  • rea on August 23, 2011 9:53 AM:

    Income tax was almost certainly constitutional without the 16th Amendment--the Civil War era income tax was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court. A contrary result was reached by a divided Court in 1895, but that result was widely regarded as unsound, severely eroded, and likely to be overruled, before the issue was taken off the table by enactment of the amendment.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 23, 2011 10:19 AM:

    Although we republicans seldom discuss it publicly, it is egregious of Benen to not mention our desire to also eliminate that amendment most damaging to the well being of our country - the 19th amendment!

  • stratplayer on August 23, 2011 10:24 AM:

    One would think that after 98 years traveling the "road to serfdom" we'd have reached our destination. What's taking so long?

  • Rich on August 23, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Modern Republicanism is one long string of bait and switch leadership: Bush II, Walker, Kasich, etc. Anyone who wants to believe that Perry wouldn't try to enact this agenda is a fool.

  • Bill Who on August 23, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Does he acknowledge (or know) that repealing the 16th amendment alone would not work?
    As I understand it, the states would need to ratify an amendment allowing a sales tax. Without that, direct taxes would have to "be apportioned among the states...according to their respective numbers...excluding Indians..." (Article I, 2.3)

    If taxes were apportioned by population then 21 states would see an increase in the tax burden of over $1,000 per capita. I don't think repealing the 16th amendement would have much of a chance - though I imagine that Delaware (-$11,000 per capita), Connecticut (-$7,000), and Minnesota (-$6,982.76) would go for it in a New York (-$4,500) minute. Texas by the way would see a reduction of about $1200 per capita.

    PS - Notice that the early primary/caucus states wind up paying more in taxes: Iowa $2000, New Hampshire $1100, and South Carolina, $3500.

    I estimated from Wikipedia's Federal Tax Revenue by State (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_tax_revenue_by_state)

  • Kathryn on August 23, 2011 10:47 AM:

    What's keeping his press entourage from pulling the trigger on the contents of his insane book?

  • T-Rex on August 23, 2011 11:09 AM:

    Hey, wait a minute! Without the Federal income tax, how are we going to force those moochers, those looters, those parasites at the bottom end of the income scale to put some "skin in the game?" Aren't you red-faced with fury at the thought that half the people in this country DON'T pay income tax because they don't earn enough income, while the innocent, persecuted purveyors of mortgage-backed securities are forced to part with some of their hard-earned dollars, even if at a lowest rate in decades? THEY are the "producers," the creators of jobs which will undoubtedly appear some day if we keep cutting their taxes and leaving their lavish bonuses alone. That lower 50% of earners deserve to be punished for their laziness.

  • Gregory on August 23, 2011 11:13 AM:

    the so-called “Fair Tax” plan would impose a regressive national sales tax that would necessarily “slash revenues by hundreds of billions of dollars”

    Not only that, but it'd also cause government revenues to plunge during economic downturns -- the very time the government needs to step in and spend. Se so-called "fair tax" is ridiculous on its face in countless ways, which is why its backers had to give it such a lipstick-on-a-pig name.

  • FRP on August 23, 2011 11:56 AM:

    Gee , that David Savage has more glum than glam in his examination of the next greatest thing .
    Mr Savage could certainly use some help putting the round on his edgy comments . Apparently as a journalist Mr Savage is satisfied in framing the next greatest thing in a poor reflection of that brilliaant greatness . The picayune zeroing in on , admittedly , loads of unsophisticated , rabble rousing , boilerplate finesse could use the talents of a Chris Cizilla whose honeyed tongue makes the tetchy one dimensional Governor seem much less insane .

  • doubtful on August 23, 2011 12:21 PM:

    Nothing like a 30% or more sales tax to really ramp up demand!

    Republicans never seem to get to step two. They truly are underpants gnomes.

  • meander on August 23, 2011 12:46 PM:

    Some enterprising journalist or pundit should ask Gov. Perry why he hates the mortgage interest tax deduction. After all, if we switch to Perry's plan of a 30% sales tax, we'd need to get rid of that tax deduction, which is a pillar of America (and, IMHO, a terrible bit of policy and regressive taxation).

    And that same journalist might want to ask why Gov. Perry hates charitable organizations. With the 30% sales tax, we'd need to get rid of the tax deduction for charitable donations, an action that many people would surely be unhappy about.